The Mandalorian – A Few Thoughts

This is probably my favorite show of all time, so there is no excuse for just now writing about it months after it debuted.

By the way, yes, I’m a Star Wars fanatic. And, no, I’m not capable of being objective when it comes to Star Wars.

However, even with that being said, this is still a phenomenal show for the following reasons.

First of all–it’s got heart. You can tell that the creators of this show wanted it to be great. It looks great. The acting is great. The costumes are great. The story is great. The action is great. They are trying very, very hard to make a great experience for the viewer, and it shows in every way.

Secondly–they nailed the characters. The Mandalorian himself is incredible. We virtually never see his face, yet we care about him. We care about his beliefs, his motives, and his well-being. Obviously, a young character appears that depends on The Mandalorian for safety, and this is partially why we care so much about The Mandalorian himself. A bond forms between this other character and The Mandalorian, almost like that of a father and child, which causes us to see The Mandalorian in a completely different light. This child, by the way, is the element that will capture the hearts of even those who don’t count themselves among the Star Wars faithful. I know this because I saw it happen on several different occasions with people who couldn’t care less about Star Wars or science fiction in general.

Thirdly–this feels like a Star Wars story. Sure, you can absolutely watch it without knowing anything. It stands on its own as a self-contained series. However, if you know Star Wars, it feels like it belongs to the original trilogy from the Seventies and Eighties–it’s got that kind of magic.

Finally–if you are among the enlightened and enjoy Star Wars in all its forms, you will revel in the tiny references, the brief cameos, and the clever in-jokes.

Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not, this series appeals to everyone. As we’re all stuck at home due to the outbreak, I would put this at the top of your “must-watch” list.

themandalorian

Amazon’s The Boys – A Few Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to write about this crazy show for a long, long time because I actually watched it last summer. However, it says something that even after all of these months, it still stands out as one of the best series I’ve seen in quite a while.

Based on a comic book, The Boys is about a group of normal men who have decided to take revenge against a team of super heroes. However, these super heroes are anything but altruistic. In fact, most of them are scarier than any villain you could imagine.

Super hero stories are no longer unique on the screen, but The Boys is absolutely original in that there are no “good guys” in this story–not really. Everyone is selfish, or brutal, or willingly ignorant, or–worst of all–apathetic. And while that certainly sounds like a bummer, the show manages to infuse a grotesque sense of humor. Despite all of its savagery, The Boys is a captivating watch.

In fact, Amazon Studios seemed to spare no expense with The Boys. The special effects are top-notch, the actors–especially Karl Urban–are excellent, the story is very well conceived and executed, and the characters never fail to surprise you.

However, as good as Karl Urban is, it’s Antony Starr who steals the show. He plays Homelander, a twisted amalgam of Superman and Captain America. I’ve never heard of Antony Starr before The Boys, but his Homelander absolutely terrified me. Every time that character appeared on screen, I got nervous. You’ll have to watch the show to see what I’m talking about.

Yes, The Boys subverts the genre in a way that feels fresh, but it’s the wicked humor, the interesting characters, and the relentlessly violent story that won’t let you look away. Even after all these months, I’m still thinking about it. Season Two is on the way, so now would be a great time to catch up.

Be warned, though, this is not a show for children. The violence is shocking. Believe it or not, they actually had to tone the show down. Supposedly the comic book is even more hardcore.

theboysshowposter

Netflix’s Dracula – A Few Thoughts

I watched this show on Netflix in early January when it debuted. It had two things going for it that definitely got my attention.

First of all, it looked to be dealing with the real Dracula–Bram Stoker’s Dracula–my Dracula. Secondly, it was created and written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the talented creators behind my favorite versions of Doctor Who and Sherlock.

The show had some good buzz. Critics were saying the first episode was genuinely scary, and it was! It had some quirky, funny moments, to be sure, but that first episode absolutely dabbled in the horrific and grotesque.

Somewhere throughout the three episode series, though, it became … campy? I still got a kick out of it, but it felt less scary and more wacky. There were some clever twists and turns, but the end of the series didn’t leave me particularly impressed.

Probably its greatest assets were the lead actors–Claes Bang and Dolly Wells. Bang plays Dracula and Wells plays Sister Agatha, as well as [REDACTED]. These two had incredible chemistry together and were a lot of fun to watch.

I can’t say I’m excited for a second season of this particular Dracula adaptation. I’m not sure I would watch it, honestly.

netflixdracula

Netflix’s Locke & Key – A Few Thoughts

I’m a big fan of IDW’s series entitled Locke & Key. Written by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), this title was a little bit horror, a little bit fantasy, a little bit family saga, and a whole lot of charm. Besides the captivating writing, it also benefited from a nice blend of the cartoonish and the Gothic from artist Gabriel Rodriguez.

When I heard Netflix planned to make a series out of it, I got very excited. After a few starts and stops in production, it finally got made.

I actually watched this series after it released several weeks ago. I’ve had some time to think it over and … it’s not great.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it–I did. But I’m also a fan, you see. I’m not completely objective about Locke & Key. While I thought it looked great and had nice pacing, it just failed to capture the magic of the comic series.

This is primarily because of the actors. The acting just never quite clicked for me. I didn’t ever enter that space where I forgot that I watched people acting. They didn’t become the characters, and that’s a problem with a story like this.

Also, the show didn’t commit to its actual identity. It frankly tried to play too nicely. I think it hoped to capture the Stranger Things crowd, but Locke & Key is not Stranger Things. It’s far more violent, graphic, and intense. The themes are more mature, and the consequences more severe. I love Stranger Things, but they shouldn’t operate on the same frequency. As it stands, Locke & Key came off more like a bland imitation, which is a real shame.

Of course, I want you to watch Locke & Key because I want more of it on Netflix. It’s not too late to course correct. Like I said, it looked beautiful, and they moved along at just the right speed. They just need to get comfortable in their own skin and maybe bring in an acting coach.

Locke_&_Key_secrets_poster

Are You an Average American? You Should Read Andrew Yang’s The War On Normal People – A Book Review

waronnormalpeople

If you’re anything like me, when you first heard Andrew Yang’s idea to give every American citizen $1,000 a month, you probably scoffed. In fact, I’m so cynical that I bypassed any kind of reactionary positive response at all. My immediate thought was, “Where’s this money going to come from?”

However, after hearing Yang on the radio, I grew interested. He sounded intelligent, informed, involved, and interconnected with the general American society. I wanted to know more, so I picked up his 2018 book The War On Normal People.

To say this book altered my outlook regarding American’s future is an understatement. It served as a wake-up call, to be sure. The next five to ten years are not going to be kind to the average American. Automation and AI are going to severely transform the labor industry. Those without college educations are likely to suffer the most. The average American does not have a college education–this is, statistically speaking, normal.

Yang spends two-thirds of the book detailing the struggles of the current normal American. He uses legitimate statistics to make his point about how little money the average American actually has, how volatile the average American’s job is (such as retail, customer service, transportation, administrative support, and food service), and how much financial aid our country already provides. The truth is, the first part of this book literally kept me up at night. It’s horrifying.

The last third of the book is, as you would expect, a pitch for the presidency. However, he’s not wrong about anything he says in the first part of the book. Whether we like it or not, AI and automation are going to change everything. If you’re in the factory industry, it already has.

During his bid for office, though, he actually does make a compelling argument in regards to what he calls a Universal Basic Income. (That’s the $1,000 a month idea.) He makes a point to mention that Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Nixon, Stephen Hawking, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bernie Sanders have all entertained a variation of the idea. He breaks down how it could work, how it could help the average American, and how it could stimulate local economies.

The fact is, to me, Andrew Yang seems the most invested in society of any of the current presidential runners. He understands the real America. He’s been to our decaying cities. He’s talked with the hopeless, the forlorn, and the disenfranchised. He understands our need to work, our need to provide, and our need to feel useful.

Furthermore, he has two young children himself. (One of those children happens to be autistic.) He’s married. He’s a first generation American. He’s only 45 years old. This is a man who cares deeply about America, his family, your family, and the economical conditions in which those families will live.

I’m not saying you have to vote for Andrew Yang, but I think you should at least read his book. It will probably hit closer to home than you ever expected. It did for me.

 

 

Carnival Row – A Review

Carnival Row is a series now available to stream on Amazon. It’s a fascinating concept that, for the most part, kept me totally enthralled.

The idea is that a major city known as the Burgue has taken in war refugees from ravaged lands that are home to such fanciful creatures as fairies, centaurs, and fauns. However, the humans in the Burgue don’t accept these creatures in need and will only tolerate them as servants, laborers, or prostitutes. Furthermore, they must know their place and live on Carnival Row, away from civilized society.

Sensing a real-world correlation?

Orlando Bloom plays a police investigator trying to solve a series of grisly murders. Cara Delevinge plays a fairy newly arrived in the Burgue. Their paths cross, and we soon learn that they have a complicated past with one another.

Carnival Row explores their mutual history, but it also ventures deeply into political intrigue, social justice, interpersonal complexities, and, at its heart, the mysterious murders.

The show looks beautiful. Each episode feels like a miniature movie, and the site of fauns and fairies mixed in with humans did not strike me as jarring at all. In fact, for the most part, the practical effects and make-up are seamless. There are moments of CGI that I would say look very good overall–much like you would see in a film. However, when the CGI is bad, it’s very bad. For example, I don’t think they ever really depicted the fairies in flight all that well.

Everything in the Burgue is grimy, time-worn, and appears to have existed for centuries. In other words, this world feels fully realized. Perhaps too realized, in fact. There are small, passing comments that makes the viewer understand that this world has so much more to offer than just what is being shown. This is brilliant in regards to guaranteeing the show’s longevity, but frustrating to those of us who want to know everything about the world this very instant.

For example, they have churches and effigies devoted to “The Martyr.” This is a figure who looks an awfully lot like Jesus Christ. However, instead of hanging from a cross, The Martyr is depicted as being hung by the neck with his hands bound. This religious icon is not explained at all. It’s just there to whet our appetite for more story.

As you can see, with Carnival Row, you are quite literally coming in right in the middle of things, and you can’t trust your own conception of reality to inform your interpretation of this world.

Shall we talk about the acting? Orlando Bloom is wonderful. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’ve ever liked him as much as I do in Carnival Row. His character is the strong, silent type, yet Bloom conveys quite a bit of emotion through his eyes. I found myself very much invested in his surprisingly complicated backstory.

Cara Delevinge, unfortunately, did not quite win me over so handily. Starring opposite Bloom, Delevinge plays her character rather flatly. I did not connect with her whatsoever. To be fair, I found her character underwritten. Her character is certainly strong and capable, but just not that interesting. We’ll see if that changes over time.

Thankfully, many of the supporting actors are fantastic. Tamzin Merchant’s initially unlikable Imogen is quite an evolution to behold. David Gyasi simmers with restraint yet steals every scene even as he has horns glued to his head.  Karla Crome’s charisma leaps off the screen what few scenes she’s in. Honestly, I could go on and on. These may not be famous names, but these are extremely talented actors.

Be warned, Carnival Row is  little bit of a slow burn. I particularly groaned at a bad special effect in the first ten minutes and almost turned it off, but it got better and better and better with each episode. In all seriousness, the final episode had me on the edge of my seat.

Interestingly enough, Carnival Row also seems to be saying something. Though it takes place in an gritty, alternate reality, I think you’ll find many of its themes both timely and resonant.

As you can probably tell, I recommend you give Carnival Row a try.  Let me know what you think of it.

CRNY_S1_00805_PR_1920x1080_RFINRY_Disapproving_02

Enjoy the review? Visit my short story of the week.

Titans: The Complete First Season – A Review

Have you heard that DC Comics started its own streaming service with original content? It’s true. Their debut show, Titans, has concluded its first season and is now available on DVD and BluRay. (Special thanks to the Normal Public Library for purchasing it after my request to do so.)

I have to tell you, I felt very excited to see this series. I had no idea what the quality of the story would be, the ability of the actors, or the caliber of the production due to the infancy of DC Universe.com. I’ve got good news. Generally speaking, I give Titans high marks for all three.

Before I explore these aspects, though, I want to make it clear that this version of Titans is not for children. Yes, it has Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire, but these are not the iterations of the cartoon series. This is a violent depiction laden with profane language.

With that being said, though the series is very uneven, I enjoyed it. I say it’s uneven because sometimes it’s a horror show, sometimes it’s an action show, sometime’s it’s a science fiction show, and sometimes it’s a drama. It never quite figured out how to be all of those things at once.

However, the production value is very high. I couldn’t believe just how good everything looked. The only moment in the eleven shows that looked “fake” was whenever Beast Boy became a tiger. They tried their best with the CGI tiger, but it never quite looked right. Otherwise, it all looked great. Robin’s costume, Starfire’s powers, the sets, the locations, the stunt work–it all impressed.

I thought the overall story had some issues as well. For the most part, it totally engaged me. Unfortunately, near the end of the season, Raven’s father and mother become a focal point and the show lost a bit of steam there. Up until that point, though, I thought the show made a lot of really smart choices with how it slowly revealed details about each character. There are major differences between what we know about the Titans and what this show chooses to do with them, but their essence essentially remains true to their source material.

For me, the standout story line actually centered on Hawk and Dove. I found them to be the most capable actors with the most captivating arc. I also liked them the best, which is ironic because I’ve always found Hawk and Dove to be uninteresting during my forty years of comic book reading.

I also thought Anna Diop was incredibly charismatic. I won’t argue against the fact that they deviate from established Starfire lore quite a bit, but I feel they really made this character work perfectly for the show’s general tone. Another standout includes Curran Walters, who plays Jason Todd, the second Robin. Walters’ accurately captures Todd’s cockiness and charisma, his spirit and darkness. I loved it when Dick Grayson and Jason Todd shared the scene together, and I love that Titans was brave enough to go that deeply into the Batman canon.

There were two things that did not work for me at all, though. The first is the decision they made regarding Raven’s father. If you know the character at all, you understand that he is the demon Trigon. Trigon is a giant, red, muscular, multi-eyed monster. Titans took the easy way out with him, and it totally deflated the series’ ending as a result. Furthermore, though Batman’s shadow hung over the entire season, the final episode really made it all about Batman. I thought this was a serious misstep after having worked so hard to establish Dick Grayson as a fully realized character disconnected from Batman. Everyone and everything took a backseat to Batman in what should have been an episode that pulled out all the stops for the main players. We can’t be expected to take these characters seriously if the show itself would rather be focusing on Batman.

Nonetheless, I had a great time with Titans. It is extremely violent, bloody, and profane, but it’s also brave, bold, and stylish. I’ve already seen some teasers for season two and I’m very excited. It appears that Superboy, Aqualad, Ravager, and Jericho will be appearing as well. If Titans can simply settle on a consistent tone, it’s got everything it needs to be a hit.

titansseaon1

Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2JUqte2 or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1