I barely remember this TV commercial for Milton Bradley’s “Stratego,” but I sure remember the game. (Thanks to Youtube user Lokke for posting it online.) When I was a kid, I used to think of it as “pre-chess” — the strategy game that kids played before they graduated to that paragon of all games — even for adults. (I was quite the chess enthusiast when I was in gradeschool, which is odd, because I wasn’t exceptionally good at it.)
My skill at Stratego was similarly undistinguished, I guess. I pretty consistently relied on the most obvious gambit … planting my “flag” piece in the corner and surrounding it by “bombs.” (To keep my opponent guessing, I’d sometimes pull a switcheroo and plant my “flag” in the other corner.)
My older brother had been playing Stratego for longer than I had; it was his board game, after all. So he regularly sent his “miners” and expendable pieces straight for my predictable strongholds to ultimately win the game. (Come to think of it, the kid next door got wise to my standard gameplay pretty early on as well.)
But I still loved it. Stratego was hella fun. (Yes, I am back on the “hella” train.) I remember being in my early 20’s and being delighted when it was mentioned on “The X-Files.” It was in the Season 2 episode “Colony,” in which Fox Mulder’s long lost sister returns. (Or does she?) The first thing the putative sibling does when she she spots her brother is joke about Stratego. That felt like a shout-out just for me.
As if I weren’t eager enough for “Westworld’s” return on April 22, Sunday’s ad during the Super Bowl was high art. That music you hear is Kanye West’s “Runaway,” given “Westworld’s” trademark piano treatment.
I actually don’t care much for the longer trailer that follows it, which I now know was released previously. It feels disconnected, and that song is positively grating.
A show like “The Exorcist” must be difficult to write. It stands in the shadow of some of horror’s greatest films (William Friedkin’s 1973 original and the third movie in 1990). Its plot device is inevitably redundant. (How many possessed innocents can we see strapped to beds while priests pray at them?) It seems easy to stray into camp. And it seems like a story concept that is tough to structure into a serialized format.
But the second season of “The Exorcist” was … fantastic. It surpassed the first season, and I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.
The ten-episode arc wisely changes things up a bit from Season 1, which was maybe a bit too reminiscent of the films. Our priestly dynamic duo are on the road in America’s northwest, and on the run from a Vatican that has been infiltrated by followers of the demon Pazuzu. (As stupid as all of that sounds, the show actually depicts it quite well.) As the story proceeds, there are a couple of surprise plot developments that will contradict most viewers’ expectations. (I won’t spoil them here.)
The characters are all likable and all well played. Ben Daniels remains possibly the show’s strongest asset as the senior priest; he’s just a superb actor. John Cho also gives a fine performance as the head of a foster home where a demon runs amok. Alfonso Herrera is quite good as the apprentice priest — his character is better written this time around, and isn’t saccharine to the point of annoyance. And Herrera himself seems more comfortable in the role. The kids are damned cool — all of them, and their interaction with their foster father was surprisingly sweet and funny — which raises the stakes emotionally when the entire household is besieged by a sadistic force.
The weaknesses here were minor. I think the ten episodes could have been shortened to seven or eight, to make them tighter. (I realize I write that about a lot of shows, and I’m not sure why.) The first five episodes were tightly plotted, while the second five were a little loose. I think better editing would have entirely excised the flashback scenes depicting Daniels’ character and this season’s new female exorcist, played by Zuleikha Robinson. (Yes, that is indeed Yves Adele Harlow from “The Lone Gunmen” and “The X-Files.”)
The flashbacks were cheesy, even if they gave Daniels a chance to show his range. They depict his tutelage of Robinson’s character decades prior, complete with some cliche pulp novel stuff. (Ugh.) We’re shown that the priest is younger because of his blond, surfer-esque haircut. (Really?) The flashbacks were out of place, and a little too campy. They reminded me of the comic book style of the “Highlander” films and TV series — this show could have done without them.
I also found myself slightly annoyed by a dearth of exposition about the process of exorcism itself. After the films and now two seasons of the show, I wanted to know more about the key actions here that affect the story’s resolution. Do some prayers or methods work better than others? Then why not use them all the time? Why are some interventions more lengthy or difficult? We are told that the demon attacking this family is different than Pazuzu, who we’ve seen in the past (though Pazuzu still puts in an appearance this season). Can the demons coordinate their efforts, or at least communicate with each other? If not, why not? These seem like logical questions to ask, both for the characters and the viewers.
But there is something more that bothered me. If a demon is intelligent and wants to harm people, then why make its presence known — and why torment or kill only a few people? Why not remain undetected until it can commit a mass murder? Or even perpetrate an act of terrorism, and harm far greater numbers of people by causing riots or wars? That would suit evil’s purposes far more than the garish individual spectacles we find them performing in horror tales like these. (Maybe I’m just analyzing too much.)
Anyway, I cheerfully recommend “The Exorcist.” It might be the most grownup horror show on television.
And one more thing — there’s some fun to be had here recognizing actors from other roles. Daniels was a member of the Rebel Alliance in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016). And there is actually another “The X-Files” alum here — even if it was only a small role. I thought that Harper’s mother looked familiar — the actress playing her was Rochelle Greenwood. She’s none other than the teenage waitress who witnessed Walter Skinner getting shot waaaaay back in 1996’s classic episode, “Piper Maru.” (Can I remember faces or what?)
I watched the first episode of Season 2 of “The Exorcist” series (2016), and I’m happy to report it was a fun, scary start. (The season began this past September; its ten-episode arc concluded at the end of the year.) I’d rate the premiere a 9 out of 10, and I’m on board for another demonic outing.
Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels return as a kind of dynamic duo of protagonist priests — all the more so because they appear to be on the run from a Roman Catholic Church that no longer sanctions their heroics. (The show is actually well written, and this isn’t as stupid as I just made it sound.) Herrera and Daniels are both terrific, even if an opening action chase scene reintroducing them here was unintentionally funny. (They’re absconding by pickup truck with a possessed woman — her gun-toting country family, who is unaware of their intentions, is in pursuit. I kept thinking this was a like a sequel to 1990’s “Nuns on the Run.”)
Herrera’s character feels a bit more interesting this time out. Six months on the lam as exorcist-knight-errant has made him grim and unexpectedly arrogant — his darker character is more fun to watch than the slightly cloying, pretty-boy apprentice we sometimes saw in Season 1.
There are more things that make Season 2 seem promising, too. It looks as though the afflicted woman that we see (nicely played by Zibby Allen) drives only this season’s prologue. The demon antagonist has its sights set on a foster home staffed by a likable altruistic Dad (John Cho) and his equally likable five charges. (One of them is Brianna Hildebrand, who comic fans might recognize as Negasonic Teenage Warhead from 2016’s “Deadpool.” Is she here after being thrown out of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?)
This was fun. I’m looking forward to the rest of the story.
The “Wolf Creek” film and TV franchise has all the earmarks of second-rate horror schlock — it’s got a cliched premise, a slightly campy villain, and a redundant story. It just happens to be exceptionally well made, though — I’d rate Season 2 of the television series a 9 out of 10.
I still love the “Wolf Creek” series. Much of the credit should go to John Jarratt, who portrays the plot-driving serial killer. In addition to being physically intimidating, he brings tons of menace and unnerving personality to what would otherwise be a gratingly cartoonish role. He appears to be a superb character actor. His voice and his face are so damned frightening here that I wonder what it would be like to meet him in real life.
Like the two feature films and Season 1 of the show, this six-episode arc also benefits from capable acting, directing and screenwriting, and beautiful cinematography. Series creator Greg McLean once again wisely allows rural Australia to sporadically steal the scene.
With all of that said, I do suspect that the formula here will soon begin wearing thin. I know that there is a “Wolf Creek 3” planned, but I don’t know if it will be a third film or a third TV season. If it’s going to continue to excel, it eventually needs to do something new and different with its story. Only then can it continue to rise so well above its B-movie components.
The Internet is a fine thing. Below is the complete rendition of Irma Thomas’ “Anyone Who Knows What Love is,” performed by the character of Abi in “Black Mirror’s” second episode of Season 1. It’s a beautiful song, and a real highlight of the episode, “Fifteen Million Merits.” The talented actress here is Jessica Brown Findlay.
The song actually pops up in another episode of “Black Mirror.” (I am new to the show, but I am enjoying it chronologically with a dear friend of mine who has already seen all the episodes.) Season 2’s tour de force, “White Christmas,” has one character singing the song in a karaoke bar. My friend pointed out that we briefly glimpse an in-universe TV show in the very same episode, in which dancers are seen on a stage that looks like the one in “Fifteen Million Merits.”
Do all (or some) of “Black Mirror’s” episodes take place in the same fictional universe? It kinda feels plausible. The variations of optically linked computers in different episodes, for example, seem to dovetail pretty nicely.
“Black Mirror” seems to me to be the best science fiction show on television; I’d rate Season 2 (2013) a 9 out of 10. (I’m never quite certain whether to group British shows by “season” or by “series,” as they do. I’m also a little uncertain why the fourth and final episode here, “White Christmas,” is included in Season 2, as it aired nearly two years later as a 2014 holiday special.)
I commented to a friend of mine after seeing “White Christmas” the other night that the show was “brave” — it just isn’t afraid to alienate mainstream audiences by being too dark. Not all of “Black Mirror’s” episodes have “twists,” but they typically have an unexpected plot development, and their outcomes and implications are arguably depressing.
It’s just such a damned good show, though, in terms of its writing and acting. My friend told me she wasn’t aware of anyone who had seen it and disliked it.
“White Christmas,” for example, was one of the best hours of science fiction television I’ve ever seen. It consists of three blackly tragic vignettes seamlessly woven withing a wraparound story, and it employs a sci-fi plot device that is mind-bending and brutal. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen its lead actor, Jon Hamm, and I was extremely impressed with his performance.
My only quibbles with the program are extremely minor. As with the first season, I think that not every episode truly requires a 44-minute running length. I thought two episodes (“Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment”) seemed like they could have been tightened up into one, maybe with tighter writing allowing for shorter segments.
I’ve noticed another minor relative weakness with “Black Mirror” in general as well — the show does not always present the viewer with likable protagonists. Occasionally, the various characters we’re asked to identify with are either slightly off-putting or even annoying. Again, “Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment” spring to mind. This wasn’t enough to greatly affect my enjoyment of the episodes, though.
What an incredible show.
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS GENERAL, MINOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON 7 OF “THE WALKING DEAD.”] I loved Sunday’s season finale of “The Walking Dead” — it was well executed, well performed (especially by Andrew Lincoln), and well written. It was even beautifully scored. (The closing narration and montage, combined with the music, were surprisingly moving.) It had some great twists, unexpectedly good CGI, and some nice callbacks to the original comics. (One surprise we see actually occurs with respect to another major character in the books.) Towards the end of the episode, I was riveted.
The finale, however, can’t really redeem Season 7 as a whole. I would honestly rate the season a 7 out of 10. This was definitely one of the lesser seasons; I believe it would be the one I liked the least, if not for the inexplicably poor Season 2.
Maybe I was a little grumpy about “The Walking Dead” even before the season started. Like a lot of viewers, I felt that the “cliffhanger” where Season 6 left off was absolutely manipulative on the part of the writers. It pissed me off, and I went into Season 7 with reservations.
Then I was reminded about some of the smaller complaints I had about the show in the past. I strongly differ with my friends about this show’s character development — I think it’s inconsistent at best. And “The Walking Dead” seems to have so many characters that it can’t seem to decide who is a major character and who is not.
There’s a bit too much cheesy melodrama, like the schoolyard dynamics among the good kids, Maggie and Jesus, and the meanie, Gregory. (This subplot was drawn from the comics, too — but it played out there in a far more adult fashion.)
Then I had a new quibble or two — one was a lack of proper minimal exposition. We know extremely little about Jadis and the survivors in the garbage dump, despite the major role they play in the story. They seem … sort of like a cult, and sort of like a performance art group, but that’s all I could tell you about them. (The Internet tells me that some fans refer to them as either “the Heapsters” or “the Garbage Pail Kids.” I find both appellations pretty funny.)
My biggest complaints about Season 7, however, were that it was too much of a downer, and that it was too slow.
We start the season with a front seat to Negan’s gory, merciless punishment of Rick’s de facto family. And then the victimization of our favorite characters simply … continues for the length of the season, until the last episode’s climax. You see that cool image at the bottom of this blog post? The advertisement depicting bad-ass Rick and his allies getting ready to “RISE UP?” (It actually looks a lot like the posters for the “Walking Tall” films.) Well … we don’t see much of that until the final episode. I told one friend that “The Walking Dead” was disappointing me because it had grown tiresome “seeing Negan beat everyone all the time.”
And some episodes felt like filler. Yes, there were some nice “milieu” -type stories — it was actually a lot of fun expanding the show’s world, to see other settlements, like The Kingdom, The Sanctuary and Oceanside. But I think the plot needed to move forward more quickly. (For a far better discussion of these issues, check out Ryan Roschke’s excellent review over at Popsugar.)
Hey … I’m still a fan. I’m just not as satisfied a fan as I used to be. I certainly looked forward to “The Walking Dead” every week, and never missed an episode.
And this season did have its high points. Dwight emerged as quite an interesting, compelling character, thanks in no small measure to Austine Amelio’s portrayal of him. The character interaction among him, Daryl, Negan and Rick is great stuff — I find myself wishing that the lion’s share of the season was devoted to those four. I am finally starting to understand that Norman Reedus is indeed a really good actor — his performances were strong throughout the entire season, but must notably upon his return to Alexandria and his embrace with Rick.
And there were moments of nice action and horror as well — the sand-buried walkers pursuing Tara and Health spring to mind, not to mention the neat trick Rick and his group use to dispatch an entire herd of zombies on the interstate.
Let’s hope that Season 8 will pick up a bit, now that “war” is underway.
“The Man in the High Castle” is still one of the best shows on television in recent years. It’s ambitious as hell, and frightening in its story device. It’s smartly, tightly and deliberately plotted, yet still moves at a nice, brisk pace. We meet, for example, the titular “Man” right in the second season’s first episode; I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as it’s been shown in the season’s trailer.
I’d give it a 9 out of 10. I won’t say much more than that, this is a mystery-thriller with plot points that are too easy to spoil, and I am still trying to persuade certain friends of mine to watch Season 1. (Why isn’t this fantastic show more popular?)
I will say that maybe the show’s only failing is its scarcity of likable lead characters. The duplicitous Joe (Luke Kleintank) is mostly flat. Frank is inexplicably irritating to me, despite being portrayed by the talented Rupert Evans … though he does seem to shine as a mutual foil for the equally talented Brennan Crown’s callow art dealer, Robert. And the Man in the High Castle is somewhat … disappointing, despite being portrayed by another wonderful actor. I hope this character’s peculiarities are explained later. (No. I haven’t read Philip K. Dick’s source material.)
Only Juliana (the terrific Alexa Davos) comes across as a heroine that I like and root for. And her character too often feels like a damsel in distress — she’s frequently affected by the plot and the actions of others, and seldom vice versa.
Still, this show is superb. Watch it.