Tuesday January 24, 2017
Book 17: A Little Immortality — Part I
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XXX: The Return of Xander Cage

XXX3ReturnofXanderCageXXX: The Return of Xander Cage took some time to get moving, and the first half had enough skin in it to have nearby Bond films politely requesting that Mr. Diesel not track sand through their garden. Somewhere around the mid-point the movie engaged for me. I think it may have been when I realized that they were going to attempt an ensemble piece, and that they might just pull it off.

And they did! By the end it really was an ensemble piece, giving plenty of camera time to Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, and Ruby Rose¹. It also repented nicely for the Ice Cube installment of the Triple X franchise with some of the smoothest ret-conning² I’ve seen in a while.

The second half of the film saved the movie from the first half, but it made me sit up and ask why they bothered with the first half, and imagining the ways they could have done Act I more entertainingly. That right there is what’s keeping XXX: The Return of Xander Cage from clearing my Threshold of Awesome. And that makes me sad, because the Deepika Padukone/Ruby Rose scenes¹ in Act III deserve to be above the threshold.


 

¹ I would watch an entire season of TV built around Padukone and Rose being gunslingers, perhaps headlining a full ensemble of ladybro³ wit, wile, and badassery.

² So smooth it might not even be considered a retcon, really. Spy movies can do this well by giving us the “you don’t have the whole story” moments, and it’s not even cheating when they do it right.

³ “Ladybro” is a term I first heard from editor Navah Wolfe, and I might not be using it correctly. I think it means “all X-chromosome buddy-cop-style relationships.” If it doesn’t mean that, then I need a different word that does.

 

Lemony Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

UnfortunateEventsOrdinarily I don’t review television programs, but there have been enough exceptions that I’m not breaking a rule at this point, you’re just experiencing another edge case.

Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is proving to be delightful. I’ve watched the first four episodes, and I’m hooked. The series has two of my favorite things in it: clever writing, and Patrick Warburton. Imagine Kronk, or perhaps The Tick narrating in the bleak tones of Lemony Snicket, and warning you at the beginning of each episode that you really don’t want to continue.

It’s a bold move. When your story, as part of the story, is telling people not to keep reading, or watching, you’d better be doing it in a manner so entertaining that the audience hopes the warnings will continue.

In this case it is, and they do.

There’s much more than just dire warning working in favor of this series. Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes are awesome, Presley Smith would chew scenery if given the chance, and over-the-top melodramatic performances are turned in by Neil Patrick Harris, Joan Cusack, Aasif Mandvi, Usman Ally, Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins, and Cobie Smulders, and I’m only halfway through.

Were this series available on Blu-Ray or DVD I’d cheerfully pay season-of-TV-series rates for it. It’s not, but by that math the series totally paid for two months of Netflix just by existing.

 

Hidden Figures

hiddenfiguresI loved Hidden Figures. It was beautiful, and uplifting ,and pretty much the perfect first-film-of-the-year for me. It clears my Threshold of Awesome, and reminded me of how awesome actual human people can be.

It also reminded me of how far we’ve come since the decade in which I was born, and how courageous we had to be in order to make it that far. And that’s pretty important because we have a long way to go, and more courage will be required.

The leads, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, were all powerfully convincing, and Kevin Costner finally got to make up for Pa Kent, which I shouldn’t have been holding against him, but that’s a different story altogether. I also loved seeing Aldis Hodge¹ play support-staff for someone else’s genius, and Mahershala Ali² be so completely different than the Cottonmouth character he sold to me in Luke Cage. 

I wish we’d seen just a little bit more of the mathematics, enough for me to fully grasp the enormity of the problems faced by the space program, but that’s a tough call to make for filmmakers. Confuse the audience for just a few seconds, and you run the risk of losing everybody. So, you know, they probably made the right call.


 

¹Hodge played Hardison in Leverage, and I cannot un-see him as a hacker with mad grifting skills.

²Cottonmouth was pretty much my favorite character from Netflix’s Luke Cage. Shame about that mic stand thing.