Evil (2019) s01e12 – Justice x 2

There’s a lot going on in this episode of “Evil” but the only important thing—the only truly important thing—is it guest stars Gbenga Akinnagbe. It utterly wastes him in a “let’s not examine this too hard” plot about him being a radio comic in nineties Rwanda who encouraged the genocide. Emayatzy Corinealdi plays a Tutsi woman who tracks him down twenty-five years later to exact her revenge. It wouldn’t be so weird if the show didn’t turn it into a commentary on 2019 America, with phrases like “punching up” thrown around. There are optics to it. And to the way the episode does exposition about the Rwandan genocide. It’s not even a lukewarm take because the show’s not actually controversial (just manipulative) and it wastes Akinnagbe and Corinealdi in what ought to be an easy to do, albeit exploitative, tense talking heads standoff. She’s got him taped to a chair in a basement, after all; it’s not like there aren’t movies to guide the writers.

The show’s big addition? Mike Colter tied up in the room too; he went to see Corinealdi because she called the Catholic Church to report… her walls telling her to avenge herself upon Akinnagbe. It’s not a good main plot, but the episode doesn’t really have strong subplots either. Katja Herbers is standing off with Michael Emerson in court, with the bad guy from the pilot back. We get some big reveals on Emerson, but then the show’s got its biggest “reveal” at the end when—spoiler but because one must—Emerson’s having his therapy session with Baphomet. Not a bad Baphomet as far as network TV goes. But if Baphomet’s imaginary, it’s just stupid and if Baphomet’s not imaginary, it’s going to have to get stupider in a different way. Just because Baphomet can look good on TV in 2020 doesn’t mean he should.

Though Emerson fits the sad old posturing incel a lot better than the seventies Bond villain with kinks for religious symbolism and too many sweaters. Will he get less tiresome? Will the family get less tiresome as dad Patrick Brammall, now getting subplots instead of Aasif Mandvi, goes away for a bit then comes back, having now been the real parent when the sick kid needs an emergency procedure to add some child in danger drama and working mom Herbers isn’t taking the call. No. No, they’ll be even more tiresome.

Then there’s Brammall’s whole Buddhist subplot where the show equates him meditating to Herbers getting back with the child rapists at the Church. Religious pluralism, big shrug. He gets some ominous foreshadowing this episode too. Not just with the possibly dying child and Herbers not having told him any information about the possible medical procedures because she’s too hot for Colter to remember.

Also a religious judges are going to be the literal death of us all moment.

It’s amazing with all the stuff “Evil” has got and has had going on they’ve never actually delivered. I’m surprised they wasted Gbenga Akinnagbe, but I really shouldn’t have been.

Troop Zero (2019, Bert & Bertie)

Troop Zero is heartwarming but not too heartwarming. It doesn’t promise the stars as much as it promises a gradual slide to fairness; it promises redemption to some but not the ones who really need it. It avoids any seriousness to instead provide consistent, constant entertainment. Often in the form of amusing montage sequences with good soundtrack accompaniment and excellent editing from Catherine Haight. But as anything other than consistent, constant entertainment? Troop Zero’s got a lot of problems.

The film’s the story of a girl living poor in rural Georgia in the late seventies (Mckenna Grace, who’s likable and perfectly fine but has any great moments; she’s a solid child actor, who isn’t doing anything special). She finds out if you’re in the Girl Scouts (they’re called something else, obviously), you might be on the gold record NASA is shooting out into space on a Voyager spacecraft. If you’re wondering why there’s not a Star Trek: The Motion Picture reference right about now, it’s because it’s too hard. Needless to say, I tried.

Anyway. Grace gets her neighbor, pre-gay Charlie Shotwell–Troop Zero has that heartwarming Hollywood take on poor rural Americana when it comes to marginalized people: everyone’s poor and no one cares if you’re gay or Black. There’s a lot of awful bullying in Troop Zero and a bunch of horrific female characters—which is all good because the directors and writer are woman but also maybe not a great look because it implies a lot more seriousness than the film’s ever willing to engage with—but there’s never any overt racism, homophobia, or even sexism. There’s some subtle racism but it’s just to make the main mean girl (Ashley Brooke) even meaner. Sorry, tangents again, which is particularly inappropriate for Troop Zero. It doesn’t have any tangents. When its subplots get attention, it always sticks out because the moments seemed forced in—like top-billed Viola Davis’s law school ambitions or her bonding with stuck-up school principal Allison Janney (who’s redemptive moments seem contractually obligated for all the good they do). So… sorry.

Grace and Shotwell set about getting enough kids for a new troop. See, the manual, which Grace can read and understand because her father (Jim Gaffigan) is a lawyer who never wins his cases but because the clients are always guilty and encourages her critical thinking skills, never specifies gender requirements. They get Christian girl Bella Higginbotham, then bully and extorter Milan Ray, and Ray’s enforcer, Johanna Colón. To varying degrees, the kids are all entertaining. Colón and Shotwell get the most situational comedy, Ray’s got a decent sort of subplot about unexpectedly bonding with Grace (which gets mostly forgotten in the third act), and Higginbotham’s always sympathetic. They never quite bond with troop leader Davis, which makes sense as boss Gaffigan ordered her to take the gig. Will the troop get over their differences and band together to take it to the finals? Will they defeat the mean girls?

Those questions might be important if Troop Zero needed them to decide anything. There’s a definite lack of conflict in the film outside the bullying. Gaffigan’s a sweetheart and in permanently in the red with his law practice, meaning Davis can’t get paid, but they’re always okay. There’s never much narrative danger. Often there’s none at all. So when the film fails to muster enough enthusiasm to seep through on the grand finale, it’s not unexpected. Troop Zero, despite the energetic montages and the directors adequate inventiveness as far as composition—cinematographer James Whitaker ably assists—never has much directed energy. Never much focus. Grace gets scenes to herself, Davis gets scenes to herself, Janney gets scenes to herself. Grace is the de facto protagonist because she narrates the film; otherwise, she’d be sharing focus with Davis, Janney, and maybe even Gaffigan.

And Grace has got a kids’ story arc. It’s got some real depth to it, but it’s still a kids’ story arc. The film’s handling of Grace clashes with its handling of the adults. Davis and Janney, for example, they don’t have kiddie arcs. Widower Gaffigan wouldn’t have a kiddie arc. My pejorative use of kiddie here is just to mean non-confrontational. Bullying aside.

Davis is great, Gaffigan’s great, Janney’s great. Grace is okay. Ray’s good. Colón’s adorable. The kids are all fine—Higginbotham, Shotwell—when something doesn’t work out for them, it’s just as often the script or direction versus the kid.

For the actors’ sake, it’d be really nice if Troop Zero was more successful, less uneven. It’s got a good (albeit unrealistic) heart and a very likable cast. And the grand finale talent show is true delight.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bert & Bertie; written by Lucy Alibar; director of photography, James Whitaker; edited by Catherine Haight; music by Rob Lord; production designer, Laura Fox; costume designer, Caroline Eselin; produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Kate Churchill, Steve Tisch, and Viola Davis; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Mckenna Grace (Christmas Flint), Viola Davis (Miss Rayleen), Jim Gaffigan (Ramsey Flint), Allison Janney (Miss Massey), Charlie Shotwell (Joseph), Milan Ray (Hell-No Price), Johanna Colón (Smash), Bella Higginbotham (Anne-Claire), Mike Epps (Dwayne Champaign), Ashley Brooke (Piper Keller), and Ash Thapliyal (Persad).


Grantchester (2014) s05e02

I consider myself fairly capable with British Isles accents; it’s always been undubbed Trainspotting or Full Monty for me; I figured out Ulysses on my own; I could watch “Monty Python” and understand them; but “Sinjin” actually being “St. John?” Whatever. I mean, I knew it had to be weird because “Sinjin” seemed too much like an Indian import but the only thing the British seem proud of taking from India is their foodstuffs.

Anyway, St. John is Dominic Mafham. He’s Tom Brittney’s mom’s new boyfriend and, shocker, he’s a total dick because it’s 1955 or whatever and she’s just trying to get along since Brittney won’t quit the Church for her. Jemma Redgrave plays the mom.

The mystery this episode is an intentional hit and run. Brittney and Al Weaver are walking by when they see it, which leads Brittney and Robson Green to an unknown street in Grantchester (because before Google Maps, you could have unknown streets in the town where you’re a copper, I guess). The unknown street thing is short but does give Tessa Peake-Jones a nice opportunity to figure into the main plot. Otherwise she’s just around to be an obstacle for Weaver to hang out with boyfriend Oliver Dimsdale. Though there’s also the new TV in the vicarage (so Weaver and Dimsdale can chill, which is adorable) and Peake-Jones has a lot of thoughts on it. Her “idiot’s lantern” rant is excellent.

There’s a house on the unknown street with two older brothers who figure into the case. It’s an okay enough mystery, involving fraud, infidelity, and PTSD. The PTSD bit gives Green a couple excellent scenes. He’s busy with his home stuff—he brought in mother-in-law Paula Wilcox to tend to the house since wife Kacey Ainsworth got a union position at work.

“Grantchester” has settled pretty nicely since losing its protagonist last season. Though at some point someone needs to acknowledge Brittney isn’t very good at questioning suspects yet. The show’s also taking it slow with Brittney’s new love interest, Lauren Carse, which is fine; if James Norton’s Sidney were still around with Carse as a love interest, they’d probably have had at least one pregnancy scare by now.

Inherit the Viper (2019, Anthony Jerjen)

Inherit the Viper is an unfortunately titled but acceptably mediocre crime drama about rural siblings Margarita Levieva, Josh Hartnett, and Owen Teague running an opioid business. Levieva’s the merciless boss, Hartnett’s the reluctant muscle, Teague’s the enthusiastic but uninvolved teenager. Everything’s going fine—well, outside the occasional fatal overdose for customers—until Teague decides he’s got to go into business for himself. Only he’s not very bright and his idea is to steal his family’s product to sell on the side, forcing Levieva (who wanted to get Teague involved) and Hartnett (who didn’t) to make some tough, momentous decisions. Renewed interest from local law enforcement (Dash Mihok) and a justifiably enraged recent widower (Brad William Henke) complicate matters.

So, a fairly standard family crime drama.

Andrew Crabtree’s script throws a lot at the characters but in targeted bursts. Viper never overreaches. Crabtree and director Jerjen never do anything they aren’t sure they can successfully execute. The film’s got some great production values—Jerjen, cinematographer Nicholas Wiesnet, editors Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda put some drone shots to great use for establishing shots, showcasing the desolate, failed rural community. Jerjen’s composition for the talking heads scenes, which are most of the film until the final third or so, is usually the same parallel shot, giving the actors each their space. Even though Jerjen’s got the patience for the talking heads and showcasing the actors (really, the film often plays like a demo reel for its stars more than a serious dramatic effort), he never gets in close enough to really look. When Levieva finally shows her humanity, when Hartnett finally shows his fear, Jerjen doesn’t have any way to help the actors rise above the script, which is fairly pat as far as character motivation and development go. Both the script and the direction posit the characters as somewhat tragic, even though the point of Levieva is she would reject that tragedy and it would be consuming the soulful Hartnett, who has a much better understanding of the world—ostensibly due to his time in Iraq War II, but more because the script needs it—than his peers.

Well, except of course how the film then positions other people as the good folks just facilitating the opioid ring without actually getting their hands too dirty (special guest star Bruce Dern plays a bar owner and friend of the family’s absent, smalltime crook dad).

Instead of Levieva or Hartnett, the film focuses on Teague. It’s both a trope—the child grows up—and the most economical. Hartnett getting more of a focus would mean more to do with pregnant girlfriend Valorie Curry and, even though the film starts spotlighting Levieva, she barely gets any character development throughout. And, when she does, it feels like the film’s trying too hard. Because to transcend the material, the script would need to be better and there’d need to be more of a budget (the film looks great, moves well but it’s obviously streamlined as can be). Jerjen does what he can with the constraints the production’s got and it works. The drone shots do get tiring by the end but more because they never really impact how the narrative plays; they’re always technically solid. Especially set against Patrick Kirst’s score.

For over half the film, Viper acts like it isn’t going to rest the whole thing on whether or not Teague can carry it through the third act to the finish, then it hands it off to Teague and, sure, he can get it to the finish but… not spectacularly. It’s a pass and no pass situation. Teague passes, adequate, no reason to rejoice.

Levieva’s the film’s best performance, even with her character going off some rails in the third act. Hartnett’s good, but it’s a propped up majorly supporting role; Teague’s not compelling enough, Hartnett picks up the slack for it. It’s unclear whether Jerjen would be able to do more. He’s got a lot of technical chops as a director and he’s pretty good with the actors, but Viper never seems thoughtful enough. Jerjen’s successfully realizes the script but without any imagination. It’s like he’s too good, technically, to have to be inventive.

Inherit the Viper—the title’s even worse once you find out what it means—isn’t bad, it’s just rote, even with its cast’s solid efforts.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Jerjen; written by Andrew Crabtree; director of photography, Nicholas Wiesnet; edited by Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda; music by Patrick Kirst; production designer, Tracy Dishman; costume designer, Emily Batson; produced by Michel Merkt and Benito Mueller; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Margarita Levieva (Josie Conley), Josh Hartnett (Kip Conley), Owen Teague (Boots Conley), Valorie Curry (Eve), Dash Mihok (Kyle), Chandler Riggs (Cooper), Brad William Henke (Tedd), and Bruce Dern (Clay).


Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg)

Catch Me If You Can is a spectacular showcase for Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t exactly rise up to meet him, not the filmmaking, not the writing, not his costars. With the exception of co-lead Tom Hanks, who’s a whole other thing, the direction, the writing, the supporting cast, they’re all tied together in a less than impressive knot.

Let’s get the filmmaking out of the way first.

Spielberg’s direction is adequate, at least as far as the composition goes. It’s never too good, it’s never too bad. The film opens with these extremely cute animated opening titles, but they go on way too long and the accompanying John Williams music is some of the film’s least impressive as far as the score goes. And the score’s usually middling so to open on a low point… Not a great start. Then the movie goes into the framing device (getting ahead of myself on the script problems) as FBI agent Hanks is trying to get DiCaprio out of a French prison. There’s something very affected about the style, with Spielberg mimicking late fifties and early sixties style without bringing anything new to it. He and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski don’t show the mid-sixties through rose colored glasses as much as they artificially twinkle the past. Everything shimmers with unreality, which kind of hurts the true story angle as Catch Me rarely shows how DiCaprio is pulling off his cons. Plus the age discrepancies. DiCaprio’s twenty-eight playing seventeen playing twenty-eight. It mostly works, thanks to DiCaprio’s performance but against some of what Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson throw at him; there are significant hiccups.

Like Christopher Walken as DiCaprio’s WWII vet dad. Walken’s sixty; he looks pretty good for sixty. But he was supposed to be some kind of forty-year old grunt in WWII? Again, Catch Me’s fast and loose with its hold on reality but given it’s all about the amazing things DiCaprio’s character was actually able to do… not having to constantly suspend and re-suspend disbelief would be nice. Walken’s actually good, even if he’s a stunt cast and his part is so thin he’s just doing a generic Christopher Walken performance. Nathanson doesn’t do character development or texture. Even when the story needs it. Spielberg doesn’t help with it either; it’s DiCaprio’s movie but Spielberg’s more concerned with Hanks’s FBI agent.

Let me just use that to segue into Hanks. Hanks is not good. He does a questionable and pointless accent, presumably to make the character seem less flat, and there’s nothing else to it. First act, it seems like Hanks might go someplace—and the film does try to force him into a paternal relationship with DiCaprio, which doesn’t work—but it’s a nothing part. It’s not even engaging enough to be a caricature. Nathanson’s a shockingly thin writer.

Okay, maybe not shockingly. It’s not like the script’s ever got any more potential than it delivers. But Spielberg really does just go along with it. The female roles are exceptionally thin; they’re all dumb and easy, whether it’s bank teller Elizabeth Banks, flight attendant Ellen Pompeo, working girl Jennifer Garner, or nurse Amy Adams. Worse is when DiCaprio ends up staying longterm with Adams, it’s never clear why; especially since the movie makes fun of her so much. Though, I suppose, even worse is when Adams brings her parents into the film. Martin Sheen—in a stunningly bad bit of stunt-casting—is bad. Nancy Lenehan is mom, with zip to do, which is actually much better for her than, say, Nathalie Baye as DiCaprio’s mom. Baye gets the film’s worst part by far.

Through it all, DiCaprio manages to keep his head up and keep Catch Me working. He contends with some questionable makeup decisions, never getting to followthrough on set pieces, and the astoundingly bad pop culture reference. There’s a truly incompetent James Bond Goldfinger sequence, which ought to be a gimme but instead Spielberg completely fumbles it.

Spielberg never takes Catch Me If You Can seriously enough, from the casting to the writing to Kaminski’s silly photography. DiCaprio takes it seriously, to good effect. Hanks takes it seriously, to… if not bad effect, at least wanting. It’s a glossy, trite trifle. Could’ve been a lot more.

Though not with the same script, supporting cast, principal crew members, or director.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, based on the book by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; costume designer, Mary Zophres; produced by Spielberg and Walter F. Parkes; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale Jr.), Tom Hanks (Carl Hanratty), Christopher Walken (Frank Abagnale), Nathalie Baye (Paula Abagnale), James Brolin (Jack Barnes), Amy Adams (Brenda Strong), Martin Sheen (Roger Strong), Nancy Lenehan (Carol Strong), Brian Howe (Earl Amdursky), Frank John Hughes (Tom Fox), Ellen Pompeo (Marci), Elizabeth Banks (Lucy), and Jennifer Garner (Cheryl Ann).


The Punisher (2004) #46, Widowmaker, Part 4 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  46Ennis brings all the threads together this issue. Frank, the widows, the mystery woman, the cop. The cliffhanger resolve has Frank taking one to the chest. The issue opens with Frank thinking about how unlikely the house where the damsel widow has brought him seems like a front for a trafficking operation. He’s just about to bail when he gets shot. Ennis sticks to the ambushing widows for most of the action (including a somewhat confusing sequence—Medina’s fault—about why they can’t take a second shot). Then the mystery woman shows up and saves Frank and guts the damsel, which is the most gory the arc’s actually gotten so far. Or maybe seeing intestines exposed to oxygen just seems like the most gore.

But I think it’s the most.

Anyway. The mystery woman saves Frank, leaving the remaining widows to deal with the arriving cops and recover from a launched grenade, bringing the not Sam Jackson Sam Jackson cop into the issue. His investigation is a bit of a water tread; Ennis gets in a (very dated) jab at “C.S.I. New York” and recaps the opening action into exposition to get the cop caught up. But other than the cop figuring out the four women in the bad neighborhood late at night and discovering their identities, it’s just filler. Widowmaker is the first seven issue arc—instead of six—so there’s going to be filler. It’s not bad filler, but it’s definitely filler.

The widows regroup and calm down, with the leader realizing the mystery woman is the actually her little sister (who’s been mentioned in hushed tones since the first issue of the arc because there’s some kind of joint history involving all the widows and the little sister). Meanwhile, the little sister is busy patching Frank up. The soft cliffhanger reveals she’s yet another widow made by the Punisher, except instead of hating Frank, she’s his biggest fan (or so she says). Ennis does a fine job getting the reader wondering about the explanation but it’s time for the issue to be over so something for next time.

It’s a bit of a stretched issue, but still a good one. Maybe Medina and Reinhold aren’t the most interesting when it comes to the cop questioning and investigating scenes, but they do all right enough. It’s unclear why all the widows are wearing the same green turtleneck sweaters; you’d think the cops—even the dumb ones—would notice they’re in matching outfits. But apparently not.

Ennis treads water well and the build-up to the cliffhanger—specifically the widows freaking out over their plan gone wrong—works well.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s06e01 – Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Five

Given how much work these Arrowverse crossover events make for the show’s creative teams—just imagine if they had to bother with good writing, better direction (though this episode isn’t too bad), and good guest stars—you’d think they wouldn’t have wasted twenty-percent of Crisis on Infinite Earths with this utterly superfluous episode. Outside the big bad guy not being gone for real and coming back so the heroes have to team up, again, to take him down (though with a lot less heroes than in previous episodes)… not much gets done. Except everyone’s on the same Earth so crossovers could be easier but probably won’t be? Because the characters existing in alternate dimensions isn’t the problem.

The episode opens with Supergirl Melissa Benoist discovering everything is back to normal but has changed. Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer in way too short of a cameo) is now a good guy and Benoist is now buddies again with (not seen) Katie McGrath—tune into “Supergirl” to see how this move saved their butts dramatically but don’t because it’s too late for “Supergirl.” Benoist soon runs into Grant Gustin, who also is realizing their Earths have combined, but there’s no “Flash” supporting cast so we don’t even know what’s up with Gustin and wife Candice Patton. Tune into “The Flash” for that reunion? Or don’t.

There’s a Marv Wolfman cameo where everyone pretends he cared a lot about Supergirl and the Flash? I mean, he killed them off in Crisis on Infinite Earths the comic book and there’s a moment where it seems like Benoist is toast but… nope. Because this episode’s narratively pointless. Yes, it provides the first ever live action Sargon the Sorcerer (a DC Comics character since 1941 who did have something to do with the Crisis comic but not this crappy crossover event) and (sort of) a coda for Brandon Routh’s Superman Returns but eh. There’s a Beebo cameo for people who actually watch “Legends of Tomorrow,” which is at this point the only Arrowverse show worth watching (though I’m seasons behind on “Black Lightning,” which is now an Arrowverse show). Pointless fights, badly directed ones (okay, maybe the direction isn’t okay), bad writing. There’s a new President in the Arrowverse and, no spoilers, but they didn’t get anyone famous for it.

There’s a “Super Friends” ending, which they’re way too excited about doing, especially since it’s in an empty warehouse. It’s lifeless stuff.

There are two lengthy sequences dedicated to Stephen Amell, with various people providing eulogies, and you have to wonder if Amell made them put those scenes in because they’re poorly written, performed, directed, and everything else. No one who liked “Arrow” so much they needed emotional closure on the series ending cares if Benoist and Gustin moon over Amell.

I forced myself to make it to Crisis on Infinite Earths this season to give myself a good jumping off point for the shows (not “Legends”) but I really wished I’d jumped before these last two episodes. The universes combining without any of the regular cast members from the shows taking part? Who cares. It’s got the dramatic resonance of… well, a bad Arrowverse show. A really bad one.

The Punisher (2004) #45, Widowmaker, Part 3 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  45Lots of action this issue. Frank’s taking out of a convoy of mob cars—the first page has Medina and Reinhold doing photo-reference on James Gandolfini but the character never figures in later so it’s not The Punisher vs. The Sopranos—but there’s a catch. The widows have put their decoy damsel in distress in one of the trunks and it’s her job to convince Frank to go with her into a trap. Since he’s a dumb lug when it comes to endangered women, he’ll go for it.

The comic goes from the action to the widows figuring out their plan. They luck out because one of them is willing to sleep with the mobsters to get information… and to just generally distract them. Ennis doesn’t specifically contrast the mobsters’ inability to refuse an easy lay with Frank’s weakness for women in danger, but there’s a general mood to it: men aren’t bright.

While the widows are plotting, they’ve got the mystery woman following them around and watching from afar. The issue’s either from the widows’ perspectives or the mobsters’. Frank gets some action-packed panels, but other than his full page establishing shot, the firefight is entirely from the mobsters’ perspective. No narration. Even when he finds the damsel, it’s still from her perspective, with Ennis offering no hint at how Frank is processing her bullshit story, which the reader knows all about.

It is a juxtaposition as far as Frank’s damsel in distress weakness and the mob guys thinking more with the little head than the big, but there’s nothing explicit about it. It’s a fact of life, kind of like how Ennis utilizes the randy widow. At least one of the other women seem to understand the plan only works because of the randy one’s willingness, but Ennis doesn’t dwell. He’s got the story he’s doing and he doesn’t get distracted. There’s a lot of context, which he establishes, but doesn’t engage.

The issue ends on a hard cliffhanger: Frank walking right into the trap, presumably unaware of anything being amiss, blinded by his sympathy.

It’s very nicely plotted, even if it is just moving Frank into position for what comes next. It doesn’t feel particularly bridging thanks to Ennis splitting the action sequence up with the widows’ plotting. He also gives the mobsters under attack just enough personality to keep things moving. It’s an efficient, effective issue.

Arrow (2012) s08e08 – Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Four

So.

Confession time.

During the harder-than-normal sci-fi opening to part the fourth of Crisis on Infinite Earths, I thought the crossover might have a chance. I thought if they split the first three into the one arc, then the second two into another… I thought it might work. For a few seconds in the cold open, featuring LaMonica Garrett opening a portal to the dawn of time and somehow unleashing the antimatter universe or something… I thought it had a chance. Then Garrett proved to be just as bad in the cold open as usual and, poof, so much for that possibility.

But wait, then regular human guy Osric Chau (who’s totally becoming the Atom later this year on “Legends of Tomorrow” but whatever) journals—to his dead wife—about all the sad superheroes outside time and space trying to kill time before the plot contrives a way for them to save the universe and it seems like it might get okay, since it’s centering around Chau and his regular guy take on the situation.

And, nope, the journaling stops once Grant Gustin reappears after being missing (during the hiatus between parts three and four, not like, in the present action of the episode or anything). Bummer?

The deus ex machina to get the heroes back in action is Stephen Lobo (who’s in one scene and is so terrible he deserves a callout) training Stephen Amell to be “The Spectre.” Amell’s voice gets disguised, which sort of helps with his performance. Once he’s ready to go, he visits his friends and gets the final battle under way.

Not.

Instead, the episode becomes a low rent Avengers: Endgame with Gustin flashing between moments in Amell’s “Arrow” history to collect the other heroes, who are stranded in the events. Except Chau, Melissa Benoist, and Jon Cryer, who are on a mission on the forest moon of Endor. But a low rent Endor. Cryer’s hilariously fun as Lex Luthor, but Benoist is an utter killjoy as depressed Supergirl. And Chau’s beard looks fake.

But they do get an “asshole” past standards and practices, so… win?

Once Endgame is over—the “highpoint” is Gustin bantering with super surprise guest star Ezra Miller (whose career mustn’t be in great shape as he waits for his years delayed Flash solo movie)—in case you’re wondering, Gustin’s so much better than Miller, it’s not even funny, but it’s still better than anything else because it’s at least fun. Anyway, once Endgame is over, the heroes all go to fight CGI monsters in a rock quarry while Amell fights Garrett (the evil, anti-Garrett) for the fate of the universe.

You’d think since it’s “Arrow,” one of the last episodes of “Arrow,” and Amell’s last stand, there’d be a big fight scene between the two.

Nope. They shoot CGI force lighting at each other. It’s terrible.

I suppose at least they aren’t spouting off goony expository statements about themselves as they fight, which the regular heroes do. The script, by Crisis comics writer Marv Wolfman and “Arrowverse” prime mover Marc Guggenheim, is truly godawful.

I can’t believe I thought they might save it. They somehow made it worse; the desperation of aping Endgame manages not to even be the worst thing in the episode, which is something because it’s super desperate.

The Princess Comes Across (1936, William K. Howard)

The Princess Comes Across is an uneven mix of comedy and mystery. Too much mystery, too little comedy, noticeable lack of romance. The romance is an awkward afterthought in Walter DeLeon, Francis Martin, Don Hartman, and Frank Butler’s script (four screenwriters is probably too much even in 1936; definitely for this kind of picture), which is weird since it’s the initial setup.

The film takes place on a passenger liner going from England to the United States. Starts with the passengers boarding, ends with them getting off. The script’s very hands off with the trip. When band leader Fred MacMurray says he and the band aren’t just rehearsing (in his room, which ought to be a comic bit but isn’t because the film’s never inventive, in script or direction), but getting ready to play for the ship, you wonder why it was never mentioned before. It’s not even clear the rest of the band’s onboard until that moment. Not for sure; you could assume it, but you could also not, it wouldn’t matter for how the film played. Princess is creatively sparse; its logic is fine (even, possibly, with the romance stuff), but the film never seems to be enjoying itself.

Maybe because MacMurray and top-billed Carole Lombard never get to be funny together. They get their not really cute cute meeting. MacMurray and sidekick William Frawley, who was already bald in 1936, booked the royal suite and are getting booted because Swedish princess Lombard is on board. MacMurray’s initially a jerk about it, then gets a look at Lombard and immediately changes his tune. So while Lombard and attendant Alison Skipworth (who gives the film’s most entertaining performance by far) try to get situated, MacMurray keeps annoying them. And it’s not cute. Especially since MacMurray plays more off Skipworth than Lombard; there’s a reason for it, as the punchline reveals, but… it could’ve been done better. Director Howard doesn’t seem to know how to showcase Lombard even when she’s not running a scene. Ted Tetzlaff’s photography doesn’t help. Tetzlaff’s lighting a thriller and even when Princess is full-on mystery, it’s never a thriller. It’s not just too much mystery in a comedy, it’s also way too light of mystery in a comedy.

The film sets up the mystery not to kick off a suspense thriller, but some kind of screwball gag. There are five police detectives onboard, all from different countries, headed to a conference. The captain (a somewhat underused George Barbier) complains about them in exposition, which seems like it’s going to lead somewhere with ex-con MacMurray or secretive royal Lombard, but instead has the five detectives chasing stowaway Bradley Page. Sure, Page’s a convicted multiple murderer on the lamb but… even when the detectives are talking about dire outcomes, it’s all light. Howard’s just can’t bring any gravitas.

Maybe because all five detectives are basically played as comic relief. The straightest edge is Tetsu Komai as the Japanese detective but only because the movie’s othering him to create suspicion. Douglass Dumbrille’s the French guy; he’s a bit stuck-up but all right. Lumsden Hare’s the British one. He’s not memorable even though he’s got a lot to do third act. But Sig Ruman (as the German) and Mischa Auer (as the Russian)? They’re awesome. It’s like, Ruman and Auer make it seem like Princess knows what its got possibility-wise so it can’t possibly waste it.

Then it wastes all the possibility.

Notice I haven’t mentioned top-billed Lombard and MacMurray in a while? It’s because all they end up doing is reacting to the mystery with Page. And then scuz blackmailer Porter Hall bothering MacMurray and trying to get a pay-off, which ends up involving Lombard too because they’re cabins are next to each other… Sure, Lombard and MacMurray don’t really have story arcs of their own (he’s a successful band leader, she’s about to be successful as a movie star, they don’t get anything else but… vague ambition); they just react when the mystery spills over to their screen time.

They’re both fine. Absolutely no heavy lifting for either. They do have fun in the far too infrequent wordplay scenes. Frawley’s fine. He gets a beret arc, which is more than Lombard or MacMurray get. And more than Skipworth, who doesn’t even get a beret. Again, she’s awesome. Hall’s great too. Ruman, Auer. The cast is good, the film just doesn’t have anything for them to do.

Princess is cute. Ish.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William K. Howard; screenplay by Walter DeLeon, Francis Martin, Don Hartman, and Frank Butlerz, based on a story by Philip MacDonald and a novel by Louis Lucien Rogger; director of photography, Ted Tetzlaff; edited by Paul Weatherwax; costume designer, Travis Banton; produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Carole Lombard (Princess Olga), Fred MacMurray (King Mantell), Alison Skipworth (Lady Gertrude), William Frawley (Benton), Porter Hall (Darcy), Douglass Dumbrille (Lorel), Lumsden Hare (Cragg), Sig Ruman (Steindorf), Mischa Auer (Morevitch), Bradley Page (Merko), Tetsu Komai (Kawati), and George Barbier (Captain Nicholls).



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