“Titans” S1 Ep 10 & 11; “Koriand’r” & “Dick Grayson” Review by Case Wright *Spoilers*


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Do you know the exact moment when you sold your soul?  Or when your soul is forfeit are you so far gone that you don’t notice?

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Dick Grayson started as the damaged hero and ended with nothing.  He’s a tragic hero whose pride destroyed him.  He became seduced to believe that his pain allowed him to decide life and death, causing him to commit the paragon of sins: Patricide.  As you look at the 11 episode arc, you see Dick losing his identity as Robin, and in doing so, he loses his moral compass and his soul.

I reviewed these last two episodes together because they flow as one episode.  It could’ve been titled The Last Temptation of Dick Grayson.  Unfortunately, he made the wrong the decision and we see his soul die. Not only was the story brilliantly written, but these two episodes had a creepy factor that was palpable.  In fact, the story began and ended in a haunted house.

In the previous episode, Starfire starts choking Rachel.  Dick and Donna burst in and Starfire stops, but the damage has been done and Rachel’s mom insists that Starfire leave.  Starfire does and Dick and Donna follow.  Rachel’s mom has successfully separated the group.  We learn that Starfire is an Alien and needs to stop Rachel from unleashing her father Trigon who is basically the Devil.

Rachel has been trying to keep from using her powers because she can’t control them and they seem inherently evil because … well … they are.  Rachel’s mom as it turns out is still all about Trigon AKA Satan and she really wants her some Satan.  In order to do it, she needs to get Rachel to use her evil mojo and pull her dad out of a mirror.  Rachel’s mom accomplishes this by infecting Gar through a haunted mirror.  Rachel’s mom tricks Rachel into pulling her dad out of Hell because only he can save Gar.  Well, she does and Gar is healed by Trigon, but evil is now unleashed upon us.  How did this work?  Rachel was manipulated and seduced.  She knew that her father was likely pretty pretty bad, but she was willing risk us all to help her friend, making the act selfish, but disguised as altruistic.

Dick Grayson enters and he is in his idealized reality, but not all is well.  First of all, he’s in Southern California, which is almost a hell dimension all on its own.  Dawn is his wife and he’s got another baby on the way AND they both have left the hero business behind to pursue a life of….well let’s just assume real estate? They probably have some really cool pictures of themselves on local benches.  In fact, Minka Kelly should really be on ALL advertisements at all times.   

Jason Todd arrives in a wheel chair and informs Dick that Batman has run a muck, killing the villains instead of beating them to near death, which is …. better?   Dick returns to Gotham and is continually manipulated by Satan that Bruce can’t be stopped without killing him.  Dick fights his way through the mansion and upon seeing that Starfire was killed by Batman, he gives into his wrath and commits patricide.  By giving into this final act of evil, Dick becomes Trigon’s minion.  Dick even gets evil eyes, but I didn’t not to use a screen cap of that because it might spoil visually.

These episodes and the season as whole take a deep dive into PTSD and human weakness.  Dick was filled with bitterness and pain and when he burned his Robin suit he also burned the last vestige of his hero identity.  When he kills Bruce, he wasn’t in costume; he was just angry Dick Grayson who wanted to get back at his Dad.  Dick answers the question for us posed at the beginning:  we don’t know when our soul is forfeit because we left all our scruples behind getting to that point, therefore, we become a husk of a human being capable of anything.

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“Titans” S1 Ep 9, “Hawk and Dawn”, Dir Akiva Goldsman


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Anger turned inward is suicidal, but anger turned outward is homicidal.  This episode (Dir Akiva Goldsman) was a story of rage and revenge.  Where do you put all of your anger when self-help groups, drinking, and drugs no longer satisfies the grief?  Revenge.  Revenge is as seductive as heroin and it does not have to be directly done to the individual that wronged you.  Revenge is an idea of retribution distilled into a violent id.

Titans once again challenges us to support primitive justice.  In the not too distant past, blood had to be answered with blood.  In Titans, blood still calls and must be answered.  There is no lawyering up to satiate the desperate pang for revenge.  It is pure.  It is violent.  Honestly, maybe it’s healthier?  Civilized society gives us Justice – the impartial review of the facts to determine legal guilt and reasonable punishment. Vengeance is instant punishment by the aggrieved for the likely guilty.  Vengeance is not civilized, but it is satisfying.  This episode answers the question what does it take for a civilized person to close the door on society’s civilized justice and enter the world of primitive vengeance?

The episode begins with Hank and his brother in football pads filming their first adventure as superheroes.  They are about to beat up a pedophile so that he will plead guilty to his crimes.  Why do they opt for this life?  Hank was sexually abused by his football coach in middle school.  Later, he becomes a football star at his college, but he and his brother get kicked out for fighting.  Without anything, they decide to go after pedophiles and mete out justice in their neighborhood.

Then, we meet Dawn. She is a ballet dancer, daughter to a sophisticated Londoner, BUT her mother is married to an abuser and she keeps going back.  Despite her family’s dirty secret, they remain within the boundaries of the law and society.  We see all of the characters meet moments later.  Hank and his brother and Dawn and her mother all run into each other on the street.  Just as we’re about see the guys become superheroes, a car kills the mom and the brother.

This sends both Dawn and Hank down a spiral of depression and drinking.  In this haze, they find each other, but their anger is just under the surface- Waiting. The loss and the drinking doesn’t send Dawn outside of society. It takes something more for to turn away from society- Intimacy.  No, I don’t mean sex.  I mean real intimacy.  Dawn gets Hank to tell her about the sex abuse he suffered.  She is there for him.  He has undressed himself by sharing his trauma, she can relate to his pain because of her abusive father. Through this shared pain and intimacy, Dawn leaves society and decides to mete out her own justice.  She enters the world of vengeance.

Dawn confronts Hank’s football coach and demands that he turn himself in.  He refuses and a very good fight ensues.  This is what makes this show great.  It’s honest in terms of the physics.  Yes, she lands some solid kicks and punches, BUT he is a large grown man and he makes contact and delivers some ass kicking as well.  In Arrow, we would have to believe that a 100 pound 5’0 lady could beat up four men at the same time.  It always took me out of it.  The fights in Titans are brutal and honest.  To get the upper-hand in this fight, she has to stab the coach in the leg.

Just as the Coach is about to win the fight and kill Dawn, Hank arrives and beats the snot of the Coach.  This is the shared intimacy.  Hank offers to let her leave- that she was never there.  There’s a beat. Then, NO. Right then, she has fully crossed over.  She closes the door of the Coach’s home so they can finish beating him possibly to death.  We watch from a distance as she fully closes the door on us.  The reason is that we are on the outside looking in; Dawn has left our society.  We as the viewer in the comfort of our home and safety and permanently separated from her new life.

When they arrive home, they complete the intimacy by removing all of their clothing and consummating their relationship. They are now both changed.  The story ends with her being roused from coma by Rachel inserting herself into Dawn’s dream.

Greg, you love spin-offs – this is a great one.  Ritchson and Kelly have perfect chemistry; you feel their pain.  The characters and their story is wonderfully dark.  It would be a great addition to the DC Universe as its own series!

 

 

Capsized:Blood in the Water, Review by Case Wright, Dir: Roel Reine’


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Capsized: Blood in the Water- It’s Lifetime with Sharks! I’ve watched Shark Week since I was a wee lad and in all of my years this is the first MOW for Shark Week that didn’t have any narration explaining/teaching about sharks. This was a movie that could’ve just been on Lifetime and it would’ve fit right in if they threw in a creepy babysitter or doctor.

The characters were a crew of five VERY stupid people.  I don’t just mean kinda dumb. I mean they should’ve been monitored in daily life on sea and on land.  Mark (Josh Duhamel) is the captain who makes nothing but bad decisions.  Mark (Joshua Close) is the first mate who is a self-centered alcoholic. Meg (Rebekah Graf) – the captain’s girlfriend who spends most of the film not doing much.  Brad and Deborah who don’t really do much either.

The director does try to build suspense, but all of the character’s decisions are so dumb that it makes you really lose sympathy.  The death scenes are also a little light on the gore.  I know this is a true story and all, but Shark Week- you root for the sharks (at least, I do).

They set sail, which I gotta say is a little weird to me.  I never understood the allure of sailing when wind powered vessels became obsolete since the steam age.  Once at sea, we learn that Mark is a stubborn, alcoholic, and incompetent first mate.  He drinks himself into a stupor so they miss the storm warning.  Meg is supposed to go to safe place down below during the storm, but she ignores everyone and gets injured.  Eventually, this injury is both life threatening and attract LOTS of sharks. Then, they get the storm warning, but John ignores the Coast Guard’s instructions to stay put, causing them to get capsized.

They manage to get a raft, but don’t go into it and attract lots of sharks with Meg’s open wound.  Why don’t they go inside the raft? Who knows?  John tries to apply a tourniquet to Meg’s wound, but Mark tells everyone that Meg gonna die anyway and starts fighting everyone.  John goes nuts and starts swimming for a mirage and gets eaten.  Mark gets the great idea to drink the ocean.  I say, Let Mark Be Mark! Drink That Water! Fly Mark Fly! Live Your Saltwater Drinking Truth!

Of course, the saltwater makes Mark go crazier and he tries to knock the boat over.  Mark falls out of the boat and we watch him slowly get eaten, but not enough really.  This is just too light on the gore for me. I want some Giallo levels of gore, but nope. I gotta wonder if IRL Mark really fell out of the boat.  Hmmmm.

They remain adrift for a long long long time more and Meg succumbs to her wound and the last two survivors toss her out of the raft as we see a shark coming up to I guess her remains… we don’t know for sure because they don’t show it.  UGHHH.

The Coast Guard stops looking for them and the last two survivors decide to flip the raft over because there’s water in the boat, which is making them cold, but they were adrift for over a week- how didn’t it dry out? A Russian freighter finds them, but as they swim for the boat Deb gets tire and Brad’s like – Sucks to be you! He eventually decides to help her, but that was coooold blooded.

I enjoyed this.  It was Lifetime on the waves.

 

Titans, S1 Ep7 & 8, Asylum, Donna Troy Review By Case Wright,


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The asylum episode really didn’t have a lot going on.  Rachel’s mother is in an asylum and they rescue her. Rachel thought her mom was dead. Nope, just held hostage at the Evil Well-funded Psyche unit?  Sidenote: this psyche unit looks better funded than anything we have goin on in Seattle and we have a terrible homelessness problem.

Maybe, The Evil Group could franchise or just run our city for a couple of years?  The Evil Group catches Dick and mind messes with him and he burns his Robin suit.  That’s about it.  Nothing great.   Basically, it was a filler episode.

Donna Troy on the other hand is a fun episode.  Donna Troy was Wonder Woman’s sidekick and we dig deeper into that history.  It’s a lot more fun and goes deep into the inevitable PTSD heroes would have after years of violence.

The show opens back in Toronto…I mean Chicago.  Rachel and her mom have bonded overnight.  Really?! You haven’t seen her in…your whole life AND thought she was dead and you’re besties?! Word?

Dick’s “quit” … well kinda.  He can’t figure out what to do with himself.  So, he and Starfire break up and he heads to…..Vancouver..I guess.  Anywho, Donna Troi AKA Wonder Girl AKA Darkstar AKA My Canadian Girlfriend…I swear! She hasn’t quit, but she is a photographer.  I really didn’t know that was a photographer was a thing anymore.  I figured that it was de-professionalized like journalism by the internet and the iPhone.

Meanwhile, Starfire and the rest of the group are traveling to Rachel’s mom’s farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  They get on a train and are nearly captured by the feds.

Dick is at Wonder Girl’s photography artshow and everything is normal.  Just kidding, she’s made a Faustian deal to get hard edged photos of warlords for a fee.  As you do.  She goes to meet some evil guys for a photo shoot, but Dick follows her and he sees the evil dudes and beats the crap out of them.  Donna is also quite the linguist and translates the pictures of an ancient language on Dick’s phone that will explain Rachel and her origin.  FUN!!!

She gets through to him that Dick not done with being a hero, but he is done with Robin.  Soon, he’ll be …. Nightwing!!!! Can’t wait!!!  Dick and Troi do some research on the texts and decide to head to the farmhouse.  Somehow they know the address and start heading on down.

Dick and Troi are still enroute and don’t think to give Rachel a ring.  At the farmhouse, Rachel does a mindmeld on Starfire.  BAD IDEA! She uncovers Starfire’s mission and identity to her.  Unfortunately for Rachel, Starfire’s mission is to kill Rachel and stop her from bringing about the gotterdammerung. Starfire wakes and starts choking Rachel!!!  SO EXCITING!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Review: L.A. 2017 (dir by Steven Spielberg)


L.A. 2017 is the Steven Spielberg film about which you’ve probably never heard.

To a certain extent, that’s understandable.  Spielberg was only 24 when, in 1971, he directed L.A. 2017.  It was a film that he directed for television.  In fact, it was only his third directorial assignment.  As opposed to the huge budgets that we tend to associate with a typical Spielberg production, L.A. 2017 was made for about $300,000.  The entire film was shot in about 12 days.  In fact, with a running time of only a scant 69 minutes, L.A. 2017 hardly qualifies as a feature-length film.  L.A. 2017 has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, making it a true oddity in Spielberg’s filmography.  Despite the fact that Spielberg has credited L.A. 2017 with opening a lot of doors for him, it’s an almost totally forgotten film.

Of course, some of that is because L.A. 2017 really isn’t a film at all.  Instead, it was an episode of a television show called The Name of the Game.  The show was about Glenn Howard (Gene Barry), a magazine publisher, and the reporters who worked for him.  L.A. 2017 was unique in that it was the show’s only excursion into science fiction.  In fact, from everything that I’ve read about the show, it appears that L.A. 2017 was nothing like any of the other episodes of The Name of the Game.  This episode was also unique because Spielberg directed it as if he was making a feature, as opposed to just another installment in a weekly series.  If not for the opening credits (which announce, among other things, that we’re watching a Robert Stack Production), one could easily imagine watching L.A. 2017 in a movie theater, perhaps as a double feature with Beneath The Planet Of The Apes.

L.A. 2017 opens with Glenn driving down a mountain road in California.  He’s heading to a pollution summit and, as he drives along, he awkwardly dictates an editorial into a tape recorder.  Glenn worries that society may have already ruined the environment to such an extent that the Earth cannot be saved.  As if to prove his point, Glenn starts to cough as he’s overcome by all of the smog in the air.  His car swerves into a ditch and Glenn is knocked unconscious.

Welcome to the future

When he wakes up, he finds himself being rescued by men wearing wearing protective suits and masks.  The sky is a sickly orange and an ominous wind howls in the background.  Glenn’s rescuers take him to an underground city where he discovers that, somehow, he has traveled through time.  The year is now 2017, which in this film looks a lot like the 70s except that everyone’s now underground and the landline phones are extra bulky.  (Needless to say, watching 1971’s version of 2017 in 2019 is an interesting experience.)  It turns out that the pollution got so bad that the surface of the planet became uninhabitable.  The U.S. is now run by a corporation that is headquartered in Detroit.  (Presumably, the Corporation is a former car company.)  The U.S. is also at war with England, for some reason.  No mention is made about what’s happened to Canada but, if Detroit’s still around, I assume at least some of Canada managed to survive as well.

The …. uh, Future.

Everyone in the future drinks a lot of milk and, when they’re not listening to cheerful announcements, they’re listening to the soothing music that the Corporation provides for them.  Everyone in the future is also very friendly.  We know this because everyone keeps assuring Glenn that he’s surrounded by friends.  In fact, everyone in the future refers to one another by their first name because “it’s friendlier.”  It’s also the law.  It turns out that there’s a lot of laws in the future.  In fact, the underground cities are pretty fascist in the way that they handle things.  There are constant announcements encouraging people to pursue a career in law enforcement and anyone who disagrees with the Corporation ends up in a straight jacket.  Glenn feels that maybe he’s been brought to the future so he can start a new magazine and challenge the status quo.  The Corporation disagrees….

This is what happens when you don’t go underground in the future.

Okay, so there’s nothing subtle about L.A. 2017.  From the villainous corporation to the heavy-handed environmental message, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in dozens of other sci-fi films.  But the lack of subtlety doesn’t matter, largely because Spielberg directs with so much energy and with such an eye to detail that it’s impossible not to get sucked into the story.  As opposed to the somewhat complacent Spielberg who has recently given us rather bland and safe blockbusters like Lincoln, The BFG, and The Post, the Spielberg who directed L.A. 2017 was young and obviously eager to show off what he could do with even a low budget and that enthusiasm is present in every frame, from the wide-angle shots of Glenn driving his car to the scenes of Glenn looking up at the shadowy executives and scientists who are staring down at him when he’s first brought to the underground city.  As opposed to the sterile vision of so many other future-set films, Spielberg’s future feels as if it’s actually been lived in.  When Glenn finds himself in a new world, it comes across as being a real world as opposed to just a narrative contrivance.

Of course, because L.A. 2017 was just one episode in a weekly series, Glenn couldn’t remain in the future and L.A. 2017 returns Glenn to the present in the most contrived and predictable way possible.  Still, L.A. 2017 remains an entertaining example of what a young and talented director can do when he’s determined to be recognized.  Watching the film, it’s easy to draw a straight line from Spielberg doing L.A. 2017 to doing Duel and then subsequently being hired for Jaws.

Incidentally, Joan Crawford is somewhere in this film.  Crawford worked with Spielberg when he directed her in the pilot for Night Gallery and she was one of his first major supporters in Hollywood.  Apparently, in L.A. 2017, she plays one of the people staring down at Glenn when he’s first brought into the underground city.  I haven’t found her yet but she’s apparently there somewhere.

Unfortunately, L.A. 2017 has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray but it is currently available on YouTube.

Titans, S1 Ep6, Jason Todd, Review By Case Wright, Dir (Carol Banker)


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This episode was a true Detective Comics story.  It had a eerie feel to it and I understand why- Carol Banker (Director) and Jason Hatem (Writer) are veterans of  The X-Files and Supernatural.  These shows are often grisly whodunnits and this episode fit that mold.

The direction and character development and dialogue are so confluent that it has an unsettling realism.  You watch Dick go through a metamorphosis of grief and brutality into something new- something he doesn’t even know yet.  The dialogue is quick and sharp slowly revealing the differences between Jason and Dick, building the tension between Dick’s uncertainty and Jason’s brutality.  The last shot of the detective story pulls back with Dick alone, staring at what Jason has wrought.  There are crippled police everywhere.  The cost of Dick saving his friend is the unleashing of this hurricane of cruelty wearing the costume that he once proudly wore.

This episode picks up right after the last one.  It’s uncertain why Jason Todd was there to help Dick.  It turns out that Dick and Jason are both Lo-Jacked with tracking devices because of Batman.  Batman discovered that someone is hunting down all of the members of the circus that Dick grew up with- essentially his family other than Bruce.  This person is the son of the man who killed Dick’s parents.  We learn that five years ago Dick got the revenge upon his parents’ killer. Although Dick didn’t do the fatal blow,  he purposefully stood back so the killer would die at another’s hands.

This whodunnit also serves as a Mid-Point Crisis and realization for Dick’s story arc.  He doesn’t want to be Robin, but he carries the suit across the country.  Jason Todd is the new Robin, but Jason, unlike Dick, is pure Robin.  Batman had a code of non-killing and certainly forbade beating up people because you could.  Jason Todd does not follow that; in fact, he likes to brutalize people for sport.  Jason Todd is rage and violence distilled to its darkest conclusion.  This is in line with the comics where Jason becomes the Red Hood and straight up murders criminals.  

As they work together in the episode to track down the killer, Dick realizes that he’s not Robin anymore, but he’s not on the sidelines either.  The Melting Man essentially kills Dick Grayson’s Robin persona because by forcing Dick to work along side Jason to stop him, it causes Dick to realize that he’s no one’s sidekick and that he isn’t a pure psychopath either.

Dick sees Jason’s thrill in beating up cops and crippling them.  Dick tries to explain to Jason that this embrace of darkness costs your soul, but Dick realizes soon that you can’t lose something that you never had.  Jason Todd is like the Joker – in Christopher Nolan’s words- The Joker is an absolute.  The Joker and Jason Todd are the Id of humanity- both absolutes; there is no reasoning with them.  They want and do and they do -without feeling.

Dick is likely to evolve into Nightwing, but more importantly we see in this show very careful layering and texture added over time for every character.  It really brings out the goose-flesh to see these people struggle with being heroes.  It’s so human and painful and more clear when you see a Jason Todd who  relishes embracing darkness and violence.

The Robins do save the day, but Dick is left changed permanently.  Like the funeral scene the story opened with, Dick Grayson’s Robin is dead.  Dick is unaware as to what he will become, but we know it will be born among the Titans. Without question, this is the BEST show on television.

 

Titans S1 Ep 5, Together, Dir (Meera Menon)


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Hello again! It’s been exactly one month since the last Titans installment.  I was busy reviewing the steaming piece of trash that is Stranger Things 3.  Now, I’m back and I have to start banking reviews for October!!! Horrorthor is just around the corner as is Titans Season 2 due out in September!!!

This episode was all about bringing the team together and learning how to fight as one.  Now, I know this doesn’t sound terribly exciting, BUT this episode was actually one of my favorites.

The biggest reason is that I love this episode is because of the Director Meera Menon. She really knows how to direct a fight scene- a virtuoso! Like horror, a great action story can be filmed terribly, making you wish you’d done an extra load of laundry or it can draw you in and make you feel like part of the action.  Meera is the latter.  I haven’t seen action sequences directed this well since Blade I.  I was bummed to find out that she didn’t direct any additional Titans episodes.  If Greg Berlanti is reading my reviews- AND HE SHOULD- Meera is a real talent and will elevate any and all of your properties! Get her now while she’s affordable!

The episode has the gang on the run.  They hole up in a motel and try to assess their individual abilities.  This leads to a fun quasi-montage.  It also leads to the final consummation of the sexual tension between Dick Grayson and  Starfire.  They really play the tension well.  These two have CHEMISTRY!

The Nuclear Family has got a brand new Dad and they are in hot pursuit of the Titans, which leads to one of the best fight sequences that I have ever seen….REALLY.  Just awesome! Meera- get in touch with Dwayne Johnson!

After the fight, Dick figures out where the evil headquarters are located using his detective skills.  This sends him to Toronto…I mean evil Headquarters.  Dick confronts King Evil Pants and gets beaten A LOT by his henchmen….Until Jason Todd shows up and saves him.  This introduces the most psychopathic anti-hero since The Comedian.  The next episode review will about a WHODUNNIT!

Super cool!