Category Archives: Channel 366

CHANNEL 366: THE KINGDOM TRILOGY (THE KINGDOM, THE KINGDOM II, THE KINGDOM: EXODUS)

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Still from "The Kingdom"

DIRECTED BY: /Morten Arnford (Kingdom, Kingdom II); Lars von Trier (Kingdom: Exodus)

FEATURING: Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Søren Pilmark, Birgitte Raaberg, , Mikael Persbrandt, Lars Mikkelsen, Tuva Novotny, , , Lars von Trier

PLOT: This limited TV series follows goings-on, bureaucratic and supernatural, at Denmark’s largest hospital. As the prologue of each episode states:

“The Kingdom Hospital rests on ancient marshland—where the bleaching ponds once lay. Here, the bleachers moistened their great spans of cloth. The steam from the cloth shrouded the place in permanent fog. Then the hospital was built here. The bleachers gave way to doctors, researchers—the best brains in the nation and the most perfect technology.

To crown their work, they called their hospital ‘The Kingdom’. Now life was to be charted and ignorance and superstition never to shake science again. Perhaps their arrogance became too pronounced—like their persistent denial of the spiritual. For it is that the cold and damp have returned. Tiny signs of fatigue are appearing in the solid, modern edifice.

No living person knows it yet, but the portal to The Kingdom—is opening again.”

COMMENTS: It’s not out of line to call “The Kingdom” Lars von Trier’s ““; he’s stated that the David Lynch series is a direct influence.  But there’s much more to it. Both shows are anchored in the 90s, and both were resurrected some twenty-five years later to continue and conclude their stories. Both are, ultimately, about the ongoing battle between Good and Evil. “Twin Peaks” did so within the framework of the late 80s/early 90s nighttime network soap operas, grafted with Lynch’s retro-50s style, and adding surrealism, cosmic horror, and a pinch of meta commentary. “The Kingdom” frames that battle within the hospital/medical show, a staple of television drama. Many Americans will think of “E.R.”, although a more apt comparison would be “St. Elsewhere” with a little bit of “M*A*S*H” and an aesthetic heavily influenced by “Homicide: Life in the Streets.” It’s also firmly anchored in institutional satires like The Hospital (1971) and Britannia Hospital (1982). Stephen King1 is also a big influence. Von Trier uses popular tropes to deliver the horror bits: a ghost girl, haunted transports (ambulances in early seasons, a helicopter in “Exodus”), mass graveyards (or bleaching ground stand-ins), spirits on the premises. There’s also some play with severed body parts, and “Kingdom”‘s big set piece, the introduction of ‘Little Brother’ at the end of the first series.

The tropes of medical dramas are twisted here: the heroic doctor figure runs an underground black market; a doctor researching a specific form of liver cancer has an organ transplanted into him Continue reading CHANNEL 366: THE KINGDOM TRILOGY (THE KINGDOM, THE KINGDOM II, THE KINGDOM: EXODUS)

CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Abel Góngora

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Cera, Satya Bhabha, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, , Brie Larson, Alison Pill, , Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong

PLOT: Slacker bassist Scott Pilgrim must defeat seven evil exes in order to win Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams… but a surprising outcome leads Ramona to investigate her own romantic past and the new world that has resulted. 

Still from Scott Pilgirm Takes Off (2023)

COMMENTS: When Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was unleashed upon audiences, the entertainment world braced itself for the perfect synthesis of teen romantic comedy and arcade-style fighting action, the arrival of Edgar Wright in the big leagues, and the birth of a storytelling phenomenon. And the result was… something less than that. The film captured the spirit of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s anime-inspired comic, Wright’s dense candy-colored melange of light and sound was groundbreaking, and the movie’s cast would ultimately be revealed as a murderer’s row of silver screen talent. But crowds did not throng to to the cinemas, and the film fell well short of breaking even at the box office. So Scott Pilgrim did the only thing it could do: it became a cult object.

The thing about cult objects is that their dedicated fan base can sometimes inspire the development of more product, but re-capturing that initial magic is often be such a fruitless pursuit that the reality is worse than the longing for more. So it’s not a question of whether the arrival of a Netflix animated series featuring nearly the entire movie cast lending their voices would produce a response from the most devoted Pilgrim-heads, but whether that series would leave diehards fulfilled, or furious. Intriguingly, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” charts a course that feeds into the nostalgia machine before almost immediately pulling the plug on it.

As if wanting to reassure faithful viewers that this is the very same material you fell in love with over a decade ago, the premier episode plays out as a near-repeat of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s first act, re-introducing all the familiar characters and playing out the meet-cute between slacker-dreamer Scott and doe-eyed dream girl Ramona. But the big twist—which is so fundamental to the miniseries’ execution that the producers begged critics to embargo the surprise during its release, so let’s just consider this a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT right now—is that Scott loses his first showdown with a member of the League of Evil Exes. Leaving nothing behind but a few coins, our ostensible hero is gone, with seven episodes to go. (Essentially, the “Takes Off” part of the title should be interpreted in the most Canadian manner possible.) And what we’re left with is the World Continue reading CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)

CHANNEL 366: THUS SPOKE KISHIBE ROHAN (2017-2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Toshiyuki Kato

FEATURING: Voices of Takahiro Sakurai; Landon McDonald (English dub)

PLOT: Manga artist Kishibe Rohan recounts macabre tales he has encountered while researching material.

Still from "Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan"

COMMENTS: Although this macabre miniseries stands alone, a small of amount orientation may be helpful for those (like me) unfamiliar with “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” the manga/anime from which “Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan” is a spinoff. “JoJo” is a series about… well, I’m not quite sure, but it has been running for about 30 years through various incarnations. My research suggest that, other than Rohan and perhaps a few other character cameos, there are no real links in this one to the main series. There is at least one thing it’s helpful to know: like many characters in the series, Rohan has a superpower (or “Stand”): “Heaven’s Door,” which allows him to pause time and turn people into books, whom he can then read to discover personal secrets (and, occasionally, to jot his own notes inside them, altering their history or behavior). Bizarre, huh?

Originally released as standalone manga, the stories here were made for the Japanese OVA (Original Video Animation) market, then picked up by Netflix. The order of the tales is arbitrary, and the episode sequencing Netflix uses is different than the order of the OVA release (but the same as the order they appeared in the original manga, although, confusingly, the episode numbers in the manga titles are assigned randomly). You can watch them however you’d like, but if you want a suggestion, I would start with either “At a Confessional” (Netflix’s first episode, the third OVA release, and my personal favorite) or “The Run” (the wildest and final story which, based on IMDb ratings, is the fans’ favorite). The entire series is short enough to watch through without feeling like you’re wasting your time, but sampling one of those two first may help you decide whether you want to continue.

The Italy-set “At a Confessional” is a Poe-like story of callous indifference, guilt, and revenge from beyond the grave, with a demonic tongue, a popcorn-eating trial, and a twist ending. “The Run” has a more straightforward narrative; it’s a satire of male narcissism, as an actor/model takes his workout regime to unhealthy, supernatural extremes. It also features the series’ most ambitious animation, with abstract, wavering backgrounds in crazy color schemes; split screens; almost obscene, anatomically incorrect musculature; and surrealish scenes like the one where the protagonist climbs down an apartment building, Spider-man style. The other two stories are equally fantastic: “Mutsu-kabe Hill” features an eternally bleeding corpse, and “Millionaire Village” begins with an interesting premise about an ultra-exclusive suburb, then incorporates local Japanese demigods and an extremely intricate test of etiquette.  Some of the stories have ironic subtexts, but the psychology never gets too deep; the stories are dark in subject matter, but light in delivery.

I have to confess that, after watching all four episodes, I’m not sure why Rohan is such a popular, breakout character. He frankly seems a bit superhero-dull to me. With his “Heaven’s Door” power, he’s too omnipotent; there is seldom much sense of him being in jeopardy. His major character trait seems to be mild arrogance and haughtiness, which comes through in his fey, aristocratic voicing (in both the original Japanese and the English dub). This makes him seem a bit unpleasant to be around, although other characters fawn over him regularly. Perhaps Rohan doesn’t get a chance to shine here, since he is only a narrator for two of these stories, and not really the focus in any of them. Still, because he’s mostly a framing device, Rohan’s lack of charisma didn’t effect my enjoyment of the series, which is not bad, and at less than two hours to take in the whole thing, worth a shot for the curious. It didn’t make me want to explore the wider JoJo universe, though—and if you want some freaky Japanese animated horror, I’d suggest checking out “Jungo Ito Maniac” (also on Netflix) instead.

(As an odd aside, the major characters in this series always have crazy hairstyles: once has four giant bent spikes of red hair, one has random bow-like protrusions growing out of his scalp, and Rohan himself wears a strange circlet that looks like an inverted crown and is mostly covered by greenish locks that jut several inches off the side of our hero’s head.)

We may not be done with Kishibe Rohan: there are plans for a live-action adaptation of the same material.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…retains the straight-faced absurdity of its parent show… Its most tense and tragic stories hold a grim sense of humor—such as the various strange (bizarre, even) rituals throughout, tests of the mind and the body all tinged with otherworldly, life-and-death stakes.”–Kambole Campbell, Thrillist (contemporaneous)

CHANNEL 366: THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Alex Kurtzman, Sarah Harding, Joss Agnew, Olatunde Osunsanmi

FEATURING: , , Bill Nighy, Clarke Peters, Jimmi Simpson, Kate Mulgrew, Annelle Olaleye, Sonya Cassidy, Rob Delaney, Juliet Stevenson

PLOT: After the events of the movie of the same title, Thomas Jerome Newton (Bill Nighy), still alive and in hiding, summons another visitor from the planet Anthea, Faraday (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to find a physicist, Justin ‘Jessie’ Falls (Naomie Harris) and enlist her help to  finish the task Newton could not: save their dying race. However,  government agents Spencer Clay (Jimmi Simpson) and his handler Drew Finch (Kate Mulgrew) notice Faraday’s arrival and attempt to capture both aliens for their own ends.

Still from "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (2022)

COMMENTS: In my earlier review of the “12 Monkeys” TV series, I mentioned that the main problem in adapting movies to television shows is forging their own identity while also (hopefully) respecting the source material. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” series is based on the Walter Tevis novel but  (mostly) on the 1976  adaptation with   starring. So the question becomes, where do you go from here?

Several things stand in the way of success—the main and most obvious one being that the Thin White Duke is  not in the room, although his presence is felt. Another hurdle, in my view, is Alex Kurtzman, who both in tandem with his ex-writing partner Roberto Orci and flying solo, has heightened the douchery factor of most of his projects (“Hawaii Five-O”, “Star Trek”/Nu-Trek). Not to malign the production value or pedigree of actors involved in those shows, which range from excellent to good. It’s when it comes to story that Kutzman’s projects shit the bed consistently.

In this instance, Kurtzman (who also directs the first four episodes) is credited as co-creator/writer along with writing/producing partner Jenny Lumet. Their approach to the show is not as a remake of the movie, but as a continuation of the events in the book/film. The series starts with Faraday presiding over a presentation that strongly resembles an Apple Corp. product unveiling, then flashes back to his arrival on Earth. Subsequent episodes follow the journey of Faraday to this moment.

The other notable approach to the story is that this iteration is more diverse in its casting (in addition to Ejiofor and Harris, the main cast includes Clarke Peters as Falls’ dying father Josiah and Annelle Olaleye as Molly Falls, Justin’s daughter) and its storytelling. This  supports the material instead of being a gimmick. The series touches on current issues like climate change, immigration, the machinations of tech companies, and the treatment of the aged. Clever touches include subtle callbacks to iconic scenes from the film and episodes titled after Bowie songs. There are, of course, deviations from the book/film—the main one being that this Man allows for more hope. As Faraday tells a character who fears the chaos that a patent would create if realized, “Chaos is why humans exist. You rise and you adapt. This is the next step.”. This optimism is a breath of fresh air compared with the endless dystopian variations presented as entertainment over the last decade or so.

“Man” was not picked up for a second season—but it didn’t need to be. “Mini-series” or “limited-series” appear to be forbidden words in today’s television landscape, but ten episodes were plenty of time to tell this tale, and to end on just the right note.

The show was originally broadcast on the Showtime networks and can be streamed on Apple TV or viewed on DVD and Blu-ray.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… absent of the original film’s pensive, oddly seductive magnetism and Roeg’s experimental flourishes, Showtime’s The Man Who Fell to Earth feels frustratingly earthbound. Where’s a space oddity when you need one?”–Will Ashton, Slant (contemporneous)

CHANNEL 366: 30 COINS, SEASON 1 (2020)

30 Monedas

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Eduard Fernández, Megan Montaner, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, , Pepón Nieto, Manolo Solo

PLOT: In a small Spanish town, strange supernatural take place involving the town’s new priest, Father Vergara, previously an exorcist and currently an ex-convict. Vergara has in his possession a coin: one of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus. He gets swept up in the increasingly strange events along with the town mayor, Paco and the town veterinarian, Elena. Amidst the deaths and strange creatures that appear, the three discover a conspiracy within the Church which involves gathering together all thirty coins.Still from "20 Coins" (2020)

COMMENTS: Getting A-level cinema talent to bring their A-game to the smaller screen can pay off; see with “Poker Face” and “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.” In most cases, that talent creates the concept and is involved in some way—directing a few episodes, writing/producing—but then the majority of production gets farmed out to others. It’s a rarity to have said talent directly involved in a the entire run of full-season of television (where a season is eight to ten episodes, in a world where “miniseries” appears to be a dirty word). Notable exceptions are ‘s “Twin Peaks: the Return” and Mike Flanagan’s Netflix shows (“The Haunting of…,” “Midnight Mass,” “The Midnight Club”).

Add “30 Coins” to that list. Spain’s Álex de la Iglesia, together with co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría, combines elements of trashy telenovelas with a supernatural conspiracy involving the Vatican over eight episodes. Fans of de la Iglesia’s Day of the Beast will find this  familiar ground. Beast is comparable to early ; “30 Coins” is like later Raimi, but with a bit more edge.  The telenovela aspect involves the star-crossed romance of childhood sweethearts Elena (Megan Montaner) and Paco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) who has an ambitious and jealous wife, Merche (Macarena Gómez). This triangle weaves in and out amongst the Lovecraftian events (several of the creatures who appear are explicitly named in that mythos).

The main title, one of the most vivid and memorable created for a television show, establishes the tone. It evokes the already over-the-top Biblical epics of the 1950s, with the Crucifixion shown in lurid detail, Judas getting paid off, and Jesus and his betrayer sharing a look that can be described as psychotic triumph. Judas’ suicide and the scattering of the coins end the sequence, setting up the show’s backstory.

The eight-episode series was created for HBO Europe, and proved to be successful enough on HBO Max that it was renewed for a second season, scheduled to premiere October 2023.  Advance word on the second season suggests it focuses on the people of Pedraza, who have lost their minds and are confined to a psychiatric hospital. Elena lies in a Madrid hospital bed in a coma; Paco, shattered by remorse, tries to take care of her. Paul Giamatti will join the cast as Christian Barbrow, an American tech and business billionaire, science guru, writer of sci-fi novels, and head of a mysterious brotherhood of global elites. As horror grows around the cast, they must face a new enemy.

The first season can be streamed on HBO Max (or whatever they’re called today). Those thirsting for a home video release are out of luck, as there is no domestic release of the show as of this writing. There is, however, a Spanish Blu-ray release that has an English dub soundtrack as well as Spanish/English subtitles and a Spanish soundtrack—and is region free (although the format is incompatible with Playstation 3 and maybe some other units). Contact your favored importers.

Season One trailer:

Main title:

Season 2 teaser:

Season 2 trailer:

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this season remains bogged down in dull relationship drama and a confusing, mutating conspiracy, with only occasional flashes of the weird horror that the concept and the first episode’s opening scenes promise.”–Josh Bell, CBR (contemporaneous)