It’s almost impossible for me to be too positive about Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s a movie that would have been the movie of my dreams when I was 10 years old, when I was 20 I would have told you there was no chance it would ever happen, even at 25 I would have thought it was far too optimistic. It is as good as superhero movies get and as a life long fan of superheroes I loved it to pieces. I love how the fight sequences feel like playing with a big box of action figures but with a quarter billion dollar budget. I love Joss Whedon’s banter and the performances he gets from his actors each of whom feels perfectly cast. I even love it for the flaws, that it’s a little too packed with winks and teases, that there’s a pervasive refusal to call people by their code names, the dawning realization that I don’t care about Iron Man at all. I’m overjoyed that I’ve been able to see comic book movies get to where they are right now that when the standard bearer for the genre comes back I can only stand back in awe.
James Spader is so unbelievably good as Ultron. I thought Ultron was a mistake as a villain, I just didn’t believe he was interesting enough to pull an entire movie when I never cared for his comics, but Spader is so good I literally couldn’t remember Tom Hiddleston’s name when it was over. Spader turns a character I frequently thought had no personality (and I’ve read very few Ultron stories so it might not be a fair assessment) and turned him in to a character that had a sense of humor, and more importantly a real point of view. There’s a moment early in the film where Ultron accuses Tony Stark of not wanting peace but quiet and after the events of this week in Baltimore that hit particularly hard. While Spader is the glittering jewel of the new cast Elizabeth Olsen is also a treasure, she provides some human emotion to moments that would otherwise feel too large and fantastical to connect with and I’m quite thrilled to have her in the Don Cheadle level of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
You loved John McGinley in SCRUBS and now he’s part of the TBS comedy, GROUND FLOOR. John talks about his fairytale start in movies and why his GROUND FLOOR character couldn’t be more different that Doctor Cox on SCRUBS. Then, THE BLACKLIST is back for the second part of their sophomore season, and it kicks off with a choice time slot right after NBC’s broadcast of The Super Bowl. Star Megan Boone and EPs Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath tell us why this is a great place to jump into the series.
On Friday, we celebrate the return of KING OF THE NERDS on TBS. They’ve really upped the game this year, and we’ll tell you what’s coming up. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.
We’ve had our TV season (or series) finale blitz so I thought I’d give a report card on some of the series I’ve been watching. These are my current faves; they may not be your faves but – hey – it’s my column. Grades will be of different hues of satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Here there will be spoilers; you are so advised and warned.
Arrow: Satisfactory. The plots and subplots including the backstory all wound up in a satisfactory manner. Tracks were laid down for next season. Amanda Waller, even if I’m not nuts about how they interpret her, was there and appears that she will be there next season which means I get some money down the road. I don’t care for Oliver Queens’ younger sister Thea, who comes off as a self-righteous whiny spoiled brat. In theory, she could be written out if the show by her exit but somehow I doubt it. The show gets a little sudsy for me at times but, overall, I’ll probably watch it again next season.
Almost Human: Sadly satisfactory. This should almost qualify as an incomplete as I came in late on the series but I very much enjoyed what I saw. Unfortunately, the series has been cancelled which is a shame – good writing, good cast, good production values. They couldn’t have known when they did the final episode whether or not they were cancelled but they ended on a right note between the two main characters. While there were a few loose ends that could have been tied up, emotionally it ended well. I’ll miss it.
Castle: Unsatisfactory. This season was leading up to the nuptials between Castle and Kate Becket but the show is dedicated to keeping them apart. It took them a good long time to let the characters get together at all and now they’ve done a season cliffhanger where Castle, on his way to the wedding, is forced off the road and the last thing we see is his burning car. Ooooh! Maybe he’s dead! Nah, no one believes that. No, this is just another way of keeping the two characters apart because, as we all know, once two people get married, they become dull and uninteresting and boring. I mean, Hepburn and Tracy proved that. Gomez and Morticia. The Thin Man movies. Come on!
Justified: Unsatisfactory. I think I covered this elsewhere but the season simply treaded water, there were storylines about which I didn’t give a rat’s ass, the bad guys weren’t very compelling, and it’s marking time until next season, already announced as the last. It should have jettisoned one or two storylines and wound the show up strong this season. I don’t know if I care anymore.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D: Surprisingly satisfactory. Of course, they did bring in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury so they had a lot going for them but this was a series I wasn’t keen on when it started. However, after the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (extremely satisfactory) tied into the series, it became compelling. Betrayals, twists, character development, and Agent Coulson gets a promotion at the end. I’m looking forward to next season. Well done.
Suits: Satisfactory. There’s an underlying premise to the series – that Mike Ross, assistant to ace lawyer Harvey Specter, has faked his law degree, faked going to Harvard, and so on and that Specter (and several others at the firm) know it. The series has toyed with Mike’s exposure as a fraud and did again at the finale this year. There’s a lie at the center of the show and I think it has to be dealt with. They found an out this year; Mike has an offer of a big paying job in a different field. If he leaves, the odds on his lie being exposed reasonably go down and they’ve left it that he intends to take the job. Whether he follows through is something we’ll see next season but at least the series is addressing the issue.
The Blacklist: Satisfactory. This is a twisted series but I like how the information must sometimes be inferred and may be misleading. Characters died in the finale, often very violently. Tom Keen, the asshole pretending to be series lead Elizabeth Keen’s husband, bit the big one. Is James Spader’s character, Raymond Reddington, Elizabeth’s father? It seems as if he is but, with this series, you can never quite tell. Some questions were answered and some plots tied off but there are more questions and places to go next season and I’m ready to go with them.
Overall, not bad. More things I liked than things I didn’t. Some new shows are coming up in the fall that look promising. Nothing terribly challenging, but that’s why God created Cosmos. Oh, wait! S/He didn’t. Not a lot of God in the show, which pisses Creationists off no end – and part of the reason I really like it.
A new take on GODZILLA hits theaters in a new days, and director Gareth Edwards and star Elizabeth Olson fill us in on the road they took to get the popular franchise rebooted. Plus Elizabeth talks about her prep for the role of Scarlet Witch in AVENGERS:AGE OF ULTRON. Meanwhile, out looks like comics will dominate the TV nets next season with no less than five news series!
Thanks to an added boost from DVR users, NBC’s THE BLACKLIST continues to be the fastest growing, and only real breakout hit of the TV season. We talk to the folks from behind and in front of the camera, including cast member Parminder Nagra, to find out the secret of their success. Plus GHOST IN THE MACHINE might actually be a movie, and that POWERPUFF GIRLS cover…..really?
I was watching perhaps my favorite new TV show of the season, The Blacklist, last Monday. James Spader’s Raymond “Red” Reddington exacts a fierce revenge on those who wronged him. Reddington has done terrible things throughout the series and yet I find myself drawn to him, even rooting for him. I doubt that I’m the only one.
It’s not the first time for me. There was James Gandolfini in The Sopranos and, to an even greater extent, Michael Chiklis in The Shield. Who is the real center of The Dark Knight – Christian Bales’ Batman or Heath Ledger’s Joker? It’s a tradition that goes back a long way – the most interesting character in Shakespeare’s Othello isn’t the title character but Iago, the great and cunning villain of the play.
I really enjoy writing the bad guys as well. My favorite Star Wars creation? Probably the rogue and con man Vilmahr “Villie” Grahrk. Over at DC, I had a whole series centering on the villains – Suicide Squad. My faves among them – probably Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang, and Deadshot. It’s not hard to spot. Hell, even John Gaunt, GrimJack, is not a hero except maybe by default.
So… what is the attraction? I am, by most accounts, a nice guy. So where does all this come from? The bad guys have to come from somewhere inside of me. Why are all of us attracted by the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter, or Raymond Reddington and the others?
Going back to my acting days, it was always fun to play a villain. First of all, they usually had the best lines. More important, I think the villains do things that you and I have atavistic urges to do, but our own conditioning, our own morality, keep us from acting on those urges. By identifying with the bad guys, by emotionally investing myself with them and their acts, I do the crime without having to worry about paying the price. I get the thrill without having to worry about the consequences.
I especially enjoy writing characters like Captain Boomerang. Boomerbutt (as others called him) was remarkably well-adjusted in a rather reprehensible way. He knew exactly who he was and he was happy with it. No angst, no desire to make himself better. Nobody liked Captain Boomerang more than Boomerang himself; it might be safe to say that he was the only one who liked Boomerang at all. He was fine with that as well.
Another secret of villains is that they don’t think of themselves, for the most part, as bad. They may think that the rules don’t apply to them but they feel they have the perfect right to do what they’re doing.
I don’t like every villain. Simple thugs and bullies – not very interesting. Same goes for the megalomaniac who wants to rule the world. Usually they’re pretty one note. No, give me the guy or gal with intelligence or at least a low cunning, a sense of humor, a worldview of some kind, a touch of theatricality and who has no compunction about doing what they do. Ah, that’s a villain I can sink my literary teeth into!
Evidently it’s teevee week here at ComicMix, with Martha,John and Mindy weighing in on their thoughts regarding the new season. Well, you build a bandwagon and sooner or later, I’ll jump on it.
I’m not much of a broadcast television fan. Most of the shows I enjoy are made-for-cable, with their 12 episode (give or take) seasons that create an environment for better writing. Justified, Doctor Who, Sons Of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire, Louie… that’s my idea of Must See TeeVee. But I start each fall season checking out a few broadcast shows, and this season I found four that were worthy of my limited attention span.
I, too, share the prevailing opinion that The Blacklist is a wonderfully entertaining show. Of course, it’s really the James Spader Show, and if you don’t like him you most certainly won’t like the show. Or, most likely, the upcoming Avengers 2 movie. In fact, even if you do like Spader you might not care for The Blacklist if you like your lead characters to be rooted in ethical behavior. But if you like evil anti-heroes screwing around with the government – and, let’s face it, a whole lot of us do – then this is probably your go-to show of the season.
I also follow the dominating opinion in these precincts that I’m slightly disappointed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was looking for a contemporary version of the first season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and this comes close. But they gave us too many agents and it’s hard to develop any strong feelings for or against any of them. Dropping one or two would help us get to know the others and make for smoother plotting and action sequences. Nonetheless, I find it entertaining enough to maintain on my TiVo season’s pass list.
If I’m not all that interested in broadcast television, I’m even less interested in sit-coms. They are as predictable as a courtroom transcript, and they often star a stand-up comic who is far, far more entertaining doing stand-up. I checked out two: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Crazy Ones. I checked out Brooklyn Nine-Nine because I’m a huge Terry Crews fan; he’s one of those guys who could he reading the Yellow Pages and I’d probably give it a try.
I really had no expectations for Andy Samberg: it’s been so long since Saturday Night Live had adequate writing that I can’t get a feel for the quality of the performers. Given the extreme broadness of his character on this show, he’s fine and almost endearing. It was clear to me that Andre Braugher was going to be the tight-ass police captain who could not possibly co-exist with a person as free-spirited as Samberg, and that’s pretty much the case. And, similarly, his nurturing of Samberg is no surprise. But Braugher transcends his own stereotype, aided by an interesting character bit: he’s gay, one of the first gay men to achieve such an exalted position in the NYPD. And he worked hard for it.
The bottom line on Brooklyn Nine-Nine: each episode, I found myself laughing out loud several times. That’s the highest praise one can offer a sit-com, particularly a jaundiced cynic such as me.
I landed on The Crazy Ones for two reasons: I enjoy Robin Williams’ insanity-with-heart act (there’s been no one better at it since Buster Keaton), and I really like David E. Kelley’s work… which gets us back to James Spader. I’ve enjoyed this series thus far and it has a fine supporting cast, although sooner or later I’m probably going to want to see it evolve a bit and its characters grow – including Williams’. But after three or four episodes, it still entertains me and that, for better and worse, is the purpose of broadcast television.
I can’t imagine watching three broadcast sit-coms once Community returns in January, but who knows. This season might be the exception.
“What Spader’s Reddington demonstrates is a dark, glittering intelligence and that makes him a fascinating character,” wrote my pal and fellow columnist John Ostrander here on ComicMix yesterday, discussing James Spader’s work as the protagonist (antagonist?) on NBC’s The Blacklist (Mondays at 10 PM EDT USA).
I read John’s column after reading A House Divided: Extremism And The Lessons Of History by Sean Wilentz and its accompanying article, Inside The GOP’s Suicide Machine by Tom Dickinson in the National Affairs section of the current Rolling Stone Magazine.
Over the last decade, my imagination has sometimes taken me to sinister places when I have thought about the future of the United States of America. Since George W. Bush became President through the manipulation of the vote in Florida and the engineering of his election to office by the Supreme Court, it has seemed not unbelievable to me that a cabal, a HYDRA-like group, has been working to overthrow our Constitutional government. K-Street, the home of lobbyists and lawyers from which some of the worst decisions affecting this country have emanated, could be the address of the Washington, D.C. branch of Wolfram & Hart; wasn’t one of their clients was a presidential candidate who used the firm to mind-wipe the population into thinking her rival was a pedophile?
“Oh, Mindy,” I can hear the scoffers saying, “that was a TV show about a vampire and featured demons and other monsters. Get real, girl! A magical mind-wipe?”
Oh, yeah? What the hell do you think Fox News and Rush Limbaugh do every day? (As Mr. Wilentz states in his article, “The press has abandoned its responsibility, twisting objectivity into the craven idea of false equivalency, where falsehoods get reported as simply one side of the argument.”)
This past week saw the very real – and truly unbelievable – possibility that the United States would default on its debt obligations. (To quote Mr. Wilentz again, “Until now, no member of Congress has seriously entertained triggering a financial crisis, willfully damaging the economy of the most powerful nation on Earth.”)
Not even the Kingpin or Lex Luthor, malevolent corporatists and power-hungry capitalists – and comicdom’s equivalent of the Koch brothers – could envision, much less embrace, the financial fantasies of a cabal of Congressmen who do appear to be intent on destroying this country before it reaches its 238th birthday this July.
No, the Kingpin and Lex Luthor are smarter than David and Charles Koch. They would never risk their financial empires on a “confederacy of dunces” such as the Tea Party and their pols, men like Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who argues that the Dream Act would allow citizenship to drug mules – speaking about immigrants, he is on record as saying, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds, and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Men like Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, who compares the Republicans who want to defund the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” to Rosa Parks, Lech Walesa, and Martin Luthor King. Said Yoho about the tax on tanning salons, “It’s a racist tax against white people.” Or Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas, who warns us that Jihadists are sending pregnant women here so that their “terror babies” will be American citizens, and who is against gay marriage because, “you say it’s not a man or woman anymore…why not, you know, somebody who has a love of animals?”
Or Rep. Dr. Paul Broun of Georgia, who sits on the House Science Committee and embraces creationism – “the Earth is 9,000 years old” – and says “all that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology (again, I stress, this guy went to medical school), the Big Bang theory…is lies, straight from the pits of hell.” Or Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, who wants to assign his staff to investigate the theory that government aircraft are seeding the skies with mind-control chemicals and who says that “impeaching Obama would be a dream come true.” Or Rep. John Fleming, who not only believed a story from the satirical website The Onion which said that Planned Parenthood was opening an $8 billion “abortionplex,” but actually said “I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions.” And, not to leave women out, there is Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, who believes that ending the minimum wage would end unemployment, that global warming is “voodoo and hokum,” and during last election cycle warned that us off the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) which causes genital warts and has been linked to the development of cervical cancer in women vaccine, saying that “little girls would be forced to have a government injection.” (HPV has been linked as a causative factor in cervical cancer, as well as other, rarer cancers such as cancer of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, as well as oralpharyngal cancers – as Michael Douglas learned a few years ago.)
And then there is the junior Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, the biggest dunce of them all.
So maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about real life cabals and evil organizations. Maybe I’ll just stick to my Kingpins and Lex Luthors and Wolfram & Harts and HYDRAS and Dan Brown novels about the Illuminati and hope for the best, let the cards fall where they may, as the saying goes.
Yesterday I was at the beauty parlor when a discussion started about The Blacklist. I have got to start watching this show, especially when as disparate a group as can be found in a “beauty parlor” (senior citizens, hairstylists, manicurists, women and men of varying ages and interests) are “watercoolingering” about it.
Plus, I adore James Spader. I loved him in White Palace (with Susan Sarandon), I loved him in Stargate, I loved him in Sex, Lies, And Videotape, and I loved him in Boston Legal.
So maybe my assignment this week is to catch up on The Blacklist. I’d much rather watch a fictional show about a bad man bringing down still-worse men and women than watch the terrifying reality show that is the Republican/Tea Party.
My favorite new show of the TV season is not Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as I thought it would be (although I like that show well enough). It’s The Blacklist… which is on opposite Castle. I loves me some Castle so I have to record one and watch the other live; so far, Castle is winning out but sometimes it’s a near thing.
The Blacklist is about Raymond “Red” Reddington, a master criminal who the FBI has been unsuccessfully hunting for some time. One day he surrenders and offers to help them take down other monsters on his blacklist but he’ll only work with FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, whom he insists on calling “Lizzie”. She doesn’t know him and neither she nor anyone else at the FBI knows why Reddington has offered his help but they must admit he’s very effective – especially with criminals and terrorists they didn’t even know were out there.
The series is derivative and there’s a Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling vibe to it, but the main reason to watch it is James Spader as Reddington. He’s charming, charismatic, dangerous, and scary. He’s playing all sorts of games and what he’s really after is impossible to guess. Spader is obviously having a wonderful time with the part and is amazing in the role. Reddington is a killer but not a serial one; I’ve come to the conclusion that Reddington is less Hannibal Lecter than Professor Moriarity.
What Spader’s Reddington demonstrates is a dark, glittering intelligence and that makes him a fascinating character and, in that, he is like Lecter. Over the ages, this type of character, in different variations, has become a recurring character type. Hearth Ledger’s Joker falls into that category as well. So does Shakespeare’s Richard III. Something in our own atavistic reptilian brain stem gets drawn to them. Well, at least my atavistic reptilian brain stem does.
The trick is getting us to root for them although they’re monsters. Reddington admits to it. Why do we do that? There’s an appeal to our own dark sides. The monsters embody our dark urges on which we would never follow through. They’re our dark fantasies – unbound by social conventions. They appall us as they enthrall us.
We root for the anti-hero as well as the hero – if the anti-hero is done right. That’s the challenge for the creator. I’m guilty of it myself; in Wasteland, I once did a story from the serial killer’s point of view. The goal was to see if I could get the reader to identify with him. That would be where the horror part of the story really came in – when (if) the reader founds themselves identifying with him. Look to the recently completed Dexter or Breaking Bad. The popular success of those series – along with The Sopranos or The Shield – attests to the fact that we are willing to go there – to root for the bad guys. They need to know who/what they are, accept it, and don’t whine. That’s what we want and that’s what we love. If we’re honest, we like Loki more than Thor. Characters like that give us a delicious thrill.