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.

HBO’s His Dark Materials – A Few Thoughts

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My daughter is a voracious reader, and though she’s never read His Dark Materials, I thought she might enjoy the show primarily due to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s participation. (She’s a huge Hamilton fan.)

Of course, because it’s HBO, I decided to watch it with her both in order to spend time together but also to make sure it was appropriate.

Honestly, I’m not sure which of us enjoyed it more!

I’ve also never read His Dark Materials (despite also being a voracious reader), so I really didn’t know what to expect.

His Dark Materials’ actors are among the best of the best with names such as the aforementioned Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Dafne Keen (of Logan fame). There’s also many other actors that are exceptional but not necessarily household names.

The story itself takes place in a fully realized alternate reality. This world they create is much like ours, but just a little bit different. Those differences will become obvious almost immediately. However, this world looks very lived in. It references historical events in passing, has crumbling buildings, ancient books, and aged tombs. In other words, it feels real.

Speaking of real, the CGI in this show is excellent. I won’t spoil much for you, but there are a great deal of animals in this show, and the vast majority of them are CGI. However, there were many instances when I truly couldn’t tell if they were using a real animal. Even the really big animals, the ones that usually look CGI, were nearly seamlessly inserted into the scene. It was amazing to behold–some of the best I’ve seen mixed in with live-action.

Furthermore, every single episode is cinematic in scope. Each installment  looks like a movie. The acting, the locations, the set pieces, the scenery, the costumes, the special effects, and the CGI are of the highest quality.

Besides looking wonderful, though, the plot is what’s really got us engaged. Again, I won’t spoil it, but His Dark Materials seems to be about one thing, but then it adds a very complex addition to the plot, and then it does so yet again! I’ve heard the books making up His Dark Materials are quite controversial to some, and it appears that the show is not shying away from the more challenging material. I’m fascinated to experience these notions alongside my daughter–I’m sure it’s introducing ideas she hasn’t previously considered.

If you’re looking for a show to watch with your children, I recommend His Dark Materials. It is somewhat violent with some difficult moments that probably aren’t suitable for kids under 12, but the older kids will love it, and you will, too.

(One minor spoiler: Lin-Manuel Miranda does not sing, rap, or dance in His Dark Materials.)

 

 

 

 

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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HBO’s The Outsider – A Few Thoughts

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I have heard a lot of rave reviews about The Outsider, so once I caved in and subscribed to HBO Max, I made sure that it was among the first shows that I watched.

Honestly, I don’t want to tell you too much about the plot because it would be a shame to spoil even the slightest aspect of the series. It’s based on a Stephen King book, so that probably informs you quite a bit.

My wife and I watched this show together, and even though it is gruesome, unsettling, and even sometimes scary, we loved it for several reasons.

First of all, the pacing is superb. When each episode is nearly an hour long, ten episode seasons can get lost around the midway point and become a chore to watch. The Outsider did not. Every single episode added to the overall story, moved at a quick clip, and just kept building the suspense moment after moment after moment. It was incredible.

This leads to something else that I appreciated about the series–the writing. There are no wasted scenes in this show. Everything is important. They kept the big picture in mind at all times, which is very, very rare. The dialogue is crisp, the plot is tight–it just doesn’t get much better than The Outsider in terms of execution.

Furthermore, the locations are astounding. For the most part, nothing about the show’s environments are particularly special, which is what makes them incredible. The scenery in this show is real. The Outsider very much takes place in the world most of us see on a daily basis, and that does a great deal in grounding the show and, as a result, making it all the more creepy.

Finally, the acting is simply superb. You’ll recognize some of the talent in The Outsider, but some of the faces will likely be new to you. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is top-notch. From the main players to the small roles, everyone is stellar, which, again, makes The Outsider feel so rooted in reality. Every character in the show feels like a real person.

Be warned, The Outsider is violent, disturbing, and frightening, but it’s also extremely well made and wildly entertaining. I highly recommend it.

The Main Reason I Love HBO’s Game of Thrones

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Game of Thrones since its conclusion.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to pinpoint its most captivating quality.  I love it.  You love it.  Most of the world loves it.  But why?  Is it the characters?  The actors?  The fights?  The special effects?  The plot?  Maybe even the dialogue?

It’s only since I started reading the first book a few days ago that I’ve been able to determine what I actually love best about it.

Of course, it must be said that I love books first and foremost.  TV and movies are wonderful, but literature is where my imagination gets to run wild.  My job is to envision whatever the author puts down on the page.  I have no budgetary limits set upon my special effects.  I have no location concerns or production issues.  I read what the author wrote, and then my imagination is off to the races.

However, in some cases, such as with Game of Thrones, the author is writing details about a reality so foreign, so extraordinary, that my imagination has no context from which to draw upon in order to formulate an image.  Yes, I can generally come up with something, but nothing that does the text justice.  Sure, I know what a wolf is, but is that the same as a dire wolf?  (Turns out … yup, it pretty much is the same.)

The creatives behind the Game of Thrones program have to show us these details, though, and so they must work out the nuances of clothing, castles, armor, weaponry, magical creatures–even chambers and cutlery!  They must take into account the climate of the various settings and depict an environment suitable to the source material.  They have to actually work out the cadence of languages and the visual practices of religions.

Game of Thrones has essentially created an alternate reality for us to behold.  They don’t just give us a single castle, or a lone homestead, they grant us an entire world.  And though the scope of the show constricted quite a bit during the last two seasons, we were previously offered a planetary civilization made up of unique elements specific to the culture and customs of its local inhabitants.

In this rare case, the show outperformed my own imagination in such a way that I felt as though I embarked upon a new realm, and I love that about it.

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Here Are Eleven General Items That I Hope Happen During the Final Game Of Thrones Episode

Be warned, spoilers abound …

I know this final season of Game Of Thrones has been controversial to some, but I’ve been perfectly happy with it thus far.  I will ultimately reserve my final judgement until the last episode’s conclusion, which I think is only fair.  If anything, this concluding season has been one giant episode rather than a series of installments.  I will wait and assess it as a whole.

However, there are a eleven items that I hope will be addressed tomorrow night.  I won’t be so bold as to suggest specifics, but, generally speaking, here they are, in no particular order …

  • Daenerys actually rules from the Iron Throne
  • Sansa claims Winterfell as an independent kingdom, which she rules
  •  Jon Snow’s resurrection is given ample explanation
  • Ghost and Nymeria return with a pack of direwolves to protect Winterfell from dragons–yes, dragons
  • Jamie and Cersie survive, but must live in squalor and anonymity
  • Bran becomes the Night King, but alters the Night King’s course
  • Arya and Brienne wander the world, committing acts of heroism wherever needed
  • Jon Snow returns to the Free Folk and lives among them
  • Drogon survives and gives birth to more dragons
  • Magic significantly reveals itself again in the Lord of Light, Children Of the Forest, Three-Eyed Ravens, Wargs, Shadows, etc.
  • Tyrion dies a good death

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Bill Maher Is Mostly Wrong, But He’s Also a Little Bit Right

I read an article over at ScreenRant describing an editorial by Bill Maher basically taking comic book fans to task.  More specifically, taking adult comic book fans to task.

This seems to be a complicated story.  It appears to have started when Bill Maher wrote a blog post called “Adulting.”  In it, he basically reacts to the huge outpouring of sadness related to Stan Lee’s death and claims that comic book fans need to grow up and leave childish things behind.

He then used his HBO show, Real Time, to try to clarify his remarks.  ScreenRant, via ComicBook.com, posted a transcription of what he said.

“Tonight’s editorial is about Stan Lee who, if you missed it, died in November. And a few days later, I posted a blog that in no way was an attack on Mr. Lee, but took the occasion of his death to express my dismay at people who think comic books are literature and superhero movies are great cinema and who, in general, are stuck in an everlasting childhood. Bragging that you’re all about the Marvel Universe is like boasting your mother still pins your mittens to your sleeves.

“You can, if you want, like the exact same things you liked when you were ten but if you do, you need to grow up. That was the point of my blog. I’m not glad Stan Lee is dead, I’m sad you’re alive. […]

“Director Kevin Smith accused me of ‘taking a shot when no shots are f**kin’ necessary,’ except again my shot wasn’t at Stan Lee. It was at, you know, grown men who still dress like kids.

“Can we stop pretending that the writing in comic books is so good? Oh, please. Every superhero movie is the same thing–a person who doesn’t have powers, gets them, has to figure out how they work, and then has to find a glowy thing.

“I’m sorry, but if you’re an adult playing with superhero dolls, I’m sorry – I mean collectible action figures – why not go all the way and drive to work on a Big Wheel?”

So, here’s the thing.  Bill Maher is mostly wrong–yes.  Without a doubt.  But … he’s also a little right.

He’s wrong in that we all know there are some very strong writers in the comic book industry.  Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and Gail Simone are a few that spring to mind.  These are writers who have transcended their genre and written some comic books that should absolutely be considered “literary”–whatever that means.

He’s also missing out on some great cinema existing within the super hero genre.  After all, Black Panther just got nominated for a “Best Picture” Oscar.  Most consider The Dark Knight an instant-classic.  Not a classic “comic book” movie, but just a classic film–period.

But, let’s be honest, he’s also hit on some valid points.  Most comic books, and most comic book movies, are pretty easy to predict.  Most of them do follow a prescribed formula.  And many adults do take both comic books and comic book movies far too seriously.

The nature of the corporate-owned recurring comic book character absolutely necessitates the repetition of stories.  Think about this–Superman has been published monthly since 1938.  Batman has appeared every month since 1939.  It is impossible not to revisit similar plot lines every decade or so, especially when considering that these are not finite stories.  No matter what happens, these characters will be back in just thirty days.  It’s hard to get too original when working within these editorial confines.  They can’t really do anything too drastic to Superman for too long.  Same goes for Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc.  If you’re a DC fan, how many “crises” have there been now?  If you’re a Marvel fan, how often has there been “an age of …” or “no more mutants?”

Consequently, Bill Maher hit on something that’s been particularly troubling me of late.  Because so many adults do still read comic books, the comic book industry really isn’t aimed at children anymore.  It’s aimed at, well, grown-ups.  As a result, the plots get lazier and lazier.

Let me explain.

Because most people my age have read virtually every kind of comic book story out there, the industry feels the need to “shock” us time and again by killing off major characters.  First of all, no one believes Wolverine or Superman or even Jason Todd is ever really “dead.”  I just read a headline the other day that they killed off Dr. Leslie Thompkins.  This is a kind woman who helped take care of young Bruce Wayne after his parents’ murder.  She appears only sporadically in the DC Universe, but, because she’d never been killed before, they decided to “shock” the audience by calling her number.  There’s an entire comic book series going on right now called Heroes In Crisis whose entire premise is that heroes were murdered while seeking emotional support at a sanctuary.  Yes, you read that right.  I’m sorry, but comic books deserve every criticism they get when killing off characters seems to be the best the writers can come up with.

However, Bill Maher is missing something vital about super heroes.  These comic book characters are undeniably derivatives of gods and demigods from centuries’ old myths and religions.  We are intrinsically drawn to these characters.  At this point in human history, their archetypes are sewn into our collective subconscious.  They represent our hopes and our dreams, our aspirations to conquer fear and the unknown.

With that being said, I do think it’s important that adults keep these characters in perspective, though.  Let the children have these characters.  Let them inspire the young as they did most of the adults who still love them.  If there’s any bone I have to pick with my generation, it’s that we are unwilling to relinquish the things we loved as children.  We want Star Wars our way.  We want Ghostbusters our way.  We want She-Ra our way.  We want comic books our way.  We need to be wiling to stand back and let these things evolve in such a manner as to appeal to today’s youth.  We can enjoy these characters as they change for our children, and we can appreciate that they are not suffering arrested development.  Of course, that would require that the adults are unwilling to suffer arrested development as well.

So, as you can see, Bill Maher had it mostly wrong, but he was also a little bit right.  While I agree with him that adults need to lighten up when it comes to these characters and leave them primarily to the children, I think it’s vital that we don’t dismiss the incredible impact they have had on society and continue to have.  Like any book or movie, the extraordinary should not be suppressed merely because of its genre.

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Big Little Lies – A Satisfying Experince

Like all of you, my wife and I heard great things about this seven-episode HBO series.  At under an hour apiece, we figured we’d give it a try.

Guess what?  The rave reviews are accurate – this is an incredibly satisfying experience.

I’l describe the plot without spoiling any important revelations.  Madeline and Celeste, respectively played by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, are best friends in a very affluent town who befriend a younger mom named Jane, played by Shailene Woodley.  Jane is apparently a single mom and new to the community.  The three woman have children the same age who attend the first grade of the local school.  On the first day of school, Jane’s child is accused of abusing a classmate, but the child proclaims innocence.  Laura Dern plays the bullied child’s mother, Renata, and she is out for blood.  Battle lines are drawn between the parents of the children and tensions are running high.  It’s then revealed that, weeks later, a murder has occurred during a fundraiser on school property, one that obviously involved parents.  The only question throughout the series remains … who was killed?  … And who did the killing?

Of course, there are many subplots to the show as well.  Nicole Kidman is trying to navigate a viciously abusive relationship with her husband; Reese Witherspoon must somehow share her oldest daughter with her ex and his second–seemingly perfect–wife played by Zoe Kravitz.  Shailene Woodley is trying to keep her sanity as her child is vilified and she strives to reconcile her own tumultuous past.

The show somehow manages to balance several elements that normally shouldn’t fit together at all.  It is darkly funny, but it’s also incredibly tense.  At times the childish behaviors of the grownups will make you cringe, but they will also touch your heart as you watch their emotions get flayed.  The abuse Nicole Kidman suffers will shock you, disgust you, and make you angry.  Yet, throughout the entire series, the mystery remains as to who got killed, and who is the murderer?  As you probably guessed, the show gives everyone a motive to kill, and everyone has also upset someone else enough to kill them.

The real magic of Big Little Lies is the editing, though.  They edited each episode brilliantly in that they keep that mystery thriving, they give you just enough information to keep you guessing without giving it all away, and they offer little snippet after little snippet to keep you coming back for more.  Furthermore, while the big mystery is obviously the grand finale, each character also has minor mysteries that are built upon and revealed little by little, which proved very satisfying as well.

That’s how I would describe Big Little Lies — satisfying.  From start to finish, each episode left me riveted.  And when the events of the murder are finally revealed?  I couldn’t have asked for a better depiction of the moment.  The set up, execution, and resolution were perfect.

I highly recommend you watch this show if you haven’t yet.  My wife and I both loved it.

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 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

My New Favorite TV Shows

Note: Originally Posted 10-18-06

If you know me personally, you already know I’m perpetually behind the curve when it comes to all things, “cool” in the world of television and music.  Because I don’t have time to write a twenty-page entry, we’ll focus on TV today. Take LOST for instance.  It was well into its second season before I got hooked.  Same thing with Arrested Development

Well, keeping with my trend, I’ve recently discovered two new shows that I LOVE (new to me, that is).

The first is the HBO original series, Rome.  I love Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, so this one is right up my alley.  My wife is a big history nut, so it fits nicely into her tastes as well.  The show highlights Caesar’s rise to power while focusing on all the power players of the time period as well as the daily lives of two Roman soldiers.  It truly is a fascinating show as it gives us glimpses into what history may have been and the drama of lives purely imagined.  As you may have heard, the costumes are incredible, the acting is very well done, and each episode feels like a mini-movie, which makes sense on a network called Home Box Office.  My wife and I were stunned at the level of nudity and sex in the first two episodes (even for HBO, it was very graphic), but that quickly tapered off and the meat of the storyline got rolling with episodes three through five.  I personally think that they included all the sex and full frontal for the causal viewer who couldn’t care less about Caesar or Rome in order to get them hooked on the actual story as it took place between sex scenes.  We haven’t finished the entire season yet on DVD so I can’t comment on how it ends.  I don’t believe the second season has started yet.  It will be interesting to see if they merely take it up to Caesar’s assassination (don’t tell me I spoiled it for you, you’ve been in World History), or if they will take it all the way through the aftermath of his murder as did Shakespeare.

My other new favorite show that I’m way behind the curve on is Entourage.  It’s just plain funny.  There’s no other way to say it.  The characters are completely hilarious and charismatic.  The show has that something that makes it hard to resist.  If you’re not familiar with it, it is also a show on HBO that follows a young up-and-coming actor in Hollywood with his two friends and older brother.  One of his friends is the responsible pseudo-manager, the other friend is the wanna-be ladies man gopher, and the older brother (my favorite character) is a washed-up actor living vicariously through his younger brother and picking up any scrap parts he can manage.  The young actor’s agent is completely a scum sucking jerk and side-splittingly funny.  I’ll admit it, this show is kind of a guilty pleasure.  If you give it a shot, beware.  The F-Bombs drop like they’re going out of style. 

So there you go.  My new favorite shows.  I’m well on my way to becoming a TV junkie.  Crap.