The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – A Few Thoughts

I should begin by noting that I am not even close to being a serious gamer. In fact, the last time I consistently sat and played video games was circa 1989.

However, my children have a Nintendo Switch, and, as time passed, I couldn’t help but notice a game for sale called The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. As a kid, The Legend Of Zelda proved one of my all-time favorites. (I had the gold-plated cartridge with my NES.) Honestly, it was one of the only games I ever beat. To this day, I have very fond memories of that game.

My household has been spending a lot more time playing video games during the pandemic because, you know, the pandemic. My interest in Link’s Awakening grew. I watched a few videos showing the gameplay and saw that it really seemed to mirror the original. I decided to take a risk and buy it.

I’m so glad I did. Link’s Awakening was an absolute blast for this middle-aged guy. Because it mirrors The Legend Of Zelda in many ways, it felt very familiar. Of course, the graphics are obviously far better. But the maps, the dungeons, the weapons–much of it hearkens back to the source material. I adored the nostalgia of it all.

However, I got a little impatient with trying to figure things out. Since my subscription to Nintendo Power ran out three decades ago, I thought I’d see what the Internet had to say about getting through certain levels and defeating certain villains. A lot, as it happens. Temptation overtook me and I pretty much used the Internet from that moment forward and blazed through the game. Upon reflection, I wish I hadn’t. It was so much fun, I should have made it last a little longer. In all honesty, though, there were some parts to the game I don’t think I ever would have figured out on my own.

Link’s Awakening is a family friendly, innocent, entertaining game anyone can enjoy. It definitely rekindled a love of video games in this old man’s heart. I’ve heard good things about Breath Of the Wild, but I also hear it’s an immersive experience. I might have to save that one for the summer when I have more time.

WandaVision – My First Impression

The long wait is over and the MCU streaming shows have finally arrived at Disney Plus!

First up? WandaVision.

Personally, the wait was well worth it. I don’t know what I expected from WandaVision, but it certainly exceeded whatever I had in mind.

I’d like to initially say that the show is most delightful because it displays what we’ve all suspected to be true–Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have great chemistry together. We were made to believe that these two were in love during the MCU movies, and while they did their best to convey that storyline, it simply proved too hard to deliver what with all the stones and purple aliens and things blowing up.

But now we get to see them–just them–and they are a ton of fun.

I’m also pleasantly surprised by Elizabeth Olsen. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything other than the Marvel movies. Frankly, they didn’t give her much to work with while playing Wanda Maximoff. She often felt shoehorned in. And though she always had some cool action scenes, I never saw her being much else than angry, sad, or mopey. With WandaVision, we get to see a very full range from Olsen. Her voice, her body language, her eyes–she’s using them all to let us know what Wanda is feeling. Best of all? Olsen’s funny!

The premise of WandaVision … I don’t really know how to explain it nor do I really know much to explain. They are living within the realm of sitcoms. The first two episodes are in black and white with all the sitcom tropes and clichés you experienced during Leave It To Beaver, I Dream Of Jeannie, and I Love Lucy. They’ve got a full cast of delightful characters, especially Kathryn Hahn, and the first two episodes center around Vision’s boss coming to dinner and then a neighborhood talent show.

Yes, you read that right.

Yet, amidst these familiar events, there are moments of real foreboding, discomfort, and even suspense. WandaVision slips into something more like The Twilight Zone, but only for seconds at a time.

For me, the real joy of WandaVision is that I have no idea what’s going on, I have no idea what to expect, and I have no idea where they derived their plot. With most of the MCU movies there is a comic book somewhere out there that laid the groundwork. This feels totally original.

The tone is perfect, the acting is a blast, the story is unpredictable, and the show is just plain fun. I never had any doubts, but if WandaVision is any indication, the MCU has flawlessly transitioned to the small screen. Furthermore, they’ve already proven that they have no fear. These MCU shows will be given room to breathe, and these shows will break the mold previously set by the MCU.

The Midnight Sky – A Movie Review

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Midnight Sky when I saw its title card appear on Netflix. The description and trailer didn’t totally captivate me, but they didn’t repel me, either.

In the end, I watched it because I generally like George Clooney and because I enjoy “realistic” science fiction movies about space travel–recent films like Moon, Interstellar, Arrival, The Martian, and Ad Astra immediately spring to mind.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the year is around 2049, a global catastrophe has occurred, and George Clooney’s character is one of Earth’s last survivors as he manages an observation station in the far north. He has taken it up on himself to try to contact a space crew returning from Jupiter in order to deter them from entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The good news is that I only intended to watch an hour of the movie before going to bed and, instead, I ended up watching the whole thing while staying up far too late. It is an interesting, exciting film that keeps the audience guessing and holds them in a constant state of anticipation.

I also appreciated that it suggested horrible tragedy and violence in many cases without actually showing anything terribly gory.

My primary issue with The Midnight Sky, however, is that I felt as though I’d seen bits and pieces of this movie in several other films. The Road seemed to be a heavy influence, as did those other science fiction movies I already mentioned, especially The Martian. It was made very well, it had great pacing, and it looked good, yet none of it struck me as original. Finally, George Clooney, who has made a career off of his charm, displayed none of that natural charisma. That–coupled with the David Letterman beard–made for a pretty dour character.

The Midnight Sky is fine. It’s not bad–not by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it kept me up an hour more than I intended. It’s a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable science fiction movie. But it’s also not necessarily a unique experience that will make you feel like you’ve seen something new.

Black Beauty (2020) – A Movie Review

Did you know Black Beauty is based on a book written by Anna Sewell and published in 1877? I sure didn’t.

I remember watching a Black Beauty movie as a kid in the early 1980s. Though I don’t remember much about it, I still have fond feelings for it even to this day.

When I discovered that Disney Plus released an adaptation of the title, I couldn’t wait to watch it with my own kids.

I’m very pleased to share with you that I think Black Beauty (2020) is a wonderful family film. It is exciting, pleasing to the eye, emotional, fast-paced, and imparts several important lessons.

I’ll admit that it gets a little sappy from time to time and that it pushes the boundaries of logic when it comes to plot, but, like I said, it’s got a great message and proved entertaining for the whole family.

If you have Disney Plus and would like to watch something as a family, you could do a lot worse than Black Beauty.

Lovecraft Country – A Few Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Third Day – A Few Thoughts

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

It just didn’t work.

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

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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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An American Pickle – A Movie Review

An American Pickle is a strange, disparate comedy, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.

The premise is that an impoverished immigrant comes to America with his new wife, begins working in a pickle factory, and then, after falling into a vat of brine, wakes up 100 years later in modern day Brooklyn. He only has one surviving member of his family left, a great-grandson. By the way, Seth Rogen plays both the immigrant and the great-grandson.

I described An American Pickle as strange and disparate because while there are some laugh-out-loud moments, this movie is oddly quiet and serious at times. It very much centers on the importance of both family and faith. However, it will then switch gears and become absolutely ridiculous. This uneven pacing threw me for loop, but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. The unpredictable nature of the film actually kept me engaged.

Again, An American Pickle has a rather unexpected sense of poignancy. Rogen plays both Herschel Greenbaum and Ben Greenbaum. Herschel is literally a relic of the past. He is bias, violent, crude, and uneducated, yet he is also devoted to family, hardworking, tenacious, and devoutly religious. Ben, on the other hand, is technologically savvy, intelligent, and politically correct, but he’s also disconnected from society, has no real sense of family, and won’t acknowledge his own emotions. I think we recognize certain aspects of ourselves in both these characters–the good and the bad.

There also seems to be quite a bit of social commentary in An American Pickle (but you have to perhaps overanalyze the film in order to recognize it). The insanity of our current political climate, our overabundance on technology, our waning sense of community, our religious indifference, and our tenuous grip on family bonds are all on display in An American Pickle. Of course, the film is not overemphasizing these issues, but they are definitely there if you want to notice them.

I wouldn’t say An American Pickle is among my favorite movies, but I certainly enjoyed it and appreciated the fact that it took a different approach to comedy. If you’re in need of a quick, unusual movie to watch, I recommend you give An American Pickle a try.

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The Kind Worth Killing By Peter Swanson – A Book Review

A friend recommended this book to me after I requested a fast, action-packed read. The Kind Worth Killing did not disappoint.

The story is centered around Ted and Lily, two strangers who meet in an airport bar. During conversation, Ted reveals he’d like to kill his cheating wife, and Lily is more than happy to assist.

From there, things get very complex as their pasts become interwoven with the present. The author, Peter Swanson, also alternates perspectives from Ted to Lily with each chapter. As the book progresses, however, new perspectives enter the fray, which offers fresh insights into the overall story.

Swanson absolutely knows how to write a fast-paced story. The chapters are short, the plot races forward, and the dialogue flows smoothly. The twists and turns were very entertaining, and the book as a whole proved quite fun.

My only complaints are that the characters tended to sound the same to me. The men all seemed to have the same voice, as did the women. Their plots and circumstances set them apart, but their voices did not. None of their personalities were unique.

I also found the very last two pages of the book unnecessary. A revelation occurs that is executed in a manner inconsistent with the rest of the style, and this revelation really serves no purpose other than to suggest a sequel. As it stands, those last two pages usurp an otherwise satisfying ending.

This is a slight grievance, however. Overall, the book thrilled me for several days as I truly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for an exciting mystery or thriller, I recommend The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson.

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