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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On this week's sentenced-to-prison weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen does some modern American holiday shopping; The K Chronicles goes to a wedding and celebrates more of life's little victories; This Modern World probes some disturbing conspiracy theories; Red Meat has some problems sleeping; and Apoca Clips tries to protect works of satire before it's too late.

Published in Comics

Look, I liked the first go-round of Stranger Things (Season 2 premiere Friday, Oct. 27, Netflix) just fine, sort of like Panda Express takeout: filling, not quite dog food, coulda been worse. But then you people whipped up a breathless hype frenzy like it was The Greatest TV Show of All Time, and things just got ’80s-romanticizing-stoopider from there. And Barb? She’s dead; get over it. Season 2 of Stranger Things picks up a year later, on Halloween 1984, with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) returning from The Upside Down to help the gang take on a new crop of weirdness in Hawkins. Meanwhile, Joyce (Winona Ryder) as cray as ever. (Hey, if ain’t broke.) There’s also the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign to deal with—boo!

What an ambitious year 2015 was for broadcast network dramas—successful, not so much. Scream Queens, Limitless, Blood and Oil, Heroes Reborn, The Player, Wicked City, Rosewood, Minority Report—all dust in the wind. Quantico is (sort of) still alive, as is Blindspot (Season 3 premiere Friday, Oct. 27, NBC), the crime-conspiracy thriller that went from “The next Blacklist!” to Friday-night filler in two seasons. There are still mysteries to be solved in Jane (Jaimie Alexander) and her tattoos, but first, she has to face her vengeance-bent bent brother Roman (Luke Mitchell) and rescue her former FBI team from his clutches (which really raises questions about said team’s competency). So, Blindspot … still on.

Saturday Night Live was a groundbreaking, counterculture oddity in the ’70s; today, it’s a meme generator. Tom Hanks’ “David S. Pumpkins” appeared twice on SNL last season, which has somehow led to The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special (special, Saturday, Oct. 28, NBC) being a thing. But it’s not much of a thing: It’s just a half-hour, barely animated special featuring the voices of Hanks and ex-SNLer Bobby Moynihan, as well as Peter Dinklage (!), wherein nonsensical character Pumpkins shows kiddies “the true meaning of Halloween”(?). The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special is just another pointless, cynical SNL cash-grab that should make Lorne Michaels roll over in his grave.

Some of us were lucky enough to see Ozzy and Co. on their final tour last year; for the rest of you, there’s Black Sabbath: The End of the End (special, Saturday, Oct. 28, Showtime), the concert film capturing the finale of the influential metal band’s 49-year run. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler put on a hell (ha!) of a show for being 60-something vampires, backed by a younger sit-in for drummer Bill Ward who literally looked like Jesus; and an inaudible off-stage keyboardist/guitarist whom I’m assuming collected an equal paycheck. With the exception of anything from 1978’s underrated Never Say Die! album, The End of the End features every classic Sabbath song. Play it loud.

So far, there are not a lot of scary Halloween recommendations, right? Might I suggest a few selections from RiffTrax (streaming, Amazon Prime), the guys who spun off from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy) into something completely … well, the same? They still hilariously mock terrible movies, and there are a handful of their horror offerings available on Amazon Prime, like When a Stranger Calls Back, The Last Slumber Party, Frankenstein Island, House on Haunted Hill, The Revenge of Doctor X and the incomparably awful Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare. (Seriously—I challenge you to make it through that one.) Or just keep binge-ing Stranger Things.

Why is Stan Against Evil (Season 2 premiere Wednesday, Nov. 1, IFC) returning the day after Halloween? And, while we’re at it, why isn’t Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead coming back until February 2018? You B-level cable outlets are killin’ me. Anyway: Stan Against Evil, a thinly veiled rip-off of/homage to Ash vs. Evil Dead that will do for now, I suppose, remains a reliably goofy/scary vehicle for comedy vet John C. McGinley to rage-shrug as the former sheriff of a demon-plagued town built on the site of a 17th-century witch-burning. This time, he’s begrudgingly trying to save his replacement sheriff (Janet Varney), who’s trapped in another time. (February 2018? Take me!)

Published in TV

I am grateful for the existence of Inferno, Ron Howard’s latest installment in his Da Vinci Code film series.

Without Inferno, Tom Hanks would’ve had no reason to be out promoting a movie around Halloween time. Because he was, he stopped by Saturday Night Live to host for a ninth time. While there, he was in a totally bizarre sketch as David Pumpkins, a weirdo in a haunted house elevator ride accompanied by two beatboy dancer skeletons. The sketch is already a classic.

That’s it … that’s the only reason I am grateful for the existence of Inferno. David Pumpkins.

The film itself is easily the worst of the series, a series that was already pretty terrible in that both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons blew ass. Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, something the world’s most beloved actor shouldn’t need to do. This series needed to be put down after the first installment.

When Langdon wakes up in a hospital room, with a bullet scratch on his head and a loss of memory, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) is there to help. Then, somebody starts toward Langdon’s hospital room with guns a-blazing, and the so-called adventure begins.

Langdon is having hallucinations about something akin to Dante’s Inferno while trying to work his way through amnesia. He’s in Italy, and he doesn’t know why, but Sienna, for reasons unknown, is going to stay by his side until he works things out.

For starters … the amnesia gimmick is one of the most desperate plot gimmicks anybody could put in a novel or a screenplay. I was half expecting Robert Langdon’s evil twin brother, the villainous Michael Langdon, to appear and kick Robert in the balls. This feels like a cheap soap opera from beginning to end.

Also, if you are going to employ the amnesia gimmick, be consistent. Moments after barely being able to remember anything, Langdon manages to grab a laptop and use the Internet (even though he didn’t know what coffee was just seconds before). He then he remembers his password and surfs the net. So he has selective amnesia: He can remember intricate details about passwords and how to surf the net, but that darned coffee stuff mystifies him.

The main “puzzle” Langdon has to solve this time out is finding out where a doomsday bomb containing a virus that will wipe out the majority of the Earth’s population has been planted. If he doesn’t find the Make Everybody Sick bomb, it will be an apocalypse like no other. Gee, I wonder if he’ll find it. I wonder if the whole world will die in a Ron Howard movie.

The first quarter of the movie does have some decent visuals as Langdon has nightmares about a plague-infected Earth, although it makes little sense why he’s having them at all. Much of the rest of movie consists of Robert and Sienna running around, pausing to talk about some sort of puzzling business that needs to be solved, and then running around again. The puzzles, as in the prior films, are ridiculous.

Hanks is just going through the motions, having to spend much of the movie looking confused and sweating profusely. Jones is a good actress, but she’s given nothing to do with a completely ridiculous part. If you’ve seen the commercials for this one, you already know the fate Ben Foster’s character suffers. He wastes his time here (after a great performance in this year’s Hell or High Water) as a billionaire who thinks the world is due for a cleansing.

Apparently, author Dan Brown is at work on a new Langdon novel, due out in 2017. Given that Inferno is a bomb by all accounts, let us all hope we have seen the last of Hanks and Howard wasting their precious time on this series.

And if you haven’t seen the David Pumpkins SNL sketch yet, you need to Google that shit, pronto.

Inferno is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Slap (Thursday, Feb. 12, NBC), series debut: If America learns nothing else from NBC’s adaptation of Australian hit The Slap, beyond the fact that a successful, pleasant backyard barbecue doesn’t include children, I’ll consider this “dialogue-starter” a success. The title and overcooked promos make The Slap seem like a joke—or a stretched-out Lifetime movie—but the big-deal cast (which includes Melissa George, who also appeared in the Aussie version, as well as Zachary Quinto, Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton and Uma Thurman, who replaced Mary-Louise Parker at the last minute) and better-than-TV-average writing make this eight-episode oddity worth a look. It all begins at a 40th birthday party for Hector (Sarsgaard), where his unblinkingly intense cousin Harry (unblinkingly intense Quinto) slaps the obnoxious, undisciplined kid of “progressive” parents (George and The Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski). Naturally, outrage and threats of legal charges break out among the yuppie Brooklynites, but The Slap spins off into a series of juicier character studies from there—and not even the utterly unnecessary voiceover narration (via Victor Garber) can completely derail it. The Slap isn’t perfect, but at least it’s short. Now that Parenthood is gone, it’s the closest thing to a family drama anywhere on network TV. If there’s a Season 2, Quinto could go on the lam town-to-town as vigilante kiddie-disiplinist The Slapper. Everybody wins.

Sexy Beasts (Saturday, Feb. 14, A&E), series debut: Men and women go on blind dates with three suitors of the opposite sex. The twist: All are wearing prosthetic monster makeup, so matches are made based on “personality,” “chemistry” and other nonsense that has no place on TV—until the masks come off, revealing ridiculously attractive people (because this is TV—confused yet?). At the very least, the makeup artistry of Sexy Beasts is almost as impressive as whatever A&E’s Donnie Loves Jenny does to make Jenny McCarthy less scary.

Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special (Sunday, Feb. 15, NBC), special: After a notable 31-year absence from anything Saturday Night Live-related, Eddie Murphy will (allegedly) show up for the series’ 40th anniversary special, along with most of the still-known stars of past and present. (Where for art thou, Joe Piscopo?) What likely won’t even be mentioned is the infamously disastrous 1980-81 season that simultaneously introduced future SNL MVP and legit superstar Murphy and nearly killed the franchise. (1985-86 was similarly eff’dup—and that season introduced Robert Downey Jr.) Unfortunately, probably neither will legendarily toxic SNL weirdo-geniuses like writer/performer Michael O’Donoghue, because time has to be allotted for useless guests like Sarah Palin and Kanye West. The kind of slick affair SNL40 is shaping up to be has nothing to do with the show’s counter-cultural beginnings, but at least give me an appearance from Will Forte’s “The Falconer” (pleeeaaase, Lorne Michaels?).

Mulaney (Sunday, Feb. 15, Fox), series finale: The (official) cancellations of the 2014-2015 network TV season thus far—see if you can detect the pattern: Manhattan Love Story, Selfie, The McCarthys, The Millers, A to Z, Bad Judge and Mulaney. All are comedies and, with the qualified exception of Selfie, lousy ones at that. Mulaney rightfully suffered the worst reviews; between the brazen Seinfeld wannabe-ism, obnoxious laugh track (OK, fine, live studio audience) and star John Mulaney’s inability to portray human comedian “John Mulaney,” it was like a half-hour meta parody sketch about bad television … wait, could that have been the point? Whoa.

Published in TV