Netflix’s Midnight Mass – A Few Thoughts

Though it took me a bit to find the time, I was very excited to watch Midnight Mass on Netflix. Midnight Mass is created by Mike Flanagan, who also created The Haunting Of Hill House and The Haunting Of Bly Manor. In fact, you’ll find several of the same actors in all three shows.

Like his previous work, Midnight Mass is a slow burn of a show that, in the end, is well worth your time. Flanagan deems it necessary to invest the viewer in his characters, but he can only do this by forcing the viewer to spend time with said characters. By the penultimate episode, we know these characters inside and out, which in turn makes the final two episodes all the more seismic. We care about them. We care what they do. We care about what happens to them. And trust me, a lot happens to them.

The premise is this: after spending several years in jail for vehicular homicide, an otherwise decent man returns to his hometown located on a tiny, isolated island near what I presume to be the east coast. Around the same time, a new priest arrives at their tiny church. This new priest replaces their ancient, regular priest, who is presumably ill after travelling to the main land. This new priest is charismatic, empathetic, and passionate. He incites a fresh religious fervor on the island, and before too long miracles begin to happen. True miracles. But why are these miracles happening, just who is this new priest, and why are so many stray cats being drained of blood?

You’re going to figure this show out quite quickly, and that’s okay–that’s totally okay. It’s okay because it’s not the traditional “horror” aspect of it that made it so great for me. For me, Midnight Mass explores those grey areas that infiltrate our lives on a daily basis. It examines what exactly it takes for otherwise good people to embrace heinous behavior. Best of all, it also dives into why some people, when they have every excuse in the world to do evil things, still hold tight to their personal morals.

Midnight Mass will absolutely offend many, especially Christians. (For the record, I identify as a Christian–Lutheran, to be precise. That last bit probably comes as no surprise.) The extended metaphor throughout the series reflects hypocritical Christian behavior during the last several years. I’ll leave it up to you to connect those dots.

The fact that Midnight Mass was willing to take on such controversial subject matter, to really, in some ways, flirt with sacrilege–I found it quite daring. For me, a story is a story. Midnight Mass in no way made me doubt or question my faith. I am able to experience it for what it is–a well-paced, well-executed, unique horror story that dared to call into question Christian behavior. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for we Christians to think long and hard about our actions, beliefs, and purpose.

Of course, were it not for Hamish Linklater, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Midnight Mass so much. He plays the new priest in town, Father Paul. Linklater lights up the screen. He is frenetic, magnetic, deeply likeable, and burning with passion. I can’t believe I haven’t seen Linklater before, but he immediately struck me as an extremely talented actor.

Of course, Kate Siegel is in Midnight Mass as well. Mike Flanagan utilizes Siegel in most of his work. She plays a pregnant woman who has also recently returned to town. She moves into the home she hated as a child, took over the teaching job of the mother she hated, and is fully prepared to spend the rest of her life on that island. Little does she know the vital role she will soon play.

Other Flanagan favorites include Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, and Alex Essoe. These are all superb role players who know how to make their characters shine. There’s a reason Flanagan keeps bringing them back for every project. This includes The Newton Brothers, by the way, who write some of the best scores out there.

In the end, I think Midnight Mass will divide its audience. I loved the acting, the boldness, the genre mashing, the characterization, and the entire premise. However, I certainly could understand if someone didn’t like it for religious reasons. In the end, there’s only one way to know for sure. Give it a watch, and let me know what you think.

Cruella – A Movie Review

I can’t lie–I loved Disney’s Cruella.

In fact, I was willing to pay the Disney Plus Premier fee so that my family could see it when it first came out, but nobody wanted to give it a shot. I thought it would be kind of strange if I watched it alone, so I agreed to wait until it arrived on Disney Plus for free.

That day finally arrived, and so my wife, daughters, and I all had a movie night last night on the couch.

I loved it. My daughters loved it. My wife fell asleep, but, to be fair, she’d had a long week.

Cruella delves into the history of the title character, all the way back to childhood. We learn how she became just so evil, though, honestly, I’ve never seen 101 Dalmatians, so I don’t know just how evil she actually got.

What I do know is that in Cruella, she’s not evil, nor is she good. Like all of us, she exists in a shade of grey. We simply dabble in that area–she tends to exist there while sliding from one end of the spectrum to the other.

The trailers initially caught my interest with Cruella. They looked stylish, interesting, and fun. Furthermore, I believe in Emma Stone. She rarely makes a bad movie. If she felt Cruella deserved her talents, I was more than happy to bear witness. Plus, let’s not forget Emma Thompson. Thompson has been Hollywood elite for decades. These are two Oscar winners, folks. Disney or not, they both wouldn’t have signed on to Cruella unless they thought it had promise.

Simply put–it’s a good movie. It’s entertaining, it looks great, the costumes are fantastic, there’s plenty of action, the soundtrack is amazing (listened to it just this morning), the special effects are extravagant, the acting is excellent, it’s safe for the whole family, and the comedy is actually pretty funny.

In fact, Cruella’s two friends/henchmen, Jasper and Horace, are hilarious. Best of all? They are perhaps two of the most capable henchmen in the history of cinema. Cruella pulls off some pretty impressive feats in this film, all due to the efforts of Jasper and Horace, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. Oh, and let’s not forget Buddy and Wink, the adorable canine companions of Cruella, Jasper, and Horace. Though they aren’t Dalmatians, they are responsible for a large part of Cruella’s comedy.

Look, I’ve tried to offer some valuable insight into why I liked Cruella, but it really just comes down this–it’s cool. The filming is cool. The music is cool. The actors are cool. The costumes are cool. It just felt cool.

Don’t believe me? Go watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

The Neon Demon – A Movie Review

I have to admit that I’ve noticed this film on Amazon Prime Video for several years and it always piqued my curiosity. I recently read an article touting it as a hidden gem among the Amazon library, and so I finally decided to give it a watch.

The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning as a sixteen-year-old model who comes to LA and instantly gets noticed. Her simple, natural beauty wins over photographers and fashion icons alike. Jenna Malone plays Ruby, a make-up artist who says she wants to watch out for Fanning’s character, Jesse, but seems to also sometimes put Jesse in precarious positions. Keanu Reeves plays a man who runs the cheap motel Jesse stays in, and his intent is obviously nefarious from the beginning. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote play perfect models who are apparently friends with Ruby and insanely jealous of Jesse.

As the movie progresses, Jesse says and does things that make it appear as though she may be far more than she seems. At times the movie leads the audience to believe she undergoes entire personality shifts and, in fact, may be the very demon the title suggests. She regularly claims to be dangerous despite her mousy, wide-eyed disposition.

This goes on for the first three-quarters of the film. It is slow, visually striking, stiffly acted by otherwise talented actors, and more than a bit disjointed. And then the last quarter of the movie unfolds. The last act is gory, disturbing, twisted, and surprising. I appreciate that this sudden turn of events was indeed hinted at throughout the film, but I found Jesse’s ultimate fate disappointing because it struck me as inconsistent with the rest of the film in regards to her character.

I’m afraid I cannot recommend The Neon Demon to the casual viewer. It’s not particularly enjoyable, entertaining, or thrilling. I could see film students or movie experts appreciating some of the stylistic choices made by the film, however.

Jungle Cruise – A Movie Review

I struggle with paying the extra $30 for a movie on Disney Plus when I already pay for a Disney Plus subscription. Quite honestly, I feel a little fleeced when it happens. Of course, I can rationalize it by saying, “Well, you know, we’d spend more at the actual theater if it wasn’t available on Disney Plus, so we’re ultimately coming out ahead.” Anyway, we paid the thirty bucks.

And you know what? As my youngest daughter said halfway through Jungle Cruise: “This is totally worth the money!”

Yes, I’m a dad, so my kids get to hear me groan about extra expenditures.

But she was right. Believe it or not, Jungle Cruise absolutely lived up to the purchase price.

I’ve read a few headlines saying Jungle Cruise is nothing more than an advertisement for the theme ride, and I have to disagree. Yes, the movie is obviously inspired by the attraction and so there are going to be similarities, but I honestly believe this film could have stood on its own with a different name and been just fine.

True, it’s borrowing moves from some pretty successful playbooks. It’s a little bit Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle, a little bit Pirates Of the Caribbean, and a little bit Raiders Of the Lost Ark, but those are not bad movies to emulate, right?

Most of the film, as you would expect, occurs either on or in water, and so you have to appreciate the technical execution of filming this thing. It also looks fabulous in terms of water crafts, costumes, architecture, flora, animals, and general scenery. The film is set in 1916, so making these items look authentic would not have been easy feats to accomplish. Furthermore, for the most part, the film’s CGI was above average, especially in regards to a certain big cat. CGI can really suffer on the small screen, and Jungle Cruise had a few CGI stumbles, but overall it appeared fairly seamless.

The plot is pretty familiar in terms of generalities. Person A has an object leading to a treasure. Person A needs Person B to guide her to said treasure. Person B is not entirely trustworthy or who he seems. Person A has doubts. Adventure ensues. Person A and B then … Well, that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it?

Yet, even though the plot is tried and true, the chemistry between the leads is absolutely what makes this movie work. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, on their own, are about as charismatic as it gets. Put them together, along with Blunt’s onscreen brother played by Jack Whitehall, and you have a terrific trinity perhaps rivaling Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. (Okay, maybe I took that one too far.) They really do sizzle together, though.

With tons of great humor, lots of terrible dad jokes, ample action, fantastic adventure, and some thrilling but not-too-frightening jump scares, Jungle Cruise managed to entertain both of my kids, my wife, and me. It’s pretty rare that all four of us are equally satisfied.

That being said, if you’re looking to spend theater prices without actually going to the theater, you can’t do much better in terms of a family film than Jungle Cruise. Enjoy!

(P.S. Once everyone has seen it and I don’t have to worry about spoilers, I plan to write a thorough analysis explaining the purpose behind Johnson’s dad jokes. As a former teacher, I totally related. Stay tuned!)

Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy – A Few Thoughts

If you take a look at Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that critics have quite a different take on Jupiter’s Legacy than does the audience. I’m here to tell you, in this case, the critics have it wrong.

I’ll admit, Netflix almost lost me on the first episode of Jupiter’s Legacy. It seemed a little too preoccupied with style, self-importance, and actors caught in waters too deep.

But then a funny thing happened.

Let me pause a moment and say that I enjoyed this comic book series several years ago. It was written by Mark Millar who is something of a Hollywood powerhouse in that Hollywood loves adapting his works into feature films. For example, Captain America: Civil War is based on a book by Millar. The Avengers largely borrowed from his real-world take on the Avengers called The Ultimates. Old Man Logan became the movie Logan. Wanted and Kick-Ass were also works by Millar. It just makes sense that Netflix would try to snatch up his original catalogue for screen adaptions beginning with Jupiter’s Legacy.

Okay, so I knew Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy would get better, and, in my humble opinion, it did.

For me, I had to adjust to the large cast of characters and invest in their personal relationships. The premise is that a closely connected super team, active since The Great Depression, are still alive and kicking, but now preparing to hand over the reigns to the next generation. Two of the most powerful young heroes happen to be the son and daughter of the two most iconic figures, and they both carry a lot of baggage as a result.

Though the original heroes now appear old and gray, there are many flashbacks to how they initially gained their powers, and that’s where the show really shines. The Great Depression era is a show-within-a show, and this aspect of the plot is where you really connect with the icons.

However, the younger generation also have their standouts, particularly the daughter. She wants nothing to do with being a hero, which results in her becoming more and more interesting as the series unfolds. There are also several younger characters who are introduced and then become more prominent as the series continues.

Josh Duhamel is the lead actor. He plays The Utopian. I’ve never thought of Duhamel as a particularly deep actor, but I have to say that as this series moved along, he really showed a lot of range. In fact, he very much changed my opinion of him as a performer. Watching both the young and old versions of his character proved fascinating. Additionally, I never realized Duhamel is so tall. He’s listed online as being six feet, four inches tall.

Furthermore, Matt Lanter amazed me with his performance as well. I only knew Lanter as the voice of Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars cartoons. He and Duhamel, along with their friendship, made this show special. I honestly can’t quite figure out why Lanter hasn’t had more live-action roles. He seems made for Hollywood.

Ben Daniels was completely unknown to me, and he plays Duhamel’s brother, Walter. Their troubled relationship struck me as very true, and I daresay Daniels is the best actor on the show. Walter is incredibly complex, as you’ll see, yet Daniels plays him with both arrogance and vulnerability.

As I mentioned, the two iconic heroes have a daughter, who is named Chloe. Elena Kampouris plays Chloe. Though she is very unlikable at first, her character, after being given some room to breathe, becomes one of the stars of the show. There are big things in store for Chloe, and I think Kampouris is more than capable of handling the evolution.

Finally, Ian Quinlan plays Hutch, and I think he may be my favorite character on the whole show. Quinlan is slowly introduced and, at first, doesn’t seem all that important. He becomes important, though–very important. Best of all, he easily captured the charm of his comic book counterpart.

Jupiter’s Legacy is definitely slow to start and perhaps initially too heavy on the gravitas. However, the pacing moves faster and faster with each episode and the stakes get higher and higher. There are two major plot lines developing, which, to me, were quite engaging. One of those plots mostly wrapped up and opened the door for the next phase. The other plot ends on a cliffhanger which, truthfully, makes me very excited for the next season.

Though there are definitely similarities to characters from both Avengers and Justice League, Jupiter’s Legacy dives deeply into the interpersonal relationships of these characters and all the messiness embedded within. Most of the characters are either related to one another, friends of several decades, or former friends with bad schisms. Yes, the show does take itself too seriously at times, but the fact that it feels as though all bets are off, that anything can happen at any time, makes it a captivating experience. Of course, I have the advantage of having read the source material. If season one surprised you, just wait and see what happens next.

Though the critics may disagree, I highly recommend Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.

Derry Girls – A Few Thoughts

A friend once recommended that I give Netflix’s Derry Girls a try and, frankly, it didn’t do much for me. I watched the first episode and didn’t get it.

However, we then saw several of the stars appear on The Great British Baking Show, and they were hilarious. I decided to try the show again and, this time, my wife wanted to see it, too.

I don’t know if I was in the wrong frame of mind the first time I watched Derry Girls or what, but I loved it on the second attempt. In fact, my wife and I powered through the first two, albeit very short, seasons and can’t wait for the third.

The show follows five close friends, four of whom are girls, as they tackle their teenage years during the Nineties. The fifth friend is a male cousin from London who is allowed to attend their all-girls Catholic school for the sake of his own safety. As you can imagine, he is the relentless butt of never-ending jokes. The girls are flawed, misguided, mostly well-intentioned, and more than a little self-centered. However, all of them are, in their own way, extremely lovable.

Amidst the bawdy humor, foul language, and ludicrous plots, Derry Girls subtly tackles the very real conflict occurring in Ireland during the 1990s. Sometimes it is more overt than others, but the potential for violence is always there, always lurking, always on the adults’ minds. It is a fascinating juxtaposition, and one that is handled very well.

Not that those adults are any less humorous than the girls, by the way. The featured family’s grandpa, father, and mother are an absolute roar (especially the grandpa).

If you’re looking for a short, hilarious, mostly breezy comedy to enjoy, I highly recommend Derry Girls. You can find it on Netflix.

(By the way, the Irish accents are thick, so you might want to enable closed captioning.)

Radioactive – A Movie Review

My wife and I tend to enjoy movies based on historical events. Though we’d honestly never heard of Radioactive, we both like Rosamund Pike and I generally find Amazon Originals to be high quality.

While we’re glad we watched Radioactive, we agreed that it probably isn’t for everyone.

First of all, as expected, it is well made with very good acting. The sets, the effects, the costumes–all were top notch. They also depicted Marie Curie as an actual human being with very real flaws. I always envisioned Curie as a stuffy old woman, so this dynamic presentation shook up my presumptions.

I also appreciated a very fast pace. In just under two hours, they managed to cover most of her adult life. Furthermore, they did their best to explain the process of her science–warts and all.

However, Radioactive took some surrealistic turns that might prove jarring for some viewers. It would also jump forward in time for a few moments in order to illustrate the ramifications of Curie’s work, which, while interesting, seemed largely unnecessary.

Finally, I can’t help but sense that the film may have taken some liberties in the interest of creating drama. After watching the movie, you can do a quick Google search to see how much of it was sensationalized. Surprisingly, Curie actually was somewhat scandalous in her own time.

There’s no denying, though, the hugely important scientific contributions Curie made to the world and the film does an excellent job at conveying that fact. It also makes a point to accurately depict Curie having to work far harder at obtaining the basic resources her male counterparts easily received. Some things never change, I guess.

Radioactive will surely make you look at Curie in a different light, but that’s not a bad thing. Like I said, it looks great, is very well acted, generally maintains historical accuracy, and even takes a few experimental risks to keep you on your toes. If movies based on history are your thing, Radioactive will surely entertain.

(Note: For teachers thinking about showing this film in classrooms, be aware that there is brief nudity and suggestive moments between Curie and her husband. I would encourage you to view the movie beforehand to determine your comfort level.)

Broadchurch – A Few Thoughts

My in-laws recommended that my wife and I watch Broadchurch–we’re glad they did!

Originally a British mystery series, Broadchurch is a fictional seaside town where two detectives, Hardy and Miller, must solve three brutal mysteries over the course of three seasons.

David Tennant plays Hardy, a troubled detective who has moved to Broadchurch out of necessity. Olivia Colman plays Miller, a local detective who knows every nook and everyone in the small town. If that seems like an incredible pair of actors, you’re right. There is no doubt that they are the reason Broadchurch shines so bright.

The first season centers upon the murder of a child. There are eight episodes and they do a masterful job of finding a way to make many, many people possibly guilty of the crime. Jodie Whittaker brilliantly plays the child’s mother. I now understand why so many people were excited when she was cast as the new Doctor Who. Arthur Darvill, also a Doctor Who alum, plays a local priest who works hard to offer comfort to everyone involved. (I think the entire cast appeared in Doctor Who at some point in their lives. Must be a British thing.) Again, the actors in this series are excellent. The first season’s conclusion truly surprised us when they revealed the murderer.

The second season builds upon the first while introducing a new story line. It can’t quite match the novelty of the first season, but it does flesh out the first season as it also explores the very crime that sent Hardy to Broadchurch. The second season, in my opinion, is the best in terms of acting, story, and pacing.

The third season is largely disconnected from the first two with lots of new townspeople coming into focus. While I liked it well enough, it just didn’t compare to the first two seasons in terms of plot cohesion or pacing. I also didn’t care for some of the directions they took with established characters. However, Tennant and Colman are a FORCE in the third season. They are mesmerizing together with each also having a firm hold on their respective characters. Seeing them act so well more than made up for any of the third season’s shortcomings.

If you’re looking for a quick mystery series to watch, I absolutely recommend Broadchurch. It deals with very heavy plot points that can be frankly quite depressing, but the acting and the very (mostly) tight storytelling make for a thrilling experience. You can currently find Broadchurch on Netflix.

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 clich├ęs 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.

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.