Cronos (1993, Guillermo del Toro), the U.S. theatrical version

Cronos opens with an English-narrated prologue about a sixteenth century alchemist making a device to prolong his life. The uncredited narrator is wanting, the music isn’t good—it doesn’t seem like the rest of Javier Álvarez’s score, but who knows (well, the distributor would); it’s a change for the U.S. theaters and a bad one.

So it’s great when the film’s able to overcome that awkward opening—given the difference in tone, it’s hard to say if the original Spanish version would make much difference… some of the problem is the prologue content itself. But once writer and director del Toro gets Cronos settled in the present action, with a patient, deliberate introduction to lovable grandparents Federico Luppi and Margarita Isabel and their almost always silent granddaughter, Tamara Shanath, the iffy opening is an immediately distant memory. Cronos has MacGuffins in its MacGuffins, especially considering where the film ends up; the prologue is one of them. Or two of them.

The first act is mostly Luppi and Shanath hanging out at his antique shop—he’s an antiques dealer, grandma Isabel teaches dance, Shanath’s parents seem to both be deceased, she’s their paternal grandchild. There’s a cute little story Luppi eventually tells Shanath about her dad, who once tried to get Luppi to stop smoking by hiding Luppi’s cigarettes. Shanath’s doing the same thing, sort of; she’s hiding Luppi’s Cronos device.

Getting ahead of myself here.

So Luppi and Shanath are in the shop and they discover a statue with a hollow base. They discover it because some tweaker-type shuffles into the antique shop, looking at some of Luppi’s still wrapped pieces. Luppi gets curious, unwraps the statue, finds the hollow base, opens it, takes out a golden scarab looking thing. Pretty soon it latches on to Luppi’s arm and pokes him with its six legs. Inside the device—the biggest effects sequences in the film are the interiors, close ups of miniature gears—is an unidentified insect. It acts as a filter, presumably putting its own antibodies into the user’s blood, then distributing it back into the body.

The actual process of the device never gets too much attention, partially because there probably aren’t any bugs out there able to turn people into vampires—getting ahead again, sorry—but also because del Toro avoids painting himself and the film into any corners. It’s going to have shades of comedic absurdity in the second act, whereas the first just has echoes of magical realism (via the mechanical). Del Toro needs to keep things relatively loose.

Luppi becomes immediately addicted to the device, something he hides from wife Isabel but granddaughter Shanath finds out right away. Shanath’s not in favor of the Cronos device, but eventually relents enough to allow Luppi to keep it (as opposed to her hiding the device from him). Unfortunately, bad guys Claudio Brook and Ron Perlman also want the device and they’re willing to get violent about it.

Brook’s an old rich guy living in a sterile room in an industrial district with only American nephew Perlman to care for him. Perlman’s an errand boy, waiting for Brook to die for some inheritance. Brook doesn’t even tell Perlman why they’re looking for the device; besides the opening narration, all the exposition about the device comes from Brook, who never tells Luppi quite enough to make informed decisions.

Because pretty soon, Luppi starts noticing he’s lusting for human blood. He’s also lusting for Isabel, reinvigorated, clean-shaven, horny. Shanath really doesn’t like the amorous grandad, though Isabel doesn’t seem to notice the severity of the change.

At this point in the film, however, Cronos completely shifts gears as it prepares for the third act, which is all about Shanath having a grandfather who’s a vampire. There’s a lot of cute stuff with Shanath having a grandfather who’s a vampire, even though Luppi’s face is literally molding off. Isabel, who’s always a distant fifth in the film, disappears for the most of the last thirty minutes. It’s all about Luppi and Shanath trying to get things sorted out with Brook and Perlman, which seems like it’s the most important thing in the third act, but really isn’t. Despite being murderous, Brook and Perlman aren’t particularly threatening.

Probably because del Toro plays them for laughs a lot. Perlman’s doing a mostly comedic part. Brook’s doing a Mr. Big thing, only his performance is weak and his moments are where Cronos feels a tad cheap.

The film’s got a low budget and del Toro’s inventive with compensating for it, often successfully, but the cartoon villains are a mistake. Though as Cronos winds down, it seems like everything’s gotten to be a mistake, even Álvarez’s usually excellent score. Del Toro tries for something with the finale and misses, ending the already run down, deus ex machina’d Cronos on a shrug. Some of it’s the composition, with del Toro going in too tight on some of the shots—again, might just be budgetary, he and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro have some need cost-saving tricks throughout—but even so qualified, it’s a miss. The wandering narrative distance doesn’t do the film any favors.

There’s some great color palette stuff throughout from Navarro—the blue nights, the colors on the costumes, especially Shanath’s, then Shanath’s green glow stick, which becomes a familiar visual trope—but also some bland photography.

Cronos isn’t a failure by any means, but it’s also not the success it ought to be. Perlman’s bold comic villain turn, for example, is never as successful as it should be. Luppi’s turning into a vampire takes away all the subtext in his performance, replacing it with the inevitable inevitable blood lust. Isabel’s good but barely in it. Shanath’s in a similar situation. She’s always around but rarely the focus, even though it’s her story.

Del Toro does a great job stretching the budget, which is where Cronos is the most impressive. But that success really shouldn’t be the film’s most impressive feat.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Raúl Dávalos; music by Javier Álvarez; production designer, Tolita Figuero; costumer designer, Genoveva Petitpierre; produced by Arthur Gorson and Bertha Navarro; released by Ventana Films.

Starring Federico Luppi (Jesús), Tamara Shanath (Aurora), Ron Perlman (Angel), Margarita Isabel (Mercedes), and Claudio Brook (De la Guardia).


Weird Melvin (1995) #6

Weird Melvin  1995  6Weird Melvin #6 gives the series a conclusion, but definitely not the one I’d been hoping for. The story title is something like part five, so—for whatever publishing reason—last issue’s fill-ins were really fill-ins. This issue opens with Melvin and the Kid headed back to base with some stolen diapers. Melvin’s going all in on taking care of the incoming monster infants, which the Kid can’t figure out—isn’t Melvin’s job to crush monsters into goo? Why would he want to care for their babies?

Turns out Melvin does have a plan or two to resolve the world’s monster problems and the Kid is just going to have to get with it.

Back at base, Melvin’s reformed monster sidekick Shag is playing doula to the pregnant lady monsters. This portion of the issue is probably the best, just because it engages with the gross factor. I wasn’t the only one queasy at the idea of two monster babies being born, Shag isn’t really into it either.

As he steels himself for the eventual birthings… Hansen starts zigging and zagging from the forecasted zags and zigs. It’s always quick—the issue feels a little rushed and often seems to be decelerating, whether with the pregnancy resolve or with Melvin not duking it out with the inbred grotesque cop who comes after him for the stolen diapers. It all makes sense in the end, when Hansen works his way to a nicely tied up finish, but just because it makes sense doesn’t make it entertaining or engaging or the right move. Leaving Weird Melvin on a never resolved cliffhanger seems a much better choice than giving him a lackluster finish.

And the issue’s grand finale is most definitely lackluster. I was hoping for more, expecting more, but it’s also competently enough executed it’s not a severe disappointment. It’s a well-executed comic, a solid series, just one without a successful finish, which puts Weird Melvin in very sturdy company.

A clean ending would’ve been nice though, just for recommending the comic.

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights (2019)

Amazons Abolitions and Activists  2019There are a sea of faces in Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists. Sea of faces, sea of names, which is the point. The book is a history of women ignored in history books, though not always. Writer Mikki Kendall doesn’t avoid the awkward subjects, like Susan B. Anthony’s White supremacy or the significant racism of her contemporaries. Other problematic figures get their asterisks too, with Kendall never giving the impression she’s avoiding tough subjects. They just get asides. Other topics get asides too. The “plotting” of the book is excellent, especially since it’s 194 very dense pages.

More or less chronologically, the book looks at women in history. The ones whose names and faces aren’t familiar but should be, though—again—Kendall does a great job balancing it out so there are also the folks whose names you might now but not their stories. I’ve been aware of Josephine Baker as a historical figure since I was twelve, but I didn’t learn until Amazons she was a spy during World War II for the Free French. And I did World World II history in undergrad. Like, either I really forgot it or I really missed it. Amazons is probably best kept around and read casually, not so much a summary history text but a sourcebook. Also maybe because the framing device is a necessary chore. I get the need for it, I get why it makes sense given the book’s target audience, but it’s a bit of a drag.

The frame is a future class of girls and their hologram AI teacher going back through historical events, allowing artist A D'Amico some very fun panels amid the very powerful ones. The AI’s expository history lesson is well-written and rather affecting. Kendall’s found a great voice for the history, it just gets interrupted and the narrative makes it feel less like you can pick it up and put it down. Because there’s a lot in the book. It can be read with a search engine nearby to look up women, it can be read with a cat on the lap.

The most important part is it should be read. Kendall does a fantastic job covering the hundreds of subjects, D’Amico does good work visualizing them all. It’s a big success. It just feels like, with the future frame, it’s a very special episode of an animated series where you don’t care about the characters.

Also D’Amico’s panel of a Black woman trying to fight the monster of White racism while the White woman hugs on to it is awesome. Makes you want a whole book of panels like that one. The too political stuff. The stuff Random House gave the thumbs down.

For its target audience, Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is great. For everyone else, it’s still great. Actually, when you think about how ignorant the average person and even the more informed person is about women’s history… it’s more essential for its non-target audience.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e06 – Mortal Khanbat

Not sure why Dominic Purcell isn’t in the episode save a scene—he’s still off nursing catching feelings for an ex-girlfriend with lots of beer–but Caity Lotz uses her time off camera to direct this episode. She’s pretty damn good. The episode’s split between a series of John Woo homages in 1997 Hong Kong and John Constantine (Matt Ryan) doing a horror show, but one with frequent comic relief. Unlike last episode, which also had Purcell and Lotz too busy with their offscreen obligations to play, this one doesn’t focus on Jes Macallan taking over the captain role. Macallan’s still in charge and she gets some good moments, but it’s really Shayan Sobhian’s episode. Also Maisie Richardson-Sellers’s, but more Sobhian because he’s the new guy. And he’s still a guest star, not regular cast.

See, Richardson-Sellers and Sobhian hooked up after last season finale and hadn’t had the chance to talk before the Crisis crossover, which screws up the way Richardson-Sellers fixed something in the past. We get her origin story at the end of the episode. It’s solid enough stuff. The part’s okay but Richardson-Sellers basically just fronts her way through it. Sobhian holds up their scenes, which are frequently played for laughs, even though Richardson-Sellers’s always delivering the punchline. Again, good directing from Lotz. She gets how “Legends” works best.

Some of that working best is the straight comedy in the resolutions to both story lines. Yes, Ryan having his last supper with Brandon Routh and Adam Tsekhman has some sincere moments Ryan’s able to both sell and make funny, but it gets even funnier once it’s all resolved. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong pot about Genghis Khan (Terry Chen) coming back and trying to take over the world… it’s got a nice fun finish too. With some great action in addition to the obvious Woo nods. And it goes heavy into humor for its finale too.

Good material for Courtney Ford and Tala Ashe, though not a lot; keeping them on simmer levels of material.

It’s a very successful episode. And also because it seems to have gotten the pieces in place for the rest of the season.

Shadow of the Batgirl (2020)

Shadow of the Batgirl  2020Shadow of the Batgirl is a bit of a bummer, though I’m not exactly sure why. It’d be nice if it were good. It’s not bad… not if you’re getting it from the library versus spending the sticker price. And there’s a big library subplot in the book so it’s appropriate. It just feels stretched out. The chapters are very contained and the break between them messes up the pacing. There’s also a lack of immediate danger in the middle chapters, which is kind of… a lot to accept given the protagonist is a teenage girl experiencing homelessness living in a crime ridden city’s public library while her father the international assassin sends agents out to find her.

The tone writer Sarah Kuhn and artist Nicole Goux is fine but… only if you forget how dang traumatizing being in that situation would be. It wouldn’t be cute and Shadow of the Batgirl is often pretty cute. Cassandra’s a likable protagonist, even if her character development arc is sort of spotty. It never seems like the character is going to realize around other people—because she’s such a loner—but Kuhn and Goux always make it happen. The book’s got its successes and they can be impressive.

They can also be Cassandra’s sidekicks, Barbara Gordon, librarian, and Jackie, tea shop owner, who aren’t particularly impressive. They’re fun. They’re sometimes really fun. But they’re not particularly complex characters. Even if you ignore the nagging questions about how Barbara got in the wheelchair and what happened to the previous, retired Batgirl. The book even has some thoughtful exploration of heroism in the superhero world. It’s just for a bit and it’s not too deep, but you can tell Kuhn’s thought about a lot of it.

But also about how to make it aspirational, which shouldn’t be such a concern. It makes Shadow feel methodical. And, after a certain point, something’s always going wrong with Cassandra to move the plot forward. Just anything to get her to run away, spy on Barbara and Jackie, come back and be forgiven, everyone understands she’s a confused teen assassin. It would actually be a great structure if the comic were at all psychological but… it’s not.

Kuhn’s dialogue is good and she can get to heartfelt scenes, but the plotting always seems forced. Goux’s art is solid. Nice changes in style depending on the distance. No real fighting stuff—it’s not a kung fu comic—but it’s professionally executed.

It just never feels like it isn’t product. It’s competent and inventive, but it’s brand product.

Weird Melvin (1995) #5

Weird Melvin  1995  5Weird Melvin #5 is a flashback issue. Only, not really.

There’s clearly some publication history trivia to the series; the cover says this issue has the first two Weird Melvin comics in it, previously unpublished. They present a new origin story for both Melvin and the Kid, who have much different histories in the first issue of this series. But we do finally get to see what an in-world Weird Melvin comic book looks like… generic fifties superheroes.

The issue opens with a framing device as Melvin is teaching the Kid to be a monster hunter, so no resolution to the previous issue’s cliffhangers, hard or soft. Just the Kid doing well learning how and why to crush monster heads. He’s even got to write a theme on it; Melvin requires written assignments in addition to the on-the-job training. It’s funny… even if the comic isn’t really what Hansen promised last time.

Then comes the origin story. The Kid goes to a comic shop and finds an old issue of Weird Melvin #1, which the shop owner doesn’t know anything about and just wants the Kid out of his store. Again, funny. Not as funny as the series usually gets, but funny.

See, the Kid has a monster under his bed and his dad doesn’t want to hear about it. Good thing he got the comic because it’s all about a kid in the fifties who’s got a monster under his bed and how Weird Melvin comes along and saves the day. Turns out Weird Melvin—in this original origin story—comes out of in-world Weird Melvin comics to help kids in need. As long as they’re in need of saving from various monsters.

The second part of the origin story has the Kid discovering a haunted house and the cursed creator of the original Weird Melvin comics. Complications ensue.

It’s an okay issue, with some good, creative art, just none of that wonderfully nimble Hansen plotting. Again, no doubt there is some publication trivia to explain it, but it’s still feels like filler.

All Rise (2019) s01e16 – My Fair Lockdown

This episode of “All Rise” has this super juicy White man part for guest star Ben Browder. Survivalist holds courtroom hostage; the cops came to kick him out of his home, which is apparently somewhere in the County of Los Angeles but remote enough you don’t see people and no one pays attention when you don’t pay your property taxes for twenty years. I mean, California’s big. Sure, let’s go with it. Let’s even go with Simone Missick at one point telling Browder, who doesn’t believe the court has any jurisdiction over him, he’s going to get a chance to “speak his truth.”

Of course, Browder’s truth is objectively false and if he really hadn’t been off the farm for twenty years or whatever, he’d be in for astounding culture shock and be suffering from that problem too but… whatever. Don’t like the dismissive use of “truth” there. Not cool.

But then all of Conway Preston’s script is bad. The dialogue, the plotting, all of it. The only things wrong with the episode he’s not responsible for are the casting and the direction. David A. Harp’s direction is fine except the opening when he tries to do this lengthy fake tracking shot of Lindsay Mendez coming into work and walking past all the regular cast to introduce the episode’s ground situation. Worse, it’s peppy and upbeat while the episode is anything but. It’s a tonal bait and switch and “All Rise” isn’t worth a tonal bait and switch. Regardless of me preferring the latter tone to the former. The peppy stuff is obnoxious. The downbeat stuff isn’t great or even good, but it’s not obnoxious.

Though it’s not like the show challenges its cast. Actually, “All Rise” is a bait and switch in and of itself; here’s this great opportunity for Missick and Wilson Bethel and the show wastes them. They get less so Jessica Camacho gets more, even though she’s not part of their dynamic best buds duo (which is missing from the show, almost as obviously as Missick’s husband, Todd Williams on FaceTime, who’s either dying or cheating by the end of the season). But then Camacho gets a truncated part this episode so everyone else in the supporting cast can get more.

It’s a mess. The show’s got way too many regulars and not enough for them to do. It really needs better writers. And better guest stars. I didn’t think Browder had done anything. I thought they couldn’t get anyone to play such a poorly written juicy White man part—seriously, if well-written it’d be Emmy-bait—but Browder was actually the lead on “Farscape.”

Note: continue hesitating to watch “Farscape,” regardless of Henson Company involvement.

There’s a really solid moment or two for Paul McCrane in this episode though. The action takes him out of his regular—well, it doesn’t actually take him out of the courtroom—basically, it’s a new way to see McCrane. He gets to act opposite Bethel and J. Alex Brinson and talk about Brinson dating Camacho and you realize how great it’d be for McCrane to really get good material and not a souped-up caricature for once.

The show also wastes a Jason Dohring guest spot. I seriously don’t understand how Dohring can’t get a shot outside “Veronica Mars” projects. Though maybe it’s better to be on the periphery of “All Rise,” out of the middling’s blast radius.

Weird Melvin (1995) #4

Weird Melvin  1995  4There is a very good chance Weird Melvin might gross me out next issue. Hansen gets pretty close in the cliffhanger, which features two lady monsters (a mother and daughter) pregnant with half-mutated giant insects, half-monsters. What’s most surprising is the grossness isn’t in Hansen’s detail but in the action and implications of the action. So gross.

The issue has some of that great, unpredictable Hansen plotting. The imminent dangers of the previous cliffhangers get delayed or dispelled as the Swamp Witch, magically masquerading as a buxom bombshell (alliterations unintentional), can’t seal the deal on killing the Kid with her poison comic book because three Trekkies mistake her for a “TOS” bit player and stalk her. Hansen gets to make fun of both comics fandom and “Trek” fandom, going a little harder on the latter. The Kid is just obsessed with his collecting; the Trekkies are all in on terrorizing their autograph targets (or worse). It’s real funny.

Meanwhile, Melvin and his (unknown to Melvin) treacherous sidekick Shag are trying to get Melvin’s power levels back up with a moonbeam ray. But Shag’s got it out for Melvin and tries to zap him wrong; unfortunately—and leading up to the eventual potential gross-out—Shag zaps a couple bugs, who turn out to be horny male bugs. They grow to fifty feet tall or something and break out looking for love. They find it with the monster ladies. Thank goodness Hansen doesn’t show the copulation, just the aftermath.

So Hansen manages to resolve both his cliffhangers, get his characters out of the most immediate danger—while putting them in new, unexpected danger (Melvin feels bad about growing giant bugs who impregnate lady monsters and then drop dead instead of taking care of them so he’s going to take care of the monster ladies in their pregnancy)—and turn in a really funny issue full of great new supporting characters.

I get why Hansen’s not better known but it’s damned unfortunate.

Interrogation (2020) s01e10 – I.A. Sgt. Ian Lynch & Det. Brian Chen vs Trey Carano

The last episode. Finally the last episode. One could come up with the best order to watch the show, which isn’t the episode number order but also doesn’t work entirely randomly because some episodes jump ahead six years and whatnot—also there’s no point in making the order because you shouldn’t watch the show—but the finale’s really a follow-up to the ninth episode. It’s finally Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s episode; it’s 2003, Moss-Bachrach is dying from AIDS, he wants to set the record straight.

See, it turns out Kyle Gallner and Moss-Bachrach had a deal with Hells Angel drug dealer Blake Gibbons to rob Gallner’s parents house. Even though Moss-Bachrach wasn’t there, he’s got a pretty good idea of what happened, which he tells Vincent D’Onofrio and Tim Chiou, who’s back from a few episodes ago. Chiou’s there to keep D’Onofrio from playing detective too much. Given the show opens with text explaining how cold case detectives approach a case, maybe it also should’ve noted there aren’t any cold case detectives in “Interrogation.” None of the cops—save D’Onofrio—is trying to figure out who killed Joanna Going.

Because even if the cops think Peter Sarsgaard is dirty, they don’t care about solving the case. If the show had any stones, it’d be a condemnation of the Los Angeles police department. Instead, it shrugs.

Then there’s some more stuff with Andre Royo getting some evidence under the table and how it leads to Gallner eventually getting out of prison. Sadly Eric Roberts is only in it for a scene.

The big finish is obnoxious—hopefully “Interrogation” won’t be the last thing director Ernest R. Dickerson ever does because it’s not a good capstone for anyone—and leads to the not big but ostensibly emotionally momentous showdown between Sarsgaard and Gallner in the “present.”

Gallner does the rounds on true crime podcasts, then drives around L.A. reminiscing. Some really bad reminiscing; Dickerson does a terrible job with it.

But as a reminder to who the real bad guy and the real reason for all this tragedy, “Interrogation” ends demonizing Joanna Going as a bad mom again in the postscript. She didn’t want to hold the baby her husband fathered in an affair. What a bitch. Obviously she deserved to die.

It’s kind of amazing how poorly the show treats her. But only kind of, as “Interrogation”’s always doing one thing or another amazingly poorly.

Interrogation (2020) s01e05 – Det. Dave Russell vs Chris Keller 1983

Still the eighties, still the investigation. Though we do get to see David Strathairn and Peter Sarsgaard facing off after the murder. Sarsgaard is very whispery with Strathairn, who’s telling him to investigate Kyle Gallner’s friend, third-billed but rarely onscreen for very long Kodi Smit-McPhee.

This episode—eventually—has Sarsgaard interviewing Smit-McPhee in order to rule him out as a suspect. Unfortunately for Sarsgaard, Smit-McPhee seems really guilty. He lies about visiting Joanna Going—wow, she really gets the crap work in the flashbacks, time and again—and then there’s a goofy knife fight as Smit-McPhee self-aggrandizes in his interview with Sarsgaaard.

Is it an interrogation? Not really. But it seems like there’d be interview tapes or a transcript to dramatize. For a while it seems like Sarsgaard might actually be giving a better performance when his shady cop is actually doing his job—Frank Whaley’s back, playing the voice of reason and good cop here—but it doesn’t last long with Sarsgaard.

He’s bad again before he gets home and the show reveals why he doesn’t pursue valid second suspect Smit-McPhee. See, Smit-McPhee was in another state so good family man Sarsgaard had to abandon pregnant wife Ellen Humphreys to go interview him. In the other state—New Mexico, I think; doesn’t matter—there’s a female detective, which has some unspoken subtext, played by Roberta Colindrez. Colindrez lets Sarsgaard know pretty early on if he wants to play it dirty on this case, she’ll help him. He gets indignant about her suggestion he’s not going to do his job well.

So why does Sarsgaard let Smit-McPhee go after lying and go all in on Gallner—who spends the episode a juvenile in county jail, in the “Snitch Tank,” where Sarsgaard sends him to try to gin up a jail house witness—Sarsgaard goes all in on Gallner because Humphreys has a miscarriage and she’s really needy about it and so he’s not going to neglect her just to get the right killer.

Kind of a wow reveal, kind of an icky, passively misogynistic reveal—see, Sarsgaard would never have been a bad cop if it weren’t for his needy wife and her female problems—but, hey, on par for “Interrogation.”

Given the kid gloves the show usually takes with Sarsgaard’s dirty cop, it’s a bit of a surprise to see them go all in on the miscarriage explanation.

Scroll to Top