Titans, S2 Ep 2&3, “Rose” “Ghosts” Review by Case Wright


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Halloween is over and now it’s time for all good persons to rally together and watch Titans! This season is following a tried and true method of bringing the gang back together, but they are emotionally apart and will hopefully return together.  This season’s Big Bad is Deathstroke (Esai Morales) and it’s AWESOME!

“Rose” is about well Rose who is in peril.  She’s missing an eye and is getting chased by the police.  Dick intervenes and takes her in for some reason, but it turns out Rose is Deathstroke’s daughter…Dun Dun Dun!!!! She also has a lot of snark, which the show needs more of.  It also has Jason Todd as a budding superhero looking for acceptance by Dick Grayson as he tries to fit into the Titans.  I’m glad that Curran Walters is a series regular, BUT I feel like his talent and his character is being wasted; he should be on his own show and have him evolve into the anti-hero- Red Hood.

Where’s the rest of our heroes? Hank and Dawn are out in Wyoming trying to go straight by running a horse riding camp for addicts.  Apparently, their need to fight crime was feeding Hank’s addiction.  But, is Dawn hanging up the cape and spandex???? NOPE! She’s out beating meth cookers within an inch of their lives! Yes, she’s returned to badassery.  Their utopia crashes down when their car explodes.  Why did the car go boom?  Deathstroke sprung Doctor Light from prison. He can manipulate energy and blow things up.

This episode dovetails perfectly into Ghosts- Episode 3.  The old Titans- Donna, Hank, and Dawn are back at the HQ and learn that Doctor Light is on the loose, Deathstroke is after them, Dick is harboring Deathstroke’s daughter, and the sushi he fed them came from a gas station.  Basically, everything is terrible and Dick is so busy trying to be a Dad that he forgot that he had to also be an angry badass.  Who is Doctor Light?  He’s a Mad Max looking supervillain who according to the comics is a serial sex offender and murderer.

The old gang tries to find Doctor Light and excludes any of the New Titans from the fight. Why? Because Dick’s trying to protect them and do things differently from Batman, but he didn’t bother to tell the New Titans that the last time they tangled with Deathstroke, it was a disaster. They hint at the disaster that they keep teasing at, forcing us to guess how terrible it was.

There is a secondary story of Starfire being pulled back home to be Queen.  Honestly, I hate this subplot.  She brings so much to the show and this subplot feels like a sidelining to me.

While Dick is trying to be a TV Dad, Jason is determined to prove himself.  He and Beast Boy go after Doctor Light and they find him, but IT’S A TRAP!!!! Jason gives a good fight, but is captured by Deathstroke!!!! OH NO!

These episodes fit together well and act as a great vehicle to ramp up the tension and suspense.  The cast is really bringing it again this season and Esai Morales was born to play this role.  He encapsulates the quiet rage and evil brilliantly!

 

 

Horror Film Review: Us (dir by Jordan Peele)


“They’re us,” a child says in Jordan Peele’s second film, Us.

And indeed, they are.  Us suggests that everyone has at least one doppelganger, living underground in conditions of absolutely misery and awkwardly imitating the same lives as those above ground, just without any of the rewards that those of us above-ground take for granted.  Those underground are known as the Tethered, because they’re permanently tied to those of us above ground.  Of course, what’s easily overlooked is that we’red tied to them as well.  Or, at least, we are until someone picks up a knife or a pair of scissors and violently severs the connection.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the film’s title — Us — can just as easily be read as U.S, as in the United States.  Jordan Peele may have said that he wanted Us to be a full-on horror film, as opposed to Get Out‘s mix of comedy, horror, and social commentary, but Us definitely has its political subtext, with the Tethered meant to stand in for every marginalized group that has been pushed underground by American society.  Though the film may have been inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone, it actually has more in common with the classic British shocker, Death Line (a.k.a. Raw Meat.)  There’s not a huge amount of difference between the largely mute Tethered and the pathetic cannibal in Death Line who, after growing up in the British Underground, is capable of only telling his victims to “Mind the doors.”

If nothing else, Us proves that Jordan Peele actually is a good filmmaker with a firm grasp on how to make an effective horror movie.  Get Out was good but also, I think, a bit overpraised by mainstream critics who often seemed to not realize just how much, in their attempts to make sure that we understood just how much they loved and understood the movie, they sounded like Bradley Whitford bragging about how he would have voted for Obama a third time.  When Us came out, a lot of viewers were waiting to see if Peele’s second film could possibly live up to all the hype surrounding its director and, for the most part, it does.

Political subtext aside, this is the all-out horror film that Peele promised, full of jump scares, disturbing imagery, and just enough humor to keep things from getting too unbearably nightmarish.  (As bad as you might feel for Elisabeth Moss’s character and her family, it’s hard not to appreciate the irony of the film’s Alexa-substitute misunderstanding a command to call the police.)  Interestingly enough, the Tethered are pretty much homicidal as soon as they come above ground.  This isn’t a case where a tragic misunderstanding leads to bloodshed that could have been avoided.  No, this is a case where the Tethered have spent decades trapped and out-of-sight and they’re pissed off about it.  Just because the Tethered may be us, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to have any sympathy for us when they finally do track us down.  In the style of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Have Eyes, Us follows a perfect family as they eventually find themselves resorting to the same violence as the Tethered, in an attempt to save not only their lives but also the lifestyle that they’ve come to take for granted.  The Tethred are us indeed.

The film is well-acted, with Lupita Nyong’o standing out as both the mother of an imperiled family and her doppelganger, who has spent years underground and who is one of the few Tethered to be able to speak.  Of course, there’s a twist at the end of the movie and I won’t ruin it here, other than to say that it’s effectively done and will actually make you reconsider everything that you’ve just seen.

Us is another triumph from Jordan Peele.  Even more importantly, it’s an undeniably effective horror film.

Titans S2Ep1, “Trigon”, Review by Case Wright (Dir. Carol Banker)


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Welcome back! This has been a hard year for me in terms of reviewing season two and three shows-

Sabrina 2- garbage

Stranger Things 3- Just so very sad.

And then there was Titans.  I was prepared for a sophomore slump like I had seen all year with my favorite shows and ….. it NEVER happened.  Season 2 Episode 1 was like a new pilot of my most beloved show.  It had family murder, a quasi Lucifer, and an introduction of Death Stroke, Bruce Wayne, a new Titans Headquarters, and a cure for male pattern baldness!

The episode picked up where it left off with Dick turned into an evil minion and the rest of the gang trying to help.  Hawk and Dove go to Jason Todd and they all descend upon the EVIL Farmhouse …. and are invited in or are they?  Trigon (Seamus Dever) is up to his old tricks of temptation, manipulation, and pagination – he’s really into orderly manuscripts; it can’t be all about world destruction.

The Titans fall one by one.  Jason Todd is manipulated to kill his “older brother” Dick, Starfire is tricked into killing Rachel, Hank gets Dawn hooked on smack… yes smack…horse…the dragon…the boy…the beast…H…or dope.  You even see the needle enter her arm and shoot it up.  I’m not sure whether this show or Breaking Bad is darker?  Maybe I need to watch something lighter like Disneyland being hit by a meteor or all the unicorns dying to Adiago For Strings.  But, man oh man it is enthralling!!!  I know that DCU is yet another subscription service, BUT it is worth every single penny to me! *Views expressed do not represent this blog, but are always correct. *

Once everyone is turned and Gar is nearly beaten to death by the now Evil Titans, Raven’s heart breaks allowing Trigon to fulfill his prophecy and start some earth destroying.  He reaches into his daughter’s chest, crushes her beating heart, turns it into a ruby, and puts the stone on her forehead….and I thought my childhood Thanksgivings were awkward…HIYOOO! Then, Trigon goes full-on Lucifer, which almost made this a Horrorthon post.

Gar wakes and breaks Raven free of the curse and she kills/banishes her father. EPIC… JUST EPIC! Anywho, once the dust settles, we get introduced to our new villain Death Stroke (who apparently hates Jason Todd; I don’t know why because he really grows on you) and Bruce Wayne.  This was a really good portrayal of an older aging Bruce- from father to Dick’s peer.  The episode ends with the Titans in San Francisco in their familiar HQ to the fans of the animated series.

This show succeeded in so many ways.  It’s deliciously 99% Cacao Dark.  It has great action, great dialogue, heart wrenching failure and redemption.  The performances, as always, were superb across the board.  I will say that Jason Todd (Curran Walters) should get a spinoff of the Red Hood.  He would be an amazing Anti-Hero and a clever take on a Batman like hero without ANY rules.  Ahem Greg….Ahem!  See you in a week!

“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 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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!