HBO Max’s Doom Patrol: Season 2 – A Few Thoughts

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Doom Patrol is a show based on the DC Comics title. During it’s first season, it aired on DC Universe, a streaming service. However, because HBO and DC both fall under the Warner Brothers umbrella, this second season of Doom Patrol appeared on HBO Max. (Conventional wisdom says DC Universe is going to be folded up and inserted into HBO Max. We’ll see.)

Doom Patrol has been around since 1963. The title has always been comprised of strange misfits that don’t quite work anywhere else in the DC Universe. You won’t find most of these characters in the Justice League, the Teen Titans, or even The Outsiders. They are sometimes a super hero team, sometimes a dysfunctional family, and sometimes just a bunch of people occupying the same space at the same time.

The first season of Doom Patrol proved a success in that it looked great, hit some very offbeat notes, and struck the audience as genuinely unique compared to most “comic book” screen properties. Furthermore, it featured some impressive names such as Brendon Fraser, Diane Guerrero, Matt Bomer, Alan Tudyk, and Timothy Dalton. Like most first seasons, though, it spent a great deal of time simply establishing character and chemistry. Unfortunately, I found myself distracted at some point during most of the episodes as they seemed about twenty minutes too long.

While the second season had some great moments, I’m afraid I can’t say it much improved on the first. The episodes are still too long for the stories, and the characters are still being developed to the point that they don’t seem to interact with each other all that much. The show is called Doom Patrol, after all, yet there are very few moments when they all appear on screen together.

Individually, the characters are all dynamic, visually interesting, and well-acted. But each episode seems to focus on their individuality rather than the “group” aspect of the show. They are a lot of fun when they are all together–I’m not sure why they don’t have them all together more often. They tend to break off into teams of two or three.

There are a few breakout stars of this show. Personally, I find April Bowlby to be the heart and soul of Doom Patrol. She plays an actress from a bygone era who does not age, yet also cannot guarantee that she won’t turn into a pile of goo. Bowlby has great timing, humor, and her voice work never fails to entertain.

I also like Joivan Wade, who plays Cyborg. Why is Cyborg a member of Doom Patrol? I have no idea. After all, he’s been a member of the Justice League both on screen and in the comic book for years. Furthermore, he’s never been a member of Doom Patrol in the comics; he actually started off in The New Teen Titans. Though it seems a strange decision, I like Wade and I think they present Cyborg well. It’s fun to see him with practical effects instead of CGI.

Speaking of which, the sets and costumes in Doom Patrol are always top-notch. The only time they get themselves in trouble is with some of the grandiose special effects. Some of the effects look good, but when the effects get too big and too complicated, they are noticeably flawed. Season 2’s main antagonist never quite looked right to me. The CGI big-bad DC dilemma strikes again, right? (I’m talking to you, Doomsday, Steppenwolf, Incubus, and Ares.)

I also understand that Fraser’s character, Robotman, is very rough around the edges, but they have him screaming–yes, screaming–the “F” word every ten seconds. I’m no prude, but they are way over the top with the use of that particular piece of profanity.

Honestly, the second season of Doom Patrol failed to capture my full attention with every episode as well due to an inevitable slog at some point. When compared to shows such as The Umbrella Academy or The Boys, which are similar in tone but far better paced, this is disappointing.

And while I won’t spoil the Season 2 finale, I found it so abrupt, so off-kilter, that I had to double check that it actually was the finale. As finale’s go, it doesn’t get much more dissatisfying.

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.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes – A Book Review

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Though this book is aimed at young readers in terms of sentence complexity, the plot and themes of Ghost Boys are so important that I believe adults would benefit from reading it as well.

Ghost Boys is about a young black boy named Jerome who is shot and killed by a white police officer. The aftermath of his murder involves Jerome’s family, his best friend, the police officer, the police officer’s family, and the multitude of young black men and boys who previously died under similar circumstances.

However, the book does not progress in a linear fashion. It alternates between when Jerome was alive and when he’s not. By using this method, Jewell Parker Rhodes builds suspense and keeps the reader enthralled.

I think Ghost Boys is an excellent book for introducing young readers to the very real racism that still plagues our country to this day. It offers a glimpse into the racist murders of black children dating back decades, even centuries, and it does not shy away from pointing out that murders motivated by racism have yet to end.

Ghost Boys delves deeply into the fact that real change cannot occur without acknowledging racism and the horrors that it perpetuates. Yet it does so through simple paragraphs and a very fast pace.

Jerome’s death is vividly described, but it does not cross the line. Young readers need to understand the awful implications of gun violence. I think Rhodes does a fine job of respecting young people enough to avoid pulling punches without drifting into the overtly gratuitous.

Ghost Boys is the kind of book that can foster change. I encourage you to read it, allow your middle or high school child to read it, and then discuss it together afterwards.

The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes – A Book Review

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A friend recommended this book and–if I’m honest–I didn’t think it would suit my tastes. However, I’m pleased to announce that I loved it.

I’m not sure why I was initially hesitant. It features a group of librarians–some of my favorite people–delivering books–some of my favorite things–to citizens living in the Kentucky mountains during the Great Depression.

I’ll admit that it starts off a little slowly, but that is purposeful as the author is establishing characters in order to display their tremendous growth throughout the novel. Consequently, by the time this book is over, you’ll feel as though you’ve lived these characters’ lives alongside them. It’s an incredible experience.

The author has a solid grip on providing just enough description, the perfect amount of dialogue, excellent pacing, captivating subplots, and–like I said–enthralling characterization. It’s a pleasure to read.

While it’s true that the book became a little melodramatic in the last third, I was far too invested to find such theatrics off-putting. In fact, The Giver Of Stars touched me so deeply that it managed to entice a tear or two from my old, cynical eyes.

The Giver Of Stars creates characters that will feel as real to you as your best friend enduring numerous hardships all in the service of giving people access to books. How can any book lover resist that premise?

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane – A Book Review

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A friend recommended this book to me, and it marks the first time I’ve ever read Dennis Lehane.

For some reason, I envisioned this book involving some kind of international war and intelligence officers, but that’s not the case at all. The title actually refers to a gang war breaking out in the Boston area. Patrick Kenzie is a PI hired to find a missing woman who has stolen documents from an important politician. Those documents are fueling the gang war, and Kenzie has found himself right in the middle of it all.

The book takes place in the early 1990s, which is very apparent due to  several references to music, TV, and major news events of that era. Kenzie, the PI, narrates the book and at times I found his internal dialogue cliched and trying too hard to be clever. I found the first half of the book a bit of a struggle to read because there isn’t much character development–it just keeps plugging away at the plot. Eventually the suspense of the story gripped me and I finished the last half of the book quickly, but I can’t say I ever connected with Kenzie or his partner, Angela Gennaro, on a personal level.

If you read this–be warned. The book fully embraces the racial tension that existed in Boston in the 1990s. The language is harsh, the characters are harsh, and the depictions are harsh. Some may find this “realistic,” but, in this day and age, it was deeply uncomfortable to read. On the one hand, I have to give Lehane credit for not shying away from his characters’ racism. On the other, some of the characters seemed overtly stereotypical.

I asked my friend for a quick, action-packed read, and A Drink Before the War definitely fits the bill. I was surprised to discover several other titles by Lehane that I recognized such as Shutter Island, Live By Night, Mystic River, and Gone, Baby, Gone.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – A Book Review

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Where the Crawdads Sing is a fast-paced, potent, concise book that has a little bit of everything which will likely satisfy any reader.

The story centers around Kya, a young girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When I say alone–I mean alone. Everyone has abandoned her–her mother, father, brothers, sisters, people in the nearby town–everyone. This forces her to fend for herself in a primitive shack that has neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. Though initially a child, and despite lacking any formal education, she learns to observe nature’s lessons, and that becomes the key to her survival into adulthood. Unfortunately, though the town completely shuns her, its sins will not leave her alone and she is eventually accused of murder.

Where the Crawdads Sing accomplishes so much in such a short amount of time. It delves deeply into issues of domestic abuse, abandonment, discrimination, elitism, and hypocrisy.

However, it is also a love letter to nature as it beautifully describes the vibrant activities occurring in areas most people deem uncivilized. Owens’ writing is compressed, but extremely effective. She will make you feel like you’re living in the marsh, coexisting with nature, right by Kya’s side.

Furthermore, there is a captivating murder mystery present in this book as well. Though it may sound out of place, it’s not. Owens weaves the murder mystery into the overall plot perfectly. It never feels forced nor contrived. Between Kya’s story, the murder mystery, and the convergence of the two, I couldn’t put this book down.

No matter what your taste, I highly recommend Where the Crawdad’s Sing. I believe anyone who enjoys fiction will like this book.

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.