Westworld 2.5: Crichton Bites Nolan

Michigan J. Frog That’s Show Biz!

Michael Crichton’s Futureworld’s troubles come back to Nolan’s Westworld 2.5.

Has Westworld begun to self-destruct? Season 2.5 is beginning to look like it’s a parody of itself, at worst. We half expect James Brolin and Peter Fonda, from the original two movies, to show up.

Creative genius Jonathan Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy seem to be giving the fans exactly what they want, but not exactly the way they want it. We have been treated to two worlds that were never in the Michael Critchon original:  Raj World and now Shogun World. It seems much ado about nothing much.

The series has become a satire on TV writers, as the one character who allegedly has written all the programmed dialogue of the robots complains that it was too much work trying to keep with up 300 story-lines.

So, he cheated. The characters of Westworld are now in Japan, and the idea of meeting your double who speaks exactly the same words, but this time in Japanese, has an unsettling effect on the robots.

You’d think a multi-billion dollar operation like Westworld would have hired more writers. Heaven knows we find the Internet is filled with them, all giving Jonathan Nolan more exegesis of his plots than at a symposium on Moby Dick.

The latest episode seems almost as if Toshiro Mifune is giving Yul Brynner pointers on the Magnificent Samurai Seven.

We feel as if there is far less going on this season, and we are already half-way to the end. What kind of cliff-hanger is in the offing?

We know that some humans are trying to restore the park(s) and save Delos Corporation some money by saving any “hosts” worthy of the name.

If there was a revelation here, we suppose it was the sex lives of robots are not much different than real people as Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, perpetually virginal in their robot roles, doff the union suits.

Yes, Mr. Nolan, 300 story-lines are too much for one writer.

 

Tom, Giselle, Boris & Natasha!

DATELINE: Met Gala Stun Guns Again

Tom, Giselle, Boris, Natasha

Yes, right after the Kentucky Derby “and they’re off—” comes the notorious Met Gala in New York where the show horses and would-be celebrities fall all over themselves on the red carpet.

Yes, on the heels of the bizarre nature of Westworld’s second season comes Evan Rachel Wood, Kim Karadasian, and Elon Musk, on the red carpet.

Our favorite had to be Tom Brady, erstwhile ageless quarterback and his wife (the billionaire), looking like refugees from 1960s Gilligan’s Island. Indeed, you had to wonder if Jonathan Nolan had produced the glitzy extravaganza as a means to publicize his TV HBO weirdo series.

You can’t tell the androids from the guests.

What Tom Brady has had to do to cause his wife to agree to let him play for two more seasons? You have only to look at his outfit as the twosome cavorted with other Barbie and Ken dolls.

Yes, Tom is wearing nail polish. You can’t see the multi-colored nail polish on his feet. And he looks like he is storing botox in his cheeks. Yet, the rash comments that he and wife look like James Bond villains is a tad off-the-mark.

Tom is not auditioning to play Dr. No, nor Goldfinger. He is acting like a friendly Russian that would charm President Donald Trump, whose hair would have fit right in on the red carpet.

Tom and Giselle came across as Boris and Natasha, those 1960s spies who gave Bullwinkle Gronk and Julian the Flying Squirrel fits.

Halloween comes early. However, we did see Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his young Baby Mama. To our shock, Kraft was NOT wearing his blue collar/white shirt. He did have de rigueur tennis shoes with his tux.

You have to love insanity with money.

 

 

Westworld 2.3: Lost in a Tortured Storyline

DATELINE:  Where Have All the Plots Gone?What's My Line?

Playing What’s My Line, on Westworld 2.3.

If you tuned in a little late to the latest episode of Westworld, you might have to double-check your channel listings. It seemed as if you had stumbled into one of those old BBC TV series about India and the Raj.

Such is the nature of the tortured storyline presented by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. You may not recognize the characters, surroundings, or goings-on. We supposed that was meant to be part of the show’s confusing allure.

New, old, past, present, familiar, unfamiliar, are all fair game for the Worlds Beyond Westworld. We go from the Raj to the world of Kurosawa over the course of the hour. Welcome to the ever-new, ever-dangerous Samuraiworld.

We are reunited with cast members thought lost, dead, or reprogrammed along the way of the latest series entry. There is some relief to discover the actors still have jobs a few weeks into the second season.

Indeed, the Brit writer in the series, not of the series, played by Simon Quartermain, can even mimic the words the android hosts will utter before they utter them. Well, that’s the power of the writer, which is not saying much or saying too much.

In the case of Nolan and Joy, creative forces behind the tortured storylines, they had a lot of ‘splaining to do on this night and threw the Bengal tiger storyline out of the jungle and into the Raj for a viewer hunting for an irrational story.

We also learned the fate of the woman with the Snake Tattoo, now back with Thandie Newton’s tech workers as her prisoners.

At this rate the new season of episodes will end before we have established where last season’s minor characters have gone.

Perhaps, unwittingly, we and HBO have just signed on for the long haul of five or six seasons. Dolores Delos (Evan Rachel Wood) finds her old robot father and that his memories are not really erased after all, but have gone into some wild Westworld cloud, to be recovered by a tech wizard (android Bernard, Arnold, or whoever, Jeffrey Wright).

Yes, we are still here, but are finding the high altitude of Internet clouds are too convenient for lost souls of Westworld 2.3.

Brave New Westworld 2

DATELINE: Westworld Returns to TV

brave, new westworld? Re-programming Required on all Models!

Now for something completely borrowed.  It appears, as the second season of Westworld dawns, producer and creator Jonathan Nolan is returning to the roots of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the Westworld.

The robot revolt has resulted in more guest deaths than we could have suspected if they had assembled the entire cast from season one. Dead bodies, mostly rotting, are clearly human.  The recovery team traipsing around the park finds Robert Ford, shot by the show’s cowgirl, Dolores Delos (Evan Rachel Wood), with a gaping hole in his head. That likely ends the theory that dirty coward Ford (Anthony Hopkins) was a robot.

Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), a closet robot, now must hide his identity lest the humans simply shoot him in a fashion reminiscent of concentration camp purges by the human controllers. He needs an oil job before he terminates.

Maeve (Thandie Newton) has saved Westworld’s script writer who is a human most unpleasant as she seeks a fictional child to whom she has some maternal robot feelings (told these are not genuine has no effect). She also locates her hot, lanky boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro).

The Man in Black, a major stockholder in Westworld, and last season’s young man (Jimmi Simpson) in a parallel storyline, returns as mean as ever. Ed Harris even removes the Robert Ford boyhood model to show his true spirit.

No one comes across here as remotely controlled for sympathy.

Between the bloodbath scenes of innocent humans being shot by sociopath monster robots, we are somehow meant to feel human compassion for a slave revolt.

Shades of Spartacus.

We have met the human Roman Nazis—and according to Jonathan Nolan’s cryptic script, they are us. Whereas Nolan’s Person of Interest production people populate the cast and crew, we are left without that show’s sense of dry wit.

Last season’s smartest show on TV has become dumb-witted.

Confusion and horror are not the best honey to attract the busy bees of cable sci-fi fans who have come to expect intrigue and humor. It’s a disappointing start to the second season.

 

 

Reel History: King Yul Brynner, Gunslinger

DATELINE: Larger than Epic

 Yul  from Westworld (1973)

Back in 1995, Reel History made a documentary on the life of Yul Brynner. Ten years after his death, he was bigger than ever, and more mysterious than ever.

Almost 25 years later, we took a look at his life as seen primarily through the eyes of his son Rock Brynner and his daughter Victoria.

Everyone agreed he was original, unique, idiosyncratic, and overwhelming. He could not be poured into a typical leading man role. From an eclectic international background, he transformed into any time period, historical personage, or futuristic creature.

Yul Brynner started at the top: no one else could play the King of Siam on stage with a bald pate and in colorful pajamas. He transferred that quality to Ramses the Great in The Ten Commandments, giving Cecil B. DeMille something special. Nothing he touched was standard: from mythic Faulknerian Jason Compton in The Sound and the Fury to a magnificent gunslinger in a movie of the same name.

He was Taras Bulba, Jean LaFitte, and King Solomon, no matter how much hair you put on him, or took off him.

Somewhere on the downslide for most actors, he came back as a robot in 1973’s Westworld, basically the same character as the leader of the 1960 Magnificent Seven, but now his blackness was frightful, beyond death.

The new series Westworld paid homage to Yul in one dramatic scene when one of the executives wandered through the robot catacombs—and there was the black silhouette, utterly recognizable of Yul Brynner.

In the end, he returned for years to play in the King and I for years, making it on Broadway and in a roadshow, almost to the day he died.

One little documentary hardly seems enough to cover his mammoth personality, style, and achievements.

In keeping with our small-screen, intensive reviews, we will examine each individual episode of the 10-part series of Season 2 of Jonathan Nolan’s Westworld, beginning at the end of April, 2018.

 

 

 

Biggest Emmy Losers: Despite Quality

DATELINE: Overblow Self-Congratulatory Emmy Awards

domestic life with Joan  westworld

How much we are out of touch with the modern Emmy voter!

The best miniseries this past year, in our humble estimation, were nominated for numerous awards.  However, they came away with next to nothing.

What happened?

We loved Westworld and Feud: Bette & Joan.  How could they do so badly in terms of winning awards?

Jonathan Nolan and Ryan Murphy went out of their way to create extraordinary worlds, with detail and sets that transported the characters and storylines to places both familiar and peculiar.

Westworld takes place in some distant, odd future where automatons are coming to have consciousness and will shed their bonds of slavery. Feud takes place in some distant past where the Golden Age of Hollywood is fading faster than old stars themselves.

Somewhere along the road to hell of good intentions, we found both series veering off into a ditch with the more unwashed members of the viewing public.

Clever doesn’t sell, and history’s lessons are lost on the 21st century cable viewers.

You might find a few root causes for trouble:  Murphy depicted great stars like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as divas who became their own best performances. Nolan depicted robots, but we couldn’t tell them apart from real people. Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange gave the performances of their lives, to no avail.

It didn’t help that Olivia De Havilland took umbrage with the way she was portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

All those women stars were passed over worse than Bette Davis by the studio system and archrival Crawford by the Oscars. It’s said that Mamacita Feud actress Jackie Hoffman pulled a Crawford and begged to accept Best Supporting Actress for anyone who couldn’t be present for the award, if she didn’t win.

Alas, winner Laura Dern was there: and Hoffman’s nasty wit overwhelmed her sense of good taste, worse than Groucho at his worst. She sore loser better than Joan.

Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton might be the Davis-Crawford level stars in Westworld, though they did not actively compete against each other. They likely cancelled out the other in votes.

You had too much classical music in Westworld to suit the rocks-off bourgeoisie taste of TV audiences. Debussy’s ‘Reverie’ echoed through half the episodes, and audiences had no idea what it was or if they could tolerate it.

Perhaps these two series were not politically correct enough to suit the anti-Trump fervor in Hollywood. After all, the main antagonist of Westworld was a Trump-style billionaire with arrogant pretensions, played by Anthony Hopkins.

Jack Warner, played by nominee Stanley Tucci, was a minor-league Trump in Feud.

Time, the great equalizer, may still redeem the two mishandled losing series. They will be re-discovered by generations to come; you can count on it.

Westworld’s First Season Ends on Edge of Apocalypse

DATELINE: Where Have All the Robots Gone?

 westworld

At the end of season one of Jonathan Nolan’s HBO series, Westworld, the computers cash in their chips.

We dare not predict who will be left standing for next season**, but there is a likely chance that few of the regulars from this season will return. Nolan himself in his closing teaser promises that next season will bring chaos.

The robots have discovered even their revolt is the masterwork of a programmer.  The enslaved robots dream of violent pasts, and we learn that their life spans end in malfunction that we might call “insanity”.

The series has certainly enjoyed many moments of delight—from the motif of Debussy’s Reverie playing on everything from a player piano in a saloon, to a crank cylinder—to the image of Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger from the original movie shut away in the shadows of a backroom.

The series ended with considerable mumbo-jumbo, the sort of stuff that passes as philosophical insights in pop sci-fi, but that merely makes the experience more maddening.

Because the reveries of the damaged robots seem to flicker in and out of their consciousness, the last episode of the season either ended characters—or nothing ends. This was the hallmark of Jonathan Nolan’s other fascinating series, Person of Interest. Flashbacks meant dead characters returned to fulfill their past lives.

All this leaves us anticipating what may happen next year without having one of those cliff-hanging, manufactured endings.

Week after ten weeks, we have seen brazen, but throwaway, nudity among the robots as they are prepared—and abused by their caretakers. The violence and orgies no longer need to be suggested on cable television; there is no subtlety in the brave new world of Westworld. And, the brave new world of acting demands you better have a good-looking body because the script won’t allow for shy actors to overcome their modesty.

We had to wait a year for a few episodes of Downton Abbey—and now we will wait for the five-year** run of Westworld, one season at a time.

** Jonathan Nolan revealed that the second season will likely not air until 2018 at earliest.  Yikes. We are not ageless, like robots.

 

Jack Benny Predates Westworld

DATELINE: Chicken or Egg and Jack Benny

jack-benny-westworld

Viewing Westworld, the new HBO series with its fascinating look at atomatons in an amusement park, we might be fooled into thinking how modern and futuristic the series is. But the possibilities were seen decades ago. Check this historical episode of the Benny series at the final 5 minute mark.

In the new Jonathan Nolan version of Michael Crichton’s Westworld novel, there are now technicians running the theme park, wearing hazmat suits. In the old story they just wore lab coats. But working with robots nowadays probably is more hazardous, with their strange bodily fluids.

We were reminded that in the early 1960s, this same science-fiction premise was displayed innocuously enough on the Jack Benny Program.

Yep, the notorious tightwad comedian tackled the subject a decade before Westworld even happened.

In a 1963 episode young newcomer to TV, Johnny Carson visits Jack Benny in his dressing room after the show. He tells Benny how impressed he is with his style, energy, and youth. This, of course, just utterly charms smarmy Jack.

Coy as always, Benny is self-effacing. Then Johnny Carson  asks him what the secret of his youth and vitality. It seems to bring Jack to a complete paralysis; he stares off into space. Johnny is alarmed as Benny never moves again.

Then a couple of technicians start to dismantle Jack, removing his head and arms and packing them away, putting his torso into the broom closet.

Johnny Carson is suitably shocked. He asks how long this has been going on.

The technicians shrug. They have no idea. “We started doing this 15 years ago.”

Revamped and Rejuvenated Westworld Hits HBO

DATELINE: Move Over, Yul

ed-harris

If you liked Jonathan Nolan’s computer savvy approach to Person of Interest, you will thoroughly enjoy his latest foray into the technology of the future.

Nolan has sunk his teeth into the old Yul Brynner sci-fi classic by Michael Crichton, Westworld.  As producer, director, and writer, he is bringing his unique talents to a new fascinating project. It is hypnotic, chilling, and fascinating.

Bringing in Anthony Hopkins as the dubious owner and creator of Westworld and Jeffrey Wright as his technical expert left-hand, you have the behind-the-scenes string-pullers for android marionettes and martinets.

In the realm of the theme park itself, playing a version of Yul is Ed Harris as the Man in Black. This time he is not an android, but worse—a genuinely disturbing real person with an ugly penchant for violence.

 

Programmed not to hurt humans, the androids seem to be breaking down—or have been given a virus to send them into danger mode.

The opening episode on HBO sets up the premise of a handsome production with gripping ideas and smart cast (James Marsden is a robot, folks).

 

As in his highly successful Person of Interest, Nolan manages to make his anti-heroic theme park both a paradigm of evil and an homage to fantasy.

 

Though this may send you running to see the old 1973 flick with Richard Benjamin as the bumbling victim of Brynner’s obsessive robot, this new version is far subtler and has the luxury of weeks of exposition to make its point.

 

This has cable series mega-hit written all over it, and Nolan has managed to avoid the anti-intellectual CBS moguls whose appreciation for brainless entertainment has condemned them to pabulum TV and canceling Person of Interest.