The Vast Of Night – A Movie Review

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I watched this Amazon Original mostly because Amazon Studios rarely go wrong and the subject matter interested me … and because it’s only ninety minutes long.

The premise is that during the 1950s a small town radio DJ and his friend start to investigate a strange sound emitting through the radio and telephone. They determine that the sound could be extraterrestrial in nature, and that it’s previously appeared in their locale. But how close will they actually get to the sound’s source? You’ll have to watch the movie for the answer.

I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit because it’s so different from most conventional fare. First of all, it takes place during a single night. Furthermore, it’s almost entirely dialogue–there’s very little action. The camera is usually tight on the actors’ faces, but then it also goes on these long sprawls throughout the town and countryside. These nighttime tracking shots weave through the streets, into active high school gymnasiums, across fields–you definitely get a sense of the entire environment. In fact, the camera work in this film is quite pleasing to the eye. It certainly worked in conjunction with the film to intensify the appeal.

In terms of acting, everyone was very good, but I have to admit that I recognized no one. I don’t know if this is a cast full of unknowns or not, but the fact that I had no preconceived notions about them allowed them to exist fully within the skin of their characters.

I admit that it takes awhile for The Vast Of Night to hit its maximum pace, but it does a brilliant job until that point of establishing the available technology of the time, the mood of the small town, and the rapport of the two main characters. I wasn’t alive in the 1950s, but the film seems to have captured that time period’s authenticity well.

Also, the film’s score is exquisite. When the climax finally arrives, the music wonderfully guides our emotions and builds the excitement.

Though The Vast Of Night is a little slow compared to most movies today, I found it absorbing and well made. In fact, it’s one of those works that’s hard to stop thinking about once it’s over. If you’re looking for something different from the typical yet still maintaining an adherence to high quality, I recommend The Vast Of Night.

 

 

Some Nice Words About Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga

My thanks to Dr. Jane Thomas for writing this about Dr. Nekros: “You will never find a more creative, time-turning, plot-twisting, character-revealing, surprising story anywhere in the fantasy genre. And you will come to love the totally real, frustrating but likable characters.”

Find your copy by clicking HERE. Thank you.

Dr. Nekros The Complete Saga

HBO’s Perry Mason – A Few Thoughts

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I’m not going to pretend to be a fan of the 50s and 60s Perry Mason. In fact, I’m not sure I ever watched a single episode (in reruns, of course). However, something about the HBO revival of the show caught my interest–probably Robert Downey Jr.’s involvement as an executive producer.

I took in the premiere episode a few days after its debut and have kept up with it every week since. The third episode aired last night, and I believe I’m ready to share my opinion of the show.

Simply put: I like it.

I wouldn’t say I love it, but I do look forward to watching it each week. Truthfully, it’s not the story that’s captivated me. Rather, it’s the performances, the costumes, the set pieces, and the cinematography that keeps me coming back.

Set in the early 1930s, this Perry Mason is a private investigator suffering PTSD from WWI, struggling to hold on to his family’s farm, and basically down on his luck in every way possible. He’s rough around the edges, cynical, and not afraid to get his hands dirty. Yet, somewhere behind the weary exterior is a good man, a man who could have shined under different circumstances.

There are some excellent performances in Perry Mason. Matthew Rhys has truly brought Perry Mason to life. The slight expressions, the body language, the voice inflection–it’s all working to create a dynamic character that is, though incredibly flawed, deeply appealing. Tatiana Maslany is always fantastic. I haven’t seen her since Orphan Black, but she’s as potent as ever. Of course, there are other superb actors in the show as well such as Juliet Rylance, John Lithgow, Robert Patrick, Chris Chalk, Gayle Rankin, and Stephen Root.

The “look” of the show is gorgeous. Some of it is CGI, but much of it is actual reproduction of architecture, clothing, and vehicles from the 1930s. The costumes are beautiful, by the way. The suits, the hats, the leather jackets–outstanding. It’s just an interesting show to watch.

Be warned, however, there are some disturbing images from time to time. A podcast warned me to be ready regarding a dead baby during the first few moments. There’s also an intense scene taking place on the battlefield of WWI, gun violence, and regular visits to the police morgue.

Again, I can’t say that Perry Mason has connected with me at a visceral level, but I appreciate it for what it is: a very good show with beautiful costumes, exquisite set pieces, and superb acting.

Hamilton On Disney Plus – A Few Thoughts

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When Disney Plus announced that Hamilton would be coming to their service, my family got very excited. Yes, my wife and I saw the Chicago production back in 2018, but my nearly twelve-year-old daughter has never seen it and desperately wanted to for years.

Friday night, July 3rd, my wife and daughter hunkered down in the basement and watched it together–they both loved it.

Yesterday, July 4th, I put it on the main TV as we were going about our day. It wasn’t long before I found myself completely captivated by it, on the couch, abandoning my other pursuits.

Because here’s the thing: as good as the Chicago cast was back in 2018, there is something hypnotic about Lin-Manuel Miranda and the rest of the New York cast. In my opinion, Miranda is not a great singer, nor does he have a beautiful voice, yet it’s undeniable that he is a star on that stage. You simply can’t take your eyes off of him.

I also discovered something else about myself in regards to stage theater. Before I get to that though, it’s important to understand Disney Plus’ concept of Hamilton–they simply presented a version that was recorded in 2016. Someone had the forethought to record the musical on the actual stage, which results in closeups on the actors’ faces and the dancers’ movements. The camera weaves in and out of the action, but completely maintains the stage theater’s atmosphere. Hamilton has a rather unique set that is both stationary and dynamic–that is, the set pretty much remains the same but there are several moving components within that set.

Which leads me to my discovery in regards to stage theater: I feel the same way about stage theater as I do about live sporting events. If I’m not close to the front row, I much prefer just to watch it on TV. At the Chicago production, we were so high up that I couldn’t see every little detail of the actors’ expressions, and, though people were moving, the view appeared fairly static. The screen version’s quick cuts and closeups, just like with sports, made for a more intimate, exciting experience.

If you haven’t seen Hamilton, I recommend you do so. Honestly, a year’s subscription to Disney Plus is still a fraction of the cost of an actual Hamilton ticket. I think it’s amazing that seeing Hamilton is no longer an elite experience–now everyone can partake in the event.

It is, frankly, impossible to walk away from Hamilton without feeling some kind of inspiration. It will motivate you to think more, to be more politically active, to be more creative, to better appreciate diversity, and to recognize more often the astounding steps it took to construct this great nation.

Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga Is Ready For Your Enjoyment

Dr. Nekros The Complete Saga

At long last, Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga is now available in paperback format.

Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga focuses upon the disfigured Dr. Nekros’ pursuit for vengeance and his estranged loved ones’ quest to save him. Micah Vadenburgh suffered mutilation by the demon Xaphan. The trauma drove him from both his wife, Zetta, and his doctoral degree. Years later, living off the money he swindles from hapless victims, Micah has transformed into Dr. Nekros. He travels the countryside in a haunted 1936 Packard while searching for the monstrosity that ruined him. As Zetta and her new husband, Jason, work to reverse Micah’s downward spiral, an intricate trap has been set—one that began a century ago by something far more evil, far more conniving than anything Dr. Nekros has ever before encountered. A supernatural thriller with a wickedly dark sense of humor, Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga plays with time, reality, and imagination. Readers will immerse themselves in a tale filled with psychological suspense, nightmarish horror, and … redemption?

Click HERE to get your copy.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – A Movie Review

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I totally misjudged what this movie would be about from the little advertising I saw promoting it. The promotions made it look like Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are avant-garde, haughty, powerful musicians bent on world domination. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a silly, comforting, fun–sometimes even touching–movie featuring two actors who have incredible chemistry and seem to truly enjoy each other’s company.

Will Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong (yes, really), a middle-aged man living with his father and determined to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Rachel McAdams plays Sigrit Ericksdottir (read that last name out loud), Lars’ best friend and possible sister. Together, they make up Fire Saga, a two-person band that can’t seem to find an audience, appreciation, or even respect in their homeland of Iceland.

Through a series of incredible events, they find themselves representing Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest. There they meet a cavalcade of eccentric European performers. Their friendship is put to the test as temptations, missteps, and even conspiracy threatens their dream.

If all of that sounds very serious … it’s not. This film is full of goofy jokes, ridiculous pratfalls, and hilarious costumes. Yet, the movie does not have a mean spirit at all (other than constantly making fun of European music). When it ended, I actually found myself surprised by the fact that, overall, the whole things was kind of … sweet.

Be warned, though, if you’re watching it with little children, there are some strange moments of violence. I won’t spoil them for you, but I think one might actually be a little frightening for small children. Other than that, though, there isn’t any overt language, nudity, or sex. Oh. Wait. There are some Greek statues that … are rather ambitiously sculpted.

Perhaps most astonishing is the fact that the music is oddly catchy. The final song is actually beautiful. We all know Will Ferrell can sing. What I didn’t know was that Rachel McAdams can carry a tune very well, too. I assumed she lip-synced through the whole thing, but a little research afterwards revealed that she sang all of the songs herself and then they blended her voice with a professional singer’s to create a kind of hybrid.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga features two very likable actors at their absolute most likability. Their characters are strange, naive, and even a little backwards, yet their passion, kindness, and faith in one another takes what could have been a complete farce and turns it into something uniquely sincere.

 

CW’s Stargirl – A Few Thoughts

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Do I feel a little weird recommending a CW show featuring a twenty-year old actress playing a fifteen-year-old high school student? You bet. But, I’ve got my reasons …

Stargirl is a beloved character who primarily appeared in DC Comics’ Justice Society Of America. The JSA was DC’s original super team, a precursor to the Justice League of America. In the late 90s and early 2000s, they brought the team back with its original heroes from the 1940s. They were intent upon training new heroes to continue on the JSA’s legacy, and Stargirl was one of those new recruits.

As a devout JSA fan, the CW’s Stargirl is a delight because they are not shying away from the JSA’s stalwarts whatsoever. Starman, Green Lantern, Hourman, Johnny Thunder, Dr. Mid-nite, Wildcat–they are all either seen or referenced. Furthermore, due to circumstances I won’t reveal, Stargirl takes it upon herself to create a new JSA. She starts with a new Wildcat, Dr. Mid-nite, and Hourman. I have to be honest, though Hourman is a ridiculous concept and perhaps even a troubling premise, he’s always been one of my favorite characters and seeing his incredible costume on the screen is fantastic. Additionally, I loved James Robinson’s Starman, and seeing Stargirl use the cosmic rod is deeply satisfying.

For me, however, the real joy of the show is Luke Wilson. Remember him? I’m not sure what happened to Wilson’s movie career, but he is every bit as good as you remember (if not better). Whenever I see him on screen, I think, “Wow. He’s probably a little too good for this.” Another great blast from the past is Amy Smart, whom I haven’t seen in a long time but is still charming and charismatic.

Finally, the show’s villains are a fresh take compared to the other CW DC shows like Legends Of Tomorrow, Arrow, The Flash, and Batwoman. They have real motive, real depth, and are played by actors with real talent. Collectively, they call themselves the Injustice Society, and if you think that’s kind of a dumb name, you can only blame the folks from 1947 who created them. You’ll see classic villains on this team such as Icicle, Solomon Grundy, Sportsmaster, Tigress, and Brainwave. For a DC fan, this is kind of a big deal.

The show isn’t perfect–there’s quite a bit of teen drama. The action tries very hard, but still looks a little too reliant on “good enough” special effects. And, while some of the actors are quite talented, others still have room to grow.

However, I think the costumes are extraordinary from top to bottom, especially since they’ve decided to go with the more classic “tights” approach versus leather and armor.

By the way, if the name S.T.R.I.P.E. means anything to you, you’ll be very pleased with Stargirl. I suspect this is where most of their special effects budget went.

So while it’s a little awkward for this forty-something to recommend Stargirl, I have to admit that it is a real pleasure to see fan-favorite DC characters brought to life both joyfully and authentically.

 

The Gentlemen – A Movie Review

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There’s something about Guy Ritchie British tough-guy movies that I just can’t resit. Sherlock Holmes, Snatch, King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword — these are movies that amuse me to no end.

So, if you’re like-minded, you’ll love The Gentlemen just as I did. It’s a fast-paced gangster movie fraught with frenetic dialogue and cuts that will give you whiplash.

Matthew McConaughey plays Michael Pearson, a very successful American marijuana manufacturer who has cornered the British market. Charlie Hunnam plays Ray, Michael’s assistant. Jeremy Strong plays Matthew, a rich entrepreneur looking to buy Michael’s business. Hugh Grant plays Fletcher, a private investigator looking to blackmail … well, whomever he can. Finally, Colin Farrell plays Coach, a fight coach who unexpectedly gets entwined with all of these people.

As you can imagine, there is a great deal of violence, tons of twists, more than a few moments of treachery, and plenty of inappropriate humor. The movie looks great, as all Guy Ritchie movies do, with incredible set pieces, costumes, and locations.

The real heart of this movie though is the charm that each and every character exudes. No matter how shady they are, no matter how awful they are, they are all charming in their own way. You’ll notice that most of the actors listed above have built a career round not only their acting prowess, but also their innate charm.

This movie won’t change your life or improve the human condition, but it will provide an extremely fun time and wholly entertain you.

The Current War – A Movie Review

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Apparently, back in October of 2019, a movie came out called The Current War. It features Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla as they race to perfect the burgeoning electrical industry.

My wife and I saw this offered on Amazon but decided to check it out from the Normal Public Library for free instead. We’re not quite on the same page when it comes to super hero movies, but we love to watch movies inspired by history together.

The Current War enthralled us both.

Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse are famous names, yet neither of them exactly hold a place in the modern American conscious as anything more than old white guys who did some pretty important stuff. The Current War actually made them both very exciting and damn dynamic. They are both very likable, but also both very flawed. They are heroic at times, yet also suffer moments of immorality. In other words, they felt real.

Furthermore, the movie executes a rapid pace that makes the current war an exhilarating event to behold. I had no idea these two men battled each other to such an extent, nor did I realize their roles in so many other avenues of our lives.

Cumberbatch and Shannon are superb, as you would expect. Hoult didn’t get much to do as Tesla and I was surprised there wasn’t more of him in the film. There are also good performances by Katherine Waterson,  Tuppence Middleton, and Tom Holland.

If you like movies based on historical fact, or if you simply want a new perspective on Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, I highly recommend The Current War.

HBO, Watchmen, and the Tulsa Massacre

Watchmen is an HBO original series based on a highly regarded graphic novel. It depicts an alternate world where super heroes are real, but most of them are psychologically damaged and ill-prepared to wield the power they utilize.

The HBO series picks up thirty years after the graphic novel ends, which I thought was a clever direction to take.

The first episode begins in the 1920s with an awful, awful race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where black American citizens are being killed indiscriminately by their white neighbors. It is violent, heartbreaking, and potent.

I’m ashamed to confess that I thought it was a plot point for the alternate world of Watchmen. However, something about it rang true–it just felt authentic. So I Googled “Tulsa Massacre.”

Imagine my horror.

I’m embarrassed that, as a 42 year old man, I learned about the Tulsa Massacre from a TV show. I don’t ever remember hearing a word about it before that moment. I don’t remember seeing anything about it on TV, in books, in school–nothing. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. Or, perhaps it was overlooked by modern society.

I have to wonder what else I don’t know about. What else hasn’t made it into the history books? What else hasn’t been allowed to remain at the forefront? Have we been uninformed or misinformed about anything else?

Of course we have.

And, obviously, I could work a lot harder at trying to learn about these forgotten events.

During this weekend, HBO is allowing you to view the entire Watchmen series for free. It delves deeply into issues of race, police brutality, and the legacy of hatred. It also exists well within the realm of science fiction, though, so be prepared for that aspect of it, too. I personally love it when genres intersect; I found the series enthralling.

You can start viewing it here: https://www.hbo.com/watchmen. (Remember, it’s only free this weekend.)

You can also learn more about the Tulsa Massacre at this link that HBO provides on the Watchmen page: https://www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/hbo-2019/the-massacre-of-black-wall-street/3217/

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