IR TV Review: PICARD – EPISODE 9 (“Et In Arcadia Ego – Part II”) [CBS All Access]

The aspect of evolution in terms of idealism or perhaps in moderation of experiences had has been part of the duality of “Picard” as a series. It began with an incomplete matriculation of Data’s last iteration in “Nemesis” (what is interesting for the reviewer is that I am fairly certain I interviewed Brent Spiner, Stewart and director Stuart Baird for that film for TV back in 2002 – the interviewed likely buried on some digital tape somewhere). Wrapping those strands of psychology from that film is what gnaws on both sides of the season finale (“Et In Arcadia Ego – Part II”) here. While the thrust of the narrative when it finally arrives at its end point seems sounds, it also seems too neatly put together. This is not a criticism overtly since it makes totally sense and works within the existential nature of the project overall.

As it moves in the final hour of the season, it brings into focus the nature of Picard but creates it on a very large scale. While it is not integrated as a space battle per se (without giving anything anyway) there is a sense of breath to it, especially when the viewer sees who is at the helm. The brother Soong is an interesting quandary since one is not quite sure the mythology behind it. It actually ends in a way that is more hopeful than where it began which I gather is part of the point of this specific journey. The coda per se that leads towards the epilogue is what really fans came to see all season and rivals some of the specific moments when Picard reunites with Riker and Troi on their planet.

It makes complete sense though that it feels like an adjusted addendum but it very much plays within the Shakespearean elements that Stewart so loves. There is sort of a paradoxical take on “The Tempest” within its walls. As it continues into the meaning of its conclusion, it dovetails into those ideas that sometimes change in path, much like Spock’s in earlier transgressions (even before the reboot), which again reverts back to the Romulan conflict and also their sense of identity. All works well. The final shot however tries to infer too much when it was not necessary and could have been done with more subtlety. While it did offer a slight hiccup, it doesn’t heavily diminish what the episode achieves.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: STUMPTOWN – EPISODE 18 (“All Hands On Dex”) [ABC]

The last time the “Stumptown” vision undertook this reviewer was the pilot after which I did an interview with the two leads played by Colbie Smulders & Jake Johnson. Through the trajectory of the season, the pace seems like it has been fairly consistent but the season finale “All Hands On Dex” seems to filter in the idea of a little bit more melodrama than would have been expected. The music, which made the first episode of the series so textured, is still there with correct context. The humor itself though seems a little more sparse as if it is just moving the  needle to keep up. Dex, played by Smulders, is trying to uncover a murderer which has been dogging her from earlier in the season. But the character truly seems to have its wings when she is not overly pushing with episodic plot elements.

Granted this is the season finale so it needs to wrap certain elements up. However “Stumptown”, even the one I read in the graphic novel, had more of a “Rockford Files” element to it. The structure of the series always reflects back to family which in certain more bare moments, Dex seems to forget. This is part of the beauty of the character but it has to be balanced in check. Certain scenes bring it back into focus including one set in a church with the perfect music accompaniment. But the more textured one is in the opening scene which reflects more in the subconscious of Dex than anything else. The tenure of the series is based more in reveals but looking at the beginning and the end, it is simply good if the character simply is. Her own life and not her extended drama is enough to make the show effective.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2020 [Remote]

The essence of SxSW this year was rattled of course in the texture of the coronavirus but films are films and their perspectives are their own. In selecting films in the same way as approaching for interviews albeit remotely, an interesting cross section comes forth.

Cargo The texture of life and science in an interesting progression. Using this predilection, “Cargo” uses a style of metaphorical perception to show the essence of its characters. In reference to a certain mythology, the movie takes place on a space station that is a weigh station for souls on their way to reincarnation. While it moves in a sort of dance with existentialism, the film also speaks to the rigors or freedoms one feels within identity. The lead character is characterized as a demon by sorts but not in the way the Western world believes it to be. He is just trying to make sure balance is maintained as the masses are transferred at their time. The reflection on Earth of what his superiors per se would like him to do is both focused but undone. When an assistant finally arrives, their interaction is both stilted and oddly kinetic simply because she might be taking his lifeforce. In an odd way, the subway stop of the people is an interesting transgression on life but also what constituted the essence of worries, regrets and needs. The eventual transcendence of the lead character is understood but (like “Moon” starring Sam Rockwell) most of the film takes place in two rooms creating a claustrophobia that works for the loneliness at times it tries to cultivate.

Scales The essence of mythology is always an interesting texture. Shooting on a peninsula in Oman in black and white is a distinctly interesting progression and adds a degree of perspective to the proceedings of this film. The story follow a girl who as a part of the ritual of her village on the sea is fated as a baby to be given to the ocean for sea maidens to reclaim. While this is a test on an old wives’ tale, its structure within a Middle East setting is both universal and timeless. The film works well because it is both modern in a way and traditional. While the dialogue is sparse, the actions of the actors speak volumes specifically between the girl, afflicted from her youth with “scales” on her feet and the captain she eventually works with to learn a fishing trade. She is both part of a community and ousted from it, especially in regards to her parents (most specifically her father). Yet she is the salvation in many ways. The stark landscape of the desert rocks against the water are undeniably beautiful and one wonders of their starkness in color. But the black and white, especially on many of the night shoots, adds a sense of both foreboding and mystery (without the need for extensive special effects). However when meaning is needed, their explanation speaks volumes.

Make Up The notion of identity filters through this story of a girl who is existing in a natural but basic relationship and, by extension, world. What the film does through its use of claustrophobia in her domain is create a sense of both want and abandonment. She wants to be something darker or outside herself possibly. There are imprints of those ideas which are bathed in fingernails, perhaps a kind of succubus ode that she only needs to give herself into. When she decodes her ideas into what they truly need to be then the film understands itself. The psychology is simply one basked in dark streets but red velvet lit warmth. The texture of the colors alone plays to the reality of what Molly, the lead character, is. She feels safe in the breathe of her co-worker while her boyfriend leaves her cold (seemingly on his end as well since he becomes less and less interested physically in her). The performance of the lead actress keys into that sense of isolation without resolving to say exactly what is happening with her. As a result it feels like a coming of age reflected in a certain Lynchian ode to womanhood.

Rare Beasts The texture of happiness or what makes someone happy with themselves is not a straight line to traverse. Within this comedy of sorts, Billie Piper, who gained notoriety as a companion on “Doctor Who” (and was honestly one of the most fun sidekicks that character had in recent years) brings in both a nuanced and yet vivacious performance without losing track of her voice. There is a similarity to an earlier more independent piece in “Wild Rose” (which played SxSW in 2020) about a young girl finding her voice. While that was an interesting film (and another redhead) this is a much more mature film that has its best moments when it lets the characters sit. One specific scene between David Thewlis and the actress that plays Billie’s mom is undeniably tragic but truthful and told by simply looks. Piper’s timing is uncanny. Her romantic male foil played in specificity because of his foibles earns stripes but Piper is the bright light. The ending tends to play more metaphorical but doesn’t bow down to expectations. Like Olivia Wilde to a lesser degree (“Booksmart” played SxSW last year as well), there is a dynamic ear for music and certain flourishes. That said, parts of the film also seem inherently TV visually based in terms of set up, not to its detriment but to the possibilities. Piper’s voice also is integral as she wrote the script so the musings, especially those when she is walking down the street, speak candidly to the hiccups of life, which this film is not afraid of showing.

Red Heaven This documentary follows a group of people who undergo an experiment to isolate themselves for a year in Mars-like conditions to study how the isolation and approach of an actual mission would affect them. This means no internet and the responses from ground control to move back and forth across space at intervals of 20 minutes as it would on the Red Planet. The quarters are tight, no alcohol and outside time is limited and attained as it would if they were on Mars with space type HAZ-MAT gear. It is an interesting psychological exercise as the participants were chosen with the same criteria as the astronauts would be. The aspect of certain psychological traits including aversion and closeness is an interesting structure but not together unexpected. It would have been interesting to hear a little more of the German scientist’s thoughts in her own language since that is something even in a confined space that could be kept private. It is introduced in the beginning but not completely implemented. Also the delayed impact of the information of the terror attack in Paris to a French citizen involved in the experiment also integrates to a sense of detachment. All of the footage was taken inside the dome by the people inside so it has the texture of being what it is but also a specific fly on the wall concept (since it used some rigged cameras but also the people doing the interviews). It is a structure of a petri dish but one that will open eyes and reflect long expected perspectives in others.

IR TV Review: STAR WARS – CLONE WARS – FINAL SEASON – EPISODE 5 ("Gone With A Trace") [Disney+]

After the inset of The Bad Batch which., in itself, is a story about the search for identity, the next story arc in “Gone With A Trace” would seem to be one that diametrically needs to be addressed. Ahsoka Tano, as the long standing padewan to Anakin Skywalker, has the biggest perception (almost more so than Padme) to the psychological degregation that brought Anakin to the dark side. More than Luke and almost Obi Wan, she knows him best which is why her expulsion or leaving depending on how one sees it from the Jedi Order is a bit of a wormhole in the story since we have never seen her in live action. She re-emerged in essence in “Rebels” and we saw her have an interaction that is one of the more dynamic encounters in animation in Vader in that series. But in this episode, it is about reconnecting with those less fortunate which is what being a Jedi is. But as with most perceptions of government, people on the lower levels have lost faith.

This first episode shows Ahsoka finding her way. She has the street smarts and the Jedi know how where she could fumble through and scam her way into situations but those are not the values she was taught. While the story focuses back to simple, it is those baseline connections whether one is talking about the end of “The Last Jedi” or “Joker” where certain basic human interactions introduce a path, either to be led astray or to push forward. This first tome in Ahsoka’s journey shows her connection to loyalty but also a judgmental attitude in others. The one thing that seems to come through to her though is the inherent good nature of people. The charity and compassion is what comes forth as the values of this episode. Even when the survival instinct cuts in, the reasoning is sound. But Ahsoka’s path is complicated for she knows a bigger world but at least she sees the reality of those that the power plays of the Universe shows. She should meet up with Ventress to discuss the existential nature of their predicament.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: PICARD – EPISODE 9 ("Et In Arcadia Ego – Part I") [CBS All Access]

The proliferation of a journey resides in the impact of the ending point and the lessons learned in its transgression. “Picard”, as it continues in “Et in Arcadia Ego – Part 1” as a man is a continually flawed character, one we could not have likely seen back in the Next Generation phase. He is a man blinded in certain ways by his altruism and ego. He has a mortality that he doesn’t want to face but also an ambition that basically he can’t cash. He wants to be a savior but is stuck in the certain visage of a false messiah. This of course is not his fault. It is simply the crux of the story he finds himself in. The pilgrimage of sorts to a lone planet led by Soji opens both answers and more questions. The reality is that the motivation of humans as the predominant force in the universe is the crux of the conversation at the heart of the series. Even going back to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and even into the original series with “I, Mudd”, this reflects on the idea of what it means to be a synthetic being. The discussion also resides in the idea of what has happened before will happen again.

The Romulans, in many perceptions have the right idea but the progressions of the series is based in a false assumption. It is the idea of ego and assuming what something or a certain vision might mean, and not what it actually is. The introduction of an offspring of a certain positronic scientist is an interesting one but also an imbalanced introduction, though certain details point to an interesting construct. When it comes down to it an apocalypse is coming but what is interesting is that the deliverance, in all seriousness, might come down to those who exist halfway between worlds. It will reside in those that understand both the sides of pure machine intelligence and a bit of humanity. These decisions can only be made by those with views on both sides which encapsulates a couple different characters, so the narrative push could go in a variety of different ways. But that is what makes the adventure worth exploring, especially if a certain redemption is in the cards.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: STAR WARS – CLONE WARS – FINAL SEASON – EPISODE 4 (“Unfinished Business”) [Disney+]

The continual force of The Bad Batch is based within the idea of whether or not a certain member of the group can be trusted. The idea is sticking to orders but also thinking outside the box. In this 4th episode: “Unfinished Business”, the question becomes one of trust or betrayal, either internally or externally within certain characters. Having rescued Echo, there is a possibility for dealing a blow for The Republic because of the information within this detached trooper’s head. The idea of what dictates loyalty is one that comes to bear for more than one character. Anakin’s forward momentum, especially in how he sees his path within the Jedi, seems to waver a little in this episode. However, the tendency and what it is occurring at this specific time is another issue entirely. We are also seeing in a flip tendency much more of Mace Windu’s hubris in terms of how he is approaching his mission. Whereas in earlier seasons of Clone Wars, his actions might have been seen as tongue-in-cheek, there is almost a vindictiveness here which is interesting to behold. The resolution also speaks to a division of sorts, not necessarily in idealism but ideology which is separate. It closes the door to a point on one possibility but opens up possibilities of internal strife to another.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE JESUS ROLLS [Screen Media]

Making a follow up to “The Big Lebowski” in any way, shape or form is an interesting quandary. Jesus Quintana, who just had a small ode in that seminal film, was seemingly a pervert who just lived to bowl and start trouble with his bowling alley competitors. While that ode 20 years ago happened in LA, this new tome, “The Jesus Rolls”, which John Turturro writes, directs and acts in, picks up Jesus getting again out of the joint 20 years later (how long he has been incarcerated we don’t know). He is picked up by his friend, played by Bobby Cannavale. From the get go, be assured that this is not “The Big Lebowski 2”. This is it’s own animal with less visual flourish, slightly darker humor to be sure and more subtle writing. Much of what Jesus and his cohorts do makes little sense but that, in short order, is part of the fun. Jesus as a character just seems to go on whatever path life takes him, despite the absurd, stealing cars, trying to have sex with women but also coming on to his best friend in Cannavale, not out of spite but just saying “you should try it!”. Whether stealing cars or staying in random people’s houses, Turturro plays the older Jesus as just a free spirit but with wrong values. Once in a while, it does elevate. What lets this work in many ways, even though her English accent is still very heavy, blossom is Audrey Tautou, the star of “Amelie” and “The DaVinci Code” who seems undeniable free as a happy, openly sexual haircutter who has never had an orgasm and doesn’t mind. She is just a free spirit in platform pink heels. Tatou is just a bright light despite Cannavale and Turturro’s characters in different ways being not the best role models. Cannavale, who has played his share of bad guys and unsavories, plays his character in many ways as an innocent which is charming in its own way and makes one think of his earlier work in films like “The Station Agent”.

The one thing that Turturro can also pull off is some good cameos though most of them are brief and just push the story along. Ones like Tim Blake Nelson and Christopher Walken as just one scene but bring a smile to your face. The most intrinsic overall is a multi-scene stint with Susan Sarandon which shows a depth and a Bull Durham angle that we haven’t seen from her in years though the resolution of the character is unusual and changes the story somewhat. Pete Davidson from SNL also shows up in a key role but again it is a fleeting character. But again that is the world that Jesus Quintana lives in. Even his mother, who has a great reveal and played by a cool actress completely fits into the story correctly. In essence though the heart still revolves back to Tatou’s character and her brightness which balances out the texture of Jesus’ smarminess which Turturro doesn’t tame down but also makes it as dimensional as he can. And yes he does bowl and he can roll.

B-

By Tim Wassberg