Mr. F – #15

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Star Wars: Ahsoka by EK Johnston – A Book Review

Perhaps the greatest Star Wars character to never actually appear in one of the films, Ahsoka Tano broke out during the animated Clone Wars series.  If you’re unfamiliar with her, she once served as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan.  She and Anakin had an incredible bond, and when she left the Jedi Order, it broke Anakin’s heart.  In fact, her departure coupled with the perceived betrayal of the Jedi absolutely led to his downfall.  One must wonder if he could have resisted the Dark Side had Ahsoka been with him.

Nonetheless, due to her break with the Jedi, she escaped Order 66.  Ahsoka picks up later after Palpatine took control.  Now permanently on the run, Ahsoka must use an alias wherever she goes and downplay her connection to the Force.  She’s a hero at heart, though, and like her Master, she can’t help but get involved when she must.

The first half of the book is comparable to the other Star Wars books in that she lands on a remote planet, she meets characters of no real significance, and a small–ultimately inconsequential–operation begins against the Empire.  I felt real disappointment at this premise because everything felt rather … unimportant.  The beginning of this book seemed entirely forgettable.

But then the second half of the book happened … and I couldn’t put it down.

I won’t spoil it for you, but Ahsoka leads directly into both the cartoon Rebels and Star Wars:  A New Hope … maybe even Rogue One.  Want to know why the Sith’s lightsabers are red?  Want to know how Ahsoka ended up with white lightsabers?  Want to know how Ahsoka became Fulcrum?  Want to witness the beginning of the Inquisitors?  Ever wondered about Bail Organa’s role with the Rebels?  The second half of the book answers all of those questions and sets Ahsoka up for big, big things.

Johnston understands Ahsoka’s character well, especially in terms of where she was in Clone Wars and where she’s going in Rebels.  I’m not sure how I’d feel about it without  having watched both cartoons, but as it stands, Ahsoka ended up being incredibly satisfying.

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Tony and Susan by Austin Wright – A Book Review

A checked this book out because I read in Entertainment Weekly about a film adaptation coming soon called Nocturnal Animals.  Tony and Susan originally published in 1993.  The author died ten years later.

The EW article made the premise sound fascinating, so I couldn’t wait to read the book.  The plot is that Susan Morrow unexpectedly receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield.  They’ve been divorced nearly two decades and Susan is quite established in her new life with her new husband and new family.  The manuscript unnerves her because Edward’s writing is noted right away as a catalyst for their divorce all those years ago.

Tony and Susan quickly becomes a book within a book, and that inner book is entitled Nocturnal Animals. Susan’s ex-husband, Edward, has written a story in which his main character, Tony, gets involved with the wrong group of guys during a highway grudge match.  Unfortunately, his wife and college-aged daughter are in the car with him, and his actions have consequences for them as well.

As Susan reads about Tony’s horrific event, she is drawn in and can’t help but wonder why Edward has sent this manuscript to her after so many years of silence.  Is she meant to read something into it?  Should she take it at face value, or try to decipher some sort of message?

I’m torn about this book.  It starts off incredibly strong.  Tony’s plight with a gang of toughs made my heart race and I literally lost track of time as I read that part of the book – it flew by!

But when that initial thrill ended, Tony’s story lost a certain amount of urgency for me.  Furthermore, the book shifts in tone and begins to become very much about Susan as she reads Nocturnal Animals.  We learn more and more about she and Edward’s past, their marriage, and certain things that led to that marriage’s demise.

The first forty pages were absolutely riveting as Tony gambled with his family’s life while trying to stick it to a bunch of punks.  But when that primary conflict reached its immediate conclusion, I felt a little cheated.  I expected the vast majority of the book to be about Tony struggling to save his wife and child, but that wasn’t the case.  It instead turned very much into a character study of Tony, as well as Susan.  Hence, Tony and Susan, I suppose.

I still plan to see the movie, but more on the strength of the actors involved than the story itself.  Tony and Susan isn’t a bad read, but it certainly does not maintain its opening appeal.

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A Review of Netflix’s Luke Cage

In the beginning, Netflix’s Luke Cage is a phenomenal watch.  Mike Colter is carrying the show, but he’s getting amazing support from Mahershala Ali as Cornell Stokes, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, Theo Rossi as “Shades” Alvarez, and Simone Missick as Misty Knight.  We have Cage as an escaped, bulletproof convict on the run, Cornell as a crime lord loyal to Harlem, Mariah as a crooked politician also trying to keep Harlem relevant, Shades as an ambassador to Cornell on behalf of a mysterious “Diamondback,” and Misty trying to keep an eye on each and every one of them as an officer of the law.

As you’ve already heard from those far wiser, the entire premise of a “bulletproof black man” has never been more relevant.  Cage has a heart of gold.  He wants to do the right thing.  He needs to do the right thing.  Colter emits an innate sense of nobility.  In fact, let’s be honest – Mike Colter is Luke Cage.  He’s got the size, the build, the look, and the personality.  He’s also got the undeniable, understated charisma the character has utilized for the past ten years or so.  I think maybe more than any other Marvel actor, Colter fully embodies the character he is playing.

And while the first several episodes are not perfect, they are so entertaining to watch!  Colter’s simmering hero, Ali’s unpredictable temperament, Woodard’s brilliant scheming, Rossi’s utter coolness, and Missick’s authenticity kept the show rolling forward with each actor shining in every scene.

Sure, it’s got some problems in the beginning.  Cliches abound.  The dialogue can sometimes make you cringe.  The story isn’t necessarily fresh when compared even to Cage’s fellow Defender, Daredevil.  But, though the story isn’t fresh, the show most certainly is.  Virtually every actor in this series is a person of color.  I’ve never seen such a diverse cast!  I love that Netflix had the bravery to treat Luke Cage’s world respectfully, authentically, and hired the right actors to enrich it even more.  In my mind, Luke Cage is groundbreaking in that regard.

Unfortunately, bad things can happen to great intentions, and the bad thing happened in Episode 7 that detracted and ultimately ruined the entire series.

(SPOILER’S AHEAD)

When Ali’s Cottonmouth died, the show effectively ended.  It became painfully obvious that Ali could not be replaced as a vital component of Luke Cage, and when he left the show, it suffered.  The actors previously mentioned worked in perfect harmony with each other to create a mood, an atmosphere, a vibe on the show that simply no longer worked without Ali’s Cottonmouth.

Soon after Cottonmouth’s demise, Diamondback appears, and that’s when Luke Cage became almost unwatchable.  In fact, had it not been for Rosario Dawson doing her best to keep the show aloft, I may have completely thrown in the towel.

Without Cottonmouth, each and every character lost his or her way.  The show lost its way.  Diamondback introduced every terrible trope and cliche imaginable.  For example, he uses alien tech from “the incident” to mimic Cage’s strength, though it never explains how he acquired the technology nor how he has enough prowess to adapt it.  Diamondback also uses the alien tech to create “magic” bullets capable of piercing Cage’s skin. Oh, and for good measure, he’s Luke Cage’s heretofore unknown half-brother.  You know what, let’s go ahead and make him spout passages from the Bible as well, because, you know, why not?  Super suit at the end of the series?  Sure thing, even if it does look ridiculous.  And that’s just the beginning, folks.

Furthermore, Diamondback has no investment in Harlem, not like the other main characters, and so when he arrives spouting crazy and using super bullets, the other characters have no choice but to sink to his level.  It’s no longer about their personal stories and how they each must coexist within Harlem, now it’s about dealing with a “super villain” who lives up to just about every awful stereotype you can imagine.

Cage became wishy-washy with an unnecessary backstory way too similar to Wolverine’s.  Misty Knight became a complete contradiction.  Dillard became a nutjob.  And Shades.  Cool, smart, composed Shades.  When with Cottonmouth, Shades was the voice of reason.  He kept Cottonmouth calm, reminding him that Diamondback wouldn’t like Cottonmouth disturbing the natural order of the streets too much.  But when Diamondback actually shows up, he does nothing to make us believe Shades would ever follow such a juvenile lunatic, nor does he match the intellect and competency Shades previously described.

I think Luke Cage went about six episodes too long.  Ending on episode 7 or 8, using Cottonmouth’s murder as the season’s climax, would have been a good idea.  Introducing Diamondback completely altered the soul of the show and, ultimately, ruined it.

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A Review of Netflix’s Easy

My wife and I were between shows, so when I saw the addition of Easy to Netflix and read the description, I thought we’d try it, especially because it’s only eight episodes and less than thirty minutes per episode.

It’s an anthology series with the city of Chicago as the common setting of the characters.  Each episode, for the most part, focuses on different people.  Some of these men and women bleed into other characters’ stories, some appear only once.  Some are married, some are lovers, some are family, and some aren’t initially connected at all.

This show is absolutely character and relationship driven.  I personally found the complexities of the relationships authentic, and that’s where much of the comedy derives. People, especially couples, are strange, and this show has no fear exploring the characters’ singularities.

Because each installment ends on an ambiguous note, I think short story lovers will particularly enjoy Easy.  There is a great deal of interpretation required.  In fact, each episode is very much like a short story in that characters are introduced quickly, conflicts arise, change occurs, and then the plot is mostly, if not always clearly, concluded.  And though lots of information is conveyed in a brief amount of time, the episodes always feel evenly paced, organic, and patient.

I particularly appreciated how honest many of the scenes felt.  To some of them my wife and I could very much relate, others made us gasp in horror.  All of it felt well within the realm of possibility, even if not always our reality.  The characters in Easy are very real … I’m willing to bet you know a few of them.

It’s not all perfect, though.  I haven’t researched how much of this show is scripted and how much is improvisation, but there were many times when the actors rambled and seemed unsure of what they were supposed to say next.  If they were going for a realistic, conversational tone, they missed the mark.  When this occurred the actors appeared as though they either didn’t know what they should say next, or that they were trying too hard to convey that they didn’t know what to say next.

Easy is poorly rated on Netflix, which I don’t understand.  I rate it very highly.  The emotional resonance, character authenticity, humor, and loosely related episodes drew me in and kept me interested.

Just be aware that some of the episodes get a little naughty, especially the Orlando Bloom piece.  Put the kids to bed before you make it Easy.

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