“The Darkest Hour” is mostly a dim bulb.

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The Darkest Hour” is mostly a dim bulb.      a review            SPOILER ALERT!

image from the Russian movie, "The Darkest Hour"

Cover for “The Darkest Hour”

I watched The Darkest Hour on DVD rather than in the theater.

Perhaps that’s why I feel a tad more charitable than the critics. Rather than experimenting with genre like The Cabin in the Woods, an experiment that fizzled, stinking up the lab, The Darkest Hour, a joint Russian/American production directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch, is a paint-by-numbers alien invasion film.

In The Darkest Hour, we watch an alien invasion from the Russian side of things.

We follow the imperiled twenty-something Americans who number among a handful of survivors. A story that highlights an alien invasion of Earth, The Darkest Hour comes when balls of light chase people down and shred them into pixie dust. Check out Night of the Comet, a much better film with red-pixie dust former people and zombie department store stock boy geeks. As they run from building to building, hiding from the x-ray vision of the light balls, the Americans (okay there’s also one Australian and a double-dealing Swede) encounter English speaking Russians.

It makes you wonder if a few more education dollars ought to be devoted to us learning more than one language.

When they encounter an old lady who shouts in Russian and tells them they’re all going to die, I was surprised to recognize a couple of words from those long ago two years of high school Russian. However, too much science knowledge while watching the light balls of The Darkest Hour would probably get in the way. When they make it to the American embassy, the survivors discover a recorded message sitting in a birdcage. Yes, I said a birdcage. The message is “There’s a Russian sub coming up the river in a few hours. Get there or be left behind.”

Next, they meet Sergei. Sergei is a plumber. In The Darkest Hour of humanity, Sergie has done what scientists and the military has failed to do.

Sergei knows how to stop or at least dim the light balls. He uses what looks like a paintball gun. However, instead of paint, it shoots microwaves. The light balls don’t like microwaves. This totally went over my head, but . . . okay. Being from the Russian point of view led to some great early scenes in Moscow, portrayed as an ultra-modern city with great nightclubs. Like here in Los Angeles, you have to look camera-ready to get in.

The Russian perspective led to lines like “Eat this Russian bullet” and “I’ll stay here (a good guy Russian cop).

My favorite is “I have all of Moscow at my back.” Russian exceptionalism. All in all, The Darkest Hour is mildly entertaining.

American Gods Season One: Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Fight

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American Gods Season One: Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Fight    a review      *Spoilers*

Starz series American Gods cover image

Cover image for Starz series American Gods on IMDB

American Gods is a new series on STARZ.  The book, American Gods, is a novel by British author Neil Gaiman. Until last night, I had resisted adding STARZ due to the enormity that is my monthly cable bill.

After my free STARZ months, I had bid a reluctant goodbye to The Outlander.

Recently, I winced when I learned that A Handmaid’s Tale was part of the Hulu lineup. You can’t afford it, I reminded myself. There are too many good shows and not enough time to watch them all, especially when it costs more. And then I read that Starz was airing a ten part series based on American Gods, a book that I had read and greatly enjoyed. My fiscal resolve developed a serious wobble.

STARZ had me at hello, American Gods.

As the first episode of American Gods ended, did I have any regrets? Absolutely not! Rather than the soul, American Gods explores the dark recesses of the human heart where magical thinking, desires and grudges reside, overruling logic and dictating our choices. The opening credits alone are worth a look. The lush visuals of American Gods reflect myth and machine. They create a jumble of the bizarre and the beautiful, a dreamlike landscape inhabited by fearsome creatures.

Gaiman’s American Gods is a war story.

The old gods, brought to our shore by immigrants from different parts of the world, prepare for battle.The first sequence involves a god carved from driftwood. First, Vikings land on a hostile New World shore. The bugs alone make this place a no go for the exhausted Norsemen. Unfortunately, the lack of a strong wind prevents their leaving. So, the Vikings create a god, hoping that the new god will intercede and convince the stubborn wind to let them leave.

However, the new god, the first of many American Gods, is greedy. It wants blood offerings.

The wind finally comes when half of the invaders are dead, the result of a mass sacrifice. Afterwards, not wanting to linger and chance the wind changing its mind, the Vikings abandon their new god in the New World along with their unburied dead.

In Episode One of American Gods, “The Bone Orchard,” we meet Shadow Moon, an inmate serving time in a 21st Century prison.

On parole and on his way home for his wife’s funeral, Shadow (Ricky Whittle—The 100) becomes the reluctant employee of Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane—Ray DonovanDeadwood plus too many to count).

A slick con artist, Mr. Wednesday embroils Shadow in the doings of the old gods, who along with the new American Gods, are now scattered across the American landscape.

After losing a bar fight with Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber—Orange is the New Black), a six-foot plus leprechaun, Shadow begins to doubt his sense of reality and his commitment to his employer, Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday knows that America’s new gods are homegrown. Fathered by innovation, birthed and nurtured by commerce, the new gods mean to destroy the old ones.

Neglected and forgotten, the old gods, especially Mr. Wednesday, will not go gentle.

Knowledge of Shadow as Wednesday’s new bodyguard brings the wrath of one of the new American Gods, bratty know-it-all and nightmare millennial, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley—Dead Waters). After grilling him on Wednesday’s plans, Technical Boy orders Shadow’s death, a fate Shadow barely escapes as the episode ends. Starz is currently airing American Gods with the last episode debuting on June 18th.

So, do any Americans, descendants of immigrants, believe in the gods of the old country rather than our homegrown American Gods?

I think some do. Ask any football fan how many rituals he or she performs to ensure a win for their favorite team. But don’t ask them during a game; that’s bad joo joo.