Galavant’s return, and other modernish mythologies

Last year I reviewed the first season of Galavant here, but now you can read the season two reviews over on The Televixen!

I’ve been watching a lot of various Law & Orders over the past month or so, going back to the very first season of the mothership, when it still felt a bit edgy and experimental. The pilot, if you’ve never seen it, is as gritty as the final season was polished, and includes the only instance of onscreen defibrillation on a woman not wearing a bra I’ve ever seen. The funniest thing is how little I remember of individual episodes around very specific moments that are indelibly etched on my brain: Logan punching the councilor, Carmichael’s amazing looks of disdain, Paul Sorvino’s fur hat, Bobby Goren. Also of note: how the tenor of the show’s relationship to NYC changed after 9/11, how McCoy’s hippie liberal attitudes calcified as he aged and his lady ADAs didn’t, Borgia’s egregiously brutal exit, Bobby Goren. There are still about seven hundred seasons left in my rewatch, and at least as many potential write-ups bubbling in the back of my head.

At the other end of the pseudo-medieval spectrum from Galavant:
ROBIN HOOD (2010, movie, Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett)
To be blunt: if it weren’t for a gifset of Oscar Isaac looking ridiculously attractive as Prince King John, I’d have skipped this movie forever. I’ve poked fun at Crowe’s pretensions but genuinely find him a compelling actor most of the time. I even like his singing! Unfortunately he’s stuck in Full Dour for the duration here and it is boring as hell. No joke, it took almost an hour to watch the first twenty minutes because I kept wandering out of the room. There’s also a cast of roughly seven hundred dudes to every woman allowed to walk and talk at the same time, and by half an hour in I was wondering what fantastical miracles of reproduction they achieved to sustain any European population past the 12th century (Hollywood’s really into medieval mpreg, amirite?).

The movie suffers from a reverse Return of the King right at the outset, with three or four distinctly separate openings that barely hang together. It feels more like the opening scenes from a couple of different miniseries cobbled together with Ye Semi-Olde Englishe Gothice PowerPointe slides outlining key historical context because the movie doesn’t trust itself or the audience enough. And then the movie abandons two-thirds of them so it can wallow in the most boring army camp of all time and introduce a bunch more scheming dudes in another part of the woods! Worse, those abandoned plot threads (the struggles between Prince King John and Eleanor of Aquitaine, along with Cate Blanchett’s fierce Marian) comprise the most interesting parts of the movie. There are also a number of minor moments that would have helped elevate the whole thing for me: the artificiality and fickleness of Richard’s relationship to his soldiers and subjects and vice versa. The approaching-sly insinuations about his sexuality. The strange disguises the men of the greenwood employ that hint at the profound societal divide and the tenuousness of so-called civilization. The mechanics of Marian’s survival in a village abandoned by “able” men and plundered by crown, church, and outlaw. Court intrigues! I would have gladly watched two-plus hours of John’s wife and mistress jockeying for position, John’s nobles rebelling against his self-interest and greed, and John and Eleanor wounding each other with barbed tongues.

Alas, the movie’s biggest flaw, aside from the artless direction and unearned emotional payoffs, is that it thinks we’ll be most interested in Russell Crowe’s impostor Robin and in its attempts at equating 12th century feudal inequities with modern-day American class and power struggles with a decidedly libertarian bent. I mean, the latter is actually super interesting, but this is about the most ineffective treatment of that idea since, oh, Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood. I will thank Russell Crowe’s singing for how much folk music was included in the movie, though. Easily the most enjoyable element of the entire thing.

I’d watch again for Oscar Isaac’s artfully obscured bits, but probably only until my crush on him fades. ★☆☆☆☆

In other unearned emotional payoffs:
THE UNDOING OF A LADY (2009, book / romance, Nicola Cornick)
I jumped into this book without reading any of the previous books in the series and really shouldn’t have. The main couple’s relationship was frustratingly rushed, and the progression of each from strong attraction to realizing they were in love didn’t have much emotional impact for me. The secondary characters kind of blended together (so many couples!) and the resolution of the main mystery (which came out of nowhere! I thought this was a standard can’t-deny-our-urges book when all of a sudden someone was murdered, and then not really investigated) didn’t make sense. I gather from context that most of the story was the culmination of events from a prior book. Still, I read the whole thing and enjoyed quite a bit of it. The town’s charming. I probably won’t try the rest of the series. ★★☆☆☆

And a pleasant surprise!
SUPERSTORE (2015-16, TV / NBC, America Ferrara and Ben Feldman)
Binged the first four episodes of this over the weekend and it’s getting a season pass. Cute, friendly, fun workplace comedy in the vein of The Office, with weirdos galore. Unlike The Office it manages a middle America feel that doesn’t feel gratuitously unkind, though there are some low blows. I’m kind of hoping that the central will-they-won’t-they couple won’t in the short- and long-term. America Ferrara plays a nice twist on the uptight, upright workplace expert; Mark McKinney does the weirdest voice I’ve heard from him since Kids in the Hall; and although I didn’t watch Mad Men, I’m on Tumblr enough to be grateful to this show for letting me look at Ben Feldman without thinking about body horror. ★★★★☆

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Going for the Goldblum: Vibes

All right, everybody, time to get out your Jeff Goldblum “From Zero to Hero” Sliding Scale.

Good. Now, cross out whatever you have down for the absolute worst piece of garbage thing you’ve ever seen Jeff Goldblum in, because this week’s movie is our new low!

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Quick hits: The Loft & January reads

If you listen to The Televoid, which you should, you know that The Loft is finally out in theaters starting this weekend! It was shot back in 2011 and has languished in distributor hell since. It’s a remake of a Belgian film of the same name, in which five married guys share an apartment where they take their girlfriends, mistresses, and conquests. When one of them finds a woman dead in the bed, the secrets they keep threaten to destroy their “perfect” lives.

Here’s the good news: Karl Urban, I guess? Except he seems to think he’s starring in a parody of a hardboiled noir movie, while everyone else is just basic-cabling around the joint.

Here’s the bad: every bit of this movie. Every damn bit. It’s turgid and stale, the kind of thinks-itself-clever movie that should be running late at night on Encore in perpetuity. The dialogue is stilted; the characters reprehensible and barely dimensional; and the twist/reveal is–frankly–ludicrous and nonsensical. The cops are idiots. The movie seems to think the audience is, too. Maybe it takes place in an alternate universe, where humor and shame are largely absent? The pleasure-seeking walking boners that make up the main cast don’t do anything but loudly hate their wives and lives, until it looks like they might lose either of the pair. Most of the women in the cast could have been replaced by table lamps. It’s also strangely prudish about its sexual content. For a movie all about men trying to bone everything on two legs, there’s very little nudity. What little there is, including a total strip-down by Urban, is coyly concealed from our view. (Not that I mind a movie where women aren’t asked to get their breasts out every sixteen seconds, mind.) And, as is all too common, the dead woman at the center of the story is about as much a complex character as the sheets covering most of her R-rated body parts.

Do yourself a favor: wait a few years until this is running late at night on Encore and half-watch it then.

In other, quicker hits, I reviewed two new books this month (in addition to Signal to Noise:

Stealing Marilyn Monroe by Sophie Warren: Juliet Chadwick is an expert art curator, employed by some of the top galleries in the country–under assumed identities that conceal her real calling as a thief. But when the gangsters to whom her incarcerated father owes money come knocking on her door, Juliet has to pull off a big money heist to save both their lives and her collection. Naturally, that heist involves conning a mega-wealthy man and his children, and accidentally falling in love with them along the way.

It was cute! Fast read, fun characters, even a little bit of art history knowledge drop. Conversations that sound like real people talking! The progression of the romance was a little hurried–and Juliet suffers from the all-too-common “oh no he wants someone else!!” confusion that always seems to beset romance heroines after initial bursts of “yesss, he wants my face on his face.” The ending was more neatly wrapped up than I’d have liked, but Juliet was relatable, root-for-able, and charming, and Edward’s kids are fantastic, especially the oldest, Cecilia. I am already lining up for more Cecilia. Write more Cecelia!

Stealing Marilyn Monroe by Sophie Warren will be available 14 April 2015 from Alloy Entertainment. I received an advance copy for review from NetGalley.

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins: This is a bit of a departure for me. Non-fiction, a mashup of history and true crime. It’s New York in 1799/1800, when Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton teamed up to defend a man accused of murdering a young woman. (WHY CAN’T I GET AWAY FROM DEAD GIRL TOWN.) Though the book is ostensibly about this meeting of rivals, it’s more a chronicle of what was New York’s first big and sensational murder case and how the public reaction to it still echoes today.

Collins writes a hell of a crime story. Even though it played out more than two hundred years ago, the narrative was engaging and kept me interested throughout. The actual crime doesn’t come in until surprisingly late in the book, but it’s hardly noticeable because Collins sweeps you along in everyday detail of early 19th century New York. (I’m excited to spin off into looking up the dozens of passages and references I bookmarked for reading and writing reasons.) But, while the rivalry between Hamilton and Burr was electric in real life, and the book is framed as a rare occasion of their working in concert, very little of the story centers on that interaction. Still, as an example of historical true crime, the book is a satisfying and entertaining read. Recommended for anyone interested in both true crime and the early US.

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins is available now from Crown. I received a copy for review from Blogging for Books.

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Going for the Goldblum: Into the Night

Here we are, at Jeff Goldblum’s first starring role: Into the Night. Top billing. No ensemble. It’s all him! Too bad it’s in such a mess of a movie.

Goldblum is an insomniac who’s fucking up at work and discovers his wife is cheating on him. So, one night, he jumps in the car and drives to the airport. To escape? Mindlessly filling the hours? It’s hard to tell. What he does manage to do is rescue Michelle Pfeiffer from a group of pratfalling Iranian bad guys and then go driving aimlessly around Los Angeles while she tries to offload the emeralds she smuggled into the country. (Director John Landis plays one of the Iranians, so that might give you a sense of how responsibly they’re portrayed.)

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