Lovecraft Country – A Few Thoughts

Lovecraft Country started out as a brilliant genre mashup of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, history, and social commentary. The first episode thoroughly impressed me because it mixed fantasy horror with real life horror quite effectively. 

The second episode seemed to be a strange break from the first, and each subsequent episode always felt a little disjointed from the series as a whole. There were so many zigs and so many zags that I couldn’t synthesize the overall plot. 

In the end, these inconsistent storylines proved too much for me to say that I enjoyed the series. 

However, Lovecraft Country’s secret weapons are the cast. In the end, I’ll watch anything with Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett in starring roles. These two were fantastic. Furthermore, the show just looked good. The costumes, the sets, the props, the cars–everything was topnotch. 

And, though we only got to see them in one episode, Topsy and Bopsy proved to be the breakout superstars of Lovecraft Country. These charismatic fiends are the stuff of nightmares, yet I can’t wait to see them again. 

I appreciate everything Lovecraft Country set out to do. It tackled social issues, historical tragedies, racism, sexism, abuse, and many other important things, all while telling a story based within the worlds of magic and horror. 

In the end, though, it simply couldn’t tell a streamlined, coherent story that stretched across all ten episodes. No matter how great the acting, how beautiful the sets and costumes, and how noble the intent, the writing has got to be the best aspect of any show. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dr.-nekros-the-complete-saga.jpg
Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

The Third Day – A Few Thoughts

I wanted to like The Third Day–I really did. I stuck it out. All six hours. Kept hoping it would get better.

It didn’t.

The Third Day had so much going for it. Beautifully shot. Excellent locations. Charismatic acting. An interesting concept. It’s just … it didn’t make any sense to me at all.

The Third Day jumped around so much that the plot became a muddled mess. The characters made such irrational, ludicrous decisions that I simply couldn’t suspend my disbelief. The show contradicted itself at every turn.

But … the actors! The actors were so good! Naomie Harris, Jude Law, Emily Watson, Paddy Considine, Katherine Waterson–these are quality actors doing quality work!

It just didn’t work.

As much as I want to, I simply can’t recommend The Third Day.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dr.-nekros-the-complete-saga.jpg
Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor – A Few Thoughts

I enjoyed The Haunting Of Hill House, but I love its successor, The Haunting Of Bly Manor

The Haunting Of Bly Manor follows the story of Dani Clayton, an American tasked with caring for two young orphans in the massive estate known as Bly Manor. She is joined by Jamie the gardener, Mrs. Grose the housekeeper, and Owen the chef. Together they form a sort of surrogate family for Flora and Miles, the orphans. Soon enough, however, we learn that Bly Manor has some very dark secrets, and that history can literally come back to haunt you.

I found The Haunting Of Bly Manor to be very well crafted. The pacing struck me as nearly perfect, which is unusual for a Netflix show, and they stuck the landing exceptionally well with the final episode, which, again, is rare for Netflix. 

There are some jump scares in The Haunting Of Bly Manor, to be sure, as well as a general tone of creepiness, but I’m not sure I would define the show as “scary.” Yes, it’s a ghost story–no doubt–but I’m not convinced it’s a “scary” story.

In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to find a more likable group of characters than Dany, Jamie, Mrs. Grose, and Owen. These four characters are the heart and soul of the show, and the actors are a pleasure to watch. I considered them my friends by the end of the series, which doesn’t happen to me very often.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor plays with time, structure, and perspective quite a bit, but this serves to strengthen the overall story. Sometimes these narrative breaks are simply to elongate a series, to stretch it out, but I can reassure you that every episode is vital.

I only have one complaint about the show–just the one–and it involves a personal haunting that Dany is suffering early on in the series. Unless I missed it, I’m not quite sure that subplot ever got resolved.

I completely recommend The Haunting Of Bly Manor. I looked forward to every episode. I think it could be appropriate for the family if you have older kids. There’s no nudity, very little bad language, and while there are jump scares, there’s not much gory violence to speak of.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dr.-nekros-the-complete-saga.jpg
Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

Cobra Kai: Seasons One and Two – A Few Thoughts

I’ll admit it: I thought it was a terrible idea when I heard YouTube planned to release an original series furthering the Karate Kid story. But, as time progressed, I heard some positive things about the show. Some were even calling it a hit.

Cobra Kai, the show in question, came to Netflix a few weeks ago. My wife and I thought we’d preview it to see if it was appropriate for our twelve-year-old. First of all–it’s not appropriate for a twelve-year-old due to sexual references; second of all–we LOVED it and binged the whole series.

Cobra Kai is a magical blend of nostalgia and modernity. For middle-aged folks like me (I’m 43), it brings back all of the incredible feels from the original Karate Kid. It even goes so far as to provide literal cuts from the first movie during flashbacks.

However, it’s novel in that it provides a completely different take on the prototypical teenage bad boy–Johnny Lawrence. Johnny is no longer the archetypal golden boy villain. He’s now relatable, sympathetic, and even likable. Sure, he’s still rough around the edges, but I think the older crowd sees a lot of themselves in him … for better or for worse.

On the other hand, Danny LaRusso has changed as well. He’s still trying to do the right thing, but we learn Johnny has his own ideas about how things happened back in the 80s which casts Danny in a different light. Furthermore, in his own way, and despite being very successful in life, Danny can’t let go of the past, either. He is every bit as paralyzed in time as Johnny Lawrence.

This kind of complex characterization was COMPLETELY unexpected and riveted us.

Also, the show struck gold with casting their new karate kids. In my opinion, Xolo Maridueña, who plays Johnny’s first protégé, is the heart and soul of this show. He’s a likable, charismatic actor who makes us care about the ups and downs of his character. In fact, though talent varies a bit, all of the “teenage” characters are extremely engaging in their own way. Each one of them has a distinct personality and unique motivations. The days of one-note teen archetypes are over in the Karate Kid saga.

Most surprisingly, Cobra Kai is truly funny. Johnny, though always completely serious, is absolutely hilarious. He’s so disengaged from the modern world to such a degree that he doesn’t understand contemporary civility, technology, or even medical conditions. He utters some horrifically crude lines, but I can’t deny how funny they are.

Finally, the action is fantastic in Cobra Kai. Ralph Machio (Danny) is currently 58. William Zabka is 54. Both of these men can still sell the martial arts. Xolo Maridueña seems to be a natural as do the other lead karate students. There are some great fight scenes in this series, particularly in the final episode of Season 2.

I’m not surprised Cobra Kai is taking the world by storm now that it’s on Netflix. It’s the best of something old and something new. I’m so happy for this second chance at stardom for the original cast, and I love that the new blood is forging their own fame. As you’ve probably guessed, I highly recommend Cobra Kai.

Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: Seasons 1 & 2 – A Few Thoughts

I subscribed to HBO Max because I am DC Comics for life and I could not resist the Zack Snyder Justice League Director’s Cut. 

Okay. There, I said it.

However, there have been some very welcome surprises since subscribing to HBO Max, and Harley Quinn is very much among them.

Let me explain. DC Comics launched a streaming service about two years ago featuring original show content such as Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Titans, and Harley Quinn. I heard rumors that, with the advent of HBO Max, the DC streaming service might get absorbed, at least in terms of shows. To my great advantage, that is happening even as we speak. 

Harley Quinn never struck me as a must-watch, but I’d heard good things about it, and so when it popped up on the HBO Max “just added” page, I gave it a shot.

I instantly loved it.

At just about 23 minutes apiece, this animated comedy regularly made me laugh out loud as I powered through the first two seasons. The show is cartoonishly bloody and relentlessly profane, but it is absolutely hilarious.

It features Harley Quinn played by Kaley Cuoco, Poison Ivy played by Lake Bell, Batman played by Diedrich Bader, Clayface played by Alan Tudyk, King Shark played by Ron Funches, Dr. Psycho played by Tony Hale, and Commissioner Gordon played by Christopher Meloni.

You’ve also got substantial voice appearances by J.B. Smoove, Jim Rash, Jason Alexander, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael Ironside, Wanda Sykes, Rachel Dratch, Wayne Knight, Will Sasso, and Alfred Molina. These are NAMES, people!

However, I’m not sure how funny this show is to anyone not deeply steeped in nerd culture. There are a ton of inside comic book jokes, parodies, and satires squarely aimed at the last eighty or so years of DC Comics.

Furthermore, they make everyone hilarious. Clayface makes me roar every time he talks, Bane is comedy gold, and King Shark is adorable. Kite Man has become the most sympathetic character going, and Poison Ivy is cooler than anyone ever imagined possible, and also bitingly funny. Don’t even get me started on Commissioner Gordon. 

Harley Quinn is such a fresh take on these characters and so unusual that you have to watch it for the novelty alone. For anyone who says DC is too dark, I dare you to feel the same way after watching Harley Quinn. (Just don’t pay attention to the blood, the maiming, and the general anarchy.)

Best of all? HBO Max just announced that Harley Quinn: Season 3 is coming exclusively to HBO Max.

If you have HBO Max, I highly recommend that you give Harley Quinn a try.

Black Panther II: Wakanda Forever – An Open Movie Treatment

I felt shocked when I heard the news on Friday night regarding Mr. Chadwick Boseman’s death. Though I mourned the loss of what seemed to be a genuinely good man and an obviously exceptional actor, I empathized especially with all the children who saw themselves in Black Panther. To them, they lost a hero. I understood the tremendous loss to those adults who envisioned an ideal when they heard the words “Wakanda Forever.” To them, they lost a movement.

My brain started turning and turning on Friday night. Though I have no affiliation with Disney or Marvel, I wanted to find a way to honor Mr. Chadwick Boseman, to honor the children who love Black Panther, and to honor those adults who believe in Wakanda Forever.

This treatment is the result of that inspiration. I gladly give it to Marvel and Disney Studios as a small token of appreciation to Mr. Chadwick Bosmeman and to all who made the first Black Panther a cultural phenomenon. This story must continue. It’s not T’Challa Forever. It’s not even Black Panther Forever. It’s Wakanda Forever.

Black Panther II: Wakanda Forever – An open treatment by Scott William Foley

  • Fade in to text – “In Loving Memory Of Chadwick Boseman”
  • Fade out
  • Fade in to massive funeral in Wakanda full of global dignitaries
  • Near the casket stands Ramonda, Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, W’Kabi, and M’Baku
  • Further out stands Everett Ross and several Avengers
  • Near the back stands presidents, kings, and everything in between
  • Victor Von Doom, adorned in Latverian royal garb, stands next to Namor, who wears the armor and crown of Atlantis–both are kings
  • Namor sneers while saying he was to renew a peace treaty with King T’Challa next month
  • Doom growls that he has no peace treaties with any nation–including Atlantis
  • Namor mentions a global power vacuum with King T’Challa dead
  • From under his hood, Doom watches the extravagant proceedings
  • Days later, Wakanda unanimously names Shuri Queen of Wakanda and heir to the title of Black Panther
  • Shuri does not want the crown; she wants to return to her work in Oakland; she wants to find a cure to cancer so that no one else has to suffer like T’Challa privately did; she is not given a choice–she is named Queen
  • Weeks later, she meets with King Namor of Atlantis in her Wakanda throne room
  • He refuses to renew their peace treaty and warns Queen Shuri of Victor Von Doom and his enslaved nation Latveria
  • During their meeting, Victor Von Doom attacks both Wakanda and Atlantis with his army of technologicaly advanced war machines
  • Wakanda easily dispels the attack; Queen Shuri has electronic eyes and ears everywhere; she cannot be outsmarted
  • Namor races to Atlantis where a fierce battle ensues
  • It isn’t until Shuri’s forces arrive that Doom’s army is driven away
  • Namor is furious that Shuri did not warn him
  • Shuri had no intelligence regarding the attack on Atlantis; Doom used Wakanda as a decoy to procure Atlantian technology
  • General Okoye demands Namor sign a peace treaty with Wakanda; though with great fuss, he does so
  • Shuri studies Doom; she confirms he has enslaved his entire nation; he steals the most advanced technology he can find; he experiments on his own enslaved people; he wears cybernetic armor stolen from Tony Stark’s blueprints beneath his robes; he is supposedly kept alive only by that armor
  • As Black Panther, Shuri independently invades Victor Von Doom’s castle
  • Her suit’s technology is superior to every defense Doom has at his disposal
  • They end up battling face to face in Doom’s throne room
  • She mortally wounds him; as he lay dying, she rips off his face plate to see a ravaged, hideous face
  • She offers him the choice to free his nation and live, or die right then and there
  • He agrees to free the slaves; Shuri’s suit broadcasts the declaration in real time across the world
  • Shuri takes out a device and injects Victor Von Doom while saying, “I couldn’t save my brother, but now no one else has to suffer–including you.”
  • She injects Victor Von Doom; his wounds heal, his face heals, his body is completely renewed
  • Shuri says, “Wakanda Forver isn’t a catchphrase. It’s gospel. Now more than ever.”
  • Nakia and Ramonda arrive soon thereafter and serve as advisors to Latveria’s new government
  • Doom is imprisoned by the people of Latveria
  • Queen Shuri, the Black Panther, returns to Wakanda
  • She briefly appears on a deck overlooking thousands of cheering citizens, to whom she waves
  • She then heads to her lab
  • Credits roll
  • After credits stinger: A peaceful protest at night in front of The White House; protesters are on their knees with their hands up chanting, “Don’t shoot/Hands up”; the police are using loudspeakers to beg the protesters to disperse, that the President’s security cannot be jeopardized; a stealth craft appears overhead without warning; everyone panics–the police, the secret service, the protesters; Black Panther drops from the craft onto the pavement and faces the protesters; she slowly turns, faces the police, removes her mask, drops to her knees, lifts her hands, and joins in the chant; total silence with camera on Shuri’s face; fade to black; text appears as this quote from Chadwick Boseman: “The only difference between a hero and the villain is that the villain chooses to use that power in a way that is selfish and hurts other people.”

My First Impression of HBO’s Lovecraft Country

I’ve been hearing buzz about Lovecraft Country for quite a while now, so when it finally debuted on HBO last Sunday night, I couldn’t wait to give the first episode a watch.

The first ten minutes set the tone for this show perfectly. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but this show is such a wonderful mix of genre, it truly captivated me.

Set in the early 1950s, Atticus Freeman has returned home to Chicago from the military in order to try to find his father, who has gone missing. He is joined by his Uncle George and a childhood friend, Leti. They embark on a road trip attempting to retrace his father’s steps.

It’s not long until they encounter real horror as white supremacists literally hunt them down with the intent to kill. However, there are more monsters lurking about, and they don’t care about the color of skin when it comes to killing.

The first episode of Lovecraft Country perfectly captures the terror of being black and traveling through racist communities that gleefully resort to murder. It is realistic, powerful, and a vivid reminder of this nation’s ugly past. Yet, the show is unafraid to shift gears in a heartbeat from societal horror to the kind of horror you would expect to find in a book by H.P. Lovecraft. It is such a brave blending of genre, perhaps even jarring to some. I love genre twisting, though, so this kind of show is very much to my liking.

Though it’s only the first episode, a ton of story unfolds and, best of all, we get to know who appear to be the three main characters. Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett are stars in every sense of the word. They play Atticus and Leti. Courtney B. Vance plays Uncle George. Vance has been good for a very long time and he continues to shine in Lovecraft Country.

I literally have no idea where this show is going. Between the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes, it could absolutely go anywhere. I love that it is very rooted in the reality of the time period while also being completely unchained from convention.

If you’re searching for a show that’s just getting started, I highly recommend Lovecraft Country.

An Open Letter To Teachers Everywhere

apple-1282241_960_720

Before I begin, I should note that I’ve taught high school English since the year 2000. I still teach to this day.

That being said, to my fellow teachers, I hope you are well. We are a routine-oriented lot who thrive on knowing what to expect, so this summer has been particularly difficult in that regard.

Hopefully, by now, you are getting some concrete plans. For instance, within the last few weeks my district has shifted to remote learning for students and then, a bit later, remote teaching for the instructors as well. Needless to say, we all exhaled a collective sigh of relief when that news arrived.

For those of us fortunate enough to be teaching remotely from home, I offer this one piece of advice: be the best you’ve ever been.

There are many ways to interpret that statement, but let me lay some groundwork before I expound upon it.

Everyone is currently stressed to the point of breaking.

School administration is being hit on all sides by the public, the business world, and politicians. They cannot please everyone right now. The phone calls, the emails, the texts, the social media comments–I’m sure it feels like a deluge. It’s hard to be an administrator at the moment.

Parents are also at their wits’ end. Their entire schedule has been thrown off-kilter and they are trying to work while providing childcare for their kids. They realize that they will soon have to also help with school work as best they can. I can easily imagine the pressure of trying to make sure the kids are on the correct Zoom call and checking in for attendance while the parent is also trying to fulfill their work obligations. Furthermore, parents are worried about their kids’ mental health. So many things are forcing their kids out of routine. Sports, music, clubs, youth groups–they are worried about what effect these omissions will have on their child’s well-being. It’s hard to be a parent at the moment.

Members of our community have had their lives disrupted. Even if community members don’t currently have a child in school, as taxpayers, they are still entitled to an opinion and should have the opportunity to voice that opinion. Some members think it’s dangerous for schools to be in session and every precaution should be taken to keep all members of the community safe. Some members believe the virus is not so great a risk that we should deny children all of the benefits that come with attending school such as education, supervision, food, shelter, and other services. It’s hard to be a member of society at the moment.

My point is, teachers, that everyone around you has a vested interest in how this all plays out, and everyone is on edge. Consequently, everyone will be watching you. Your administrators will be watching you. Your students will be watching you. The parents of your students will be watching you. If working from home, your neighborhood will be watching you.

My district has told me since the day I got hired that the teachers in our district are the best of the best. I’m guessing every district says that, but even so, we have to exceed that description. We must surpass even our own professional standards. As teachers, we are accustomed to being in front of students the vast majority of the day with very little downtime. The public is going to expect that same rigor even if we are working from home.

Therefore, teachers, be your best selves. Do not slip out for some time in the pool during the workday. Don’t be seen mowing the lawn during the workday. Don’t go shopping during the workday. Don’t go on vacation during the workday. I would advise you to even stay off social media during the workday. Do not give anyone any reason at all to doubt your professionalism.

Is this fair? Probably not. I know plenty of people in other professions working from home who have no qualms about doing any of those things. But teaching is different. We are judged in ways most other professions are not. There are dozens of reasons as to why this is the case, but the bottom line is that it’s true and we must act accordingly.

It’s correct that everyone’s “best” is going to look a little bit different. Some of it depends on our subject area, some of it depends on our technological prowess, some of it depends on our personality, some of it depends on our living conditions, but the most basic thing we can do is keep up appearances by sticking to our contractual hours and saving chores, errands, and personal desires for after the work day.

Teaching is an incredible responsibility. We are counted upon to guide the nation’s future. Yet, we must do better than we’ve ever done before during these difficult times.

I wish you all good health. I support you. I respect you. I stand with you.

HBO Max’s Doom Patrol: Season 2 – A Few Thoughts

doom-patrol-season-2-poster-1

Doom Patrol is a show based on the DC Comics title. During it’s first season, it aired on DC Universe, a streaming service. However, because HBO and DC both fall under the Warner Brothers umbrella, this second season of Doom Patrol appeared on HBO Max. (Conventional wisdom says DC Universe is going to be folded up and inserted into HBO Max. We’ll see.)

Doom Patrol has been around since 1963. The title has always been comprised of strange misfits that don’t quite work anywhere else in the DC Universe. You won’t find most of these characters in the Justice League, the Teen Titans, or even The Outsiders. They are sometimes a super hero team, sometimes a dysfunctional family, and sometimes just a bunch of people occupying the same space at the same time.

The first season of Doom Patrol proved a success in that it looked great, hit some very offbeat notes, and struck the audience as genuinely unique compared to most “comic book” screen properties. Furthermore, it featured some impressive names such as Brendon Fraser, Diane Guerrero, Matt Bomer, Alan Tudyk, and Timothy Dalton. Like most first seasons, though, it spent a great deal of time simply establishing character and chemistry. Unfortunately, I found myself distracted at some point during most of the episodes as they seemed about twenty minutes too long.

While the second season had some great moments, I’m afraid I can’t say it much improved on the first. The episodes are still too long for the stories, and the characters are still being developed to the point that they don’t seem to interact with each other all that much. The show is called Doom Patrol, after all, yet there are very few moments when they all appear on screen together.

Individually, the characters are all dynamic, visually interesting, and well-acted. But each episode seems to focus on their individuality rather than the “group” aspect of the show. They are a lot of fun when they are all together–I’m not sure why they don’t have them all together more often. They tend to break off into teams of two or three.

There are a few breakout stars of this show. Personally, I find April Bowlby to be the heart and soul of Doom Patrol. She plays an actress from a bygone era who does not age, yet also cannot guarantee that she won’t turn into a pile of goo. Bowlby has great timing, humor, and her voice work never fails to entertain.

I also like Joivan Wade, who plays Cyborg. Why is Cyborg a member of Doom Patrol? I have no idea. After all, he’s been a member of the Justice League both on screen and in the comic book for years. Furthermore, he’s never been a member of Doom Patrol in the comics; he actually started off in The New Teen Titans. Though it seems a strange decision, I like Wade and I think they present Cyborg well. It’s fun to see him with practical effects instead of CGI.

Speaking of which, the sets and costumes in Doom Patrol are always top-notch. The only time they get themselves in trouble is with some of the grandiose special effects. Some of the effects look good, but when the effects get too big and too complicated, they are noticeably flawed. Season 2’s main antagonist never quite looked right to me. The CGI big-bad DC dilemma strikes again, right? (I’m talking to you, Doomsday, Steppenwolf, Incubus, and Ares.)

I also understand that Fraser’s character, Robotman, is very rough around the edges, but they have him screaming–yes, screaming–the “F” word every ten seconds. I’m no prude, but they are way over the top with the use of that particular piece of profanity.

Honestly, the second season of Doom Patrol failed to capture my full attention with every episode as well due to an inevitable slog at some point. When compared to shows such as The Umbrella Academy or The Boys, which are similar in tone but far better paced, this is disappointing.

And while I won’t spoil the Season 2 finale, I found it so abrupt, so off-kilter, that I had to double check that it actually was the finale. As finale’s go, it doesn’t get much more dissatisfying.

The Umbrella Academy: Season 2 – A Few Thoughts

the-umbrella-academy-1593507902

As good as The Umbrella Academy was during its first season, the second season has easily proven superior.

I’m going to go to great lengths to avoid spoilers, not just for the second season, but also for the first. My hope is that the uninitiated will give The Umbrella Academy a try after reading this piece.

The first season established the characters of these seven extraordinary brothers and sisters. Fetched from all over the world as children in order to use their wondrous powers for the forces of good, their benefactor, Sir Reginald Hargreeves … well, he created a rather dysfunctional family. Things worked out fairly well for them as children, but as they grew into adulthood and gained independence … they began to see Hargreeves for what he actually was.

Once this dynamic got covered in the first season, the second season got to blow it all apart. These interesting characters are now absolutely mesmerizing. They are flawed, funny, and lovable. Everyone has had a shift from the first season, which makes this season feel totally fresh.

This show is part comedy, part action-adventure, part family drama, part social commentary, and very sci-fi. There are fist fights, martial arts, energy blasts, time travel, talking ghosts, talking fish, and even nuclear explosions. It’s bonkers, yet it all works.

The Umbrella Academy is also smartly written. The plot is mostly tight, the story is exceptionally satisfying, the dialogue is crisp, the pace is perfect, and the twits never stop. It absolutely builds off of the first season and is even dependent on the first season, but it never comes close to feeling like a repeat of the first season.

But the real magic is the actors. These actors are all charismatic and the chemistry between the brothers and sisters is a joy to watch. They are exceptional on their own; together they are magnificent. Whoever selected these actors nailed it. They seem so comfortable this season and actually living in their characters’ skin.

If you’re looking for a fun, fast, action-oriented show with superb characters and captivating plots, The Umbrella Academy is for you. Just keep in mind that it gets a tad violent from time to time, and there is a bit of profanity.