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.

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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.

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I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid – A Book Review

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I heard Netflix planned to make this novel into a movie, so I thought I’d give it a read first. Interestingly enough, I reviewed another book by Iain Reid, Foe, exactly one year ago today.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is Reid’s debut novel. It’s written from the perspective of a young woman who is visiting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Most of the book is spent with them conversing in a car as they travel to the boyfriend’s childhood home far into the countryside. The narrator tells us that Jake is incredibly intelligent and generally a nice guy, but she’s thinking of ending things with him. They eventually reach the parents, things become very strange, and then the plot quickens to a frantic pace.

I can’t pretend that I particularly enjoyed this book. It is primarily dialogue and internal monologue, with lots of philosophizing. I found it very slow in the beginning, and while the book ends with quite a bit of suspense, the conclusion dissatisfied.

It’s difficult for me to critically discuss this book without spoiling some major revelations, so I’ll simply have to say that I never found the premise all that engaging, the big twist fell flat for me, and I generally found it far too in love with its own dialogue.

Obviously, I’m in the minority. Netflix and Charlie Kaufman found it worthy of their time, though Kaufman’s interest in the book shouldn’t be surprising considering his other work.

I’m afraid I don’t recommend you read I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, but I found Foe quite interesting if you’d like to give Reid a try.

The Umbrella Academy: Season 2 – A Few Thoughts

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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.

The Old Guard – A Movie Review

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Netflix’s The Old Guard is a movie about four immortals who use swords and guns to do good deeds in the modern world. A young pharmacy tycoon wants to harness their genes in order to make another fortune just as a fifth immortal arises. There is lots of shooting, lots of cliches, and the obligatory story seed planted for the sequel. That’s about it.

Charlize Theron is inequitably too good for this movie. If you want to see her actually acting in a great action movie, try Atomic Blonde or Fury Road. Every line she had in The Old Guard has been uttered at least once in some other action movie at some other point in time. Even she seemed bored by her character.

Chiwetel Ejiofor was also too good for this movie. Unlike Theron, he actually gave it a solid shot and added some dimension to his character, but even he couldn’t get The Old Guard off the ground.

Otherwise, there is no good reason to watch this film. It’s too long, too contrived, too cliched, too obvious, and the dialogue is too lazy.

I cannot recommend The Old Guard.

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.

 

Netflix’s Bright – A Movie Review

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I’ve been meaning to watch Bright since 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. For some reason, I started it last night at around 11:00 p.m. and thought I’d watch for an hour or so before going to bed. Before I knew it, the movie was over and it was 1:00 in the morning!

That probably tells you all you need to know.

Though I wanted to see it, I always hesitated to watch Bright because of the strange premise–I just didn’t see how it could work. If you’re not familiar with the concept, imagine that Lord Of the Rings happened 2,000 years ago on Earth. Bright is the modern day consequence of that.

Bright is mostly grounded in the world as we know it. It is gritty, dirty, and sweaty with everyone struggling to pay their bills and earn their pensions. However, it’s slightly different in that orcs, centaurs, fairies, elves, and even an occasional dragon also occupy this reality.

Will Smith’s character, a cop named Ward, has been forced to partner with his precinct’s first orc officer, Nick, played by Joel Edgerton. As you can see in the picture above, orcs are not very pleasant to look at. However, Nick only wants to please Ward and is actually quite unwillingly funny. Smith and Edgerton have great chemistry with each other in what is essentially a cop movie. In fact, though Smith is playing a character with some pretty rough edges, that old Will Smith charm is in full effect and proved delightful to behold.

Though Ward and Nick don’t get along all that particularly well, when an elf fleeing for her life crosses their paths wielding an incredibly rare magic wand, Ward realizes they have to hide both she and the wand or chaos will erupt. Nothing in Bright’s world is more coveted than a magic wand for it can fix any problem ailing someone’s life. That’s when the movie really picks up. Everyone wants that wand. The cops want the wand; the gangsters want the wand; humans want the wand; orcs want the wand; the wand’s owner wants the wand back.

Bright is essentially an action movie with touches of fantasy. That fantasy, though, operates within the confines of the real world, not vice versa, and it is a world fully realized. This world looks lived in, aged, even historical. You will believe all of these different lifeforms have been uneasily living among each other for centuries.

It all sounds so ridiculous as I write about it, and it should not have worked, but it did. Bright was a really interesting, fast-paced movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do.

 

Da 5 Bloods – A Movie Review

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With Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee has delivered a film full of incredible performances and stunning visuals, but also a film that is inconsistent.

Da 5 Bloods is a Netflix original movie. Netflix is an attractive collaborator for creators because they reportedly exert very little resistance. Spike Lee, Damien Chazelle, Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh, and Alfonso Cuarón are all noteworthy directors who have opted to throw in with Netflix. Such creative freedom, though, can sometimes lead to overabundance.

At just over two and a half hours, Da 5 Bloods is simply too long for the story it chooses to depict. The plot centers around four black Vietnam veterans who have returned to Vietnam in order to locate their squad leader’s body, which they had to leave behind decades before … and also to find dozens of gold bars they hid in the wilderness.

If the film had centered on either one of those two things, it would have been far stronger. As it stands, however, it tries to do both, which results in tone shifts that are jarring to the viewer. The portions relating to their felled leader are poignant, insightful, and evocative. The parts pertaining to the lost treasure are cliched, forced, and borderline absurd.

Even so, there are some amazing performances in Da 5 Bloods. Delroy Lindo deserves nothing less than a “Best Actor” Oscar for his work. He offers a very real, very conflicted human being that we both love and hate. His trauma from Vietnam is heartbreaking. Watching Lindo act makes the film worth your time. He is mesmerizing.

Furthermore, Chadwick Boseman yet again lights up the screen. Frankly speaking, other than Delroy Lindo, no one can keep up with Boseman in Da 5 Bloods. He shines during his scenes in a way that simply overpowers everyone else. Boseman is a gifted movie star, through and through.

Jonathan Majors plays David, the son of Delroy Lindo’s character. I’m not familiar with Majors, but he also won me over. Lee keeps David a bit of an enigma in the beginning of the film–we aren’t quite sure what to think of him. Majors plays the part perfectly as David is the only character that actually shows real change throughout the duration of the movie.

That being said, I liked the other three men played by Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr., just as I was supposed to like them. If I’m being honest, though, the writers didn’t give them much to do or say beyond their initial introduction. Those three men seem to essentially repeat the same lines throughout the entire film. Which leads me to my next issue …

Da 5 Bloods’ writing is erratic. I found the dialogue overly repetitive and one-dimensional which, in my opinion, gave the actors less to work with. Lee likes to sprinkle in some history throughout the film, which I enjoyed and learned from, but as the characters talk about this history it seems very wooden and pedantic–not natural to the characters at all. Though the actors are not stiff, their dialogue is.

Also, there were some outlandish coincidences in Da 5 Bloods, coincidences that, at times, stupefied me. I won’t spoil anything, but there are at least three unbelievable moments that are, shall we say, verging upon ridiculous.

Finally, as touched upon earlier, Da 5 Bloods’ tone is literally all over the place. The film starts out as a buddy story with old veterans reconnecting. (There’s a scene where they actually strut dance in a Vietnamese nightclub.) Then they go on a fun-loving treasure hunt. Then they haphazardly search for their dead friend’s body. Then things get very, very violent.

There is no doubt that Spike Lee is a brilliant filmmaker and a tremendously relevant voice. His timing with this movie is both cosmically coincidental and monumentally important. As a nation, we need to remember that black soldiers and freedom fighters have been guaranteeing our country’s ideology since the very beginning even as their own personal rights were being trampled upon. Lee also successfully portrays the PTSD not just of soldiers in general, but even more specifically of African Americans who served in the military.

I truthfully wanted to love Da 5 Bloods. I entered the movie without a shred of objectivity–I was fully prepared to write a rave review, especially because critics seem to adore it. But it would be a disservice to Spike Lee himself if I denied my criticisms. It’s still a very watchable film, however, with extremely important messages. And, like I said, Delroy Lindo’s performance alone is well worth your time.

Netflix’s The Eddy – A Few Thoughts

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Though I was skeptical at first, the name Damien Chazelle initially drew me to The Eddy. You may know him from movies he directed like La La Land and First Man, which are two films I very much enjoyed.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show’s premise, it features Elliot Udo, a formerly famous American jazz musician. Udo has taken refuge in Paris and opened a club called The Eddy with this best friend, Farid. Though he doesn’t play music anymore, Udo manages The Eddy’s house band as Farid oversees the club’s operations. Before long, Udo’s estranged sixteen-year-old American daughter comes to live him him. Soon after that, Farid is murdered on the street right outside The Eddy. Keep in mind, this is just the first episode. From there on things get very complicated on many fronts very quickly.

The Eddy is grimy, claustrophobic, and mostly spoken in French. Again, these are not aspects I typically find appealing.

However, the show does many things so well, so perfectly, that I couldn’t help getting hooked on it.

First of all, the characters are captivating. All of them are fallible. Many of them make mistake after mistake, yet, because they are so realistically depicted and utterly likable, we become mesmerized by them.

In fact, the word “realistic” is a great way to describe The Eddy. They show you the real side of Paris–not the tourist areas. They show you just how difficult relationships between children and parents can get. They show you what real Parisians look like. they show you the conflict that can arise among creative people who both love and hate each other. Furthermore, it looks like the actors are really playing their instruments! That detail truly increases the level of authenticity. Sure, The Eddy has some far-fetched moments, but, overall, you’ll feel like you know these people on a personal level. You become invested in them.

Also, the pacing is perfect. As you probably guessed, there are three major plots occurring. The first revolves around Udo’s contentious relationship with his daughter. The second involves Farid’s murder. The third centers on Udo trying to break out his band. Of course, several other plot points arise, and each of them converge into one of the overarching three by the season’s finale. It’s excellent story telling unfolding at a gripping rate.

Finally, the music. Oh, my–the music. I’m not even a jazz fan, but the music truly won me over. It’s fantastic.

By the way, I feel embarrassed that I had no idea who André Holland was before watching The Eddy. Holland made me believe there’s actually a guy named Elliot Udo living over in Paris. He made Udo into a living, breathing, stubborn, charming, infuriating man that I would very much like to be friends with. If you search Holland at IMDB, he’s had a wonderful career in some high profile works. My failure to appreciate him until this point is my own error.

Even if jazz, Paris, and the French language are not your thing, I hope you’ll give The Eddy on Netflix a try. I wasn’t particularly interested in any of those things, either, yet the show easily won me over.

Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe – A Movie Review

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Maybe you’re like me and you intended to watch Always Be My Maybe with your significant other but you just never got around to it. I’m guessing that–also like me–you’ve found yourself with some extra time and are in search of viewing pleasure. My wife and I watched Always Be My Maybe the other night and we both loved it.

The premise is simple in nature. Sasha and Marcus were childhood friends who spent every moment together because Sasha’s parents were never home–they ran a restaurant. Marcus and his parents, Sasha’s neighbors, pretty much made her a member of their family.

Eventually, during Marcus’ senior year, they drifted apart–the kind of apart where you don’t speak, see each other on Facebook, nothing.

Then, around twenty years later–bam! Fate brings them back together. What happens from there on you’ll just have to see for yourself.

As far as romantic comedies go, this is right up my alley. It’s got some touching moments, but, for the most part, this is very smartly written dumb comedy that comes at you a mile a minute.

Ali Wong and Randall Park have insane chemistry. You will immediately fall in love with both of them. When you see them separately in movies they always shine. But when you put them together it’s a whole new level of likability.

In fact, I challenge you to find any character in this movie who isn’t likable. Even Daniel Dae Kim, who sort of plays a jerk, is likable. Of course, there’s the special surprise cameo … I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but it was hilarious.

For a romantic comedy, the story really held up well. It actually made sense, seemed to have a target, and unfolded fairly naturally. Sometimes comedies are just a series of gags–not so with Always Be My Maybe. Everything had a purpose.

If you’re looking for something light and funny to watch as a couple, I cannot recommend Always Be My Maybe highly enough. It kept us laughing and entertained throughout.