She spilleth about Lilith.

So I learned from a friend last night about the mythical significance of Lilith in the Talmud.  This was Adam’s first wife, portrayed in the same books that would later comprise the Book of Genesis — though she was excised from them when they were incorporated into the Bible.  (Yes, I have weird telephone conversations with my friends before bed.)

Aside from being a notable figure for feminists (she demanded equality with Adam), Lilith is alternatively portrayed as an evil or demonic figure.  If I understand correctly, this is because she defied God’s law about Adam’s superiority, essentially “divorced” him, and left the Garden of Eden.  (Jewish tradition holds that Eve was actually Adam’s third wife.)

So now I understand why the name pops up so often for villains in horror films and fiction.  My own favorite is the vampire queen Lilith from the 2010 film adaptation of Steve Niles’ comic series, “30 Days of Night: Dark Days.”  (See the trailer in the first video below.  She’s the girl with the … dark eyes.)  “Dark Days” was a surprisingly terrific movie for a direct-to-video sequel … Niles seems to be the rare creator to have anything he touches turn to gold.  (In addition to the movies, the many comic book limited series under the “30 Days of Night” banner have been almost uniformly excellent … “Dead Space” was pretty clunky and the 2017 reboot was largely unnecessary, but they were both still enjoyable.)

Anyway, the Lilith you see in the trailer was played by the priceless Mia Kirshner.  If she seems a like a familiar female villain, it might be because you remember Kirshner as Mandy, the mysterious, cherubic assassin on “24” (2001-2014).

It also occurs to me now that the name of Frazier’s ex-wife on “Cheers” and “Frazier” was a subtle joke too — complete with an ostensibly psychic character calling her an “evil presence.”

You learn something new every day.

 

 

A review of Season 1 of “Condor” (2018)

When Season 1 of “Condor” was good — and it almost always was — it was a cinema-quality spy thriller.  This was a smart, suspenseful, well made TV show that was very nearly perfect — I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.

“Condor” was adapted loosely from James Grady’s 1974 book, “Six Days of the Condor,” and its famous film adaptation the following year, “Three Days of the Condor.”  I’ve neither read the former or seen the latter, but I can tell you that this new iteration of the story is intelligently written, nicely directed and edited, and well performed by its actors.  It seems to channel the modus operandi of Tom Clancy’s books and films — showing multiple thoughtful characters plotting and acting either against or alongside one another — while the show keeps the tension high with sequences of surprise violence.  (And there is indeed some disturbing violence here, particularly when the story calls for it to be perpetrated against non-combatants.  “Condor” aired on the Audience channel on DirecTV; I suspect its content might be too much for a regular network.)

William Hurt has always been a goddam national treasure, as far as I’m concerned.  (I may be biased in my appraisal of his work, as I grew up watching him in films like  1983’s “Gorky Park” and 1988’s “The Accidental Tourist.”  I think he’s one of the best actors out there.)  Seeing his talent colliding with Bob Balaban’s on screen should make this show required viewing for anyone who enjoys spy thrillers.  (There is an extended, loaded exchange between them in a coffee shop here that is absolutely priceless.)

The whole cast is great.  I’ve never been a fan of Brendan Fraser, simply because his movies are usually too goofy for me — but he shines in “Condor,” playing against type as an awkward villain.

Leem Lubany is terrific as the story’s merciless assassin.  (See my comments above about the violence.)  The role doesn’t call for her to have much range, as her character is a somewhat stoical sociopath.  But she looks and sounds the part — combining sex appeal with an incongruous, calm, homicidal intensity.  She reminded me a lot of Mandy, Mia Kirshner’s priceless, plot-driving assassin in Fox’s “24” (2001-2014).

If “Condor” has a failing, then it lies with its saccharine protagonists.  The screenwriters seem to have gone to great lengths to paint an edgy, unpredictable, violent world full of compromised good guys and moral ambiguity.  Why, then, are its handful of young heroes so implausibly perfect?  The putative hero is “Joe,” nicely played Max Irons, who is just fine in the role.  But the writers make him so idealistic, so gentle, so smart and so kind that it just requires too much suspension of disbelief.  At one point I even wanted to see a bad guy at least punch him in the face, simply for being a goody-goody.  It makes the story feel weird, too.  (Who wants to see Jesus in a violent spy thriller?)  The few other protagonists that we see here are also too good — they feel like thinly drawn, cookie-cutter heroes and not real people.

There are some plot implausibilities, too, that I’ve seen pointed out by other reviewers.  (I have arrived at the resignation that others are simply far more perceptive about these things than I am.)  But there was nothing that affected my enjoyment of Season 1.

“Condor” is great stuff.  I recommend it.

 

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Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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A short review of “Patient Zero” (2018)

I’d be lying to you if I told you that “Patient Zero” (2018) is an especially good movie.  It isn’t.  It plays a lot like the classic “28 Days Later” (2002) would play if it were produced by the SyFy Channel, and by that I mean it generally is a poorly written, low-budget cheese-fest.  (This is one of those movies where even the score was kinda bad.)  Still, there were some hints of greatness hidden within this lackluster zombie movie — enough to save it from being a complete failure — and I would reluctantly rate it a 5 out of 10.  (Most other reviewers are not even that kind.)

First, it has some fine performers. These include two “Game of Thrones” actors who are always fun to watch — the mesmerizing Natalie Dormer and the consistently likable John Bradley.  (The latter seems to specialize in winning audiences over as the “hero’s-affable-friend” role.)  “Doctor Who” fans will of course recognize Matt Smith in the lead role.  But by far and away, they’re overshadowed by a fantastic performance by Stanley Tucci as the zombies’ surprisingly eloquent leader.  (More on that in a moment.)  Tucci is truly a great actor and he makes a perfectly menacing bad guy; his voice, diction and line delivery are goddam perfect.  His talent for voicing a magnetic, highly intelligent antagonist reminds me of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan on “The Walking Dead,” or one of the better “big bads” seen on “24” (2001 – 2014).

Second, there are some really clever ideas hiding under this thin, hasty script.  (I strongly get the sense that “Patient Zero” was a rush job for screenwriter Mike Le and director Vincent Newman.)  The hyper-kinetic zombies here are afflicted with “super-rabies” and are reminiscent of their ilk from “28 Days Later.”  But there is a truly intriguing plot conceit — their roars and screams are perfectly intelligible to Smith’s protagonist.  He speaks their “language” because he’s infected, but also mysteriously asymptomatic.  When he interrogates the zombies for the military, their interaction is filmed as normal dialogue (creating the opportunity for Tucci’s terrific turn here).  Then things get even more interesting when it’s demonstrated that the ostensibly mindless zombies are quite proficient at planning an attack.

I … might be treating this movie a bit charitably simply because I liked some of its ingredients.  Again, I don’t actually recommend it.  But your mileage may vary.

 

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A few quick words on the Season 3 premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead” (2017)

I’m going to go ahead and commit horror-nerd heresy here … at this point, I think I enjoy AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead” more than “The Walking Dead.”  The characters feel more “real,” and the stories move far, far faster.

Last night’s first episode was a hell of a lot of creepy, disturbing, pathological fun — enough for me to give it a 9 out of 10.  And to make it a little cooler, we’ve got a couple of terrific “that guy” actors in supporting roles.  The first is “Band of Brothers” and “24” alumnus Ross McCall, the second is “The Following’s” Sam Underwood.

Good stuff!

 

 

A few quick words on “24: Legacy” (2017)

I hate to say it, but “24: Legacy” (2017) was mostly average stuff; I’d give the 12-episode arc a 7 out of 10 for being a mildly engaging thriller, but nothing more than that.

I was one of the few people back in the day who opined that “24” could continue even without Kiefer Sutherland.  As priceless as he was in his role as anti-hero Jack Bauer, he wasn’t the only star of the show — the show’s gritty universe and its unique format could carry on without him.  I even thought, during the early years, that Fox was grooming Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) to be a viable lead if Sutherland departed.

I still think the show could manage without Sutherland.  The real culprit behind “Legacy’s” failure to stand out was its somewhat average writing.  It wasn’t bad, exactly … it was just average.  (Alright — for a little while, it was bad.  We see a key subplot/cliffhanger repeated three times, consecutively, in the same season. I’m surprised that major redundancy made it past the editing process.)  But mostly, it was average — we see thin staples of characters, and a plot that seemed largely reminiscent of … well, every other season of “24.”  (Admittedly, it must be tough after nine years to think up an original story for a serialized contemporary terror thriller in real-time format.)

The sad part is this — during the show’s final two or three episodes, it started showing more promise, with truly original plotting and unexpected conflicts.

The show got disappointing ratings.  We won’t know until at least May, but I think most viewers are guessing it won’t be renewed for another season.