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An Epic Finish and Love Letter to the Fans
After viewing this fine film by J.J. Abrams I am nonplussed by all the negative reviews. The critics apparently live in a parallel universe where stories are told from their perspective. Critics especially zeroed in on the resurrection of Emperor Palpatine. I thought it clever for Rey, whose backstory is not revealed in the previous two movies, to discover her lineage from Palpatine. Those who complain that Palpatine was killed in "Return of the Jedi" so now cannot possibly appear in this movie apparently don't believe in the immortal character of the spirit, which continues to exist after the death of the body. If the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker can live on after death, why can't Palpatine? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Abrams was inspired by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In "The Fellowship of the Ring," the Dark Lord Sauron was killed, but his spirit lived on and kept looking for a way to become corporeal again.
"The Rise of Skywalker" was a love letter to the fans. It was wonderful that there was left-over footage of Carrie Fisher (Leia) to use in this film. Including Billy Dee Williams (Lando) was like the cherry on top of a sundae. The movie is also full of musical and visual references to the original trilogy, a very appropriate way for Abrams to demonstrate the narrative connection between all the Star Wars films. I especially appreciated the redemption story for the Kylo Ren character (Ben Skywalker). Of course, after murdering his father, Ben had to die, but not before saving Rey's life and reconciling with her. Moreover, Palpatine gained a revelation that Rey and Ben were a dyad, that is, sharing a close bond and relationship, not unlike marriage. That is why Rey can close the film by introducing herself as Rey Skywalker.
A Disappointing Season Beginning
The beginning of season 14 was no doubt an extreme challenge after the emotional and dramatic end to season 13. The Esposito character seems a good addition, but the backstory of Torres and the basic plot of this episode seems ill-conceived. As for the former, the idea that an agent that has been several years in deep undercover is going to transition to functioning as a regular field agent on Gibbs team does not strike me as reasonable. They could have brought Torres from a regular agent assignment pursuing an investigation that led to D.C.
Then the threat against a judge favorable to alternative energy sources obviously reflected a leftist narrative that Big Oil is no better than organized crime trying to prevent less dependence on fossil fuels. Actually, it's just the opposite. The Left works hard to keep the U.S. dependent on foreign oil while demanding the government subsidize alternative energy that would not survive without government help. This underlying plot element is really defamatory against petroleum companies. Again, the writers could have created any number of stories to introduce Torres, but this approach was extremely disappointing. I don't blame the actors who all did the best they could in spite of the script.
A Veteran's Christmas (2018)
Military Goofs but Good Story
I am a fan of Hallmark movies, including Christmas movies. Being retired from the Army I am always interested in how the military is portrayed. I've never seen the military disrespected in a Hallmark movie, although in this movie there were many blunders and goofs. I'm sure the writer wanted to present military personnel in a favorable light, but I have serious doubts whether the writer even researched the subject.
The movie started off positive. When CPT Grace Garland, came off a flight she saluted the flag, very correct. But, the story begins to make mistakes. When she introduces herself to Judge Peterson she refers to herself as a "veteran" and "honorably discharged." These are not comments an officer would make a point of saying even if they were true. Next, she identified herself as a K9 dog handler. Officers are not dog handlers in the military. Dog handlers are enlisted and often the dog has a higher rank than the handler, always an NCO.
Then there were some elements that could be viewed as seriously questionable. Garland looked at a picture of her dog wrapped in an American flag, a serious violation of flag protocol. There was also a picture of her sitting on the back of a truck with her shirt unbuttoned, as well as a picture of her with three other Marines; Their shirts are buttoned but hers are unbuttoned, which makes her bosom more noticeable.
When she is pulled over by the Sheriff she shows him a military ID. Such identification is surrendered upon discharge. She did not retire from the Marines, so there was no reason for her to have an ID card. Also, the Sheriff makes a point of saying she is a veteran. At one point Garland mentions being in barracks. Officers are not billeted in barracks, which refers to the housing for enlisted personnel.
There is no adequate explanation for how Garland earned the Silver Star and Soldier's Medal. Simply being under enemy fire doesn't qualify for these medals. Some act of bravery has to be performed.
At one point she visits an Army base. Why was there a Marine corporal on an Army base? This made no sense, but it was obviously done to provide a way for her to inquire about her dog. Later Peterson introduces Garland to the Colonel Radcliffe as "Captain Grace Garland." Being discharged means Garland is no longer a Captain. Radcliffe is apparently a retired Colonel and its not uncommon for retired officers of that rank and higher to be called by their rank in civilian life.
The story of the romance, notwithstanding Sean Faris channeling Tom Cruise as many have pointed out, is basically good. I liked all the characters, and the emphasis on the church and traditional Christmas observances, as well as the absence of magic and fantasy. Unfortunately, the sheer number of military goofs took the edge off my enjoyment.
Missing a Lot of Pieces
Like last season the SHIELD team starts off in dire circumstances. Like last season the mood is dark. The characters are not in a happy place. And, it appears they are on the verge of another extinction event, but Enoch is not there to save them. While the acting is great, I have no enthusiasm for the plot. It's strange. The characters are there, but it does not seem like SHIELD.
Casting Clark Gregg to play a new character, someone named Sarge who kills a SHIELD agent, felt like a betrayal. Coulson was a fan favorite based on his appearances in Marvel films. I remember the t-shirts from the San Diego ComiCon in 2013 that said "Coulson Lives" after he was killed in the Avenger's movie. I understand having Coulson die, but surely he could have been recharged or resurrected. Why introduce a look-alike character who is just the opposite in terms of ... well ... character. Who is this Sarge? Why does he have to look and sound like Coulson? Orphaned twin? LMD? Clone from harvested DNA? Doppelganger from a parallel universe? None of those are good options. Is this a redemption story or did Gregg want to play a villain?
The episode especially lacks contextual exposition. It's a year after the last season. There's no mention of the situation after Avenger's Infinity War. The SHIELD team apparently wasn't affected by the snap of Thanos, or being out in the universe they weren't aware it happened. There is clearly a continuity problem. Where are we in the MCU timeline? The episode seems like the second part of a three-part story and we weren't shown the first part. I hope the series starts to make sense.
The Rookie: Greenlight (2019)
This episode was certainly highly charged and dramatically intense with excellent acting as usual, but I noted several problems. First, why is it that the only terrorist groups Hollywood cop shows depict are white supremacists? It is a subtle slur against conservatives by the Hollywood Left. Those who terrorize television heroes are never from left-wing groups like Antifa. Second, as the dead officer was wheeled to the coroner's vehicle her body was draped with an American flag. You don't put the American flag on a corpse. The flag is sometimes draped over a coffin at a funeral. At least the officers didn't kneel on the ground. Third, the sergeant used the wrong command when he ordered the officers to salute. The command is "present arms," not "order arms." Again, this is a ritual reserved for funerals. That entire scene was totally wrong.
On another plot device, I've never heard of a police department Internal Affairs officer deliberately posing as someone breaking the law or inducing someone to break the law just to see if an officer will violate procedure. That's no different than the police creating a crime by entrapment. I find it difficult to believe the LAPD IA would employ this tactic. Moreover, in the scene in which a celebrity owing community service was induced to break the law, the TO got his revenge by issuing citations for multiple serious offenses. These citations would ultimately create a legal fiasco because his defense attorney could argue that his client was the victim of police corruption in forcing the celebrity to break the law to satisfy community service. I have to wonder if the producers for The Rookie have any liaison with the LAPD or a retired LAPD officer to review episode scripts before they are set in stone. It would seem not.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avenger Par Excellence
I read the negative reviews before seeing the film, both from IMDB members and professional critics, and went to the film with diminished expectations. I should have known better. Marvel has not made a bad movie yet. The film I saw today is clearly not the movie all these critics saw. Captain Marvel is an awesome film, and 'awesome' is not a term I use at my age. The well-written screenplay was a captivating story that exhibited moments of inspirational passion, moments of genuine pathos, and moments that were laugh-out-loud funny. I especially liked the opening tribute to Stan Lee and his cameo appearance in the film. All the actors gave stellar performances and the de-aging process was really cool to see. I would just point out that the overwhelming box office success is perhaps the most effective rebuttal to all the negative reviews.
The Rookie: Crash Course (2018)
I must give the writer Alexi Hawley credit for going back to the source material in developing the first two episodes. There are many parallels with the first four half-hour episodes of the first season of ADAM-12. In contrast to Sergeant Jones' objection to the age of Noland, Malloy at first objected to taking Reed as a partner because of his youth. Then Malloy educates Reed (for the audience's benefit) on the chief characteristics of the police car in typical Joe Friday rapid speech. Later Malloy and Reed get a call to aid in the arrest of armed "white supremacists," during which Reed disobeys Malloy by charging toward the bad guys without backup. Then there is the rescue of a baby, a car chase, Reed denting their police car, handling a domestic dispute, processing arrestees at the station, and Reed's irritation at having to turn a murder over to detectives.
In contrast to Reed of ADAM-12 who was not allowed to drive in the early days of his probation, Noland is allowed to drive very soon and then gets into a high speed pursuit. Noland is criticized for how he handled the pursuit, although it's not stated what the offense was that was the cause. Presumably it was a traffic violation, so the object of a pursuit is to keep eyes on the offender without crashing into objects on the way. Bishop calls for backup, but in reality once she announced their pursuit on the radio every police car within range would be hurrying to join the chase. We've all seen police chases on the evening news. Damaging the police car, as well as other cars, during this pursuit would probably result in private lecture from the Captain rather than in front of the whole watch and perhaps a temporary suspension.
I question whether Noland's chasing the kidnapper into the house complied with LAPD procedure, since he failed to maintain his pursuit of the kidnapper when he saw the shackled young woman. She was not in any immediate danger and by turning away from the suspect he almost got himself killed. This failure was not critiqued by his superior officer. Noland is rebuked for slugging the kidnapper and he is reminded that a police officer has to be composed and professional at all times. Hawley tries to make the point that police officers are human and they may react emotionally when they witness the worst of human behavior, a response Reed manifested on ADAM-12.
The Rookie: Pilot (2018)
I really like the new show featuring Nathan Fillion. The setting of the story and the characters make for an interesting show. The story helps illustrate that while wearing a common uniform police officers are individuals and not clones. They each have their strengths and weaknesses and personality quirks. Having been an LAPD officer in my youth (1971), I looked for familiar elements to my experience. The Rookie is nothing like the original Adam-12 series, episodes of which were actually shown in Academy classes back then to teach procedure. My training and experience was a world away from present-day policing. No body cams back then. Like Nolan I was assigned to an A-car, but its significance wasn't shown in the episode. The A-car is a component of community policing in Los Angeles, so that the assigned officers get to know a specific section of the city.
Some elements stood out to me as less than satisfactory. First, the story conflict of Sergeant Jones not accepting a 40-year old rookie seems overdone and artificial. Noland graduated the LAPD Academy, which is one of the toughest courses in America. Second, the review of equipment and procedure with the rookies by the T.O.'s was an unnecessary plot device and waste of story time. All those things were learned in the Academy, which includes actual duty in the field. Third, the fact that Noland fired his weapon at a suspect on his first day is unrealistic. The average police officer rarely fires his/her weapon in a crisis situation in their entire career. I certainly didn't in my short time with the LAPD.
It was a surprise that writer Alexi Hawley (who wrote and produced for Castle) introduced the sex factor in the pilot with Noland involved in an affair with a fellow cop, when it took Castle four years to get in bed with Becket. Also I had never before heard the term "badge bunny," but I certainly recall witnessing the phenomenon, especially in Hollywood where I served. Even with its flaws THE ROOKIE has great potential with its drama, action, humor and likable characters.
Lethal Weapon: In the Same Boat (2018)
Cole is Cool
I didn't realize how invested fans were in the actor that played TV Riggs until I read the reviews of this episode. Personally the TV Riggs was not the movie Riggs, in terms of the character or the actor. I quit watching the TV show after a few episodes in the first season because I couldn't stand the TV Riggs. Maybe it was the writer; maybe it was the actor, but it didn't suit me. So, I decided to give the new character a try. I really like the Cole character and the actor does it just right. Of course, the action is over the top and the heroes engage in conduct that would make them the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation in the real world, probably resulting in termination. But superiors look the other way since the bad guys (really bad guys) are killed (which is preferred) or arrested. Of course, arresting someone means that actual police investigation is required to gather evidence that will stand up in court. Fans don't have time for that tedious activity. Lethal Weapon is a show devoted to car chases, gun battles, hand-to-hand fighting and blowing stuff up. The fans of Lethal Weapon don't expect the show to be as authentic as NCIS. For what it is the new incarnation of Lethal Weapon is a good show.
The Shape of Water (2017)
The Shape of Prejudice
I have to say the film was beautifully shot and reflects an artistic approach with its use of color and texture. The actors all do a superlative job in their respective roles. The film has some delightful moments, like the scene of the dancing feet of Giles and Elise (shades of the film Chaplin?). Zelda is given numerous funny lines and she delivers them just right. The period details of architecture, food, clothing, appliances, furnishings, and television entertainment were well researched and gave a real sense of time and place. The director Guillermo del Toro described his film as a "fairy tale for troubled times." To me it's the film that is troubled due to many negative elements and dark tone.
Elise is introduced as a mute, introverted and sensitive woman who loves art, music and dancing. Then in a surprising scene we see the heroine fully nude masturbating in the bathtub. (Why?) Beneath her quiet façade is a sexually passionate woman, a woman who yearns for romance. For her romance finds its object in the Amphibian Asset. Unlike the original Beauty and the Beast story in which the beast is actually a human prince that had been cursed (and then restored), the Amphibian Asset is not human and never will be. The result is that sex between Elise and the Amphibian Asset really constitutes bestiality.
The polar opposite of Elise is Strickland who is the real "monster" from del Toro's point of view. Strickland is really a caricature of all the worst characteristics the Leftist writer can imagine for a fundamentalist Christian. He is rude and sexually crude. He makes personal and moral observations based on the Bible, which reveal prejudices. He sees himself as the image of God and the Amphibian Man, not having that image, deserves to die. He is clearly superior to the hired help. He's the head of his house, his wife a dutiful housewife, ready to service her husband to take care of his needs.
For all the effort given to make a "period film," del Toro includes many elements without any basis in reality. The Asset is taken to an aerospace research laboratory, which of course did not exist in Baltimore in 1962. The reason for taking the creature there is unclear. The film features a five-star Air Force General, which did not exist at the time. The last five-star General died in 1953. An annoying detail is that the General's military ribbons were not in the correct order. The story focuses on the space race between the U.S. and the USSR. At that time NASA, a civilian agency, was in charge of space exploration, not the military. Yet there is no mention of NASA in the movie. The writer also gives supernatural powers to the creature, who is able to stimulate hair growth in Giles and heal him, and later heals himself and Elisa, as well as creating gills in Elisa so she can breathe under water. Maybe the Asset was really extraterrestrial.
del Toro attempted to convey a certain message through the film, portraying from his point of view the lack social justice for issues like animals rights, gay rights and racial equality. He implies that nothing positive has changed in America since the 1960s while ignoring the fact that the country was run by Democrats in the 1960s. In the end he really wanted to proclaim his prejudice against traditional Christian values.
A Severe Disappointment
When I heard that the creative team that produced Castle (Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller) had developed a new show I had high expectations. Moreover, the pilot was written by veteran Castle producer and screenwriter David Amann and directed by John Terlesky another Castle reliable. It should have been outstanding. Unfortunately, it was just ... average. I was really let down. I observed a number of elements that Castle and Take Two have in common, beginning with someone from the entertainment industry shadowing a detective for creative inspiration. Next, the Take Two pilot begins with a clip of a supposed series "Hot Suspect," in which Sam, the actress/detective, uses a special kicking gimmick to take down the villain. The first episode of Castle also featured a gimmick for him to disarm the villain.
The scene transitions to a rehab center where we find the actress recovering from drug abuse. Enter her friend with hope of a new gig, but it will require working with an actual private detective, Eddie. We are supposed to believe that Sam, who had a successful detective TV series and fallen from grace because of drugs could be believable shadowing Eddie. Instead Sam constantly acts like she knows more than Eddie, a former LAPD detective, and refuses to follow his instructions. Sam treats the case Eddie is on as some kind of lark. Right off the bat I don't like her. Her whole manner is off-putting. Toward the end the pair defeat a bad guy with the kicking gimmick copied from her TV show that began the episode.
Then the show ends with her getting the credit for reinvigorating Eddie's business, which leads to her continuing the investigative relationship. Of course, Eddie is not without his faults. He and his office assistant (apparently a hacker) break the law to accomplish their investigative goals. The portrayal of the medical examiner was also pathetic and not even up to Castle standards. Actually, Marlowe and Miller should watch NCIS for how an ME should be portrayed. I also did not like the presumption of a couple of characters that the LAPD is corrupt, which may reflect the negative attitude that liberals have toward law enforcement.
Take Two will have to improve significantly to be anywhere as good as Castle. Maybe they could take some lessons from the Canadian series "Private Eyes," which is an outstanding series in my view. What Castle and Private Eyes have in common is that the characters are likable. The lead characters of Take Two don't come near that standard.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
While "Solo: A Star Wars Story" has had some negative press recently for lower than expected box office receipts, I went with high expectations. A basic question I had "Was the character someone who would shoot first?" I was not disappointed. We know the character from the original Star Wars film, but his backstory was only hinted at in that film. The plot of this film was clever and the questions concerning the origin of the relationship between Han and Chewbacca, Solo's connection to Lando and acquisition of the Millennium Falcon, and others were answered. (And, a number of delightful Easter eggs were thrown in.) Ron Howard did an excellent job as director and delivered a product that will be appreciated by fans of the Star Wars saga. I must say that after the depressing Infinity War film I was ready for an action-adventure film with a good outcome. It was a lot of fun to watch.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The End (2018)
SPOILER: While a few reviews gave the episode an extremely low rating (really a "1"?), the conclusion was appropriate for the season story-line. I appreciated the emotional punch at the end, which genuinely affected me. These are characters we've come to love. But, the future is not bleak for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. A sixth season will be aired. I fully expect Fitz to be recovered. And, how do we know that Coulson will actually die? You can be sure there is an escape hatch if the show-runners want to bring the character back. Remember that people thought Nick Fury was gone on more than one occasion. Many possibilities exist with the advent of Captain Marvel. I'll be anxiously waiting to find out what happens.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Apparently Thanos has accepted the Leftist myth that available resources are dwindling at such a rate as to be a threat to life. So his solution is to wipe out half the population of the universe. He obviously doesn't have a moral center and is not that far removed from modern liberals' advocacy of extreme measures to promote zero population growth.
Personally I didn't care for the story. I like movies that have a happy ending. I go to movies to be entertained, not depressed. I want to leave the theater feeling as good or better than I went in. This movie accomplished none of those personal desires. I went, hoping for better, but was seriously let down.
The movie was overstuffed with principal characters from previous Marvel's films (except for Coulson) and as a result the villain took center stage, just as the Joker upstaged Batman in Dark Knight . Moreover, the story wasn't all that interesting to me: "battle the bad guy (with sound and visual effects) and lose." There was no character development or situations that could have some relevance to our lives. The superheroes functioned within the scope of their powers much like puppets on a stage. There were few humorous moments, but they couldn't save the film from its stupid plot.
It was clear to me as I endured the two and a half hours that the only reason Marvel Studios didn't resolve the Thanos threat in this movie is to ensure a bigger payday. Presumably the bad day for the universe will be remedied by the next Avengers movie. By then I doubt I'll care. I'm ready to move on.
Black Panther (2018)
Wakanda and Naïve Globalism
Marvel has scored another hit at the box office, as well as among movie critics. I read some reviews before seeing the movie and was surprised at the wide range of ratings. Going in I was willing to give it a "7" going in, just because it is Marvel. I haven't seen a bad Marvel movie yet. Black Panther was no exception, yet it possessed a strange dualism. On the one hand, the movie was superbly made, cleverly written, possessing great cinematography, exciting special effects, top-notch acting by all the principals and several moments of laugh-out-loud humor. I would not be surprised if Black Panther received Oscar nominations for more than special effects.
On the other side I felt, as a Conservative, that Coogler and Cole were intent on lecturing me from their Leftist-Globalist political ideology. There were subtle but obvious jabs at the Trump Administration. I suppose we should give T'Challa some slack since he is so new at governing. He (indeed the entire MCU) ignores the threat of Radical Islam and he hasn't considered what he would do if millions of illegal immigrants showed up at the gates of Wakanda for their slice of the pie. Killmonger did offer a valid reality check that as soon as the world became aware of Wakanda's scientific advancements, other powers would want to come and take it away from them.
Wakanda, of course, is a fantasy. While it seeks to reflect African culture and succeeds in various ways, it fails to represent the diversity of the continent of Africa. Many times in the movie speech patterns, idiomatic expressions and mannerisms reflect black culture in America rather than Africa. One aspect that is accurate is inter-tribal competition, which in the history of Africa resulted in internecine warfare. Africans have not historically manifested the philosophy of "one tribe." "White people" are presented in the film as colonizers (which Everett Ross rejects), but ignored is the fact that Christian missionaries brought medicine, hospitals, schools and improved agriculture. Yes, white people engaged in the horrific slave trade, but conversely white people ended it. White people have given over and over for the good of Africa and Africa is the better for it.
Frankly, I liked Black Panther better in Captain America: Civil War where he wasn't preaching at us. I wonder if he will try his Liberal ideology on Thanos. Nah. Thanos does not believe in sharing the wealth.
The Resident (2018)
Malfeasance in Television Medicine
The critics of this show have made excellent points. I was totally turned off by the pilot episode. The producers seem bent on defaming the medical profession. I sure would not want to go to that hospital for treatment. You have a head of surgery who should be charged at least with manslaughter and his surgical team fired and sued for covering up his criminal negligence. There's the cowboy doctor with the ten gallon ego who is more than willing to crush the ethical code of the new resident. Then there is the stereotypical libidinous doctor who is more interested in screwing a nurse than performing his medical responsibilities. It seems Fox is continuing in its trend of producing programs designed to "shock" the sensibilities. This show is no where near the quality of past medical shows like ER, Grey's Anatomy and St. Elsewhere.
This episode moves the narrative forward with the mention by Kasius of a prophecy of the SHIELD team coming from the past. The source of the so-called prophecy is not revealed, but this introduces a kind of mystical element. The writers are die-hard evolutionists who have a materialistic view of the world, so you would think that prophecy would not be considered. Why should we suppose that any of the AOS characters would hold such a view? Is prophecy guaranteed to be fulfilled or can it be defeated? It will be interesting to see how this concept is developed.
We are introduced to another Inhuman, this time a telepath named Ben. While there are many telepaths in the Marvel comics they haven't been featured before in AOS. Daisy opines that telepaths shouldn't be allowed to read minds, a principle that drove much of the story of Babylon 5. Of course, a moment will come when Daisy becomes thankful for Ben's ability. The story line of auctioning off Inhumans fighting in an arena for potential buyers seems to continue borrowing from the setting of Thor Ragnarok. Now Daisy will be pitted against an adversary for a buyer.
What the Kree and the buyers haven't seem to grasp is that Inhumans with very powerful abilities would be extremely dangerous when the restraint is removed for them to use their abilities. It would take only a moment for Daisy to kill everyone in the building. Of course, the writers won't unleash the fury of Daisy, because that wouldn't serve the plot they're developing. But, it would be cool to watch.
The story line of Mack and Yo-Yo confronting Gunner is a real test of Mack's ethics of pacifism. In reality he won't kill someone, but he does have a problem with anger management. Mack beats Gunner for insulting him as not being father material.
There's a nice scene when Deke, Coulson and Melinda find a baby in a laboratory and then have to fight off a couple of Kree guards. Coulson take Deke away, leaving Melinda to fight the Kree female assassin Sinara. We're not shown the end of that fight but later Sinara appears at the Kree gala and says she's taken care of their newest guest. Obviously, she can't mean she killed Melinda. Maybe Melinda was captured or maybe she was rescued by an amazing intervention. We will have to wait and see.
This episode concluded with a surprising and dramatic entrance of an apparent buyer at the Kree gala, someone who can wreak havoc on the plans of the Kree. Stay tuned. The excitement is beginning to mount.
Daisy the Destroyer
This episode creates more interest with the introduction of an inhuman (Abby) who has a remarkable ability to control the molecules of her body. After a contest between an experienced arena fighter and Abby, a woman of some importance (Basha) buys Abby from the Kree, probably for nefarious purposes. It appears the Kree intends to use Jemma to help train Inhumans.
The scene in the Trawler helped move the narrative along in a dramatic way. There's a nice moment of intimacy between Coulson and Melinda in the trawler. Then Mack is his usual annoying pacifist self when Tessa wants to kill Zev after he attacks them. I guess Coulson's team is not supposed to have double-O authority, but Mack's skewed code of ethics put the team in jeopardy. Tessa stepped up to take the blame, but the writer found another way to get rid of Zev, as roach bait.
Deke raises the issue again of Daisy as the cause of earth's destruction and throws in another likely red herring of multiple universes. I hope that possibility isn't repeated. AOS doesn't need to borrow the concept of parallel universes from Star Trek or Flash/Supergirl. Daisy gets upset at being called Quake, but it looks like she gets a new title from the Kree, "Destroyer of Worlds."
This episode concludes with the scene from the end of the last 4th season episode, so that now it is in context. The question is, who was on the other end of that radio transmission? How could they have been expecting Coulson's team? Lots of questions still to be explained.
JAG: Above and Beyond (1997)
As a retired Army officer I had very mixed feelings about this episode. The actor Montel Williams really got into his role and made it believable. The character of LT Rivers had several layers. He was passionate, courageous and innovative. On the negative size he was a real jerk and cruel as a trainer. The character does not seek the award, but plays the race card when he must answer questions arising from the investigation of the rescue. That part Williams seemed to embrace with enthusiasm.
The script writer, Paul Levine, who received a legal education at the University of Miami, apparently had no prior military experience. I can only wonder whether Levine submitted his script to a military advisor for review. I tend to think not.
I personally don't believe the action of LT Rivers to rescue a diplomat merited the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military award. The number of enemy killed in the action is irrelevant to determining the merit for the award. The Medal of Honor is given for "gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty." What LT Rivers did was not beyond the call of duty, but in fact in line with his duty, although he actually disobeyed orders to rescue the diplomat. If the rescue attempt had failed LT Rivers would have been facing a court-martial, not an award.
The next two awards in the military order of precedence should have been considered. The second highest award for LT Rivers would be the Navy Cross, which is awarded for "extraordinary heroism." The third highest award is the Silver Star, which is awarded for "gallantry in action." Rivers could also have been awarded the Bronze Star and Navy Combat Action Ribbon.
But, it seems obvious to me that the producer wanted to have a medal presentation that would involve the President, which at the time was President Clinton. This decision itself is kind of ironic, because having been in the Army at that time I can say that while President Clinton was popular with the Hollywood Left, he was not popular among military officers.
Then, the episode ends with LT Rivers leaving the Medal of Honor on the tombstone of his father. I'm sure Levine considered this a touching and dramatic gesture. It was also totally disrespectful of the Medal of Honor and something that a recipient would never do. Leaving the Medal of Honor in the cemetery for anyone to pick up is like someone stomping on the flag.
So, while the story of the rescue and JAG's investigation was very dramatic, Levine's story concept of presenting the Medal of Honor was extremely disappointing and disrespectful to the military.
A Crappy End for Agent Todd
Agent Todd was killed off ostensibly because Sasha Alexander wanted to leave the show to pursue other opportunities. However, the producer surely could have just decided to transfer Todd or disable her or create some family emergency to take her away, or something short of death. That would have left the door open for a return in the future. I have to wonder if Alexander's desire to leave didn't rankle the producers.
I remember reading comments of J. Michael Straczynski, creator and writer of Babylon 5 when he removed the character Talia Winters, that he had a trap door built underneath every one of his characters. The actress Andrea Thompson wanted more screen time and to be a more significant player in the drama. However, Straczynski was producing a novel for television and Andrea was not going to get her wishes. So Straczynski pulled the plug. He said at one point, "Generally speaking, about once a year, toward the end of the year, I kinda look around at the characters with a loaded gun in my hand, and say, "Hmmm...if I take out *that* person, what happens? Is there anyone here I can afford to lose? Would it be more dramatically interesting to have this person alive, or dead? What is the absolute bare minimum of characters I need to get to the end of the story and achieve what I have to achieve?"
I don't know if Bellasario and his fellow producers took that approach to NCIS, but this program is episodic by nature. There does not seem to be an overall story arc for the series. Therefore, I don't understand the compelling reason to get rid of Agent Todd, especially after all the crap she had to put up with from DiNozzo all season long. It just seems really unjust, considering this is a show about a team that seeks justice.
JAG: King of the Fleas (1997)
I've only recently begun watching JAG on DVD. I never saw the series in first run. However, having retired from the Army I'm impressed by the respect for the military in this series and its faithfulness to depict accurately military customs. This episode was a powerful dramatic presentation, and the guest star who portrayed Willie did a masterful job. The story was full of pathos and anyone who had served in Viet Nam wouldn't need reenactments to comprehend Willie's horrifying memories of being a POW.
Another Nice Mess
The Season Five two-part opener "Orientation" began with some clever homages to Guardians of the Galaxy, Men in Black and Alien, but then we learn the meaning of the last scene of Season 4. The AOS show- runners have decided to make the Coulson team prisoners again, substituting the Kree for the LMD. Maybe the Marvel brain trust is tired since they can't imagine any adventures for the Coulson team that doesn't involve imprisonment. To complicate matters more the Coulson team has been teleported at least 90 years into the future and they discover that the earth has been destroyed. The MCU/X-Men films have certainly presented the attempt several times by someone trying destroy the earth, but apparently now someone has succeeded. There is a hint that maybe Daisy was responsible (earth was "quaked"), but that has to be a red herring. Daisy was teleported long before the destruction occurred, so she couldn't be the cause. (Think: when you do time travel you have to consider all the potential consequences.) Also, Daisy has never manifested that kind of god-like planet-destroying power. She certainly doesn't have the power of Magneto in X-Men Apocalypse. Being teleported 90 years into the future implies that the solution is time travel back, which is a really cheap trick to get the good guys out of a plot corner the writers should not have invented in the first place. We can't fault the actors. They do an excellent job with the script and story they've been handed. The actors may not mind. They love stories full of pathos that will give them an opportunity to exhibit their acting skills. Meanwhile the reason for the existence of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems ignored. Maybe the show should be renamed "Agents of the Kree." They could go off on space adventures with a five-year mission. Maybe they could hook up with Star Lord and do something a little bad. Don't get me wrong. The two-part opener had some interesting elements: one-liner jokes alluding to horror movies, new characters and meeting the Kree. One reviewer suggests that this episode spoils Avengers Infinity War, although it may be no more than a hint. The Avengers movie may well be drawn from the comic stories of the Kree vs. Skrull war. It will be interesting to see how Coulson's team get themselves out of this nice mess.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
A Slightly Different Tale
Fans of Agatha Christie are rightfully disappointed in Branagh's film because the screenplay changed so much as to make the film a mockery of the novel. I'm surprised the Christie estate supported it. Comparisons are naturally being made with the 1974 Lumet film which closely followed the novel and was a much superior production to this one. There are only a few positives in Branagh's film. The cinematography is outstanding and the set design demonstrated attention to detail. Branagh made the train car interiors wider than actual to accommodate camera angles, a major challenge to the 1974 production which used actual train cars. Also, the much-maligned mustache is closer to the Poirot of the novels than the Suchet- mustache. The actors did the best they could with a bad script, although I think Ridley with her quirky grin was miscast as Miss Debenham, and Depp's portrayal of Ratchett was weird.
Branagh's film makes many changes to the novel. The film opens in Jerusalem with Poirot stepping in a pile of manure (why?) and then shifts to a scene in front of the wailing wall. Poirot has a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest standing in front of the wailing wall, giving the appearance of an acted out joke. Maybe the screenwriter was trying to inject humor into a serious story, but in my view made Poirot look silly and showed a lack of sensitivity to the holiest site in Judaism. The producer and director deserve to be censured by the Israeli government.
The Arbuthnot character is a black doctor rather than a British Colonel. Perhaps Branagh wanted to preempt criticism from the PC crowd as experienced by the film "Dunkirk" for not including black soldiers in the British Army. But, the PC crowd is not concerned about accuracy. Then tension was added to the story with other elements not in the book: the train being stopped on a trestle over a gorge, omitting Dr. Constantine, Arbuthnot examining the body of Ratchett and giving a medical opinion, Mrs. Hubbard being stabbed, Poirot chasing McQueen onto the trestle, Poirot being shot, and Poirot offering Mrs. Hubbard to shoot him since he couldn't live with the knowledge of accommodating murderers.
The final summing up of the case takes place outdoors rather than in the dining car as in the book. Branagh no doubt wanted to avoid the difficulties encountered in the making of the 1974 film. In that film Albert Finney as Poirot had to repeat the dining car summation multiple times in order to get the camera shots of the various characters that Poirot was addressing.
Branagh's film (as well as the 2010 made-for-TV movie starring David Suchet), has Poirot struggling on the horns of a dilemma: bring charges against the 12 people who conspired to kill Ratchett, or say nothing and become an accessory to murder after the fact. Both Suchet and Branagh want Poirot to act as judge and declare the conspirators morally wrong, which Christie does not do.
In the novel Poirot accurately deduces those responsible for Ratchett's death, but remains neutral. He proposes two solutions to the crime, one in which the crime was committed by an outside assassin and the other in which twelve persons on the train killed Ratchett. He leaves it to the owner of the railroad to decide what to tell the authorities. The owner with agreement by Dr. Constantine decide on the assassin. Christie essentially leaves the moral dilemma to the reader.
Liberal film-makers, of course, don't believe murderers should die for their crimes and confuse justice with revenge. In my view the actions of the passengers to kill Ratchett was justifiable homicide. Ratchett was a serial murderer who had not been held to account for any of his crimes. Christie's choice of 12 victims meting out justice is actually based on the Bible since God decreed that those whose testimony condemned a man were to participate in his execution (Deuteronomy 13:9; 17:7).
As an adaptation of Christie, I give the film a "3." If the novel did not exist, I would give the film a "6." The religious insensitivity of the first act seriously detracts from an otherwise quality product, the poor performances of Depp and Ridley notwithstanding.
Gong fu yu jia (2017)
Jackie Chan goes Bollywood
Honestly, I don't understand the bad reviews. Chan is older, but he still has the moves. The film producers didn't have American millennials in mind when they developed the script. Their target audience was China and India and I am sure the people there loved it. The film, even with its flaws of melding Chinese, Indian and English dialog, is still fun. The car chase in Dubai was incredible and Chan discovering a lion in his car was hilarious. And, in this age of crude and prurient films coming out of Hollywood, Kung Fu Yoga is a good popcorn film for the family.
Inhumans: Divide and Conquer (2017)
Whatever might be said about the script, the actors have given excellent performances. They are committed to producing a quality product.
I like the way the story is developing and each character (of the good guys) "beamed" down to earth meet up with interesting people with whom they form connections. Members of the Royal Family are functioning about as well as might be expected under the circumstances. I found the Medusa/ATM scene to be funny. Each to his own, I guess. Each of the "bad guy" team sent by Maximus have formidable powers, but I can hope that once Maximus is deposed (assuming that's where the series is headed) there can be a reconciliation of all the Moon-Inhumans.
One of the elements that I especially like about this series is showing the impact of the release of terrigen at the end of Season 2 of AOS on other people in different parts of the world. AOS was kind of an insular series with its focus on a specific group of people. So, now will the Earth-Inhumans unite with the Moon-Inhumans or will it be war? I look forward to the coming episodes.