Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Blue Eye Samurai is one of the best animes I've watched in ages.

It feels weird that January (being a long month) makes it so that today is not Insecure Writer's Support Group Day. But putting it off another week just means I'll have more time to think about my February 2024 post. Being the last day in January, it's time to talk about Netflix's Blue Eye Samurai. There are spoilers ahead for this show, so if you want to watch it, you might want to avoid my review.

I practically binge-watched this animated show with my roommate over the holidays while it was cold outside. The story is pretty strongly feminist, following Mizu who is masquerading as a man in feudal Japan for various (and obvious) reasons. Mizu is a woman that is hell bent on revenge, justice, and in many ways acting heroically to save her nation against the awful white people who have come to conquer it via subterfuge, manipulation, and use of firearms. It's an adult feature dipping into animated gore, sex, and the various ways the different women who are central to the story seize power for their own in a world where they are supposed to be seen and not so much heard.

Blue Eye Samurai was one of the best animes (manga is comic books) I've watched in ages. It's obviously inspired (in part) by Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, which in turn was inspired by anime (we're going full circle here). There's even a section that features music that I only associate with Kill Bill. So, it's definitely a "which came first the chicken or the egg" thing when analyzing what inspired what. There was some clever tropes used as well. For example, Mizu has her weapon disassembled in parts around her ankles (and other body parts) and she can reassemble it by taking these things off (it surprised me that she had this huge, bladed spear the entire time). In the meantime, they serve to add weight to her body to kind of explain the character's strength (even though it obviously portrays Mizu as being able to survive superhero levels of damage). This kind of thing is to be expected in a story the likes of Blue Eye Samurai especially true because it is animated. When I saw it in the show, it was like watching a "power up" that you'd see in something like Dragonball Z, and it was exciting as a result of that.

At first, I kinda cringed at Mizu's edgy grimdark attitude. However, she committed to it and doubled down repeatedly, and it made me go, "Damn...that's cold..." at certain points, and the character does do some horrible things in her journey. I became convinced that her psyche had just been turned into this cold killing machine with only one goal, but then came the heel turn which was executed beautifully.

Blue Eye Samurai was filled with remarkable scenes, and it is dripping with details in the animation itself to bring feudal-period Japan to life. The castles look real, as do the costumes, and the fight scenes. There's a scene where a strong woman who is practically a man's property slaps her violent husband (a son of the Shogun) on their first night only to seduce and absolutely control him moments later. Rarely do you ever get to see an anime with this level of complexity and intricate details in the plot and character development combined with great music and resemblance to history.

If there's one complaint that I have about the show, it's that the comic-book aspects of the character can be a bit disrupting. Mizu's ability and prowess seems to change according to what the writer's want. A cut to the abdomen takes her out a few days, but later she gets shanked and piled on by a horde, and she manages to take them all out. She makes it to the big boss in the end after beating many challenges while suffering many crippling injuries and then she gets smacked around. She gets shot, and yet can basically swim to safety towing another man. So, it leans heavily on the trope: "injuries only affect me when the story requires it" and "I can beat dozens of highly trained warriors easily, but as soon as I get to the main villain, suddenly I'm struggling and can barely do it."

And that's basically my review. Did anyone else watch it? If so, what did you think?

For Friday, I'm going to discuss the mini-series called Chernobyl which came out in 2019, and I finally got around to watching.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Even if it is puzzling why Echo was ever greenlit at least it gives us some insights into Daredevil Born Again.

I watched Echo on Disney Plus. That being said, I think this "Echo Pitch Meeting" best describes kinda how I feel about this new character. But, even after you watch the "pitch meeting," I think I have a few thoughts that might be useful regarding this series.

I still kind of liked Echo. It wasn't as dark and gritty as Daredevil, but it clearly emulated the show as far as Kingpin's persona and the action scenes were concerned. It's not quite at Daredevil level with the fight scenes, but they were also fun to watch. The series easily could have been whittled down to a feature length film, but that might have thrown off the pacing. And the series didn't overstay its welcome. Regarding Maya's powers: they are weird in the way that Scarlett Witch's powers were weird, and I don't understand them. I also don't know why she couldn't just cure her own deafness with her own powers, but maybe they just need this character to be deaf for some reason. It's also an interesting thing to see Disney release the entire series in its completion all at once. I don't remember them doing that for any other series I've watched on Disney+. 

Echo is reportedly the first of a bunch of "Spotlight" shows that Disney is launching. In this context, "spotlight" means that these stories will be more grounded and character-driven tales made for the small screen. This also probably means they can save a bunch of money making these things while still retaining subscribers like me.

The "end credits scene" from Echo seemed to be setting up an evil, unmerciful, and very angry Wilson Fisk running for mayor of New York City. This is probably going to be the setting of Daredevil: Born Again which is on the horizon, set in New York City, and has both Charlie Cox reprising his role as Daredevil and incent D'Onofio coming back as Kingpin. And let's face it...these two are fun to watch. I'm sure Kingpin as mayor will introduce all kinds of complications to superheroes who call New York City "home."

This Wednesday, I plan to discuss the Netflix show Blue Eye Samurai. Until then, thanks for visiting.

Friday, January 26, 2024

The Witcher season 3 is kind of a confusing mess but I still have thoughts I want to share

So, I finished watching The Witcher season 3 on Netflix. This season had a lot of content from the books (which I read). We got to see the formation of the Scoia'tael, guerrilla warriors allied with Nilfgaard, who were helping to hunt the Cintran princess named Ciri (who is the main protagonist in "the Witcher" books). Although the elves were present in other seasons, this is the first time I remember seeing them inserting themselves into the messy network of alliances and the realm of human politics. We also got to see Vilgefortz's betrayal and how powerful he actually was. I knew from the books that he was the big bad, but you never got that impression with him being in the background for the past two seasons. But he spanked Geralt like it wasn't any effort at all, and that payoff (to see that on screen) was a lot of fun.

We also got to bid farewell to Tissaia de Vries who was arguably the most powerful of the magic using women in Aretuza. She underestimated Vilgefortz and cast Alzur's Thunder, "a spell only of last resort" that ends up really not doing all that much. I think she killed herself over the guilt of trusting Vilgefortz and basically failing the girls that she was there to teach and nurture. This then opens the door for Yennefer to become headmistress of Aretuza. And I know from the books that Yennefer is a badass so this is a good "passing of the torch" even if it is done somewhat clumsily via a suicide and a letter of explanation, "I would love to see you through the next leg of your journey. I know you will do great things, my daughter, but I'm afraid I cannot." And so it goes.

This was also Henry Cavill's last outing as "Geralt." From what I understand, he left the role because he was going to be reprising his Superman role in the DC extended universe due to promises that Dwayne Johnson had made. But then Black Adam crashed and burned in a spectacular fashion (it was a box office bomb), and the whole DC Universe (which was on life-support anyway) just imploded and all of the actors got fired for a complete reboot. But Cavill had already quit his role as Geralt and there was no going back because Netflix had already hired Liam Hemsworth. But we shouldn't feel sorry for Henry Cavill because he's got a movie coming out called Argyle that looks fun and he's been put in charge of a Warhammer 40K production, which is his true love.

But his exit did seem a bit awkward in The Witcher season 3. After the Vilgefortz battle where Geralt was almost killed, he needed time to recover. This is where Netflix made a strange choice. In the books, he was in a thing called convalescence for like a year since he basically got every bone in his body broken. This would have been a great opportunity to justify why he looks and moves different going forward: the man was in bed for a year and needed facial reconstruction magic. But instead they just had him get better and recover, and this was a bad choice. My thoughts on this were that they wanted to give Cavill's Geralt an action/compassion sequence to go out on, to give him a send-off worthy of what he put into the character, and a good wrap of the character development up to that point in his last scene. Anyway, I think that's what happened.

One of the problems I have in watching The Witcher is that it is difficult to remember the weirdish names of people and places. There's also a lot of conspiracies going on. The conspiracy of the mages, the conspiracy of the kingdom with the spymaster, the Nilfgaard conspiracy, and the conspiracy with the elves. It's difficult to keep track of them all, and I think it's just the way in which it is filmed. I had absolutely no issue keeping track of the various factions in Game of Thrones. But Netflix's The Witcher has so many characters I frequently ask myself, "okay...who is this and why are they saying stuff?" The monster fighting that showed up was a little worse than back in season 1. How the season ends with Ciri is kind of frustrating. At least what leads to it. Yes, the world she lives in is a shitty place. Everybody wants her for her powers or wants to kill her because of it. She has a right to feel jaded and cynical of the world. And yet, Geralt and Yennefer are always there for her. It's fun to watch the three of them. So Netflix breaks from this and Ciri ends up in a desert area far away from the only people who are her support group (Geralt and Yennefer). This kinda/sorta happens in the books too, and I remember not liking that part of the books. Also, the show is called The Witcher and yet he really has many moments where he feels irrelevant to the show that bears his name.

I will continue to watch this show. After three seasons, I feel like I'm invested. But I do wish it was easier for me to follow (or that my brain grabbed onto things a lot better).

On Monday, I'll be writing about Echo, which is a new series on Disney+ that I just finished watching. And on Wednesday, I want to talk about Percy Jackson which is also on Disney+.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Lower Decks season four had a lot of fan service to earlier versions of Trek.

As with every episode of Star Trek's Lower Decks, season four had a lot of callbacks to a lot of previous material in the bigger Star Trek universe. By now, most people who watch and follow "Trek" know about the crossover episode in which Mariner and Boimler went to Strange New Worlds season 2 for some time-travel shenanigans and one of the best episodes to date of that series. So, I'm not really going to talk about that. Instead, we meet Nick Locarno who was scorned by Starfleet for not following their rules and getting a fellow student killed (I believe this was in a Next Generation episode with Wesley Crusher in it). At the time, Cadet Locarno convinced the surviving team members to provide false testimony, etc. and it was all kind of brought down by Picard.

Another thing that we got this season was a portable version of the Genesis device. It certainly had a comical introduction (as the series is comedic), but the Genesis device is (and always should be) serious business. Fans of the movies should remember that it created a planet at the end of Wrath of Khan (movie that came out in the 80's), and even at the young age in which I saw it, the Genesis device struck me as the most powerful weapon I'd seen in that universe (invention of Dr. Carol Marcus). I still think that today. I always wondered what would have happened if a Borg armada was targeted by the Genesis device (for example). But I don't think it was supposed to be viewed as a weapon, even though that's exactly what its potential is. Of course, it doesn't end well for Locarno who ends up dying as the Genesis device explodes on him (while trying to disarm it) which quickly forms a planet in the nebula his ship was floating in. This is also very similar to how Wrath of Khan ended.

There was also a lot of growth this season. Our scrappy ensigns are now Lieutenants Junior Grade, and they have new quarters. Tendi is going off on her own adventure via a bargain she made with her sister on Orion. And Mariner has learned a lot about the kind of person she wants to be. I hope that in the next season, Rutherford and Tendi get a bit more time, because they could use some development regarding their characters. but overall I'm pleased with how the show is going.

There are some great jokes made by the Lower Decks crew regarding Locarno. In the original live-action episode of Next Generation, I believe that Locarno was played by a very young Robert Duncan McNeil. Robert was later cast as Tom Paris in Voyager. So they make fun of this by saying how much Locarno looks like Tom Paris and even say "Their faces are exactly the same" in one scene. That made me laugh. 

The animation this season was also really great. The team at Titmouse are doing great work with the digital rig animation techniques, and this show has some of Trek's best looking space battles. Additionally, the fight between Mariner and the Klingon looked awesome. In many ways, it felt like there was a blend of "real" graphics with traditional animation, and it kinda just felt like a Trek TV show or movie...not like an animated cartoon.

There's also good news already that Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds have both been renewed for an additional season. Anyone else love this season and notice things that maybe I didn't? Please share your comments below.

This Friday, I'll talk about The Witcher season 3.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Monarch Legacy of Monsters was kick ass. You should watch it.

Toho and Legendary Pictures Television division did a great job with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. This first season on Apple+ was everything I expected and more. Sure, there are some who complained that "it needs more monsters." But I was satisfied with the count, which ended up being at least one if not two kaiju per episode. Each episode clocked in at about 45 minutes, and this meant that about ten minutes per episode had some huge creature in it, while the other 35 were used for character building, setting up the story, and continuous world-building. For those who may be fans of things like kaiju, and who haven't watched it yet (but intend to), here's your spoiler warning, because I may bring up things in the next few paragraphs that could possibly ruin the story for you.

We picked up in the monster-verse by first doing a bit of backtracking. The show bounces back and forth in time between a set of three major characters. For the most part, the "modern" part of the show takes place after G-Day (in 2014) but before the events of the next Godzilla movie. "G-Day" is the name given to the event that destroyed San Francisco in the movie that launched the Legendary-verse. The other part takes place back in time during the first nuclear tests done at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. This is where Americans conducting the experiment first see Godzilla (who is a bit smaller as he hasn't grown to full size). They think that they end up killing the "Titan" (this is the term the Legendary team uses for kaiju) when the bomb goes off. We know from the future timeline and movies in the "monster-verse" that this simply isn't true. Two of these main characters are scientists. The last one is a military guy named "Lee Shaw" and he's played in part by Kurt Russell (older edition) and Wyatt Russell (his son by Goldie Hawn) in the earlier edition. It actually works out really well, and I definitely need more Wyatt Russell in my life. These three people end up actually creating Monarch, which is the international secret agency that monitors and deals with Titan attacks when they come knocking in the modern world. But they aren't the only team in the game. There's another, called Apex Cybernetics, which we know creates the "mecha Godzilla" that we see in Godzilla versus Kong. Here's a quote from that movie by the character Walter Simmons:

"When we started Apex Cybernetics, we dreamt of new ways to push past the limits of human potential. Robotics, the human mind, artificial intelligence. Who knows what brave new future we will dream of next? I'm Walter Simmons. And it is my privilege to lead Apex into humanity's bold new era. We're not going anywhere, and neither are you."

The Monarch: Legacy of Monsters season one also introduces us to several new characters. One of them is Corah, who is a brilliant computer user who ends up working for Apex after hiding out in Tokyo ( she's there to try and avoid retribution from Apex) and the whole thing kinda flies apart on her. There is also Cate Randa and Kentaro Randa who are siblings, but not from the same mother. Their father, Hiroshi Randa, is a bigamist. He's also the son of Dr. Keiko Miura and Bill Randa (who were the two scientists who founded Monarch along with Lee Shaw which I talked about above). These new characters mostly serve as a vehicle to drive the modern plot. 

The first thing they do once they discover that they are siblings on two sides of the world is to go and look for their father. When they find him, he's actually at work trying to call Godzilla using technology designed to provoke a Titan attack. All of this leads to Lee Shaw going on a crusade to close mysterious portals around the world which seem to open in the presence of Titans, and they end up in some dimension that isn't the Hollow World, and which is somehow tied to the Titans. Keiko named this dimension "Axis Mundi," and it has weird time-warping effects. Keiko got trapped there for 57 days, and it basically advanced her from the 1950's to 2019, but she never aged. The same thing is used to explain why Kurt Russell is ninety some odd years in the show but he has the vigor of someone twenty to thirty years younger. Yes, they do escape Axis Mundi by season end, but Lee Shaw gets killed during the escape (or trapped in Axis Mundi again). You don't actually see his body, and sometimes "death off-screen" just means that they could theoretically pop up again as a surprise.

And then the season ends with them being in a laboratory operated by Apex with a closing shot of King Kong coming for them at the end of the episode. This is included (probably) to show that Apex is now on Skull Island, and to show that this is before the events of Godzilla versus Kong (which shows Kong being removed from Skull Island for shenanigans elsewhere).

Look...this show was great, and I really enjoyed it. It's probably up there with Reacher. It's so different that it's hard to compare them, but there was no lacking in budget and the show added to the monster-verse in ways that were unexpected to me. I'm looking forward to the next season wholeheartedly. If you aren't a subscriber to Apple+, go to Best Buy's website and get the free three-month trial and put that into your shopping cart and checkout. Then log on and watch the show. It's worth it, and plus you could binge watch Ted Lasso and Silo and Foundation. Apple+ is actually a pretty good streaming service, given that they don't have near the content of some of the others out there.

On Wednesday, I'm gonna talk about Lower Decks season four, which is on Paramount Plus.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Both seasons of Reacher are available on Amazon Prime and its easily the best thing I've watched in six months.

I didn't realize that I was watching a cultural dynamo when I started watching Reacher on Amazon. But that was before The New York Times declared in a critic's notebook piece, "Reacher: Women Want What He's Got, and Not Just the Beefcake." Okay then, how can I possibly add to the discussion that this article started? Well first off, I really enjoy it, and I'm not a woman. But I think I like it for the very same reasons as the article put forth in early February: a jacked-up beast of a guy wanders around solving terrible crimes, has an incredible moral compass, and the ability to just walk up to menacing strangers with confidence and reduce them to a quaking puddle of fear with just a stare. And then (added to this mix) is that he's a thoughtful and attentive lover, displaying vast emotional intelligence and he's smart to boot. It sounds kinda like he's a Mary Sue, and he more than fits the bill for that. But sometimes there's a lot of comfort in a Mary Sue character who can just do everything effortlessly. And there's a lot of fun to be had in just watching Reacher punch things that really deserve punching.

In my opinion, season one of the show definitely outshines season two. But that isn't to say that I haven't enjoyed season two. If I had to guess at the differences in stories between seasons one and two, it's that season 1 was very contained in a more central location in the U.S., and that allowed for telling a more cohesive story with a smaller spread of characters. The fight scenes were also just extremely good. In season two, we have a bigger story, more characters, and the bad guy seems to have a rolodex of available assassins for hire (which makes for some pretty good conflicts). I joked with some friends (who I watch it with) that the villain of season 2 must be a great guy at parties because if anyone needs a hired killer, he's got a couple on speed dial. And this kinda punctures my suspension of disbelief a little, because I just can't believe how many hired assassins and trained killers that Reacher mows through on his way to the final villain. It least outside of a John Wick movie.

For fans of the books, written by Lee Childs (?) I think, there's plenty to love I suppose. I had no idea that Tom Cruise was a big disappointment to fans of the books, but I guess his smallness never matched up to the physical description of Reacher (6'5" with subcutaneous fat equal to a Kleenex tissue). You also have to just roll with this character. Obviously, there's no way the kinds of abuse that Reacher puts up with would ever actually be possible for a human to withstand...even one of his build. But, he's such a huge physical specimen that you just keep piling on the barely plausible scenarios, and it makes sense to your head that this guy would just keep on fighting. Alan Ritchson (the star of the show) is perfectly cast, and it is refreshing to see a non-twink character take the spotlight for once in a movie. Lately, in the age of the twink, all we see are the Tom Holland/Timothée Chalamet, skinny white kids being the heroes (and that's obviously what a lot of people want). Stranger Things is packed with these as is practically every other show on television (especially true if you watch anything on the CW). 

If I had to describe the flow of the show to someone who hasn't watched it, I'd say that it's like Sherlock Holmes and the Punisher (Marvel) fused together. The main character is bulletproof with plot armor, but it's fun and that counts for a lot in entertainment. I'd say it's probably my favorite series I've watched in the last six months, if that counts for anything. If you're looking for something to watch, I'd give Reacher a go if you have access to Amazon Prime's programming.

I hope to see y'all come back on Monday to hear what I have to say about Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on Apple plus. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Two season in and I still have no idea what Invasion on Apple TV+ is trying to be.

Apple TV+ has a show on it called Invasion. It has two seasons thus far, and it's about an alien invasion that occurs on Earth. The cast for the show plays their parts well, but they are all new faces. You've got a Japanese sound engineer pseudo scientist named Mitsuki who's girlfriend was a closeted Japanese astronaut that was killed by the aliens. There's also a medical doctor named Aneesha who has a chunk of some alien metal that instantly kills aliens she stabs with it. There's a white English twink named Caspar who seems to have a psychic connection to the aliens. A black girl who really likes the twink and goes by the name India (she reminds me a lot of the Zendaya/Tom Holland thing). There's Trevante, who's a military guy from Afghanistan that saw his whole troop get affected by the alien invasion. And then there's Monty played by actor Paddy Holland, who is the youngest (in real life) brother to Tom Holland. His whole purpose seems to be part of a weird pre-teen love triangle created by the black girl (India), the twink (Caspar), and Tom Holland's brother (Monty).

A lot has happened since the invasion started (it's basically lasted about four months thus far). And the humans have predictably had a difficult time dealing with the aliens and their technology. As far as the look of the aliens goes, I kinda think that they resemble Hefty trash bags with no trash in them (kind of black and plastic looking). They create pseudopods to walk which make them resemble a sea anemone. As far as the humans go, they are mostly stupid, but I at least appreciate that the aliens look really strange. At times, the show does seem to be drunk on itself almost like when you hear a band's song build and build to then...not ever rock out. As I watch, I see smatterings of Arrival in the sense that it is pretty much left up to the character of Mitsuki to learn to communicate with the aliens and to determine what it is that they want. The kids can kind of see into the mind of the aliens, but you never understand why this is. Other's an attempt to make kids interesting by giving them powers.

The other character, Aneesha, is probably the most annoying character in the series. She isn't a person you can trust, and because of that, she isn't particularly likeable. Additionally, she's always losing her kids, if not the son...then the daughter. And the missing kid becomes the impetus for her entire storyline told in a backdrop of an alien invasion. I also don't understand why Aneesha is hiding the one really effective weapon against the invaders, trying to keep it away from the military who might, say...use it against the invaders?

I think my biggest gripe about Apple's Invasion at this point, is that it doesn't know what kind of show it wants to be. Because it is told through a "fog of war" lens, we only know as much about the aliens and what is happening as the characters who experience those things. We bounce around the world multiple times during an episode to check-in with Caspar, with Mitsuki, with Aneesha, with Trevante, and it goes round and round like that. Each time, we get a little more knowledge to fill in the blanks with, and there does seem to be some attempt to bring these characters together. But as for what kind of show it wants to be? Well, it could be anything based on these main characters. Is it a love story about two British kids? Is it a hero arc of a war-torn vet from Afghanistan? Is it "science wins the world" like Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day. Is it that somehow a family with a fragment of alien tech is going to save the world through a mother's love? To hell if I know what it is about at this point, and I'm two season in. However, at this point I'm going to keep watching no matter how many episodes come out. I feel like there's got to be some big payoff coming. But if you decide to follow me into this strange science fiction take on alien invasion, be warned that it can be a slow burn at times.

That's basically all I have to say about Invasion at this time. For Friday's post, I'm going to talk about Amazon's Reacher and how it's easily the best show I've watched in a long while. On Monday, I'll talk about Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, and its first season (I loved it). On Wednesday, I'll discuss Lower Decks season four, and on Friday of next week, we'll talk about The Witcher season 3.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is kind of an homage to Thor the Dark World but with bad acting.

Happy Civil Rights Day. I normally don't post on a Monday, but I've got a lot of backlog on the things I want to talk about as a result of taking November and December off. So, today I'm giving you my thoughts on Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which I saw in theaters the week it was out. When I saw the first Aquaman movie I thought I'd been treated to a visual spectacle that I'd only seen twice before. The most recent one was the Thor this was basically Thor but underwater. And then the other movie that matched the Aquaman vibe was one called Flash Gordon which was a Dino De Laurentiis production (if I remember correctly) starring the late Max Von Sydow as Emperor Ming. I think that's the first time I was really enamored with an actor's voice. His only contemporary at the time was James Earl Jones, and luckily today with Jones being (for the most part) retired, the "great voice" is present in another actor named Benjamin Cumberbatch. I could listen to his voice all day long, and the voice acting he did as Smaug was the highlight of the entire trilogy of Hobbit movies.

So let's just get the "thumbs up" and the "thumbs down" critique out of the way: did I like the movie? Yes. But it's a bad movie. And I mean that in a particular way that some bad movies are really good. For example, Big Trouble in Little China is a bad movie. But it wholeheartedly embraces its "B" movie status and you just roll with it, and it ends up being a lot of fun. It also has tons of memorable quotes from both Kurt Russell and Victor Wong (the guy who plays Egg Shen). In Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom you've got characters being chased by huge roaches and avoiding human-eating plants, you've got lots of huge water shots, and a mythical "Lost Kingdom" of Atlantis that's about to melt out of the ice it was sealed in, bringing doom to everyone else.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if you don't expect this movie to be a masterpiece, you'll more than likely enjoy it. It's a straightforward and unpretentious action movie. Momoa, Amber Heard (yes, she's in it though they hid her in the trailers due to the Depp controversies), and Nicole Kidman all turn in bad acting performances. The part where Momoa's son gets kidnapped and all three of the above are screaming in emotional pain is completely over-the-top and painful to watch, and Kidman in particular is not helped by the fact that her face simply doesn't move anymore (she's had way too much plastic surgery and now kinda has this look to her that reminds me of the characters in The Polar Express). The plot could be accused of being a retread of Thor: The Dark World. But given that this is the last movie in the DCEU (and the sunset of Momoa as Aquaman) it seems like the screenwriters probably saved money by doing that. It's basically "heroic brother breaks evil brother from prison to fight an ancient evil trying to return." In one scene, Aquaman even points at his brother Orm and refers to him as "Loki." So, they know exactly what they're doing.

I'm not sure why the DCEU never caught on, but I have my theories. The first is maybe Zack Snyder. The way he makes movies doesn't really appeal to wide audiences in the same way as Marvel does, and Man of Steel honestly didn't feel like it was designed to kick off a DC movie universe. I actually didn't really like Man of Steel when I first saw it, because it was such a dark interpretation of Superman. But a lot of people actually did like it, and that's kind of the foundation upon which the DCEU was built. In the years since, Man of Steel has grown on me quite a bit, and I appreciate the action scenes between the terrifying invading Kryptonians who are legit scary (which is probably why I didn't like the movie: the villain was too frightening for me). In all likelihood, I bet Man of Steel was supposed to be a Batman Begins type reimagining that got shoehorned into a shared universe because Avengers earned a billion and a half dollars. And then there was a tragedy in Snyder's life, causing Warner to reach out to Joss Whedon, who filmed a remarkably different version of Justice League than the one Snyder wanted. Then the studio abandoned the shared universe model with loosely connected standalones with Batman and Joker movies that had nothing to do with the DCEU. And then the stuff with Ezra Miller happened in the news, and The Flash was made during all of that and none of it worked at all.

Some people suggest that there's superhero fatigue. I don't think that's what is happening to the box office. Rather, it's bad movie fatigue. Marvel is stuck trying to replicate lightning in a bottle with their Avengers movies. But the reason that kind of thing never works is because actors age, time goes on, and you pick and choose among the best plots that are commercially available and go with those. Like, Tom Holland is now (I think) way too old to be playing Spiderman. It's just a fact. The multiverse opens up tons of options to make smaller stories starring infinite versions of these characters, so the movie industry should just use this option when crafting stories. All that being said, James Gunn (who has been put in charge of the DC reboot) might be able to pull it off starting from scratch. I would like to get at least one good Justice League team up or two before its all over. Honestly, the thing that Marvel pulled off by giving us four Avengers movies was pretty darn incredible. It would be awesome if the DC characters could perform the same and give us a huge finish with four Justice League movies, defeating Darkseid in the last two. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens.

On Wednesday, I'll be talking about the Apple+ series called Invasion. And on Friday, I want to talk about Reacher, which is the number one series on Amazon (it's super great). 

Friday, January 12, 2024

My thoughts on Loki Season 2 and The Marvels

I finished Loki, season 2 a few weeks ago. It appears that this is the end of that character. I can't really see Tom Hiddleston reprising Loki in any other way than in the way they sent him off at the end of this season (this version of Loki). Before I go into more detail, here is your obligatory "Spoiler Warning."

So, the finale was pretty good. If you managed to watch it, you know that Loki took his place kind of at the center of the new multiverse and that they made it look similar to Yggdrasil: the World Tree. Loki also repeats what he told Odin in the first Thor movie: "For you, for all of us." If we do get more Loki, it will be through the use of variants. One thought is that a version of kid Loki might show up and hang with the Young Avengers.

Hiddleston did mange to play his version of Loki gloriously well. I don't know who was a more important character at this point: Thor or his brother Loki. Both of them got large amounts of screen time, and Loki by and large due to the series exceeded the amount of time that Thor got in the MCU. So maybe Loki was the most important Asgardian? I wouldn't have said this at the end of the first Thor film, but the dynamic between those two characters is super important for the stories in these comic books movies.

As far as the show goes, I liked the great characters and acting. Owen Wilson once again confirmed that he's one of the most solid supporting actors out there (I don't really see him as a main actor kind of guy). In a supporting role, he really goes a long way to make the drama of anything he's in be that much better. I also liked the truly wonderful retro art direction and the design of Miss Minutes and the TVA and so on, but you can't keep a thing fresh and surprising forever. So, maybe it was a good time to just move on. Loki was probably too cosmic by the end of this series too that it would be difficult to have him interact with mortals. He's kind of on the level of those gods that are above the Celestials in the MCU hierarchy of powers.

I also didn't understand how Loki acquired his time powers or how the whole time-slipping thing happened in the first place. My theory is that He Who Remains held Loki frozen in time when Sylvie pushed him through the portal at the end of season one. We know he can freeze and control individuals. So, Loki got frozen in-between dimensions until Kang died, at which point he was unfrozen and dropped back into the TVA. But because he was not present when the loom went into failsafe mode, it doesn't know where to put him so it tries based on the user input. And that's what causes all of the time slipping.'s kind of a mess. But so is the entirety of phase five, which saw their biggest box office bomb in "The Marvels" and the dismissal of Jonathan Majors for being an abuser of women. It seems kinda rudderless at the moment.

All of this reminds me of a comment I received on this very blog years ago when I was wondering what could possibly follow-up Avengers: End Game and someone replied, "We're at peak Marvel. It will just be downhill from here." Ouch...years later, that dude was right.

So yeah...switching gears a bit...I did go and see The Marvels in theaters. I think I was just really underwhelmed by the villain. But then someone pointed out to me that I might be too harsh with my criticism, because it was still on the level of Ant Man: Quantumania. Once I started talking about that film, I realized that they were 100% correct. The Quantumania movie and The Marvels are not better than each other at all, yet The Marvels is the worst bomb. I wonder if a lot of that just has to do with Brie Larsen, who (for some reason) people love to hate. I predict that Captain Marvel will be recast soon just to get rid of that baggage and see if the online trolls can be somewhat appeased. Who knows what will happen though with any of that. I want to believe that Marvel movies can rekindle the magic of the Thanos cycle, but I keep getting disappointed.

As far as my feelings toward The Marvels goes...while I was watching it, I thought it was light, fast, and fun. The action flowed nicely and we got really cool dynamics between the three Marvels. I loved Monica confronting Carol about her abandonment, and it was refreshing that they didn't let their issues distract them from the fight. I liked how Monica was the responsible adult and became the voice of reason.

Things I didn't like were small. The villain (obviously) was weak sauce. She just wanted to restore her planet that was ecologically devastated due to a dying sun. However, the entire movie, Carol Danvers had the power to just recharge the sun and she does that at the end. Why didn't she just do it at the beginning? Because then we wouldn't have had a movie. Also, the Kamala Khan powers are neat but the way they look on screen really strike me as "video game" and always jerk me out of the moment for some reason. It's probably just me. Also, I kind of liked seeing Carol demonstrate that she had the power to affect a star, reinvigorating it with her light blasts. The reason? The Dark Phoenix saga in the comic books. I collected these back in the eighties, and one of the things that the Dark Phoenix does in those comic books is absorb entire suns to fuel her power. I was wondering how that was going to look, and now I have an idea of how it will look because of seeing Captain Marvel reinvigorating the alien sun. Honestly, I think that Dark Phoenix would make an incredible cosmic villain for an Avengers type team up, requiring everyone to fight her. That would be awesome, and I think it would be a lot more compelling than what I'm getting from watching them lurch toward Avengers: The Kang Dynasty that's supposed to happen in a few years.

On Monday, I'm going to talk about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. On Wednesday, I'm going to talk about the Apple+ show Invasion. I recently finished season 1, and I have thoughts about it I want to share.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The first part of Rebel Moon is content over substance but I still can't wait for part two.

So, I can't really call myself a person who is into science-fiction and not take a time to devote a full blog post to Zack Snyder's Rebel Moon-Part One: A Child of Fire. This is a movie that seemed to throw everything at the screen in some incredible visuals that is rare to see outside of a Star Wars film. But it is also one in which I believe content trumped substance. In fact, substance was left crying in a corner while content was just king of the entire show. It came at you faster than a Harry Potter movie, and it seemed like there was breathless motion all of the time in every single scene. The narrative lurched from one plot point to the next without really any style or bothering to create any connection with the audience watching it. All that really mattered was that it was action-packed, and characters were in danger, and the stakes were high. This is my first impression of Rebel Moon.

Some people like to say that Rebel Moon is just Seven Samurai. However, I'm not going there, because it isn't. Saying that Snyder has made a movie kind of like a Kurosawa movie is a flat critique that comes 63 years after John Sturges remade Seven Samurai but with cowboys, decades after Sergio Leone took the actual beat-for-beat script of Yojimbo set in the same year and just swapped in cowboys, forty some odd years after George Lucas remade Hidden Fortress in Space and later his studio remade Seven Samurai three times in three separate series also in space. Remakes happen all of the time. The successful ones have critical elements in common. They are also able to add their own material, ideas, and style in a way that feels different enough to make the retelling justifiable and interesting. Snyder (I think) has done this with Rebel Moon. However, I think it needed to be much longer in run-time than Snyder was allowed. This first part just crammed in too much. It felt like a ten-episode series given a run time of two hours.

A lot of that is simply because there is so much world-building that needs to happen before you can understand anything. That has always been the problem with big ideas: they generally require some kind of info dump. Snyder would have been better served taking the "Riddick" approach to space opera. The first movie in the Riddick trilogy was Pitch Black, and it was a perfect movie that introduced some very simplistic things into the story. The next movie called Chronicles of Riddick blew up the story to an epic that spanned an entire galaxy, and it wasn't too much because the director didn't have to establish his characters at the same time. I know that some people may not see the Riddick trilogy as a masterwork example of how to do a space opera, but I really like it. And I think the pacing of that trilogy is just about perfect as far as how fast information is presented to the audience before it is expected to be absorbed.

I like what Zack Snyder tries to do in telling his stories. Here's a guy that started directing Dawn of the Dead, which was written by and likely shadow-directed by Romero. Then he got two graphic novels which he filmed essentially comic-frame by comic-frame, also written by some excellent storytellers. He also gets massive credit (from me) for Watchmen (which I still rewatch whenever it is on television because I like it a lot). Because of these successes, studios throw money at him. He's also a visual stylist, and I'd put him in the same category as Hitchcock in this way. But being unleashed from money concerns leads Snyder to become indulgent in the things that he really likes. That's why you get bombarded with sepia tone and slow-mo in most of his stuff. But you also get incredible creature designs that pull from things like Dungeons & Dragons and the worlds of Warhammer 40K. It's honestly stuff that the gaming community has been obsessed with for decades, but we haven't really seen a whole lot of in movies or television. Snyder knows how to make visuals that smack of something that most people haven't ever seen before, and kind of evoke that "what am I looking at exactly?" feeling that can be so enjoyable while you are watching one of his films. Zack Snyder has a guaranteed rabid and somewhat trollish fanbase of which I'm probably becoming a part of. However, I'd really appreciate it if Zack Snyder slowed stuff down and allowed us to care about his characters.

I wonder if Snyder is a great example of someone who is "Internet Famous." He has a massive fanbase of extremely loyal, vocal fans but none of this has translated to mainstream success (at least recently). If that were the case, then Rebel Moon would be a massive theatrical release, and we'd all be getting bombarded by ads constantly. Instead, the only people who seem to know it exists are the fans who follow Snyder's career on social media and watch extensive YouTube videos about his craft. In the future, he may find it difficult to attract new fans or recapture the interest of former fans once they've seen his tricks. No matter what though, Snyder will always be able to make beautiful locations that I want to go to.

On Friday, I want to talk about Loki season 2 and The Marvels

Monday, January 8, 2024

Saltburn is a gross movie that is worth a watch.

Over the holidays I watched the movie Saltburn. There's going to be spoilers in my commentary regarding this movie, so if you intend to watch it, you may want to skip on what I have to say about it. The summary/synopsis of this movie is that a student attending what I think is Oxford University gets drawn into the world of an aristocratic family (who are a bunch of vipers), and they invite him to his eccentric family's sprawling estate for a summer. However, it turns out that this innocent student is a murdering psychopath with all sorts of weird sexual things that he likes to do. In short, there is not a single likeable character in this entire film.

Most people describe the film as shocking because (I think) it leans so heavily into its grossness. I happened to watch it with two polyamory friends who are no stranger to gross and who are remarkably gross in their sexual lives. Thus, they really liked it, which I thought was interesting. I guess that "people just being so real and visceral" is one of the things that is lacking in entertainment these days, and they were surprised that a film would come out that so fully represented them. I'll just say this: the "what the f*ck's?" per minute are very high in this flick, if not "per second" in many of the scenes.

The main character, an "Oliver Quick" by name played by Barry Keoghan is really weird. He reminds me of a character from The Polar Express in some ways...mostly human, but something is clearly missing. However, despite the movie having likeable characters and an overabundance of extremely awkward scenes, I still kind of liked it. A lot of this works because of the visuals and the performance of the characters. And once you realize what's going on, there's an open-eyed appreciation of how every gross, extremely nasty thing is shot in such loving, visceral close-up that underlines everyone's discomfort at what they're watching. As a warning to anyone that is interested in actually watching it, I will let you know there's a lot of body fluids. It often made me ask why we are so uncomfortable with body fluids since we all have bodies and they are filled with fluid. However...just take my word for it.

I think it also says a bit about class divisions that exist in England. This movie shows something called "the owning class," because they own vast swathes of land that have been handed down for generations, and they can just live off the rent and never have to work. What that does to people and their morality is that it can tie it in a knot that seems really foreign to the working class. Indecipherable even. As most of you know, middle class people (like the psychopathic student Oliver) come from comfortable, privileged backgrounds but they are ultimately still expected to work for a living. When you set this at a university where both classes mix, you see a lot of middle class people pretending to be working class and exaggerating about how "poor" they are, because being working class carries some social capital whereas being middle class is just boring.

You might ask then if the movie has a point. I think it does. The point of the movie was to own a great big country estate without being born into an inheritance. The title of the movie, Saltburn, takes its name from an estate that is at the center of the film. It's a beautiful place of old money. Mansions like Saltburn are handed down through the generations, so it's not like you can just buy one. The only way to get one is to be born into the family or marry into the family or (third option) do what Oliver does in the movie and just get it at the end by killing everyone and never getting caught. Basically, the message of the movie is that the upper class in the UK is so extremely far from even the comfortable middle class, that class mobility to their level is basically impossible for a decent person.

All in all, Saltburn was an incredibly strange film. Did anyone else watch it and care to comment? I'd love to hear your thoughts regarding the bathtub scene or the funeral scene (two of the grossest things in the movie).

Friday, January 5, 2024

Leave the World Behind is a portrait of what could happen in America in a not-so-distant future.

In December, like many people, I watched the movie Leave the World Behind. This thriller on Netflix was bankrolled by the Obama's. I thought it was entertaining and relevant to the kinds of feelings I've been having as a quiet observer of our chaotic world. I also enjoyed the ways in which it sought to turn things upside down with regard to what you might normally expect to see in a movie. For example, in Leave the World Behind, the "well-to-do" people are black. It is their Airbnb that gets rented by Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke. This immediately sets up a lot of tension as the Julia Roberts character immediately questions this fact when she meets the owners in person (the Scotts) who are played by Mahershala Ali and Myh'la Herrold. And it takes quite a lot to get her to accept the truth that people actually do own this multimillion-dollar house that they rented for a weekend.

There are many surprising and tension-building moments in the movie Leave the World Behind that held my attention. But one of the more profound things that occurred was in a line delivered by Julia Roberts about halfway through the film. In the role of Amanda Sandford, she says this to Ruth Scott:

"Every day, all day, my whole job is to...understand people well enough so that I know how to lie to them, so I can sell them things they don't really want. And when you study people like that when you really see the way they treat each other, well...You're no dummy. You see what they do, and they do it without even thinking about it. Fuck. I did it to you and your dad, and I don't even really know why.  We fuck each other over all the time, without even realizing it. We fuck every living thing on this planet over and think it'll be fine because we use paper straws and order the free-range chicken. And the sick thing is, I think deep down we know we're not fooling anyone. I think we know we're living a lie. An agreed-upon mass delusion to help us ignore and keep ignoring how awful we really are."

There's a lot packed into that one comment. But it nevertheless captures everything that I've been feeling about the way I've noticed people around me living their lives. And the ending was kind of perfect. One of the characters, a little girl named Rose (played by an 18-year-old actress who has an autoimmune disease and thus looks like twelve), leaves the world behind (the title of the movie) by escaping/detaching from reality to find out what happened to Ross and Rachel in the series finale of Friends. Think of it as a digital pacifier as she doesn't really want to care about what's going on in the world or that her family is (probably) dying of radiation poisoning. Maybe she's the only one that truly "got it" about what it takes to live in modern times. That's (at least) the theory I got after the swift turn in health experienced by her brother in the movie.

Also there's a second's one from Alan Moore (I believe) that appears in the movie, and it says this:

"The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not The Illuminati, or The Jewish Banking Conspiracy, or the Gray Alien Theory. The truth is far more frightening: nobody is in control. The world is rudderless."

This was a quote that gave me pause to think. In my opinion, the writers of the movie hit the nail on the head and that this is also totally true. In some ways, it could explain why there are so many people in America today embracing authoritarianism as opposed to democracy. I think (on many levels) a lot of people want to put someone in control, to give themselves a stronger illusion to cling to in a world that has become increasingly scary and strange to them. This is a world they don't recognize anymore, where people look different than what they remember, where goods cost a ton of money, where people are becoming bolder at price gouging, and where violence has become institutionalized. It's a world where people are always on the verge of being obsolete, and a world where tons of people are just "checking out" and choosing not to engage in work at all because it seems pointless (google "why work if I can't ever afford anything?"). It's a strange place to be, and this quote from the movie seems particularly timely.

In some ways, the movie Leave the World Behind also seems like a good jumping off point to A24's Civil War movie that comes out in a few months (in a big election year). The trailer for that movie starts out by saying "The third term president has declared..." implying in a big way that (at this point) the Constitution has been put through a paper shredder and that might is now right. It echoes a lot of feelings people are having regarding Trump and his strong fascist/ authoritarian views. Of course, I plan on seeing Civil War, which looks like a horrifying docudrama at this point rather than a movie. Staring into the void has become a lifestyle for me. I think that "knowing the truth" is important, even if it is really scary. I don't like being surprised, and being informed is how you avoid surprises.

Anyone else watch Leave the World Behind? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The New Year is here and the IWSG has a 2024 question about how you use BookBub.

Happy New Year everyone. With 2023 now in the rearview mirror, I've received quite a few "Happy New Year" messages similar to what I think most of you have experienced in your lives. I think my writing resolution this year will be to do less "Doom Posting." But to just get this one comment out of the way before I get onto what the IWSG actually does (and when we post), I think I want to say this: I'm kind of dreading this year (and that's just being honest). It's an election year in the states and with everything else in the world that's going on, it doesn't look good (at least for people who are liberal and enjoy democracy). However, when I go on to review shows that I've watched over the holidays like the movie Leave the World Behind, I hope that you won't take that as doom posting, because the whole movie is literally about "doom." And as an aside note, I'm definitely going to watch A24's new movie Civil War later this year. Who knows? It might be loaded with good survival tips.

Anyway, let's get onto the January 2024 edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This was a monthly blog post event that was started by Alex Cavanaugh over a decade ago, and it has since grown into an inclusive community for writers to connect using their blogs (blogs used to be a thing lol although I think it's still fun to have a web presence even if a lot of people have moved onto platforms like Tik Tok and Insta). If it sounds like something you'd like to join, click HERE to go to the sign-up page in order to participate next month. And after that, keep reading below.

What is the Purpose of the IWSG?: It is to share information, tips, tricks, etc., and it is to encourage others through doing just that. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

When do y'all post?: It happens on the first Wednesday of every month. In our community, this is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. On that first Wednesday, you simply post your thoughts on your own blog. The post can be about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. You could also discuss your struggles and triumphs. Or you could offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. One way you can get it to pay off for you is to go and visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer. The website for the IWSG suggests that you aim for a dozen new people each time and return comments (which is the equivalent of online breadcrumbs). You also should link to this page and display their official badge somewhere in your post.

The X(Twitter) handle is @TheIWSG and the hashtag everyone uses is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the January 3rd posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Olga Godim, Diedre Knight, and Natalie Aguirre!

Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story.

January 3rd question: Do you follow back your readers on BookBub or do you only follow back other authors?

I didn't actually know what BookBub was, but I looked it up (and I'm going to explain it here so that others who don't use it actually know how this service works). BookBub is a free service that helps you to discover books you'll love through unbeatable deals, handpicked recommendations, and updates from your favorite authors. But they don't actually sell books. They simply try to introduce you to titles that they think you'll like that are available at retailers. They also notify you about free and deeply discounted ebook recommendations selected by their editorial team.

That being said I don't really use it at all. However, I did look on Reddit to see how other people choose to use BookBub, and I read that it's pretty effective at promotion as it has huge mailing lists for genres that can go out to lots of people (provided that people still read their email). And regarding their promos, apparently if you can land one of these, it is always worth it. Others have said that BookBub is so selective with their emails, and who gets on them, that a lot of people really trust the recommendations.

Knowing all of the above, I can tell you how I'd use it then if I stopped being lazy (which is kinda where I'm at right now with regard to signing up for new stuff). Right now in my life, I'd just follow authors because I read quite a bit these days and really enjoy it. But I don't actually need BookBub right now, because my reading list is long. Just to give you an idea of what I'm reading next, here's the list:

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Ruination by Anthony Reynolds
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
Fourth Wing and Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros
The Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E. Howard
A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark
and a re-read of The Shattered World by Michael Reaves so that I can read a sequel I discovered called The Burning Realm

So, once I get through those books, if I need recommendations, I'll know where to sign-up in order to find them. As you can see, my list of books in the queue is full of a lot of fiction. I maintain a subscription to The New York Times, and after reading all the doom in that, I usually need to take a break so non-fiction really isn't my jam. In other words I don't need to read the latest book on how our education system is failing everyone, or how racism has exploded, or how the national debt and climate change are wrecking everything, or on how everyone is a narcissist these days, or how our healthcare system teeters on the brink, or the latest true crime thing, or someone who has a particular insight into some psychopath.

Thanks for visiting my blog. On Friday, I'm going to post about the movie Leave the World Behind and maybe also talk a little about A24's new movie, Civil War. And then on Monday, I want to talk about the movie Saltburn.