Netflix’s Midnight Mass – A Few Thoughts

Though it took me a bit to find the time, I was very excited to watch Midnight Mass on Netflix. Midnight Mass is created by Mike Flanagan, who also created The Haunting Of Hill House and The Haunting Of Bly Manor. In fact, you’ll find several of the same actors in all three shows.

Like his previous work, Midnight Mass is a slow burn of a show that, in the end, is well worth your time. Flanagan deems it necessary to invest the viewer in his characters, but he can only do this by forcing the viewer to spend time with said characters. By the penultimate episode, we know these characters inside and out, which in turn makes the final two episodes all the more seismic. We care about them. We care what they do. We care about what happens to them. And trust me, a lot happens to them.

The premise is this: after spending several years in jail for vehicular homicide, an otherwise decent man returns to his hometown located on a tiny, isolated island near what I presume to be the east coast. Around the same time, a new priest arrives at their tiny church. This new priest replaces their ancient, regular priest, who is presumably ill after travelling to the main land. This new priest is charismatic, empathetic, and passionate. He incites a fresh religious fervor on the island, and before too long miracles begin to happen. True miracles. But why are these miracles happening, just who is this new priest, and why are so many stray cats being drained of blood?

You’re going to figure this show out quite quickly, and that’s okay–that’s totally okay. It’s okay because it’s not the traditional “horror” aspect of it that made it so great for me. For me, Midnight Mass explores those grey areas that infiltrate our lives on a daily basis. It examines what exactly it takes for otherwise good people to embrace heinous behavior. Best of all, it also dives into why some people, when they have every excuse in the world to do evil things, still hold tight to their personal morals.

Midnight Mass will absolutely offend many, especially Christians. (For the record, I identify as a Christian–Lutheran, to be precise. That last bit probably comes as no surprise.) The extended metaphor throughout the series reflects hypocritical Christian behavior during the last several years. I’ll leave it up to you to connect those dots.

The fact that Midnight Mass was willing to take on such controversial subject matter, to really, in some ways, flirt with sacrilege–I found it quite daring. For me, a story is a story. Midnight Mass in no way made me doubt or question my faith. I am able to experience it for what it is–a well-paced, well-executed, unique horror story that dared to call into question Christian behavior. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for we Christians to think long and hard about our actions, beliefs, and purpose.

Of course, were it not for Hamish Linklater, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Midnight Mass so much. He plays the new priest in town, Father Paul. Linklater lights up the screen. He is frenetic, magnetic, deeply likeable, and burning with passion. I can’t believe I haven’t seen Linklater before, but he immediately struck me as an extremely talented actor.

Of course, Kate Siegel is in Midnight Mass as well. Mike Flanagan utilizes Siegel in most of his work. She plays a pregnant woman who has also recently returned to town. She moves into the home she hated as a child, took over the teaching job of the mother she hated, and is fully prepared to spend the rest of her life on that island. Little does she know the vital role she will soon play.

Other Flanagan favorites include Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, and Alex Essoe. These are all superb role players who know how to make their characters shine. There’s a reason Flanagan keeps bringing them back for every project. This includes The Newton Brothers, by the way, who write some of the best scores out there.

In the end, I think Midnight Mass will divide its audience. I loved the acting, the boldness, the genre mashing, the characterization, and the entire premise. However, I certainly could understand if someone didn’t like it for religious reasons. In the end, there’s only one way to know for sure. Give it a watch, and let me know what you think.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 For Nintendo Switch – A Few Thoughts

If you follow my writings, you may remember that I returned to video games last January after taking a twenty year hiatus. I started with Link’s Awakening, then took on Super Mario Odyssey, and finally found the courage for Breath Of the Wild. I heard the news that another favorite property of mine is due to release in October — Metroid: Dread. As I anxiously await that moment, I thought I’d tackle a highly recommended game called Luigi’s Mansion 3.

As I stated with Super Mario Odyssey, I wasn’t a big fan of Mario and Luigi growing up. I was never particularly good at Super Mario Bros. Of course, Odyssey proved an absolute blast and showed me the waywardness of my thinking. If Luigi’s Mansion 3 proved half as fun as Odyssey, I’d have a great time.

And the truth is — I had a great time indeed!

I won’t say I liked Luigi’s Mansion 3 as much as Odyssey, but I certainly had a ton of fun playing it. I was totally unfamiliar with Luigi’s Mansion, so, if you’re like me, you may need a bit of catching up. Luigi, Mario, and friends are headed to a beautiful hotel. It is suddenly overrun by ghosts. King Boo takes Luigi’s friends and family hostage. Luigi, who is completely terrified throughout the game, must use some cool inventions given to him to clear the hotel of ghosts, level by level, until he can finally rescue his loved ones.

Honestly, it’s a little bit Ghostbusters, a little bit Casper, a little bit Haunted Mansion, and a whole lot of good times. The ghosts were super creative throughout the game, especially each level’s main villain. You might get a jump scare here and there, but, for the most part, the game is pretty funny and lighthearted. The graphics are crisp and the gameplay is both intuitive and fluid.

I especially liked that it’s not a particularly hard game. I had to look a few things up on the Internet, but overall, it’s a quick, breezy game that doesn’t demand too much commitment from you. After Breath Of the Wild, that was very much appreciated!

The game actually keeps track of how much time you spend playing it, which I thought was a really cool feature. I beat it in about 25 total hours. Keep in mind that I’m the guy constantly searching for coins, gems, and those kinds of things. I’ll pull down every curtain and flip every garbage can in search of treasure. That sort of thing eats up a lot of time, but I love the exploring aspect of video games.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 only cost me $40 (it was on sale), and I didn’t regret buying it for a single moment. If you’re looking for a fast, enjoyable, lighthearted game to pass the time, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is for you.

Stitch Fix For Men – A Successful Experiment

I recently started a new career in the corporate world, one that allows me to be a bit more daring than my previous profession in education. As a teacher, I always tried to dress rather conservatively. I didn’t want to stand out too much. It’s daunting enough to face down 150 teenagers every day–I didn’t want my clothing to be a topic of their interest.

However, while I knew I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe and expand my style, I didn’t know where to begin. I’ve never been great at shopping, making outfits, or seeing the possibilities in clothing. Most of my outfits came from Kohls, Target, and sometimes Amazon. While they were nice enough, they were fairly bland and similar to what every other man in my community wore.

Somewhere around the time I accepted my new position I saw an advertisement for Stitch Fix For Men. I knew of Stitch Fix. My wife had tried it several years ago. I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t aware they had a division aimed specifically at men. I visited their website and saw great potential. The outfits looked good, fit my desired style, and would be sent right to my front door. It doesn’t get much easier than that, right?

As I filled out my profile questionnaire at their website, I was able to describe my tastes, my wants, my dislikes, my preferred fits, my texture preferences, my favorite colors, and so much more. I was even able to detail the fact that I was starting a new job and wanted a focus placed upon business casual. I told them I would like blazers coupled with business casual shirts, pants, and shoes.

I got an email from Stitch Fix For Men showing me what my stylist, Caitlin, had chosen for my first “fix.” I had a list of about ten items and I could choose up to five. If I only saw three that I liked, I’d have to accept her judgement on two choices that I wouldn’t have a chance to review. In this particular case, I easily found five items I liked from the provided list.

A bit later, my first “fix” arrived right on my doorstep! Caitlin hit a homerun. Everything looked great; everything fit great. If I didn’t like any of the items, Stitch Fix For Men provided a prelabeled envelope to return those items in. However, if you stick with all five, you get a big discount. In fact, you don’t even pay until after you receive the items.

So far, out of four “fixes,” I’ve kept all five items per “fix” that Caitlin picked for me. My only slight complication arrived when I received a shirt sized too big for me, but the exchange for the proper size could not have been simpler.

Stitch Fix For Men is the perfect situation for me. I get a variety of styles that mix and match well together. My stylist is sending me things specifically filling my needs, and I even get the opportunity to provide feedback on fits, cuts, and styles. They also provide cards with each clothing item you receive showing you how to pair it with other styles that might be in your closet.

Finally, you can set the frequency at which you’d like to get your “fixes.” I go about once a month, but you can alter your schedule according to your needs or budget.

As you can see, Stich Fix For Men is the perfect “fix” to my current situation. Though I would love to, I’m not sure I’ll stick with it perpetually due to cost. However, in terms of providing an almost instant wardrobe, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. In fact, I’ve included snapshots below of everything that I’ve received so far.

If Stitch Fix For Men sounds like a good fit for you, check them out at this address: https://www.stitchfix.com/men

HBO Max’s All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star – A Few Thoughts

HBO Max continues to air shows from BBC, this time with All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star. We picked this show to watch as a family. Like with Full Bloom, The American Barbecue Showdown, Blown Away, and The Great British Baking Show, we are fascinated by makers making things and being very nice to one another while doing so.

All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star isn’t something I initially thought I would enjoy. I honestly brought it up to my daughters because they are crafty and what could be more crafty than making jewelry, right? However, as soon as they started their first task, I was hooked. As I watched, I realized I had no idea how jewelry got made–I always took it for granted. Seeing the process proved fascinating. I couldn’t get enough.

Best of all? Like with the above mentioned shows, all of the contestants are both very talented and very cordial. They support each other, encourage one another, and conduct themselves respectably. I won’t spoil the ending, but my favorite contestant actually won, and I also believe this contestant to be the most pleasant of all the very pleasant people.

Each show is broken into two parts. The first part is a “Best Seller” challenge. The jewelers are given a brief, and then they must craft a piece of jewelry that both fits that brief and would be a bestseller in a jewelry store. This can be a difficult task because while the piece must be skillfully made and original, it also has to be mainstream enough to appeal to the masses.

The second part of each episode is always my favorite, and it’s called “The Bespoke.” In this portion, the jewelers must create a sentimental piece specifically made for a special person. Seeing the joyful reactions of the recipients, as well as the winning jeweler’s emotional response, is always a moment guaranteeing the feels.

I understand that on paper this show may not sound like your thing, but trust me when I tell you that it is well made, the participants are engaging to watch, the pieces are exquisite to behold as they evolve from nothing into heirlooms, and the whole tone of the show is simply a joy.

You can find All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star on HBO Max.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild – A Few Thoughts

You may remember that I recently got back into video games. I started with The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I then moved on to Super Mario Odyssey. After beating both of those games, I decided it was time to take on the one game that seems to be everyone’s favorite on the Switch – Breath Of the Wild.

I’ll admit that I was initially intimidated to play this game. I don’t have a ton of patience when it comes to video games, and I’d heard that Breath Of the Wild takes hours upon hours upon hours to learn, much less beat!

What I didn’t realize was that all that time spent learning the game would actually be an amazing experience. Breath Of the Wild teaches you how to play it incrementally and subtly to such a degree that you don’t even realize it is happening. You’ll go from having no idea what to do next to suddenly having an instinct for each new move you should make.

Be aware that the game is epic. You are freely roaming a landmass that – I’ve read – is equal to about 26 miles. However, as you’re walking through prairielands or following a forest trail or climbing a mountain, you’ll marvel at the sheer beauty of the graphics, the intricacy of the details, and the ease of gameplay.

Furthermore, this is not a button-masher game. You will learn strategy, and you’ll use that strategy. You have to find and cook food to restore health. You have to both buy and sell goods in order to replace supplies. You’ll even have to collect every weapon you can find because almost every single weapon you have will eventually break with prolonged use. I even bought and furnished a house in the game!

If you think you’re an impatient gamer, like I thought I was, do not be alarmed. Though that all may sound tedious, it’s absolutely quite fun.

Believe it or not, I actually beat the game. Of course, if you personally know me it will come as no surprise that I did so by total accident. I was simply exploring the area where the final challenge resided and suddenly found myself face to face with the supreme villain. I opted to just go for it, and, to my own surprise, managed to defeat him.

If you have a Nintendo Switch, I wholeheartedly recommend The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild. You will spend weeks – if not months – playing it, and you will love every minute.

P.S. I absolutely used the Internet to figure out some aspects of the game. The teenagers in my life told me there’s no shame in doing so. If you’re a causal gamer returning to the fold like me, use those tools the Internet provides.

Mare Of Easttown – A Few Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoy listening to Chris and Andy from The Watch, and they immediately lauded Mare Of Easttown as soon as they could–before it even debuted, if I’m not mistaken. Because they were so excited for it, my wife and I made sure to catch it as soon as the first episode aired.

We were instantly hooked.

I promise not to spoil anything when I say that Mare Of Easttown is about a small town detective who is personally battling difficulties even as tragic events continue to unfold around her. There are two major mysteries to be solved in this series, which may or may not be connected, yet the show is more about Mare and her fellow Easttowners than anything. These are people who have grown up together, laughed together, cried together, lived together, and died together. The story drives relentlessly forward with the mystery plots, but it also gracefully takes the time to reveal nuggets of history among all of these characters. Yes, the show does indeed reveal the solution to both mysteries, but, perhaps more importantly, it offers a resolution for Mare and her fellow cast of characters.

Speaking of characters, everyone is superb on this show. Kate Winslet plays Mare as tough, plain, damaged, and charmingly unlikable. However, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, and Evan Peters also deliver expert performances. In fact, everyone–and I do mean EVERYONE–truly makes every piece of dialogue count. This is a show performed by talented professionals.

I won’t lie–Mare Of Easttown is sometimes hard to watch due to violence and gore, yet it never crosses the line. It never veers into the gratuitous, nor does it become blatantly distasteful. It is a show for grownups, though, so be advised.

Mare Of Easttown initially flirted with the Broadchurch method of making everyone seem like they could be guilty from episode to episode, but they relaxed that tendency as the show progressed. In fact, many viewers were probably surprised by how quickly things started wrapping up by episode five (of seven).

If you’re looking for a satisfying show that has real heart as well as an interesting story, I strongly recommend Mare Of Easttown on HBO. In fact, you can watch the first episode for free HERE.

Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy – A Few Thoughts

If you take a look at Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that critics have quite a different take on Jupiter’s Legacy than does the audience. I’m here to tell you, in this case, the critics have it wrong.

I’ll admit, Netflix almost lost me on the first episode of Jupiter’s Legacy. It seemed a little too preoccupied with style, self-importance, and actors caught in waters too deep.

But then a funny thing happened.

Let me pause a moment and say that I enjoyed this comic book series several years ago. It was written by Mark Millar who is something of a Hollywood powerhouse in that Hollywood loves adapting his works into feature films. For example, Captain America: Civil War is based on a book by Millar. The Avengers largely borrowed from his real-world take on the Avengers called The Ultimates. Old Man Logan became the movie Logan. Wanted and Kick-Ass were also works by Millar. It just makes sense that Netflix would try to snatch up his original catalogue for screen adaptions beginning with Jupiter’s Legacy.

Okay, so I knew Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy would get better, and, in my humble opinion, it did.

For me, I had to adjust to the large cast of characters and invest in their personal relationships. The premise is that a closely connected super team, active since The Great Depression, are still alive and kicking, but now preparing to hand over the reigns to the next generation. Two of the most powerful young heroes happen to be the son and daughter of the two most iconic figures, and they both carry a lot of baggage as a result.

Though the original heroes now appear old and gray, there are many flashbacks to how they initially gained their powers, and that’s where the show really shines. The Great Depression era is a show-within-a show, and this aspect of the plot is where you really connect with the icons.

However, the younger generation also have their standouts, particularly the daughter. She wants nothing to do with being a hero, which results in her becoming more and more interesting as the series unfolds. There are also several younger characters who are introduced and then become more prominent as the series continues.

Josh Duhamel is the lead actor. He plays The Utopian. I’ve never thought of Duhamel as a particularly deep actor, but I have to say that as this series moved along, he really showed a lot of range. In fact, he very much changed my opinion of him as a performer. Watching both the young and old versions of his character proved fascinating. Additionally, I never realized Duhamel is so tall. He’s listed online as being six feet, four inches tall.

Furthermore, Matt Lanter amazed me with his performance as well. I only knew Lanter as the voice of Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars cartoons. He and Duhamel, along with their friendship, made this show special. I honestly can’t quite figure out why Lanter hasn’t had more live-action roles. He seems made for Hollywood.

Ben Daniels was completely unknown to me, and he plays Duhamel’s brother, Walter. Their troubled relationship struck me as very true, and I daresay Daniels is the best actor on the show. Walter is incredibly complex, as you’ll see, yet Daniels plays him with both arrogance and vulnerability.

As I mentioned, the two iconic heroes have a daughter, who is named Chloe. Elena Kampouris plays Chloe. Though she is very unlikable at first, her character, after being given some room to breathe, becomes one of the stars of the show. There are big things in store for Chloe, and I think Kampouris is more than capable of handling the evolution.

Finally, Ian Quinlan plays Hutch, and I think he may be my favorite character on the whole show. Quinlan is slowly introduced and, at first, doesn’t seem all that important. He becomes important, though–very important. Best of all, he easily captured the charm of his comic book counterpart.

Jupiter’s Legacy is definitely slow to start and perhaps initially too heavy on the gravitas. However, the pacing moves faster and faster with each episode and the stakes get higher and higher. There are two major plot lines developing, which, to me, were quite engaging. One of those plots mostly wrapped up and opened the door for the next phase. The other plot ends on a cliffhanger which, truthfully, makes me very excited for the next season.

Though there are definitely similarities to characters from both Avengers and Justice League, Jupiter’s Legacy dives deeply into the interpersonal relationships of these characters and all the messiness embedded within. Most of the characters are either related to one another, friends of several decades, or former friends with bad schisms. Yes, the show does take itself too seriously at times, but the fact that it feels as though all bets are off, that anything can happen at any time, makes it a captivating experience. Of course, I have the advantage of having read the source material. If season one surprised you, just wait and see what happens next.

Though the critics may disagree, I highly recommend Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.

First Sketch of The Celestial Spetatrix from Souls Triumphant

celestialspetatrix.jpg

This is my first sketch of a Celestial Spetatrix.  They are the opposite of the Celestial Knights because their duty is to simply observe and record the life of their assigned human. 

For one specific Celestial Spetatrix, her task was a sorrowful one because she had to watch the worst “human” of all – the Fallen One.  You can read about this particular Celestial Spetatrix and her plight in my novel Souls Triumphant.

(BE WARNED!  If you click on the image and read the notes written next to the sketch, a MAJOR plot revelation will be exposed.)   

These characters and sketches were originally conceived for a short story back in my creative writing class at Illinois State University.  The above notes are from the 1998 journal I used in the class to flesh out ideas.

Oh, and if you look very closely at the sketch, you’ll see the Celestial Spetatrix holding a pair of “goggles.”  At one point, these “goggles” were going to be a major plot device, but I cut them out in order to make the Celestial Knight’s sword more relevant.