What’s On The Grill – September 6th – 12th

Howdy, Exiles and welcome to another What’s On The Grill! This week, I dug into some good old fashioned television (no, actually, probably the exact opposite of old fashioned television), caught a few old favorite films and generally had a blast.

Right off the bat, let’s get into something that’s all-too-rare on What’s On The Grill…recent releases.

The Expanse Season 2: Hard sci-fi fans should be generally pleased that this show is ongoing; painting a realistic-feeling take on the future of humankind, we see political and personal power struggles jostle the lives of folks trying to make their ways through their days in the solar system.

This show is incredibly well written with a better budget than most Sy-Fy originals and every single drop of it shows in the production values and acting talent of the cast. In a parallel universe, this could almost have been Game of Thrones, with smart characters, an engaging and complicated plot and a good amount of bastards being bastards while the characters you grow attached to may not make it through to see a better day.

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This season saw the end of show favorite Joe Miller, bought to full space-noir life by Thomas Jane. Even though I hated to see him go, it was at least in a suitably Sam Spade-ish way.

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This season also brought the hints that something mysterious was going on (apart from space politics and asteroid mining) into extremely sharp focus. I think this was smart; if the show has a fault it’s that it is exacting in detail and the momentum of the overall plot can suffer. It flows at an inaccessible pace where events can take a long time to be realized. That isn’t to say that the show is filled with fluff and unimportant side arcs; almost everything is relevant but it will punish the impatient viewer.

We finally get to know the Martian Federation this season too; no longer simply faceless minions of a vaguely Soviet-era space-Russia, we see people who love their world as much as Earthers love theirs; the extent of a new threat leads to an escalating cold war between Earth and Mars as well as segueing into some fantastic action sequences.

On that note, one of the other things that this show gets right (at least superficially) is how space flight and armed combat might happen in the void. While the Battlestar Galactica reboot finally started to move us away from the pop culture perception that space fighting is like WW2 dog fights (although that was a deliberate choice), The Expanse takes this trend towards realism even further while keeping the white-knuckle tension that makes it fun to watch alive. This show doesn’t deserve to be as underground as it is. B+

BoJack Horseman Season 4: So, you know how everyone age 5 and above is extremely excited about Rick and Morty right now? I’m not saying it’s not deserved, R&M is a great show, Duke. But are there other shows that deal with adulting against a backdrop of the wacky, hilarious and absurd? Maaaaaybe even do it better, if we’re just going on writing talent and the ability to elicit poignancy without ever turning into a soap opera?

BoJack season 4 starts off with one of life’s most hilarious pranks; in the absence of the main character in a story (that’s BoJack, but could be you, me or anyone else on the planet), life actually doesn’t give that much of a shit and just rolls on being life. Oh sure, his closest…associates are wondering where our famous-in-the-90’s hero went off to for a year, but not so much that Mr Peanutbutter doesn’t decide to run for Governor of California.

Feline Princess Carolyn (now a manager, not an agent) deals with a career in shambles and brick walls in her attempt to start a family with a charming mouse and Todd Chavez enacts probably the greatest hare-brained scheme he’s ever attempted. Yes, it’s better than Disneyland (remember, a trademark typo from Walt himself allowed him to claim the rights to the theme park and endanger the lives of hundreds).

So where is BoJack during all of this?

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He’s doing the one thing that any character in his situation should be doing after three seasons of moping, self pity and self absorption: he’s getting his shit together.

Finally dealing with his dementia-addled mother leads us into some extremely dark territory where the history of the Sugarman family is explored through her eyes. His long-lost ‘daughter’ now lives with him, forcing him to look outside of himself and even in the company of this family mess, his own thoughts of worthlessness hammer away at his psyche like devils with sledgehammers.

Wait, this is a show about a cartoon horse, right?

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Back to the Labrador. Mr Peanutbutter’s campaign trail against his civic-minded opponent is the most brutal skewering of modern politics this side of Veep. Everyone’s an idiot and an asshole and are followed by legions of idiots and assholes. But we do get to see the lovely Jessica Biel (secretly supported by lobby groups that want to destroy the wetlands to build private prisons) enter the fray on the promise to keep the streets safe and do something about those wetlands.

Todd’s plan to

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have dentists and clowns train one another goes…awry. Failing to satisfy the Better Business Bureau that his new company are accomplished dentists or entertainers leads to him releasing his employees into the woods, by the lunatic asylum and the school where a tussle with a rabid raccoon nearly escalates into a full blown zombie clown-pocalypse. Zombie clowns that are armed with crude dentistry equipment.

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All I’m saying is that while everyone’s “wubba-dub-dub”ing and praising themselves for liking the smartest show on television, this thing exists. A+

The A-Team: Speaking of Biel, she’s in this movie. It’s about hilarious badasses who do wildly improbable things following a convoluted plot to an impossible destination.

No seriously, this might be my all-time favorite action film (just barely topped out by Die Hard). It’s hard to write a coherent review because its faults are, in my eyes, the things that make everything about the ridiculousness totally worth it. Deadpan adherence to the concept from Liam Freaking Neeson, Bradley Freaking Cooper, Sharlto Freaking Copley, Quinton Freaking Rampage Jackson and director Joe Freaking Carnahan sell this movie in a way that no one else could accomplish.

Patrick Freaking Wilson proves he’s got great acting range by being the douchiest CIA dirtbag to ever grace the screen. That a sequel won’t happen for this movie is a dumb, horrible fact of life.

Watch this flick.

Or, you know, don’t. I ain’t your boss. A+ (for me). B (for everyone else).

Knock Knock: I’ve skirted towards not saying kind things about Eli Roth in the past. It’s not that I don’t like gory films; I don’t in general despite not being offended by them either. I have however wondered in the past if he had anything worth saying.

This movie came so very close to being brilliant and then popped like a balloon literally five seconds before the end credits.

A Keanu Reeves-looking architect is alone for the weekend in his expensive Hollywood hills domus when two attractive young ladies stop by, stranded by the rain on the wrong street while trying to get to a party. So the Keanu Reeves-looking guy loves his wife and his kids and despite how obviously attractive and flirtatious the two girls are, is a perfect gentleman; he calls them an Uber and lets them dry off.

Then they rape him.

I won’t go into the incredibly difficult subject of woman-on-man rape, not only is it outside the purview of this website but also general conversation. What I was impressed about was that so many horror tropes that deal with sexual assault were deftly and smartly flipped. He becomes powerless and helpless and his sexuality is turned against him; half-way through the film, I had a greater appreciation by far about how well Roth knows the genre he works with and how everything that someone expects out of a horror movie can be so effectively subverted and shown to be the romanticization of the monstrous. It seemed to be a distinct attack on his own genre of film.

The two women were monsters, as bad as the dirtbags in I Spit On Your Grave; they mercilessly tormented their prey with accusations of pedophilia and lectured him in psychotic rationalizations of morality. They destroyed every inch of his home, every possession that was important to him. To say this is an uncomfortable movie is an understatement.

Then, buried in his backyard with only his head above ground, the women offer a final indignity: they share a video of their ‘love-making’ on Facebook and as the stream of horrified comments roll in, they walk away never to be seen again. A completely out-of-place gag caps the film and I’m again left wondering if I didn’t just imagine that Roth knew what he was talking about at all. D

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Yep, I’m a Star Wars guy. Empire was the first movie I ever saw and I had a ton of action figures when I was a kid. But at the same time, I’m not at the fan fiction level or ever felt the need to donate money towards a billboard hoping to get George Lucas to direct again.

There’s this impossible tightrope that post-trilogy Star Wars directors have to walk; add to the universe, but not so much as to change the universe and out of the last five films, I think Rogue was the closest to being the best of both worlds. Set in the most grounded way possible, a footnote between the original films, it still manages to flesh out the universe organically.

I love the lived-in setting of Tatooine way more than pseudo-mystic melodrama about The Force and care way more about Han Solo scraping enough together for fuel than another lightsaber duel. This is a universe I’d want to live in, to see with my own eyes baffling small wonders that I’d never glimpse again. I care about stormtroopers, scrappy rebels and weird aliens on bizarre worlds. Alien towns atop giant mesas, blisteringly cold worlds still rife with a strange ecosystem and planet-wide cities that go down for miles. So yes, Rogue One was completely my jam.

While I enjoyed the performances of the leads and felt that they had generally strong motivations, I think they fell a bit short from being as memorable as other Star Wars characters; instead they became a part of the story rather than the focal points of it. I think the issue was directorial rather than script-related and perhaps intentional; this movie felt like as much of a fated conclusion as the meta indicated. This is a story, the characters are important; brave, courageous and chock full of hardbitten grit that shines (seriously, I love the rally speech near the third act) but they are players in something larger that they can’t see just yet. There could be nothing but a grim finality punctuated with a From Here to Eternity reference and the much-vaunted Vader scene which is effective for not dropping the tempo of the film until the credits roll.

So, like, the third-best Star Wars film? I’m sure many if not most will disagree, but this trumped Return of the Jedi. If it’s the fate of Star Wars that they’ll keep releasing ‘mainline’ films and if this is an indication of what the ‘side’ films are going to be like, then I’m way more on board with these than another ripping yarn about Skywalker family issues. A-

 

What about you, Exiles? Did you catch anything good this week? Any movies that grabbed your attention or TV shows that had you bingewatching ’till way past bedtime?

Let us know in the comments below!