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Madame Web Review: I Liked Morbius and Thought This Was Bad, That’s How Bad It Is

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I genuinely enjoyed Morbius and remain baffled at the hyperbolic hate it received, but Madame Web deserves to be crushed under the boot of a gleefully destructive Internet. I am kinder than most, of course, so I found some saving graces here and there, but… this movie is legitimately bad, folks. There’s no getting around it.

The film begins when Ezekiel Sims was in the Amazon with Cassandra “Cassie” Webb’s mom when the latter was researching spiders right before she died, and when the film flashes forward to thirty years later, he has not aged at all and it is 2003. The only reason this movie takes place in 2003 is because it features Peter Parker as a fetus in the belly of EMMA ROBERTS for some fucking reason. The fact that Peter Parker is a fetus in the belly of Emma Roberts has absolutely no bearing on the actual plot of this movie, and it is fucking embarrassing how much Sony tries to remind you about Spider-Man in this movie.

They say the word “spider” three hundred times! Adam Scott plays Uncle Ben! One character casually namedrops her uncle (J.) Jonah (Jameson)! Look, I have enjoyed the Venom movies, and as I already stated, I enjoyed Morbius, and everyone hated those movies for their tenuous connections to Spider-Man, but this movie actively annoyed me with its shameless pandering. THEY EVEN GANK GREAT POWER/GREAT RESPONSIBILITY.

Okay anyway the actual plot of this movie, which it took four (4) people to come up with—Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (writers of the aforementioned Morbius), director S.J. Clarkson (a TV director making her film debut and failing spectacularly), and Claire Parker, with a story credit to Kerem Sanga, so make that five (5) people, but also an additional literary credit to Chris Bremner, so make that six (6) people—is that Cassandra “Cassie” Webb has her precognitive spider powers awakened (she’s a spider-woman who can see the future; Cassandra Webb, get it, comics are amazing) and must protect three teenage girls named Julia Cornwall, Mattie Franklin, and Anya Corazon from Ezekiel Sims, a spider-man who seeks to kill them because he has a vision of them killing him (as costumed superheroes, not teenage girls). I cannot stress enough how much this is the entire plot of this 115-minute movie.

Would you believe me if I told you she doesn’t even meet the girls she’s supposed to protect for NEARLY HALF THE MOVIE? Believe it, believe everything I tell you about this movie, I would never lie to you. Believe me when I tell you this movie takes a looooooooong time to get to the fireworks factory, and I mean that because the action climax of this film occurs at a LITERAL FIREWORKS FACTORY.

The villain of this film, Ezekiel Sims, has one goal and one goal only, and while I can understand not wanting to die or whatever, Tahar Rahim does nothing with this character to make him interesting or intimidating or memorable, struggling to deliver his English lines in a semblance of an American accent as his French accent keeps slipping through. He has visions, but also he can crawl on walls, but also he can talk to Cassie in her dreams? His power set is very unclear, and also why did he not age in thirty years. Also why is Zosia Mamet here, what favor did she owe.

The three teenage girls named Julia Cornwall, Mattie Franklin, and Anya Corazon are not endearing or likable at all, so we don’t have a real attachment to them apart from the fact that we see a vision of them becoming badass superheroes that will not be fulfilled in this film. Sydney Sweeney is awful here, a vapid shell of a human being. Celeste O’Connor is annoying here, a one-note jerk of a human being. Isabela Merced is… okay here, a science nerd who wins my affection by default despite not being an actual character.

These three girls who are established as having no connection to each other somehow get drawn to the same place because of destiny or whatever—and look I could be into this shit if done well but it is not done well, that is basically this movie’s ethos, take something I would be into and not do it well—and despite being complete strangers, immediately act like they’ve known each other for years. Their relationship to each other makes no sense, their relationship to Cassie makes no sense, I could be into this found family shit if done well but remember what I said about this movie’s ethos.

The protagonist of this film, Cassie Webb… is good! And by good I don’t mean good, I mean that I really enjoyed Dakota Johnson not giving a shit in this movie. There’s about twenty percent of the movie where she’s kind of acting in a dramatic fashion, but the other eighty percent? She does not want to be here, she thinks this is all stupid, and it honestly makes Cassie a fun character unlike other superhero protagonists. I can see why Clarkson, who directed a couple episodes of Jessica Jones, likened her to Jessica Jones because they do have a similar “I’m so over this but I guess I gotta save people” vibe. For all the failings of this movie, Johnson’s entire presence manages to make this film far more watchable than it otherwise would be.

Which is impressive because everything about the way this film depicts Cassie’s clairvoyance makes the film borderline unwatchable. Initially, it’s effectively disorienting by showing a scene happening and then revealing it to have been a vision, putting us in the same POV as Cassie. But as the film progressives, it gets more and more inconsistent and chaotic, with multiple visions occurring at the same time, visions being thrown in piecemeal, visions resetting back to different points… like… this is the only reason this movie exists, right, to have your psychic superhero, and you can’t even show her powers without being incoherent?

Also why did you take a comic book character who is elderly and has myasthenia gravis and turn her into a movie character who is young and does not have myasthenia gravis. You know what comic books fans love? Changes.

Speaking of borderline unwatchable, someone please take away cinematographer Mauro Fiore’s membership to the ASC because I have no idea why he is sometimes switching to some kind of demented documentary style with random push-ins and pull-outs. I thought he was having trouble focusing the camera and they just left it in the movie. I’ve never seen anything like it.

At one point Cassie steals a taxi and then she just drives it around for the rest of the movie. She crashes it, it’s beat up, and she keeps driving this stolen taxi. She drives her stolen taxi to the airport, pays to leave it at the airport for a week, and then drives her stolen taxi home. At no point does she return this stolen taxi. As far as I know, the stolen taxi is now her car at the end of the movie and she is a wanted fugitive.

There is some stuff I actually liked in the action climax! Un-ironically cool business that is actually done well! And then it gets incoherent again, but for a few minutes there, damn, four stars, baby, four stars. There’s a little subplot about how Cassie feels about her mom that’s almost almost emotionally affecting. There’s Cassie’s whole character arc about embracing these teenage girls as her own. There’s a genuinely funny gag where Cassie checks to see if she’s a wallcrawler. There’s this bit where the girl whose thing is riding a skateboard does a skateboard-type thing in the action climax, FOUR STARS.

But then there’s the completely embarrassing sequel tease at the end that made me understand why some people describe this movie as a two-hour trailer because yeah. I went to see this at the drive-in because I wanted to go to the drive-in but needed a movie where I wouldn’t mind if the picture and sound sucked. So thank you, Madame Web, for being a movie that sucked.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Lord of the Rings Concert

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Recently, I got to perform the score of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on stage at Radio City Music Hall, where they played the movie and had live instrumentalists and singers perform the music. I was one of 100 adult choristers as part of MasterVoices (altos rule!); there was also a children’s choir (Brooklyn Youth Choir), a full symphonic orchestra (the Orchestra of St. Luke’s), and a mezzo-soprano soloist (Kaitlyn Lusk), all under the baton of Maestro Ludwig Wicki, who worked with Howard Shore to adapt the music for a live show. According to the show’s posters, that was 238 musicians total, and according to how crowded that stage was, that is absolutely accurate (seriously, my score kept whacking into those of my fellow altos).

Don’t let that photo fool ya; the show sold out (the pic was taken by an early birdie who got there before most of the audience). It was quite something, to hear 6,000 movie fans cheering their favorite moments and lines and meme moments.

Here are a few fun facts from behind the scenes.

1. The show is performed around the world, and singers all use the same scores.

They’re issued to us before rehearsals, and we have to return them when we’re done. Which means pretty much all the scores have notes, cues, and markings written in by previous choristers, in an assortment of languages. The Maestro and the soloist travel with the show, but the orchestra and choirs are local.

As far as I can tell, my score was previously used by a French tenor…
“Le Roi” is French, right??

2. Lyrics? What lyrics?

According to Maestro Wicki, the music comes before the text, which is used more as a vocalise than actual lyrics. Apparently, Tolkien scholars have written to Shore pointing out mistakes in the text, which Shore heartily ignored. Text is presented in the score as a series of syllables. For instance, here’s The Last March of the Ents.

What the text Sindarin says:

rithannen i geven
thangen i harn
na fennas i daur
ol dûr ristannen

What we see:

REE THAN NEN EE EH VEN / THANG GEN EE HAHRN / NAH FEN NAH EE DOWR / OLL DOOR REE THAHN NEN

By the way, that’s not the end of the musical phrase. The end of the phrase comes in the middle of a word, and the boy soprano soloist begins his run on the second syllable of said word.

3. There are more choir parts in the stage show than in the movie

At least the version that’s on Amazon Prime. I watched The Two Towers with my score, mostly out of nerdy curiosity but also because I wanted to see which scenes our singing lined up with. There were multiple parts where my score showed choir entrances, but I didn’t hear any singing in the film. My guess is that some choir parts were taken out during the sound mixing (or sound editing?? what’s the difference??) process to avoid clashing with dialogue. Also, in the Dead Marshes scene, the choir provides a sound effect by whispering text…

4. The tempo changes A LOT

To keep up with the push and pull of dramatic moments in the movie, the pacing of the music is constantly shifting. There are some parts where we have a different tempo in every measure… things might be getting increasingly faster to build up to a big moment, or slow abruptly for dramatic effect (such as when Gandalf the White appears). The time signatures are also super fluid—one measure might be in 3, followed by one in 5—which allows the music to stretch out or contract. The only way to keep us to watch the maestro LIKE A HAWK.

 5. Maestro Wicki mouths along to a lot of parts

Speaking of Maestro, because he needs such precise pacing for the movie (which, after all, will not stop and wait if we fall behind, or speed up if we get ahead), he’ll often mouth the syllables of the choir parts to show us exactly what timing he wants. As long as we mirror him, we’re good!

There are also a few parts with no music, and he’ll sometimes mouth along to the movie’s dialogue just for fun (my favorite is him doing “PO-TA-TOES!”)

Maestro Wicki with a drawing of Gandalf that John Howe drew in his concert score in about 5 minutes before a show

6. We breathe at random times

The Lord of the Rings music includes a lot of suuuuuuper long phrases, and no individual human could sing for so many measures without breathing. Fortunately, there are a hundred of us in the choir. To give the illusion of unbroken lines of music, we all sneak breaths at random moments. Just don’t breathe at the same time as your neighbors…

7. The choir can barely hear the movie

The sound design at the theater is for the audience to get the best audio experience, and the speakers are actually in front of the stage. Which means from the back, where the choir is, we can barely hear the movie, and what we do get is weird and reverb-y. Especially since we’re right behind the percussionists, and they are LOUD, there are several parts we can’t hear at all. We also can’t see the movie, which is behind us, which means we really have to rely on music cues to know when to come in.

A choir’s eye perspective

8. Dress rehearsal and the first performance are on the same day

From 1ish in the afternoon to 5ish in the afternoon, we did our dress rehearsal, which was the first and only time we got to run through the whole movie without an audience. At 8PM that same evening, we did our first show. The reason for that is so the show only has to rent the hall on the days we’re performing; otherwise the hall would be dark the night before (and be making zero moneys).

9. The dressing rooms aren’t on stage level

For the choir, they’re on the third floor stage left, which means to get out after the show, some of us have to get off, cross behind the whole stage, then go up three flights (or wait for the elevator… of which there is exactly one). So it can take a while to leave after the show!

10. The choristers don’t get paid

The choirs get paid, as in the organizations, but the individual singers (for both the adult and youth choruses) are there on a volunteer basis, because we love the music, and the opportunity to perform, and, in many cases, The Lord of the Rings.

La Brea’s “The Road Home, Part 2” ends on high notes all around

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Finales are tricky things. Most long running series have their work cut out for them, but high concept shows – even without having the trouble of a long run – pose a particular problem. Depending on the concept upon which they’ve been built there is added shit to deal with. Not only do you have your standard character issues to clean up, but you’ve got that high concept that needs settling.

La Brea plays it safe on all fronts. Ignoring many a plot-line in its race to the finish. Does it work? Is it a satisfying conclusion? Let’s see what happened and then get into the nitty gritty.

We start with a flashback featuring Gavin and Eve at the recently mentioned Wisdom Tree. Then we’re back in Los Angeles circa 1965 with Helena casually stealing a car to help them achieve their goals. Plan is simple: Use an EMP bomb to wipe out the servers thus destroying any time travel research at Maya’s main facility. Are we worried about there being other, backup servers, in other, more secure locations? No. No, we are not. This is the only one and once we destroy it that’s it! No need to concern ourselves with James or Caroline. Nope. This is the ONLY source of time travel tech. Whew!

Back in 10K B.C. Scott explains how the double aurora works and Ruth and Leyla assure Veronica and Lucas they will lead their people here so they can go home if they choose. Do we get to see any of our favorite background players? Nope. Not even Judah. Oh well. Let’s assume everyone that wanted to was able to travel back to 2021 sans issues. Also, it might be good to note that, if Ty’s experience is to be the bellwether, aren’t they all going back to two weeks before the sinkhole? So…what about their current selves? Hmm? We don’t have time? I mean, it’s a show about time travel, but ok, sure…SKIP! In fairness to 10K B.C. all is not resolved anyway, as you might recall Paara is still MIA. Luckily, Ty, Lucas, and Scott’s interrogation and subsequent investigation of the bad guys’ jeep reveals Paara’s ring. This leads to the discovery that a group of fort folk were attacked by dinos not far away. Scott is weirdly optimistic that Paara isn’t dead, and Ty clings to that hope.

Essentially the 1965 story mostly involves Sam finding and performing emergency surgery on Riley. It’s a nice moment that allows them to bond as father and daughter, Sam finally opening up to Riley in the way she’s been wanting of him. And, while Gavin and co. reach the facility they miss Eve by that much. On the bright side, they get Josh back. Helena eventually reappears to describe a fight that could have been and explains Eve is staying in 1965 to set off the EMP bomb. Once that’s settled it’s off to the military base in 10K B.C. to end this!

The 10K B.C. side is a large chunk of the episode, naturally. Ty reunites with Paara after a death-scare. They kiss, it’s very sweet. Ty reassures his beloved that he doesn’t want to live in a time without her, so 10K B.C. is home sweet home for him. Lucas and Veronica figure out what their future is going to look like – spoiler, Lucas is open to returning to 2021 thanks to the love of his friends and family. If you noticed Veronica’s cramps and thought something more might be coming, I assure you it’s not. There simply isn’t time for it. Instead, it’s played off as her stressing out about having a kid giving Lucas the opportunity to once again lift his woman’s spirits – which he does to excellent results. Their relationship is one of the sweetest parts of this season and though I wasn’t 100% convinced of this couple in the beginning, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Granted, a lot of that is due to the truncated season forcing optimal couple goals, but still.

After those two issues are dealt with, it’s just a matter of Gavin and co. storming the military base (with the aid of a T-Rex) and getting the chip. Scott and Lucas have a briefly described side quest where they rescue Petra – in a full season we definitely would have seen this play out in great detail, but much like the fire fight Helena describes with Eve we’ll just have to imagine what could have been. We do get one semi big fight scene. See, after getting the chip, Maya and a boatload of soldiers show up to stop the gang from escaping. But, then Ty, Paara and the rest of the fort folk (and I’m guessing any sky people who didn’t choose to go back to 2021) show up as reinforcements. All hell breaks loose, Leyla gets to make up for betraying everyone by saving Izzy via arrow – they share a last longing look of what could have been, and then rejoin the others. It’s a short-lived victory though, because the aurora has closed.

That’s it right? Everyone is trapped in 10K B.C., yes? Nope! Don’t forget about the whole reason for the clandestine time travel project in the first place: fighter jets! Thanks to plot, there’s room for everyone. But wait, there’s more! In a final desperate ploy, Maya takes Josh hostage and demands the chip. She gets it, plus a shot to the chest from Helena.

Alls well that ends well, literally. We are treated to a litany of happily ever afters. Lucas and Veronica’s baby is on track for a healthy birth, Scott has eternal brunch plans with the couple, he also makes amends with Emily (Leela Rashid) and they kiss. Ty is happy in 10K B.C. with his wife. Josh and Riley reunite, as does Sam with Riley and the rest of his family including his ex-wife. Even Helena is invited to family dinner. Who’s missing? Eve of course! No worries, after a traffic joke, the Harrisons are finally made whole.

First, the bad. It’s a shame that the series chose not to have Izzy and Leyla kiss. I get that in the end Leyla betrayed Izzy and that’s why they don’t join everyone else in the finale kiss cam, but seriously…there was time before the betrayal to have these ladies solidify their love. Ah well.

Next, Scott’s paper. Remember that paper that was so important Maya’s people kidnapped Scott for it? Yeah, we never get an answer on that. At all. We’ve covered James and Caroline. The pirate booty is also left behind to no applause. But maybe the worst betrayal is how poorly handled Eve and Levi are. Granted, the writer’s strike explains a lot of what’s lacking in this final season. Which is sad, because there were a lot of promising story lines that are forced to die on the vine.

You know what can’t be blamed on the writer’s strike? All the happy endings. I’ve seen enough series finales to know they can go one of a few ways. You’ve got the mega happy ending, the middle of the road ending, and of course the frustratingly bad ending (or, debatable if you like). Lately, a lot of shows have been playing it safe. Don’t get be wrong, I love a good happy ending for some characters, but every character in an ensemble this big getting a happy ending??? It feels disingenuous. Riley should have died. Paara should have died. Eve should have died. Hell, even Helena if you didn’t want to kill off Eve. For fuck’s sake…Riley was torn apart by a raptor. A RAPTOR. Not only that but she was trapped in 1965 with inadequate medical care for who knows how long. Paara is even worse! She was trapped under debris and somehow no part of her body was punctured or lost circulation due to the pressure??? Also, also, wasn’t she missing for days? Shouldn’t she have starved to death!? As for Eve, uh, again, in a firefight with trained soldiers. One of them should have died or at least been critically wounded. Not to mention Veronica’s pregnancy scare (which I did briefly mention).

Still, overall, is it the worst series finale I’ve ever seen? No, that’s still Lost by far. But, it was a little too saccharine for my taste. I like a finale with more consequences, especially when the stakes are set this high. It’s too bad, though I’m sure there’s plenty of fans who are happy everyone made it out OK. Happy to know that living in 10K B.C. created lifelong relationships among a group of strangers who had the misfortune to fall into a giant sinkhole. Because, for all the sci-fi insanity, this really was a show about the characters, and on that front I will say it succeeded. It never forgot the real stars of the show, which is a win in my book.

‘Quantum Leap’ Sends Ben on a Journalistic Expedition in “The Outsider”

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Image: NBC

It can be hard to keep doing good when all your efforts feel futile. And in Quantum Leap episode 211, “The Outsider,” Ben must convince former star journalist Connie Davis that she shouldn’t give up on hard-hitting stories because her last effort ended in disaster. At the same time, he must convince himself… his efforts to keep Hannah from becoming a widow in the future seem to have failed. She received his warning about her husband’s heart condition and got it treated in time, but now, said husband is doomed to die in a car crash. It’s almost as if the Fates (ahem, the writers) wants the guy to die… to make her available to Ben in the future? Whatever, I just can’t with this whole Hannah storyline, and mercifully, it’s merely a blip in this otherwise very excellent episode.

Image: NBC

The leap kicks off with Ben in a phone booth, receiving an ominous warning that a lot of people are going to die. He soon discovers that he’s a young news producer in the 1980s, and that Connie, after her career-ending failure in New York, is now a local newswoman in Denver, covering silly stories like one about the largest pumpkin. And Connie is absolutely adamant about retaining her puff-piece persona; no more deep investigations or world-shattering truth bombs for her. She’s grateful to just have a job. Even after Addison helps Ben figure out that the mysterious tip was about a weedkiller that is about to go to market despite being a carcinogen, Connie is resistant. But eventually, her journalistic instincts kick in, and she and Ben set out to reveal the truth.

Image: NBC

The episode has all the markers of a good journalism thriller: high stakes (thousands will die of cancer if this weedkiller is released!), mysterious sources (who’s the voice in the phone booth??), physical threats (a guy in a ski mask tells Ben to drop the story!), and enough twists and turns to keep you wondering how this one’s going to work out. Connie is a compelling and sympathetic subject for Ben’s leap; it’s easy to root for her, especially when she’s on her game, yet when she reveals why she’s been banished from the world of hard-hitting news, you can’t help but feel for her.

The leap by itself makes for a great watch. What makes the episode more impressive is that it balances the aforementioned thriller with drama back home at Quantum Leap HQ, without compromising either story line. The mysterious boss, whose quantum chip enabled Quantum Leap program to resume, has entered the room, and he wants his pound of flesh. Just who is Gideon Rydge, and how does he have the power to mess with the Quantum Leap program? I’m still trying to figure that out, but he’s giving me serious Elon Musk vibes: a smarmy, entitled jackass who thinks he’s above the government… because he kind of is. He’s got tech that the government wants, and therefore he has some sway.

Image: NBC

Ian, of course, is the reason Gideon is out for blood. Tom is left in the uncomfortable position of interrogating Ian about what they did and why, and Magic is left in the even more uncomfortable decision of figuring out what to do about it. Does he fire Ian, not only breaking everyone’s hearts, but also depriving the program of the one person who might be able to figure out how to bring Ben home? Does he offer up Jenn, who helped Ian with the whole chip thing, as a sacrificial lamb instead? That ain’t who Magic is though, and though I could immediately see where this was going, the ending still hit hard.

Image: NBC

By the way, Tom is taking the whole break-up with Addison pretty well. Of course he’s got his issues with her, but so far, he hasn’t been vindictive, or whiny, or even cold, showing that he’s actually a good guy at heart. Which, thank goodness. I am so, so sick of the get-out-of-love-triangle-free card where writers reduce one love interest to an irredeemably evil cartoon villain who’d only been pretending to be nice all along. It’s hackneyed, it’s lazy, and it makes the heroine at the center of the love triangle look like a total buffoon (it’s also so, so overdone… the last TWO books I read used the same trope). That one love interest simply wasn’t the right fit, despite ticking all the boxes, allows for a lot more character depth on the part of both said love interest and the central heroine (in this case, Addison). Which is why I’m sincerely hoping that the writers leave well enough alone with this love triangle and don’t reveal next week that Tom is a mustache-twirling baddie who screams histrionics and tries to murder everyone. If they do, I’m throwing this whole season in the trash.

Anyway, kudos to the writers for giving us not one, but two compelling storylines this episode, and balancing them so well in 40 short minutes. This iteration of Quantum Leap has always felt like two shows smashed into one — a time-travel adventure and a contemporary sci-fi thriller — and while it has struggled with that unwieldy format in the past, this week proves that we can have our leap and eat it too. Wait, what?!

4.5 / 5 stars… The mere mention of Hannah was enough for me to dock half a star. Sorry, like I said, I just can’t with that storyline.

 

Machina Corpse x Global Comix to Release The God Machine Volume 1 Free

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Cult classic comic, The God Machine, makes its return with Volume 2 via webcomics hub Global Comix!

It’s Valentine’s Day! As a gift to fans, Machina Corpse and Chandra Free invite those old and new into the intoxicatingly lush, dark, and mysterious world of teen Guy Salvator and the quirky Gods.

Following 2022’s successful relaunch of The God Machine with the Volume 1 re:VISION hardcover graphic novel, the spooky series returns with all-new weekly pages and behind-the-scenes bonus content via Global Comix and Patreon.

New readers will have the opportunity to catch up by reading Volume 1 starting February 15th with a FREE chapter update every Thursday until the debut of Volume 2 in March. Eager readers will also have the option to buy the physical edition of Volume 1 and its full digital PDF with bonus extras immediately.

Additionally, on March 19th, a charming 4-page recap comic, “Tea Party Theater at the Edge of Forever” will delight and prepare audiences for the new content.

The God Machine Creator and Machina Corpse co-founder, Chandra Free, is excited to bring her creation back via Global Comix. “I’ve been searching for a way to reach new readers while bringing new content to my existing fanbase,” she said. “Global Comix is an emerging leader in western styled webcomics with publishers like Valiant, Image, BOOM! Studios, and more coming to the platform. I felt The God Machine and my company, Machina Corpse, would be right at home here.”

With my partner Stephen Emond’s satirical comic, Jon Died on a Monday,” she continued, “we got to test the Global Comix waters, and liked what we saw.” She concluded, “The God Machine started as a webcomic in the late 2000s, so it feels fitting and comfortable to tell these new stories in this format before we produce a physical edition down the line.”

The God Machine is a majestic weaving of loss, love, teen angst, Gods, and monsters, designed as a large, ongoing series that Machina Corpse is excited to bring to readers both new and old. “This story has been in my head for years if not decades,” Free said. “I finally feel like the time is right to move forward and build on the foundation I’ve set for these characters. I’m so excited to share all the twists and turns I have planned and to connect with readers online while it happens.”

The God Machine “Time’s End” Volume 2 will update on Global Comix every Tuesday and Thursday morning starting March 21st with a traditionally styled black and white page with a guided view for mobile users at Global Comix: https://globalcomix.com/a/machina-corpse/comics

THE GOD MACHINE
Created by Chandra Free
Editorial/ Volume Two Lettering by Stephen Emond
For mature readers: [language, sexual situations, drug usage]

In ‘Quantum Leap’ Ep 210, Both Ben and the Home Team Hunt for Answers

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Image: NBC/Peacock

Sometimes, one of your favorite shows goes off the rails, but you keep watching anyway hoping it’ll find its way back. Well, I’m happy to report that this week, that was the case for Quantum Leap. Episode 210, “The Family Treasure,” is one of this season’s most fun episodes yet, full of adventure, mystery, thrills, and, of course, the show’s signature heart.

This time, Ben leaps into the (mercifully Hannah-free) life of Nadia, a 17-year-old Lebanese American girl in the 1950s. Ben and Nadia’s two older siblings (an eldest sister and a middle sibling who is obviously trans masc, yet whose identity / pronouns aren’t clarified till nearly the end) receive items from their recently deceased father, presented by the father’s lawyer and personal friend. The father was obsessed with discovering an ancient hidden treasure, to the extent of ignoring his family, and it doesn’t take long for the siblings to discover that each item contains a piece of a map.

Image: NBC / Peacock

In the original timeline, the middle sibling, Dean, went off alone to find the treasure and never made it back. So Ben insists that he and the eldest sister, Sarah, go with them and make it a family affair. Sarah is reluctant at first; she and Dean are polar opposites in many ways, and the two can’t stop bickering. In many ways, it’s a classic rivalry: The traditional “good girl” versus the rebellious non-conforming sibling.

Image: NBC / Peacock

But eventually the three wind up in Mexico, following their dad’s map. What follows is a classic treasure-hunt story, complete with enigmatic text clues, dark tunnels, and nefarious villains. The plot is a bit compressed given the show’s runtime (and need to make room for its signature conversations about the characters’ feelings), but remains entertaining despite feeling rushed. And one can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy about the sibling reconciliation that’s Ben’s true purpose in this leap.

Image: NBC/Peacock

While the show’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is admirable — hooray for women of color and trans folks in 1950s America! — the execution can be a bit ham-fisted. In this case, using Dean to explain what “non-binary” means feels a bit too didactic and does a disservice to the character. For a few moments, they’re no longer a person, but a walking, talking dictionary definition meant to educate the audience. Perhaps that’s necessary, considering Quantum Leap still airs on network TV and older viewers might need the clarification. Still, I feel like there must have been a smoother way to showcase Dean’s identity without having them literally explain it. The show did a much better job of bringing up trans issues in last season’s “Let Them Play.”

Image: NBC / Peacock

Anyway, all in all, it felt good to see Quantum Leap return to the kind of fun yet heartfelt adventure that made me love the show in the first place, where the focus is on the mission of putting right what once went wrong.

Meanwhile, back at HQ, some bombshells get dropped. First, Addison and Tom are getting married, much to the team’s surprise (though they’re plenty polite about congratulating her). And second, Rachel’s mysterious boss, the person pulling the strings of Quantum Leap after providing a vital component to restart the program, finally shows up.

Image: NBC / Peacock

I must admit to being less than invested in the sci-fi thriller-ish contemporary storyline. Not only because it’s been so fragmented, it’s hard to keep track of, but because the stakes aren’t entirely clear. Okay, so Ian made a deal with the devil, if you will, to get Quantum Leap back, and that devil is now getting data from the accelerator. So…? The fact of the threat is often reiterated, but the why of it is muddy.

Season 1 had the advantage of having an obvious mystery in need of resolving: Why did Ben leap? Season 2 is a lot murkier, and so the whole thing with Rachel’s boss feels more like a distraction than a story arc. But we’ve still got some episodes to go, so maybe it’ll all come together in the end.

The very concept of this current iteration of Quantum Leap came with a host of writing challenges. It tries to have things both ways: The episodic structure of the original, and the season-arc structure that’s currently in vogue in sci-fi/fantasy television. Basically, two shows smashed into one. The results are mixed, but this week’s episode shows that it can be done. We get our (albeit rushed) adventure in the past, and we get our (albeit vague) contemporary thriller. Not bad for 40 minutes of screen time.

Here’s hoping they can keep up the balance in the coming weeks.

4.5/5 stars

La Brea’s “The Road Home, Part 1” sets up for a thrilling finale

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The groundwork gets laid for things to take off later, so let’s get caught up. Gavin’s not sure giving the chip to the mystery person who has Eve is a good idea. Izzy is worried she’s missing her chance to bond with Leyla when she turns down a date. Paara’s still missing, making Ty worried. And, Lucas has come to suspect there’s a traitor amongst them.

We get three suspects. One we already know is Maya – the obvious choice. Another is Ruth, who reacts poorly when Veronica finds a radio to the air base stashed in the council’s hut. Finally, Leyla, who is acting very shady when it comes to getting Izzy alone in the woods.

Maya is quickly sussed; Gavin sets up a little trap for her which she walks right into. Unfortunately, team 10k B.C. forgets that Maya has future tech, and her watch serves as a tracking device. Her people show up and rescue her, but before they can kill Gavin, Sam, or Ty, Helena shows up and takes out the armed men, sniper style. Helena then fills them in on Maya, who is the head of a private security firm contracted to create the fighter jet time machines. It’s why she wants that chip. In the chaos, Maya gets away via jeep. They all make their way towards the base.

Over at said base, we see Scott get put in a cell across from none other than Levi! Because it’s Levi, there has to be more to the story, and there is. Remember his tattoo? Levi joined up with Maya’s private security firm in order to get back to 10k B.C. so he could kill James. But he assures Scott he’s on team 10k’s side, all the way. Scott is, understandably, skeptical, but still plays along with the “fake” interrogation where Levi suggests Scott should be moved to a more secure location. The ploy works, and Maya approves having the prisoner transferred.

Traveling by river proves nearly fatal when Gavin and the gang’s raft is attacked by a giant alligator. While it gives them all a great story to tell one day, it also gives Gavin an opportunity to try and patch things up with Helena. See, before Gavin lost his memories, he and Helena had a plan to book it to Mexico after stealing the chip. Gavin backed out and his sis was left to run on her own.

Speaking of plans to escape life… Leyla wants Izzy to go away with her, to 2021! That’s right, Leyla lures Izzy out into the woods and lies to her about helping track down her dad, just to reveal that she sold out the fort for a chance to use a double aurora and leave 10k B.C.. Well, that explains Ruth’s sus behavior. Izzy isn’t thrilled, but when confronted by Veronica, Ruth, and Lucas, Leyla does the right thing and helps unlock the radio so the group can spy on the base for a change. Good timing, too, as they hear about Gavin’s party being in trouble.

Levi’s plan to get Scott moved was twofold. He’d heard from the other soldiers that Eve is being held at the same place, so he wanted to get Scott moved so he could see where it was and they could rescue Eve. Sadly, the plan goes tits up when Izzy appears on the scene, and Levi has to break cover to keep her from getting killed. Lucas joins the fight soon after, and Levi breaks off to help Gavin’s group. Izzy gets her shot to play hero after Levi, Helena, and Sam take out most of the enemies, leaving one for her to shoot with an arrow. Her morale boost is quickly lost when she discovers her prey got a single shot off and hit Levi in the gut. When Sam rushes over to put pressure on the wound you can see on his face the prognosis is, well, terminal.

Levi reveals to Gavin that Eve is nearby. Izzy says goodbye to her uncle, as her father forgives him for his transgressions. Levi dies, left unburied because time will not allow it. Scott managed to get the coordinates of the detention center’s location and they gotta go. But the location just has a double aurora waiting for them. Helena explains Maya’s main facility is in 1965, she must have Eve there. Since Josh and Riley are also there it tracks that Gavin, Sam, Izzy, and Helena all go through the aurora.

Man, we’re in the shit now, kids. Important players are dying, traitors are coming out into the open, and time travel might be a thing of the past (yeah, I said it).

Overall, a fantastic penultimate episode. Levi’s death was tragic but not entirely unexpected. First off, he committed a cardinal sin. Second, his wife and kid are dead. Third, let’s all be honest, we know he was still in love with Eve. Boy had to go, and what better way than as a hero for the cause? I’m sad to see him go, and I’m pretty sure that shot was to the chest, but either way it would have been fatal. Having him absent for the majority of this truncated season sucked, but it also made losing him a lot easier. Levi’s arc was complicated; hell, he was the reason the group lost their quick fix to getting out of 10k B.C. I get why he had to pay such a high price, but still…

The traitor angle was fun. At first, I was on board when Ruth being guilty because Paara is still MIA. Did Ruth kill her to take control? It would make sense. It’s a great motive, but sadly, no. My guess is Paara was taken by Maya’s people for… reasons? I’ll be honest, when Izzy heard the flies buzzing in the woods with Leyla I really thought we were gonna find Paara’s body. However, when it turned out to be the soldiers and Leyla wasn’t too surprised, well that’s not natural.

Leyla was a good traitor. She had her mother’s access to the council tent. Most everyone ignored her (or must have for her to be able to do this for as long as she did). But the weird thing is, the way Leyla makes it sound, Maya promised her an escape for her and Izzy to live happily ever after in exchange for information. Problem is, Levi and Petra get kidnapped in the first episode, before Izzy and Leyla meet. Yeah, they meet in the second episode, and by the third episode Maya appears, but still… was Leyla always planning on bouncing and just decided to add Izzy to her plans after they met? Suppose it’s not the worst plot hole. Seems a little forced just so Ruth isn’t the obvious solution, a little red herring for funsies!

How will everything come together? What’s up with Scott’s paper and why is it so important? My only guess there might be that the plants’ regenerative powers prevent the human body from falling apart when it travels through time? Who exactly invented time travel in this entire show? We’ve got Gavin’s mom and dad, who we were told created the science behind it, then it was a secret government project that James built off of, and now it’s Maya? Not loving the changing stories, folks. Also, will everyone in 10k B.C. be able to get back home? And, if they can, will they all choose to? Do the auroras just not cause sinkholes anymore? Finally, will we see Eve for real? OK, finally, finally, is anyone else gonna die? Paara… I’m looking at you…

La Brea’s “Fire Storm” heats things up!

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After being disappointed by “Maya”, La Brea has more than made up for it with Tuesday’s adventure: “Fire Storm.”

We begin in 2021 with Gavin getting kidnapped at gunpoint by a mystery woman. Ty and Sam are once again on the hunt for Gavin.

Back in 10k B.C. Sam’s suspicions about their unnamed contact is proven correct when the person produces a picture that appears to be Eve tied to a chair. Gavin’s gotta find that chip or Eve is toast. Maya tries to get him to think about where it is, but the absentminded pilot is convinced he hid it in 2021. Sam’s got a solid idea – send a message to 2021 via the tar pits. Turns out, Scott knows people who can get it to his 2021 self, though he’s not sure how helpful that him will be.

In other bad news there’s a huge fire headed their way forcing the fort to evacuate ASAP. Luckily, Lucas and Veronica make amends allowing her to lean on him in this hard time. So, while Sam, Lucas, and Veronica help lead the people to higher ground, Izzy, Scott, Maya, and Gavin head for the tar pits. This gives Scott a chance to ask a stupid question (I know your well-meaning teachers told you there’s no such thing, but there totally is). Why oh why would a time travel project want an anthropologist around? Really!?! I mean, Bones made an entire show of an anthropologist solving murders in modern times. You really think a person with extensive knowledge of the PAST wouldn’t be helpful in dealing with a TIME TRAVEL project!? Scott’s low-self-worth aside, they succeed in sending the message.

Before heading off to 2021 we also see Lucas pick up a stray wolf pup much to Sam’s protest. Meanwhile, 2021’s Sam’s got a cop friend searching for the car Gavin was taken in. In a brief moment of downtime Ty and Sam bond a bit until Scott calls Gavin’s phone (which Ty happened to find left behind). Why does Scott’s number come up as if he’s a contact in Gavin’s phone? What does the “Maybe” before it mean? We’ll get back to that.

Ty and Sam try to talk to Scott and he seems vaguely open to listening, to the point he lets them into his home, but he’s not totally convinced. Ty is determined to win him over…with food!

Over in 10k B.C. Lucas and Sam bond a bit when it’s clear the fire is bothering Sam a lot. Thing is, Sam’s faced fire before and had to scramble to get his family to safety. It left him shaken. Unfortunately, returning to the group reveals that Ruth’s scouts are sure the fire will reach the fort. Fortunately, there is a river nearby and if they open the damn the water will flood the area putting the fire out. Unfortunately, it’s in the direction of the fire, so naturally Sam, Lucas, and Veronica volunteer.

The smoke is making things bad for Gavin’s lungs and he and Izzy take a break while Scott and Maya go off to get water-soaked clothes (fire tip, it helps against smoke inhalation!). Gavin has a flashback showing him a paper written by Scott.

2021 Gavin is getting some cryptic answers of his own. The lady is named Helena, and I love how Gavin points out her telling him her name explains NOTHING. Alright, how about she was civilian consultant to the military and is the reason he was one of the pilots selected for the time travel program? Or, that they were working together to stop the military from creating jet fighter time machines? Gavin’s skeptical, but Helena says she’s got receipts!

In 10k B.C. Gavin questions Scott about the paper. Our former pot head is confused as A: he never published it and B: what would a paper about the regenerative properties of prehistoric plants have to do with time travel (again, SERIOUSLY!?!)? Scott asks who showed him the paper and all Gavin can say is the person has three scars on their arm. The fire is closing in though, prompting Gavin and Izzy to head off while Scott goes back to get Maya.

Some millennia later in 2021 Helena makes good on her promise using her thumbprint and Gavin’s to open a safety deposit box wherein lies the stolen microchip (which is HUGE btw).

The damn destroyers of 10k B.C. reach their destination but instead of being able to use the damn the easy way, they’re gonna have to blast it, thanks Veronica! Sam says it’s doable but when the dog runs off into fire territory he runs off after it. This leads Lucas to abandon damn too, leaving Veronica and Ruth to make a bomb.

2021 Ty and Sam are still making progress with Scott. Ty butters him up using insider knowledge comfort food and his shrink powers. Our dear Mary Sue is suffering from a wicked case of heartbreak. Conveniently, Sam and Ty are both excellent pep-talk givers and Scott shows them the note. Not soon after, Sam’s LAPD contact calls about that BOLO.

Speaking of…Helena has taken Gavin to a lake where she confesses, she’s his half-sister. Their father was a d-bag obsessed with time travel. He used the government’s science to build his own time travel experiment, hence the sinkholes. It’s why Gavin and Helena teamed up to stop him, and Gavin gets on board.

10k B.C. Sam searches the fire and smoke for the dog, successfully finding the little pup. Lucas wonders why it was so important and Sam recounts when that fire happened the family dog was killed. What’s worse is Riley made him feel bad about it. This second chance has a kind of happy ending, he finds the dog, but there is no way out of the burning woods. Thankfully, Veronica’s third time is a charm as she triggers the explosion releasing the life-saving water. Ruth gives her a “good work”.

Over in 2021 Helena takes Gavin to a double aurora. Blue leads to 10k B.C.; Red leads to 1965. Helena says they need to take the chip to 1965 to stop the time travel shit at the source. Of course, Sam and Ty show up at that moment to plead with Gavin for the chip. Sam pulls out his SEAL moves once Helena ups the ante with her gun, but Ty successfully acquires the chip.

Things wrap up in 10k B.C. with Scott realizing Maya is evil, Maya getting the drop on Scott (oh, Scott…you make it too easy!), Lucas and Sam surviving the fire thanks to the water, and everyone returning to the fort in celebration. Even Ty returns with microchip in hand. It’s great! Except for…you know, Maya being evil.

Whew! What a jam-packed episode! A solid final season entry if ever I did see one. There was character development, more explanations of the mythology, and stakes raised!

I had lamented that Scott seemed like a waste and sadly I can’t retract my statement. I mean, this kid is smart. He’s smart enough to be suspicious when Sam and Ty show up claiming to be Gavin’s friends. He even does the classic movie nerd time travel movie evaluation of the situation. That being said, he can’t wrap his head around why a time travel project might benefit from having an anthropologist on the pay role!? Like, come on man, you clearly weren’t born yesterday. You really have ZERO idea why the gov or even a villain of the show like James might need to know which old timey plants could, I dunno…cure cancer, heal terrible injuries, or say, create a fucking super soldier???

And, if that wasn’t bad enough (he asks this question TWICE!), when he realizes Maya is evil, he just straight tells her! Seriously dude??? Aren’t you the one who watches all the movies??? In Scott’s defense, he’s been an idiot before. Remember all that shit with Lucas, and then Taamet? Kid’s got a serious blind spot for real world danger that frankly doesn’t jive with the character they’ve made him out to be so far.

I do appreciate how they finally introduced Gavin’s sister, and through her we get an explanation about his father’s place in all this. Does leave Caroline out in the cold. Also, if they destroy the initial program would it really stop James? Maybe not, but we’re in the endgame now, any loose threads will have to stand. I’m still wondering what’s the explanation for why Scott’s number was seemingly in Gavin’s phone – was it because of Maya? Helena?

Lucas and Veronica’s couples goals are great to see, clearly sped up for the purposes of the truncated season, but hey, I’ll take a little joy where I can on this show. Also, how did it take this show so damn long to get a dog!? Finally, hoping Riley and Josh make an appearance in the next episode, since Ty is back it would give the show a new time period jump excuse.

Only two episodes left guys, I’m very interested to see how this all wraps up. Will we see James again? What about Eve? Levi showed up in the trailer for next week’s episode so…Petra too? Will the next episode reveal who has Eve? Only time will tell…

‘Quantum Leap’ Dials Up the Action and the Emotions in “Off the Cuff”

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One of the biggest shifts in tone between the current iteration of Quantum Leap and the 1989 original is the unrelenting spotlight on the characters’ emotions. At its best, the current show delivers some truly powerful emotional moments, really digging into the characters’ feelings and letting the actors and writers show off how well they can tug at your heartstrings. At its worst, it just kind of gets tiresome, and everyone starts feeling a bit whiny.

If you’ve been falling my Season 2 reviews of this show, then you can probably tell by now that I’m not a big fan of the Ben-Hannah romance storyline. It’s rushed, it’s shallow, and it stubbornly refuses to address matters of consent when Ben is in someone else’s body. But I’m tired of harping on that.

Broody Ben

So I was actually quite glad when Episode 209, “Off the Cuff,” chose to focus more on Ben’s latest adventure, at least for the first half (even though Ben himself keeps obsessing over Hannah). Ben has leaped into an ex-cop-turned-bounty-hunter who already has his latest quarry, a sleazy lawyer with shady clients, including a dangerous arms dealer. Problem is, the lawyer, Kevin, has also double-crossed said arms dealer, and in the original timeline, he escapes jail only to be horrifically tortured and killed. So Ben’s job is to deliver him safely to jail.

Kevin, though, doesn’t make things easy. Not only does he keep trying to escape or bribe his way out of the situation, but he’s incredibly obnoxious, promoting a philosophy he calls “radical selfishness.” Truly, he tries Ben’s (and the audience’s) patience. I did enjoy how the show made fun of its own formula, when Ben wonders aloud whether the person he’s supposed to help this time has any redeeming traits. We’re treated to some fun action sequences as Ben and Kevin dodge the bad guys, and I was like, “Yes, please, this is the show I’m here for!”

Please go away

Except then he has to go all gooey-eyed over Hannah again, and it’s seriously tiresome (and I’m usually a romance fan!). Makes me want to put on my Regina George voice and say to the writers, “Stop trying to make Hannah happen! She’s not gonna happen!”

Meanwhile, Addison is wrestling with her own feelings, over seeing Ben fall in love with another woman while trying to figure out where she stands with Tom. And then there’s the mysterious clue that Tom dropped about a possible way to bring Ben back.

Romantasy

Look, I’m glad that the show is trying to give the characters emotional depth, but this week’s episode was a bridge too far in my opinion. All the romance stuff felt distracting (and, after weeks and weeks of non-stop moping from both Ben and Addison, downright whiny) from what was otherwise a pretty sharp action-adventure episode. I wonder if the show is suffering from its season length; maybe if it had 26 episodes to fill, instead of just 18, it could space out the romantic crap a bit more, with a few episodes where it doesn’t feature in between.

As it is, I groan each time Hannah shows up (no offense to the actress). Based on where the episode left off, we aren’t rid of her yet, and based on how the season trajectory seems to be going, we probably won’t be rid of her until the end. Which means I’ve got to slog through 8 more episodes of this nonsense… God I hope at least 2 or 3 of them have no Hannah at all. Because my patience for that character and the related storyline is gone, and I could use a week where we go back to worrying more about changing history for the better than Ben’s lonely heart.

3.5 / 5 stars – The action stuff was really quite good!

The Curse Review: “Green Queen” Shoots for the Stars and Delivers

"Your circuit's dead. There's something wrong." | Photo: Jeff Neumann | A24 | Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

Episode 10 of The Curse (A24/Showtime) begins with a celebrity cameo: Rachael Ray. Say what you will about her, I’m as big a sucker for a good guest spot as anybody else is. Not all are created equal. Some are met with confusion, others, derision, but I’m a fan when the celebrities play jerkier versions of themselves and this did not disappoint. Outside of giving Whitney (Emma Stone) and Asher (Nathan Fielder) some guff on their passive homes, the eponymous talk show host sidesteps the interview for more screen time cooking with in-studio guest Vincent Pastore. Two celebrity cameos in one cold open? Fuck it, it’s the finale, go hard in the paint.

Rachael could give a shit and I can easily see why Whitney’s not satisfied with her current situation. With a kid and a second season on the way, they’re only on streaming and it’s killing her, especially with Cara being hailed for quitting art. The concept of re-traumatizing isn’t clicking, so her resorting to jocose mockery is a great character trait, repugnant as it is. But the “gift” Asher gives to her straight took the air out of the room for me. His generosity displayed, complete with the model of Questa Lane isn’t exactly what it seems.

I’ve felt that he was at least somewhat genuine in the work on that house. I expected it all to work out. The righteous have their place in this world of Benny and Nathan’s, but if there was one episode I was banking on Asher to change to come in clutch, it would have been the finale. Damn.

Instead, his allowing Whitney to take part in presenting Abshir his house feels a little like the re-packaging of his efforts to use as a gift and the physical token of the model is more like a reminder of what Asher did for her, not what they did for Abshir. It’s a selfish gift, but I’m not mad at it because it’s good character writing.

The model itself right next to the Challah on the table is a perfect visual. The couple don’t respect their community, they eat ‘em up. Whitney ain’t feeling it, but her painted smile belies the real story underneath. I found her to be more scared than pleased, as I see this move on Asher’s part to be his most duplicitous yet. It also marks our first big tonal shift 17 minutes in.

Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) doesn’t seem initially impressed with the reveal. Even though they promise to pay property taxes, his giving them nothing in terms of a reaction is rather satisfying. I mean Asher reveals to Whit he recorded the interaction so she could perversely relieve it later. I’m super glad Abshir cannot be fleeced, no matter how hard they try.

With the contractions getting to Whitney, passive is no longer a viable way of living. They not only have introduced less efficient modernity to their home by way of a unit to monitor pressure inside and out of the baby’s room but have also introduced a massive tonal shift when Asher sings to the baby that night, asserting there is a “little him” inside Whitney. Ugh. That just gave me the chills.

It certainly gives Whitney pause, Emma’s face saying it all, quite possibly the most disturbed she’d been the entire season. The acting shows terror in bringing a baby into this world with a goddamn child as his father. Nearly halfway in, we take a turn all my weeks of conjecture and theorizing couldn’t have prepared me for.

Asher stuck to the ceiling. You read that right. Asher’s not able to climb down, even with the door and window in the house opened and even trying to Whit as a literal ladder (rather fitting), it just goes from “what?” to “huh?”. Asher pinioned to the ceiling is disorienting in a way I haven’t felt since watching the Inception hallway fight, but even more of a head trip is watching the intrepid Whitney crawling around the house, craftily providing a visual counterbalance.

The series has been fueled by parallels, metaphors, and symbolism, so I’m glad to see the octane is far from running dry. This includes Whitney being ordered by Asher to stay down instead of standing on her own two feet to help him. Despite the incredulous nature of the situation, the emotional gravity was enough to keep the whole set piece very much grounded. It’s ironically airtight through and through.

Whit’s doula Moses (Elliot Berlin) tries to wrangle Asher down, but fails, landing Asher in a tree. The doula does provide some levity in the levitation situation by reciting “This is normal” as if this isn’t the most batshit thing ever. I also took the mantra as the creators addressing us, the audience. It’s as if they are saying, “Crazy, right? Look, you’ve been riding with us so far on this long strange trip, so let’s keep it poppin’,” resulting in Dougie (Benny Safdie) showing up, along with the cameras and the Española FD. Before you know it, Ashman’s rocketing towards the cosmos. Wait, what?

Interstitial cuts of Whitney in the OR combined with Asher rising from the earth are stellar. Yes, I said it. She ultimately comes out on the other side of her Caesarean section, meeting her baby for the first time. Whit being awash with relief and happiness as if a lassitude’s been lifted is some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen Emma Stone do. She slays, taking such a detestable character and imbuing her with such brilliant flashes of humanity, that you can’t help but give her a pass on being human. And don’t think for a second I missed the parallel between Whit’s baby and grown baby Asher being “lifted”. Was he the Curse the whole time?

Directed by Nathan Fielder, we get some wild turns in this finale. The latter half felt rather Lynchian, complete with [whooshing]. We get more hints dropped that something is afoot with the HGTV crew, we get phenomenal acting from both Emma and Nathan, we get more full-circle moments and parallels, and we get visual metaphors with some very artful camera work. This includes a shot where Whitney looks more opaque than Asher through Abshir’s window, and a few longer tracking shots through the hospital and town before ending back up at the Siegel house and ultimately cutting to black.

I’ve heard Tom Scharpling of Best Show fame talk about screening The Curse in advance, albeit according to Benny Safdie, without the final touches put into place. This was 3 episodes in and Tom had stated that you wouldn’t see the ending coming from any amount of miles away. From that point on, I made it a priority to have my gimlet-eyed on each episode and oh boy was I thrown for a loop. I thought the couple’s whole situation would have gone up like a tinderbox, not just go up.

I harbor no enmity towards Nathan or Benny for challenging me as a viewer. This show was always comfortable taking risks from the very start which is why it felt familiar yet so alien. I don’t even know where to begin with what I just watched because all of the lingering unanswered questions were so brutally sidestepped to make way for something way more tantalizing (not unlike Rachael with the couple).

The finale was called “Green Queen” for a reason. In the ignominious interview with Rachel, they are addressed as “Queens”, plural. There can only be room for one. It still left me stunned and with so much grist for the question mill. So many more arose in this episode. Was that person in Abshir’s home a possible crew member? How was Freckle aware of the child’s gender? What will be the result of Whitney refusing the dream catcher? Why was Dougie so distraught? Could it have something to do with him cursing Ashman? Was he beamed up?

A literal translation of the Curse being lifted is too strong for me to ignore. Up until this point, every single action wove a taut tapestry of consequence, so I’m fine with some threads being left loose to tie up a major one.

The appeal to The Curse is its constant and clever use of misdirection. “Green Queen” literally slingshots that device into the stratosphere, resulting in something that will lead to many discussions among fans. It’s a strong ending to a series that doesn’t exactly need a second season if its creators let it stand on its own, much like Whitney is left doing.

5/5 Stars.

Addendum: Vincent Pastore’s cooking and crooning is something I didn’t know I needed.

La Brea’s “Maya” feels forced

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Tuesday’s La Brea episode did indeed take us back to 2021, though not for anything too interesting. Perhaps I’m expecting too much, but let’s break things down and see.

In 2021 Ty and Sam have explained shit to Gavin, who is not very receptive. To the point that he bails. Now it’s a hunt for Gavin.

Back in 10k B.C. Sam and Gavin head out on a recon mission that goes south quickly. First, it’s a woolly rhino, then a mine field, and finally just a good old-fashioned guy with a gun (congrats on making onto the IMDB, Aaron Cottrell!).

2021 reveals a second mission: Ty wants to help his estranged ex-wife (Sophie played by Annabelle Stephenson). She’s an alcoholic, like Gavin, and rebuffs his efforts, like Gavin.

Meanwhile, a lot is going down in 10k B.C. For one thing, Lucas has political ambitions – you know, for the good of the people. Unfortunately, Veronica’s efforts to help don’t work out as planned. Sam and Gavin get rescued by the very lady they’ve been looking for, Maya! She gives them some answers, explaining she, Gavin, and a bunch of other pilots were part of a government project to weaponize time travel. It’s why Gavin’s memories are missing. Maya’s job was to erase the pilots’ memories to keep the project hush hush. Maya was planning on whistle blowing but the government got wind and dropped her and Petra in 10k B.C. Lastly, we’ve got Izzy having a day out with Leyla. Although her mom introduced her as a warrior with a tone of pride, Leyla says her mom would rather she study council biz. She wants to bag a boar to prove she’s a good warrior but when her and Izzy come upon one, she winds up in a tar pit. As she gradually sinks and Izzy tries different methods to free her, Leyla opens up about her self-doubts and how her recently deceased twin brother was the only one who believed in her.

Far in the future of 2021, Ty meets with Sam who has found Gavin in a bar. Though Sam tried talking to their drunken friend without success, Ty lays down some tough love. He reveals the tragic soon to be fate of his ex-wife and how she won’t listen to him, then tells Gavin he’s a coward for not facing his problems.

Gavin’s 10k B.C. self isn’t having any easier of a time. Maya says she can use magic mushrooms to unlock his memories. Sam is skeptical but Gavin goes for it. Lucas has his ambitions crushed when Veronica reports that she got the council seat invite. It’s, uh, causing tension of course. On a happier note, Izzy’s rope idea to rescue Leyla succeeds, and just in time because a boar shows up and nearly spoils the win. In a reversal of fortunes, Leyla’s arrow is true and the boar itself becomes spoils.

2021 Gavin shows up at Sophie’s doomed AA meeting letting out his truths – one of which is to stop pushing away people who want to help you. It gives Sophie the guts to hear Ty out.

10k B.C. Gavin’s ill-advised mushroom trip guided by Maya technically bears fruit but also causes him to have a seizure. He gets some rest and when he’s awake him and Sam discuss what he remembered. He stole a microchip, and it’s possible the person who said they’d help find Eve is really just after his memories and that chip.

Finally, 2021 sees Ty and his ex-wife talk it out, and the three men pack into Sam’s car on the way to form a plan. But a mysterious woman follows them!

Overall, this is an OK episode. Not my favorite, but I didn’t hate it either. I was just “meh” about it. The 2021 storyline was necessary with regards to Gavin sure, but did we really need the stuff with Ty’s ex-wife? I suppose the answer is a reluctant yes, because it helps Ty break through to Gavin, but still… it didn’t need to be as many scenes. You could have just done the bar scene where Ty explains what’s going on, and the AA scene. Even that final scene with her could have simply been him tucking her into the car after they’d talked. It really didn’t add much in my opinion. It felt like forced filler.

On the 10k B.C. side you’ve got Sam and Gavin’s adventure, which at least gave us Maya and a huge piece of the puzzle in terms of Gavin’s buried memories.

Leyla, another new character we didn’t really need, does provide the show with a new LGBT couple, since the one from the first season died? It’s a question because I genuinely don’t know what happened to them. They just straight (pun!) disappeared. I will say the relationship also gives Izzy something else to do besides be petulant, and while it does feel forced, I think that’s a final season 6-episode issue more than anything. My guess would be the original idea was to have this build up to mid-season, an adorable side story of finding your person, but c’est la vie. As they say, you know when you know, so good on you girls!

Finally, there’s Lucas and Veronica’s unintentional power feud. I get heavy Lady Macbeth vibes here, but that might not be fair as initially Veronica isn’t pro Lucas wanting to join the council. Nor does she push him to do so. Which means, society has trained me to be suspicious any time a woman finds herself in power. Bad society! Frankly, the entire plot has some good criticisms on society. The fact that Veronica gets picked over Lucas is shown as being about Ruth seeing Veronica’s ability to reform someone like Lucas, but is it also because Veronica is a woman? Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying this as a negative, merely an observation that if the council member was a man, he’d probably have picked Lucas. Because it’s a woman, she’s more inclined to choose a woman. That’s a good thing, it’s literally why representation in hiring matters. Is that giving too much credit to this insane high concept network show? Maybe, but I’ll take my wins where I can. More likely it’s just a convenient way to create tension between a happy couple. The other part of this that tickles me is Lucas’s reaction. He’s genuinely shocked, not because he doesn’t think his girl can handle it, but because he’s the one who wanted it. Still, Veronica is the one who actually talked to Ruth. I honestly have to say her level of defensiveness to Lucas’s reaction is perfect. Even the passive aggressive way they leave things is on par. Gotta give it up for the acting here, especially since this show isn’t prone to subtle interactions often, so if you get your shot you better make it count and boy, do they!

Now that we know the time travel side of things is a government conspiracy it does leave some questions. Like, how did Gavin’s mom and dad factor in? Did they? We still haven’t heard anything from the sinister sister we were warned about. Also, where are Levi and Petra? This season has been cutting loose plot lines like a hot air balloon shedding sand bags so it can rise higher. Will they be able to pull off a satisfying conclusion in the next three episodes? Especially considering this episode felt like largely a waste. Not to say relationship goals don’t matter, but they tend to be a long game play, and frankly we ain’t got time for that!

La Brea’s “Don’t Look Up” Buries the Lead

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Tuesday’s episode started strong, giving us a lot of action and drama, but left me feeling jilted. We begin in 2021 and oddly I had forgotten all about Ty, but we’re quickly reacquainted as the poor guy sits in a restaurant lamenting his situation to a bartender (Shawnee Jones) – in code of course. She gives him a little advice and wouldn’t you know, he takes it!
Cut to 10K B.C. where Sam is freaking out. Gavin is trying his best to help but Sam is having none of it. He needs to find Riley stat! Meanwhile, since the Clearing is fucked, our gang has taken up temporary residence in the Village. And, while there’s no gaslighting about the time period, there is a lady named Ruth who’s in charge of things until Paara gets back. Ruth (Chantelle Jamieson) is…strict, and not the biggest fan of Sky folk. She sees them as individualistic and competitive instead of communal and cooperative. Making matters worse someone or something is killing warriors so Ruth ain’t got no time for Sky People nonsense. She proves this when she puts Gavin and Sam in the slammer after Sam attempts to leave during her lock-down protocol. Back…er…forward in 2021 I got excited because we see Sam in his pre-sinkhole life. But, it’s no flashback, Ty has simply taken the bartender’s advice to heart and gone to find help. Our resident shrink decides that less is more and hands the doc a list of events that will happen to convince him Ty’s got valuable info for him. Let’s all be glad those auroras don’t travel to parallel universes or it would be difficult AF to predict the future.
Over in the village, Izzy is trying to learn the bow and arrow because…reasons? I have no idea why this is a thing, but it is. It does introduce us to a new character, Leyla (Edyll Ismail), Ruth’s daughter who is a warrior and doesn’t appreciate a stranger using her bow. Since warriors are dying – we find out it’s because of pterodactyls – Ruth encourages her daughter to teach Izzy archery. Along with their clashing attitudes, Ruth’s conversation with Lucas following the bird attack results in all the Sky folk getting corralled into the “Long house” – good job Lucas. On the bright side, Scott has concluded that the birds are nesting, hence the attacks. As for Gavin and Sam, they talk about daughters. In 2021 Sam goes to the restaurant demanding answers and an explanation from Ty. Ty gives him the run down, but Sam refuses to buy it, forcing Ty to pull out the big guns revealing that he knows about Sam’s impending divorce and closet PTSD. It does go well, with Sam getting aggressive and threatening Ty before heading for the door. As Sam leaves Ty drops Maya Schmidt’s name hoping it’ll break through. Ten thousand years in the past, Lucas gives diplomacy a go and manages to convince Ruth to release Sam and Gavin to solve the bird problem. Leyla even warms up to Izzy! Everything goes relatively well – there’s a little hiccup with a helicopter but when all is said and done a new nest is made and the egg is safely moved. The Village celebrates the victory with a party where Ruth gives Lucas an actual bottle rocket. She encourages him and the other Sky people to keep up the good work and assures them with time they will earn their place. Gavin wins biggest of all, making up with Izzy, and convincing Sam to trust him in finding Riley.
Finally, in 2021, shit gets real. Ty’s just about given up when Sam returns with a folder on Maya Schmidt. Oh, that’s not even the best part…Ty has the brilliant idea to rope in another blast from the past: Gavin! Overall, I enjoyed this episode for the most part. I was interested in the 2021 stuff, but I get why they parsed it out the way they did. Letting us get to know Sam better definitely paid off when Ty was trying to recruit him to the cause. Also, funny to note that every military lady on this show gets killed, so we’ve only got two men to rely on. Maya might change that or, more likely, she goes the way of every other military lady – be careful, girl! Also, also, what is it with archery!? Why is this a thing!? I mean, I get it here because it’s 10K B.C. and it makes sense, but for real is there a conspiracy with Big Archery we should be worried about? Why does every angst-fueled girl decide the bow and arrow is the key to her salvation? I give props to Bob’s Burgers here for being real about the fantasy of teen girl archers – that shit is hard, ladies! Props to the girls who can do it though. Anyway, back to the episode. Seeing Lucas evolve as a character has been interesting and I like that the series makes him work for it. It’s not like, Boom! Lucas is a perfect leader! Man has flaws. It’s a quality this show has managed despite the high stakes. Even Gavin and Sam, the traditional alpha males of the series, get to show that they’re full-fledged people. I think the only disappointment in this series, for me, has been Scott.
Easy Scott lovers, this isn’t a condemnation, but for someone who has shown himself to be a main player, Scott comes off as a one-note background character a lot. In the first season, he used weed to deal with anxiety and became a victim of Lucas’s bullying. In the second season, he’s completely anxiety-free but gets bullied by Taamet (Martin Sensmeier). This season he’s essentially a Mary Sue type – capable of doing anything and knowing everything convenient for the plot. I’m hoping he gets his due this season overall. Besides those minor gripes, and wishing there was more from 2021, I consider this a solid episode. If the previews for the next episode are any indicator, we’ll be seeing a lot more of 2021. Oh…I hope Levi gets on board! Not gonna lie, he’s my favorite of the capable hotties in this show.

La Brea’s “Sierra” gets the final season started

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LA BREA -- "Sierra" Episode 301 -- Pictured: (l-r) Asmara Feik as Petra, Nicholas Gonzalez as Levi, Chiké Okonkwo as Ty, Eoin Macken as Gavin, Rohan Mirchandaney as Scott -- (Photo by: Mark Taylor/NBC)

Welcome back to one of the more entertaining high concept series in the last couple of years. For those of you worried you’re a bad fan, fear not! It’s been almost a year since the season two finale aired way back in February of 2023, so forgive yourself a little forgetfulness and let’s bone up a bit on what’s been going down before we fall right back into this insane ride!

First season finds our main characters all living their best lives in LA (respectively) when a giant sinkhole opens up and ruins their day. From there the goal two-fold. The folks trapped in 10,000 B.C. need to survive and figure out a way home. The folks in 2021 want to sort out what happened before attempting to rescue the sinkhole victims. This involves both the government and private institutions.

A lot of crazy shit goes down but here’s what matters. Gavin Harris (Eoin Macken), his wife Eve (Natalie Zea), son Josh (Jack Martin), and daughter Izzy (Zyra Gorecki) are the main family unit. Along the way we’re introduced to Scott (a brilliant pothead played by Rohan Mirchandaney), Lucas (a villain to hero type played by Josh McKenzie), MaryBeth (Karina Logue as Lucas’s mom), Veronica (Lily Santiago as a former kidnapee with trust issues), Lilly (Veronica’s “sister” played by Chloe De Los Santos), Sam (Jon Seda playing the doctor/ navy seal), Riley (Veronica St. Clair playing Sam’s daughter), Ty (a suicidal shrink with terminal cancer played by Chiké Okonkwo), Levi (Gavin’s bestie and Eve’s cardinal sin, thanks Nicholas Gonzalez), Isaiah (Diesel La Torraca), Silas (Mark Lee), and Paara (Tonantzin Carmelo) – ppl living in 10k B.C. already. Not to mention a bunch of other randos who serve a brief purpose and then either die or sink once more into the background.

LA BREA — “Sierra” Episode 301 — Pictured: (l-r) Zyra Gorecki as Izzy, Chiké Okonkwo as Ty — (Photo by: Mark Taylor/NBC)

Over the course of the season it’s revealed that Gavin is actually Isaiah, Mary Beth killed Lucas’s dick of a dad (she later dies), Lilly becomes a woman named Ella (played by Michelle Vergara Moore; she and Gavin were found as kids in 1988), and time travel is real! Breathe… ok.

Season two picks up with Josh and Riley in 1988 (they had to take Isaiah to a portal to ensure Josh and Izzy’s existence), Gavin and Izzy in 10K B.C., and the story, once again, centered largely on Gavin’s past. Long story short Gavin’s dad James (Jonno Roberts) and his wife Caroline (Melissa Neal) invented time travel, but Caroline realized it was causing sinkholes and wanted to stop it. James was convinced he could fix the issue then became obsessed with fixing his family and from there it goes downhill. Along the way Ty’s cancer is cured (he and Paara get married), Levi destroys the Lazarus building (where James was working on the time travel stuff, ultimately stranding everyone in 10K B.C.), Veronica and Lucas get together, Ella dies saving Veronic from bees, Josh and Riley make it back to 10K B.C., Gavin kills his dad, and Eve gets sucked into a portal to…somewhere.

Season three starts with Gavin determined to find Eve. Izzy doesn’t want false hope, and Josh is, well… distracted. His relationship with Riley finally got official so wouldn’t you know it she’s mauled by a raptor. Other problems include Lucas ignoring a head injury, Levi trying to make amends for fucking up everyone’s ticket home, and dinosaurs taking over the clearing. That’s right, dinosaurs – did I forget to mention last season ended with a bunch of portals (aka auroras) opening up and dropping all kinds of crazy shit into 10k B.C.? Huh…in my defense there’s A LOT going on in this show.

LA BREA — “Sierra” Episode 301 — Pictured: (l-r) Lily Santiago as Veronica, Josh McKenzie as Lucas — (Photo by: Mark Taylor/NBC)

Lucas did attempt to build a border protection but the dinos just busted right through and now everyone’s gotta move. The problems don’t stop there though, Riley’s injuries are BAD, and she might not make it, meanwhile, Gavin – who salvaged a laptop connected to the portal Eve was sucked into – gets it up and running thanks to high school science, potatoes, and Scott, but any celebration is short lived. See, the laptop immediately formed a connection with someone, but who that someone is, isn’t clear. Scott manages to track down the signal, but while searching for the source Petra (Asmara Feik) and Levi get kidnapped. However, before the gang can go looking for the abducted Ty directs their attention a more pressing matter: a dual aurora. Gavin’s mom told him dual auroras go to two different places, here one side is red the other is blue (hmm The Matrix anyone?). Josh takes Riley through one side in hopes of getting her more advanced medical care, while the other side sucks up Ty!

Considering this season is only six episodes and the last, we should brace for a lot of crazy shit to go down. As a rule, final seasons can be tricky. There’s the pressure to give the fans a satisfying ending while maintaining the integrity of each character’s journey so far, the tying up of any loose ends, and the overall need to make it all make sense. Not easy to do even when a show knows it’s ending, but to do it in six episodes!? With this high of a concept!?!?

LA BREA — “Sierra” Episode 301 — Pictured: Veronica St. Clair as Riley — (Photo by: NBC)

Still, La Brea looks like it’s taking off running with the premiere. Picking up after last season’s cliffhanger is a good sign, not to mention some new twists and turns to make the next five episodes extra juicy, but I am curious exactly how this all pans out. So far there’s been no further mention of Gavin’s mysterious sister, no sign of Eve (the actress might not be seen till later on in the season), we just let go of that civil war gold from season one completely…Eh, I’m ok with that. The kicker with high concept shows is that the higher your concept and the longer your show runs the more likely you are to run into dead storylines and dropped or warped mythologies. That being said, I like the new questions this episode raised. Who is on the other side of that laptop connection? How do they relate to Petra and her mom Maya (aka SIERRA played by Claudia Ware)? Will Riley survive her injuries? We know that Ty got sent to September of 2021 BEFORE the initial sinkhole, so did Josh go to the future? He better hope so for Riley’s sake! Finally, what does the dual aurora mean? Is there still hope for the 10K B.C. gang to return to modern times???

Solid season premiere! I’m hoping they keep up the pace.

The Curse Review: “Young Hearts” Bleed the Octane and Await the Spark

Two who clearly don't stay in their lane. | Photo: Richard Foreman Jr. | A24 | Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

The cold opening of the penultimate episode of The Curse starts mysteriously with a POV shot from a vehicle. After observing Whitney (Emma Stone) leaving her house and walking to work and passing her, we are a passenger to its gorgeous long take while the sick synths score the way as this mystery driver navigates the road, until we pull up to Iosheka jeans, filming in progress.

Though Pascal (Alexander Adrian Gibson) and his girlfriend Janice (Aliyah Lee) are unknowingly being staged in a lascivious position, HGTV Head Martha (GiGi Erneta) is happy with how Dougie (Benny Safdie) is producing it thus far. For all we know, she’s seeing it from one angle. Keep that word in mind.

Martha suggesting Asher and Whitney run through Pascal and Janice’s gag is a great understated full-circle moment. It harks back to when Whitney first wanted to stage antics between them in a more genteel manner, with Whitney not being able to work her way out of a sweater. However, that ship has sailed, and something tells me we’ll be all the worse for it in the best way possible.

I ain’t even mad at Dougie for playing by Martha’s rules, excluding some of Whitney’s more personal diatribes against Asher. It appears her show is crumbling before it even hits the air, including the firing of a PA because they passive-aggressively (it’s coming full circle, I can feel it) left a note on her windshield. For someone trying to outrun their past, the truth coming to Whitney’s storefront couldn’t be more poetically just, which brings us to her meeting with Phoebe (Lejend Yazzie), the driver whose uncle was evicted by her parents.

A few things stand out about this scene. It’s filmed from outside the edifice, as if we’re prying in. There’s also a sudden shift in Phoebe’s demeanor after she gets maudlin. She says everyone will get to see the real Whitney when the show comes out. We all know Phoebe ain’t holding her breath for Whit to help.

I think my theory might be right and the whole crew, constantly overlooked, are the real ones who orchestrate how this show will ultimately be seen. I think the trio are on the chopping block. It would make so much sense that Whitney and Asher’s biggest blind spot is the very community they’re trying to infiltrate.

Before shooting, Whitney suggests she and Asher go bowling before dinner with Martha, only taking him aback. My guess is she wants to put him in a situation where he’ll try to act tough. The only tough element is bearing witness to Asher hijacking Whitney’s “answer clock” only to get no response as to whether she loves him. The sick feeling I get from the emotional hijacking will be all too gloriously usurped by the credits roll.

When Bill (David DaLao) enters the frame, Asher’s tough guy side comes out… but I couldn’t be more disappointed. Copping a sanctimonious attitude and using his wife as a “shield” by “protecting” her is peak cringe. What isn’t is the acting. Just, phenomenal. The episode goes hard in the paint. The only thing more cringe-worthy than Asher’s flash of feigned toughness is his using the moment as a mental lubricant as he cranks it later that night as a shocked Whitney overhears him. He berates the figment of Bill and forces him to fuck the prize that is his wife, injecting a bit of psycho-sexuality into the whole of it all, reminiscent to me of earlier David Lynch work.

I mean, he had to release that tension somewhere from the dinner they had with Martha earlier. Martha wants sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, while Whitney knows there are many angles to a story. It doesn’t look like the Queen is getting her way. Martha even suggests maybe starting a family for curb appeal, making it the second instance of childbearing mentioned. I feel this is by design.

Now mid-episode, we have Whitney stepping into more figurative shit when she pays the ‘rents a visit at her old stomping grounds, the Bookends buildings, and nothing about this gives me comfort. Paul (Corbin Bernsen) reminding his daughter that she’s cut from the same cloth as them doesn’t give me comfort. Elizabeth (Constance Shulman) being on board with destroying Native artifacts to erase litigation doesn’t give me comfort. Her not being comfortable with Whitney playing “dress up” with the Star of David around her neck does not give me comfort. Paul reminding his wife that Yogi Bhajan tried to have sex with her does not give me comfort. The only thing that gives me immense comfort is that the writing is still immaculate. Everything said in that scene is a full-circle moment, right down to Whitney’s evictions from Española going straight to Bookends.

The discomfort is only further amped up when Whitney and Asher arrive at Dougie’s to see the new cuts of Green Queen. I will first say that from the graphics to the musical cues, how it was shot, and everything in between, the new product perfectly imitates a makeover show. The glossed-over look in Whitney’s eyes and the hurt in Asher’s throat when all is revealed leaves enough tension in the room to choke a snake. Even Asher swallowing an emotional response almost appears reptilian.

The immediate reaction of Whitney over her vainglory and Asher over his portrayal. Whitney said a lot of hurtful but truthful things. Granted, she nearly disavows the marriage on her account of Asher being too much of a “stan”, but she doesn’t deserve what’s coming next, which is Asher’s counter-apology and emotional terrorism. The updated cut might as well have been a Viagra for him.

The very visceral moment of revelation has tinges on Tom Wilkinson’s hauntingly brilliant moment of clarity monologue in Mann’s Michael Clayton. The thing that’s most uncomfortable though is that unlike Tom’s character, who is self-aware of his sins, Asher is virtually flagellating himself to emotionally hijack his wife once again, even more vicious than their interaction in the coffee shop.

He becomes that amorphous, vacuous black hole Whitney believes he is before their very eyes. Emma’s sheer horror of being emotionally hijacked even more intensely is equally as haunting as Nathan letting the demon take the wheel as if almost being possessed. Hurt people hurt people. Whitney’s cornered, and we can’t do anything about it. They just keep swallowing each other whole, the essence of ouroboros. It does, however, mean the real Green Queen is a go. Asher finally found his spark in this figurative funeral pyre under construction, Green Queen. It’s just so fucking unsettling how much he doesn’t listen. Bravo. The acting is bone chilling.

Nathan Fielder is once again in the director’s chair, and I couldn’t be happier. From the mysterious opening shot to the very last quivering moment of Asher, madly “awakened” by revelation, this episode was the meatiest yet, all in just under an hour. We get more moments of tension and buildup to a big fat payoff.

The only thing that slightly stood out of place for me was Whitney going to the masseuse and getting Cara (Nizhonniya Austin). Was the beat supposed to linger on how it killed an artist’s soul? Was it supposed to linger on how much of a chickenshit Whitney is when it comes to confrontation as Asher, which is why she cancels and overtips? I’m not marking against it though because I believe it’s just another element fomenting.

I would say somewhere toward the middle of the episode, one particular name sprang to mind: Cassavetes. It felt like a massive pressure lifted off my brain as if it was some damn splinter in it. Benny and Nathan’s work has hit that gritty vibe that somehow feels like home with the casting. The casting has been off the charts throughout the season, and the writing and directing only bolster the performances of the fresh faces before us.

The episode is called “Young Hearts” as a reference to the chorus in the Rod Steward bowling alley needle drop “Young Turks”, which is a good choice for what amounts to more than just a feel-good montage of Whitney and Asher letting loose amid their stressful lives… it’s a visual metaphor. It’s a place where the word “strike” is a good thing and it’s a game all built around rebirth. Over and over. It’s a place that sets Whitney and Asher up through true connection only to knock them down, later. It’s what this series does so well with its characters.

Let’s see if the finale goes for the 7-10 split.

5/5 Stars.

Addendum: Nathan displaying his bowling prowess is something I didn’t know I needed.

The Big Squeeze Gives Magnum P.I. One More Dramatic Case

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MAGNUM P.I. -- "The Big Squeeze" Episode 520 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins -- (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

I can hardly believe it, but here we are, the last episode of Magnum P.I. “The Big Squeeze” is an episode that tries to do as much as possible in the remaining time, so let’s not waste any.

It all starts with Thomas and Juliette in full romance mode under the bed covers. They’re in such a great place they’re running late to a dinner with Rick and Suzie. Thomas suggests they save time and water by showering together, but Juliette opts to find a shirt since her top was discarded downstairs. And inside his shirt drawer, she finds a ring in a red box.

This discovery totally throws Higgins off balance, and she’s talking with Kumu about it later. Kumu asks if she doesn’t want to get married to Thomas, but it’s not that. She’s not entirely sure why the revelation upset her so, just that it did. Luckily she’s saved by the bell since Thomas texts to let her know they have a new case.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Big Squeeze” Episode 520 — Pictured: (l-r) Amy Hill as Teuila “Kumu” Tuileta, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

The moment she meets up with Thomas, things are awkward. But she tries to focus on the mission as they meet at the appointed spot to chat with a Michael Reeves. A well-dressed black man ushers them inside, where they find an unfortunate surprise. Their client isn’t Michael Reeves, it’s Sam Bedrosian! AKA the scumbag from “Run With the Devil.” And while he does want payback, it doesn’t take the form we might have expected.

Bedrosian sneers that at first he wanted them killed, but then grew to appreciate their gamesmanship. Now he wants to offer them a job, at zero pay. The reason they’ll take the job? He has a recording taken from “Ashes to Ashes,” where Magnum and Higgins admitted they kept information from HPD that could get them in trouble. And he’s holding the recording over their heads unless they do what he wants. If he uses it, not only could Thomas and Juliette be taken down, but so could Gordon.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Big Squeeze” Episode 520 — Pictured: Patrick Fabian as Sam Bedrosian — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Bedrosian is a gleeful asshole, played pitch-perfect by Patrick Fabian. Though I wanted a big bad all season who was responsible for everything that happened, I’ll settle for a truly bad man making our team’s life hell one last time. Thomas and Juliette are taken by Bedrosian’s man to a crime scene and given plastic gloves. They need to find answers to what happened at a specific crime scene but without the benefit of a lab, HPD, and all in a limited time frame.

Our duo does their best to grasp the scene and find that the dead man, Gavin Larson, was forced at gunpoint to open his safe. They’re not sure how his killer got inside since there’s no sign of a break-in. Higgy manages to copy the number of the last person to text Larson, while Magnum spies a suspicious blood drop away from the crime scene and dips his glove into it, balling it up for later use. My favorite Sherlock moment is when Higgins uses a meat thermometer to ascertain how long the body has been cooling and surmises the incident occurred eight hours ago.

They’re let go but are told to check in with Bedrosian’s number two guy once they know more. Back at La Mariana, T.C. is telling Rick he wants to remove his stake from La Mariana so he can expand Island Hoppers. Rick is generous and tells him that’s fine, though Kumu spies his face, and sees the lie. Rick is worried about keeping his bar running without the financial support.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Big Squeeze” Episode 520 — Pictured: Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Suddenly a female officer gets a call about a tip, and arrives at the crime scene Thomas and Juliette had been forced to investigate. Two of Bedrosian’s men are inside, cleaning the scene and putting Larson’s body in a tarp when they hear the cop arrive. She spies movement, and so pretends to call dispatch and tell them nothing was wrong. In secret, she enters the house via another entrance. Sadly, a ping alerts the two criminals inside, and Officer Cole finds herself shot.

While Magnum and Higgins were told not to involve HPD, they ask Rick to have a friend in the department run the blood sample. Then Thomas asks his girlfriend why she’s being so strange. She won’t say, but he figures it out and reveals that the ring wasn’t for her. It was Rick’s ring since he was going to make it official with his baby mamma, Suzie. And though Higgy is initially relieved, she feels regret when Magnum jokes they’ll just end up marrying other people.

I’ll just be honest, the next scene didn’t proceed naturally and kind of came out of left field. Magnum and Higgins find themselves in a hotel room with a man gagged and bound after chasing the ping of a burner phone, which I thought was given to them by Bedrosian’s man. That’s not the guy bound to the phone with a sock in his mouth, though. No, this guy was having fun time with an escort, when someone named Mac barged in. Apparently, this leads to a Larson connection, though at this point in the episode, I really wasn’t sure how. Luckily it gets tied up once it all wraps.

Gordon arrives at the scene where Officer Cole was attacked, and we discover she survived the incident. Then the blood sample is traced to a parolee named Neil McRae. Unfortunately for our investigators, they discover this when they’re talking with McRae, who is posing as the missing escort’s brother. This leads to a really fun fight scene. McRae fires off warning shots and runs, with Magnum on his heels, as Higgy does her best Ghost Spider impression and gets real vertical. Thomas races into an elevator right before it closes, and fights the man in close quarters. A knife is drawn, a phone is used, and Magnum almost gets his guy, but McRae escapes with a handy hostage and takes her Jeep.

As they’re assessing what happened, Thomas and Juliette realize that the escort from earlier had her purse in an odd position, and discover a hidden camera in a false bottom. They think that Larson was paying the escort, named Emilia, to get footage used to blackmail marks. They confront Bedrosian with their suspicions, and they’re right. The pool of people he’s blackmailed with Larson is large, and one of them might be responsible for Larson’s death. But then the criminal gets a text, and suddenly fires them, holding onto his recording of them both.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Big Squeeze” Episode 520 — Pictured: Tim Kang as Detective Gordon Katsumoto — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Back at the hospital, Katsumoto gets an update about Cole being stable, and a motormouth cop helps him realize Magnum and Higgins are already investigating his case. He pulls them over and badgers them for more information. By putting their heads together, they realize Bedrosian might be blackmailing the governor of Hawaii with Larson’s help, and that Emilia might be the person that got the blackmail. This would mean that Bedrosian has the governor under his thumb and that what he’s after isn’t the killer of his man, but the blackmail info he’s been gathering. Now it’s a race to find McRae before he gets to Emilia.

Katsumoto meets with the governor’s aide and asks about why the governor paroled McRae, who is now on a rampage. She brushes him off, but he then walks outside and into an undercover vehicle. Some cops inside inform Gordon that the aide grabbed her phone the moment he left, and contacted McRae. It’s clear he’s planning on using the leverage from the blackmail, and selling it to the highest bidder.

Our duo tracks Emilia to her client’s fancy villa and gets met by her drawing down on them with a shotgun. Once they calm her down, she reveals she was forced into Bedrosian’s blackmail ring by her son. He has a rare condition, and Larson helped pay for his medication, and then forced her to sleep with people to secure compromising info. It’s all on a thumb drive, which is what McRae is after. And then things get worse when Bedrosian’s armed goons arrive.

Since they don’t have much in the way of weapons, Thomas and Juliette use what they can find to their advantage. For Juliette, she makes the best of a shotgun with only a couple of shells. Magnum, meanwhile, smashes a painting over one goon’s head, catches another’s knife in a book, and generally makes a mess of the villa. He also uses a semi-automatic from the first goon he takes down to go full Scarface for a brief, glorious moment.

Just as one goon is about to find Emilia and her son hidden away, Juliette takes him out with her last shell. And then we have the challenge. McRae is found and taken into custody, along with the thumb drive. But Gordon tells Thomas and Juliette they can’t connect Bedrosian to Larson or the armed goons. So he gives them the thumb drive to trade for their freedom. Luckily, they make the right decision and give it to the authorities, who announce over the news they’re investigating the governor, who resigns while Bedrosian furiously breaks his television.

Like many episodes of Magnum P.I., “The Big Squeeze” ends at La Mariana. Kumu agrees to buy out T.C.’s stake, Suzie is sporting her shiny new wedding ring and Thomas and Juliette are dancing to the music. She apologizes for her reaction to the ring and tells him if he asks her to marry again, she’ll say yes.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Big Squeeze” Episode 520 — Pictured: (l-r) Emily Alabi as Mahina, Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin, Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins, Amy Hill as Teuila “Kumu” Tuileta — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

It wasn’t a perfect episode of Magnum P.I. and sadly didn’t manage to involve all the cast (sorry, Jin, Shammy, and Higgins’ puppies). But overall it was a fond sendoff to a great show, even though it was clear they might have had to rush things at the very end. I’m glad I was able to cover the series and thank everybody who has read my rambling reviews. Be sure to stay tuned to The Workprint for ongoing coverage of TV, movies, and streaming shows in the future!

Ashes to Ashes is an Emotional Episode of Magnum P.I.

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MAGNUM P.I. -- "Ashes to Ashes" Episode 519 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins -- (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Today is a sad day. Not only does it mark the end of Magnum P.I., but it also marks the end of my time writing at The Workprint. But fret not, it’s on good terms and the site will be great without me, and features many talented writers. And while I’m sad to leave, it’s fitting I do so with the Magnum P.I. team. So let’s get to the meat of the penultimate episode of the series, titled “Ashes to Ashes.”

It all starts with a blazing fire, and Mahina and her fellow firefighters arrive to deal with the conflagration and save anyone inside. Or at least, search and rescue is the goal, but things quickly get complicated. Mahina thinks she spies someone in a bedroom, but moments later the ceiling starts to collapse, forcing Mahina and her team outside into the fresh air. There, just as she’s catching her breath, a frantic woman arrives trying desperately to get inside, saying her uncle’s truck is parked outside, and she’s worried he’s trapped in the burning home.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Ashes to Ashes” Episode 519 — Pictured: Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

While I expected the story to stay there, it instead cuts to another tale. Kumu is helping volunteer at a Veteran’s Help Line with Rick, and going by the name of Tammy. Apparently, operators don’t use their real names, just to be safe. At first, Rick is annoying her with procedure, and Kumu is eager to get started. But you know what they say, be careful what you wish for. Turns out, Kumu’s story will be just as harrowing, though perhaps less convoluted, than the main storyline.

It’s been a few days since the fire. Even though T.C. is in a great mood, making breakfast, dancing, and talking about the future, girlfriend Mahina is in a dour mood. Her team found traces of accelerant in the home and it looks like the man she saw died in the fire. Worse, the woman that was trying to get inside, named Halia, is now on the hook for manslaughter, since she’s a contractor, and had been living in the house her uncle died in. They even suspect she lit the house up for insurance money. All this is taking Mahina to a dark place, so T.C. does what any supportive boyfriend should, and calls his buddy Thomas to help out.

Magnum and Higgins talk with Halia and learn that she had been raised by her uncle, and even inspired by him to go into the contractor business. They’re pretty certain she’s not just playacting, and so they ask for anybody who might have a grudge against her since perhaps that’s why her uncle was involved. She says she had a jealous and controlling ex she just broke up with, so the duo goes to talk with Brian, who is trying to sell a home. And though he’s twitchy and waspy as hell, he seems legitimately surprised to hear about Uncle Moku’s death. Though he can’t do much to prove his innocence, other than a corporate retreat, he does mention a few days ago he saw a strange man outside her house, smoking a cigarette.

T.C. and Mahina look over the crime scene for clues, and Mahina is still really overwhelmed. She blames herself for not saving the old man. Thankfully, they do find something that could provide some answers – a discarded cigarette right where Brian saw the man smoking.

Cut to a cheery montage of Rick and Kumu answering phones, many of which are irritating, including one asking about a veterinarian instead of a veteran. Just as Rick leaves to grab some lunch, Kumu gets another call. The man is breathing heavily and his number is blocked. All Kumu can get at first is his nickname, DJ. She’s flustered, but things get worse when DJ admits he’s not going to hurt himself because he already did. He took a bunch of pills right before he called. She does her best to keep him talking and finds he was discharged 6 years ago, feeling depressed and useless. But when DJ recognizes Kumu is reading from a script, he angrily hangs up, leaving the poor woman aghast.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Ashes to Ashes” Episode 519 — Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Back with the main case, Magnum gets a DNA hit off the discarded cigarette and finds a man named Henry Carson. He seems clean, but he has a son who’s in lockup. More suspicious, Higgins finds that Henry’s phone has been turned off since the night of the arson. When they track his phone ping prior to being turned off, they find a hardware store. They suspect they’ll find some accelerant Henry bought, but no such luck. Instead, Thomas spies a building across the way – a funeral home. Knowing that embalming fluid can be used as an accelerant, they make their way inside.

It’s quickly apparent the funeral home was recently broken into since there are some boarded-up windows and a new lock on a door. They talk about how they want to meet their maker, and to nobody’s surprise, Higgins is a fan of the tidiness of cremation, while Magnum prefers burial. Before that conversation can spiral too much, the man who runs the home pops in. His name is Randal, and he looks eerily similar to George Santos. He claims there was no break-in, but eventually cracks and admits the only thing that was stolen was a body. One that sounds eerily similar to Uncle Moku. Thinking that perhaps something strange is going on, Thomas and Juliette ask Gordon to put out an APB for Henry while they look for answers.

Back in Kumu’s nightmare, Rick is running the audio from her session and hears train tracks from an elevated train. Just then, another blocked number comes in, and it’s DJ again. He wants to spend his last moments talking with her, so Kumu gets real and tells DJ her birth name. He can’t pronounce the Samoan version, so he goes with Kumu. DJ is recently divorced and just lost custody of his child. Worse, he says his son thinks he’s a monster, which might mean he’s a burn victim. Then they hear a bell, and they narrow his location down to Chicago.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Ashes to Ashes” Episode 519 — Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Emily Alabi as Mahina, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins, Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Thomas and Juliette talk with T.C., Mahina, and Halia about their suspicions and find a connection. Halia says her uncle worked on a prison compound where Henry’s kid is being held. Cut to 3 hours earlier, when Dominic picked a fight with a man and shivved him, earning a spot in lockup. On purpose. Men are in the vents trying to find him, and poor Uncle Moku is being forced to direct them with a map of the facility, at gunpoint. Magnum normally would loop in Gordon and HPD, but he’s worried that if anything interrupts the escape attempt, Moku will be instantly killed.

Back with Kumu, she’s trying her best to keep DJ talking. He talks about his child and asks her if she thinks that he’ll be able to forgive his father for committing suicide. Kumu says she’s not sure, since her own life was devastated by the suicide of her father when she was only 10. DJ admits he thinks he made a mistake, but it’s clear he’s running out of time. Luckily right before he can check out, EMTs are heard on the line, and they confirm he still has a pulse before taking him away for treatment.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Ashes to Ashes” Episode 519 — Pictured: Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

The final confrontation involves Higgy tracking the uncle to an abandoned warehouse. Normally this would be where Thomas and her do something heroic to save the day, but things don’t play out as expected. They draw guns on Henry and his accomplice but are at an impasse. They ask that Moku get released since he did what was asked, but the accomplice is ready to start shooting. To my great surprise, Henry ends the standoff by shooting his partner in cold blood, saying he just wanted his son back.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Ashes to Ashes” Episode 519 — Pictured: (l-r) Amy Hill as Teuila “Kumu” Tuileta, Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

It all ends with a heartfelt reunion between Moku and Halia, and Rick and Kumu visiting her father’s grave. Definitely an emotional episode. While I usually prefer Magnum P.I. for the comedy and banter, “Ashes to Ashes” was a very solid episode. Don’t go anywhere yet, since my review for the very last episode of Magnum P.I., “The Big Squeeze,” is next!

‘Star Trek’ author Derek Tyler Attico on ‘The Autobiography of Benjamin Sisko’

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The recently released novel The Autobiography of Benjamin Sisko tells the story of Starfleet’s celebrated captain, and Bajor’s Emissary of the Prophets, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine… which for many is arguably the best Star Trek series ever to grace our television screens. The book’s author, Derek Tyler Attico, discusses his background as a writer, the impact of Star Trek, and his approach to the story in the below interview.  

Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer? How you got started, what led to your first published work, etc?

Derek Tyler Attico

I started writing when I was ten after watching another sci-fi and cultural phenomenon, Star Wars (A New Hope).  I wanted to learn everything I could about writing and screenplays specifically. When I was sixteen, I wrote my first screenplay (naturally, a Star Wars script). I gave the script to my high school English teacher to look over, and unknown to me, she entered it in a national contest, where I won an award for screenwriting.

After that, I applied to NYU Tisch School of the Arts and was accepted. However, even with financial aid, I couldn’t afford it. So, with that, I put my desire to write professionally aside and moved on. Then, in 2005, a friend told me about a yearly Star Trek anthology contest from Simon and Schuster, Pocket Books, called Strange New Worlds, which ran from 1998 – 2007. The best Star Trek short stories submitted by fans were selected and published in the anthology. It had been some time since I’d written anything, so I was delighted when my short story (Alpha and Omega) made it into the anthology and won first place! After that, it was clear that I needed to rekindle my dream of writing professionally.

Deep Space Nine

What role has Star Trek, and, in particular, Deep Space Nine and Captain Sisko, played in your life?

Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko

Star Trek has had a profound influence on me, both personally and professionally.

Like many people worldwide, I have a personal relationship with Star Trek because of my parents. As a kid, TOS (The Original Series) with Kirk and Spock was the first television show I consistently watched with my Mom. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven, and watching “grown-up TV” with her made me feel older.  I also realized the values and morals she was teaching me were the same I would see upheld by the crew of the Enterprise. This was the first time I’d seen this on a television program. Sometimes, my mom and I would talk about an episode for hours after we watched it.

Deep Space Nine and Captain Sisko were not just the embodiment of these values, but for the first time, for me, a personal reflection of them. Having Mr. Avery Brooks, a Black man, play the lead of a Star Trek series, in effect being the spokesperson for the franchise, meant everything. At the time (1993), there were Black leads on sitcoms (situation comedies) and in supporting roles in crime dramas. However, Deep Space Nine (DS9) was the first to showcase a Black actor in a serious lead role. Beyond that, I found the writing of DS9 always presented a candid realism that offered an authentic perspective of the 24th century. I can only hope watching the show has influenced my writing.

What was your approach to writing The Autobiography of Benjamin Sisko and bringing to the page such an iconic character?

I never thought of the book as an autobiography, but simply a father’s message to his son. Out of framing that message from father to son, I knew the secondary goal would be an autobiography. Once I adopted this view, everything became clear. Like the show, the book and Ben’s origin story became primarily about family, about people and the choices we make in life instead of technology and starships.

What was your favorite part about writing the book, and what was the most significant challenge?

Creating Ben’s family and telling their story within his was a lot of fun and the book’s most challenging part. At no point did I want these individuals to feel like secondary characters of convenience. In our lives, family are the ones we lean on and learn from, and I wanted this to be reflected in the autobiography.

Is there anything about the book that would surprise readers or might be unexpected?

There are many surprises in this book. Foremost, I think, is that readers don’t have to be fans of Deep Space Nine or Star Trek to enjoy this book. I wrote this in such a manner, so if you only have a passing familiarity with Star Trek (maybe you haven’t watched it since you were a kid), you will enjoy this book just as much as the consummate fan! Also, the book has between fifty to a hundred easter eggs and covers every Star Trek series (old and new) for fans. The autobiography also covers some very unexpected territory in the Star Trek universe.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Sisko is now available in hardcover and e-book.

Follow Attico on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Curse Review: “Down and Dirty” Digs Beyond the Soil and Into the Bedrock

Posture vs. posturing. | Photo: Anna Kooris | A24 | Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

The eighth episode of A24 x Showtime’s The Curse opens with a bunch of teens en route to a robbery. No masks, no straps. They simply saunter into Iosheka Jeans and make out like bandits as the driver of the group chats up Enola (Rosie B. Molina) taking careful stock of what’s being pilfered. I love that Whitney busted open her storefront window to the public without even lifting a brick.

Shotgun-wielding Fernando (Christopher Calderon) confronting the real criminals, the Siegels, is wonderful for a few reasons. The camera angle with Fernando situated in the middle of literal black-and-white walls is stark symbolism. Fernando calling both cancerous is a joyous moment. The irony of Whitney (Emma Stone) explaining her de-escalation process going from 0-60 between Asher (Nathan Fielder) and Fernando in 3 seconds is too perfect before the concerned citizen is asked to leave. Nathan’s paper tiger act though is a sight to behold.

However, what immediately follows is probably one of my favorite Emma moments when her paucity for empathy is put front and center. Her outburst when Asher shows a modicum of sympathy for Fernando and his mother. It’s so venomous that you could nearly see it secreting from her teeth. It’s also our first massive tonal shift in the nearly hour-long episode. I’m super amused when even Asher stands mouth agape.

I’m all for the Ash-man getting a hotfoot when Dougie (Benny Safdie) lays down a damn inquisition in confessionals. He easily gets Asher to paint an unflattering self-portrait through coerced dialogue. This will pay off in a very satisfying way later on. For now, Dougie’s simply there to make Asher look bad, and his interrogation-like tactics turn to an outright roast when he brings Asher’s romantic past and predilection for cuckoldry into the picture. This would’ve been prime time for comedy on Asher’s part! Sadly, we don’t get that.

Their dynamic is something I was hooked on in this episode. The rage, hurt, and betrayal on Asher’s face is remarkable, vowing to never tell Dougie anything ever again, but he agrees to make it up to him by taking him out for dinner. No paragon of society by any feasible stretch, Asher is not; he’s still a human being with feelings, and his behavior of taking pity on his bully is very hard to watch.

Sure, Dougie was ignored by Asher at every turn, but Ash reminded Dougie that when they were kids and he was homesick, Dougie and his crew would always “include” him in their pranks. If Asher was always the butt of the joke, that’s just straight denial and very hard to hear. It is the dank reality of the situation though. He tolerates the dude’s puerile behavior because, without Whitney, who else does he have?

Yes, Dougie’s barrage of bullying doesn’t end with the day’s interviews. It doesn’t end with the full plate of chicken as a gag. It doesn’t even end with the gay porn rags bought for him at the gas station or him teasing him with full spreads of throbbing gristle in the car. It ends in the one place it shouldn’t and the first place it started: with Nala.

Though contrastingly quieter, Whitney’s plot with Cara (Nizhonniya Luxi Austin) and her perspicacious friend Brett (Brett Mooswa) provide some well-needed levity to an increasingly stifling atmosphere, never outshining the dread of being in the gorgeous house of a military contractor, Vivi (Antonio Weiss). After bothering Brett and Marjorie (Elizabeth Katz Sperlich) for footage, it’s down to the big guns: Cara.

Dougie wanting Nala (Hikmah Warsame) to curse him to prove it’s bunk is concerning, yes. You’re freaking out a child with a strange request, looking, well, like Dougie. It shows an unbridled lack of concern for the child and a blatant selfishness, sure. What’s even more concerning is his breaking down in front of the child. He’s truly tormented and just needs answers, raising more questions in me on a personal level.

While nobody is without smudges on their record in life, is desiring some semblance of tranquility considered the ultimate sin? If not, are there degrees to which each individual deserves that which he seeks, inner peace? Does asshole Dougie deserve less inner peace than chicken Asher? Are their sins both not mortally egregious?

Dougie doesn’t need to pay for something already in him. He’s plagued by guilt and denial. That curse is just labeled the “human condition”. Still, he skirts the line with drinking and driving, which is a conscious decision to endanger others. I guess it only makes sense that in their stop to replace a Fire Alarm battery, Asher only endangers the house on Questa Lane with Dougie’s infernal presence.

Something interesting happens, however, when they both enter the house of Abshir (Barkhad Abdi). Not only is there a noticeable shift in tone, but also for a fraction of a second, the camera glitches. I at first thought it may have just been my internet, but it’s embedded into the episode as if a presence there is making itself known. Despite Dougie’s horrid haranguing of Nala, I’m glad he’s finally calling Asher out on his character; however,  the sharp tenebrific turn the show takes when Dougie says his last words of the episode has me second-guessing some shit. Fucking chef’s kiss.

Whitney’s tonal shift comes after a brief flirtation with a coquettish Kundalini community member who offers Whitney most likely an eyeful in the bathroom. Whatever it was, she emerged beaming, taking her confidence into the filmed chat with Cara, arrogantly placing herself as Cara’s contemporary, feeding her lines shamelessly as if they were the grapes that Kundalini creep offered her moments earlier.

Seeing Cara regurgitate Whitney’s puffery back to her as if some verbal snowballing is sick in its own right. Real talk though. Money may talk, but when it’s 20k, it screams. The scene also mirrors Dougie coercing Asher in the interview beautifully. Whitney shines in usurping herself, however, when after hearing Cara’s explanation of her very personal tee-pee piece, she reenacts it in real-time, leaving her high and dry once the camera’s cut. She “ate the turkey” once more, and took a piece of Cara unapologetically. It’s heartbreaking to watch because it’s as if Cara just had her art stolen and reappropriated. Something sacred has been taken with zero compunction. It’s just straight evil, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Directed by Nathan Fielder with a story from Nathan, Benny, and Carrie Kemper, the antepenultimate episode in a 10-run season once again sets up the major shit show that will be the final two, and does it successfully. From the big, vibrant “Welcome to Española” mural in the cold open to details like Dougie offering to pay Nala a 20 spot for the curse (reversing the order? coming full circle?), to even more genius character insights into Dougie, to a Bob Dylan needle drop at the end, this episode came to play.

The shots are all gorgeously composed throughout, especially in Vivi’s house, from the interior to the exterior. We do get more shots from outside the edifice peeking in, but these are not shaky. Something tells me though the B-roll camera guy is simply there as a distraction. I mean the show is all about veneers; would be be such a stretch?

The tonal shifts and metaphors were just right. “Down and Dirty” is a reference to how Asher never does the heavy lifting. Ever. And it’s true. He’s a shitbag that way. He is trying in his way, but is it even fucking enough at this point? Dougie’s hands will never be clean, so he doesn’t need to worry about getting them dirty. Whitney’s beginning to dig in, doing what needs to be done, however disgusting, for success. That’s 2 against 1 and something though the odds aren’t great, I’m pulling through for him to do the right thing, even if it’s too late.

The episode was the heaviest one yet to me. Dougie’s incorrigible as ever, Whitney’s just a hair under scorched-earth mode, and though Asher’s pushing back, I’m not sure if he’s setting himself up for success. The long shot as the credits roll is a thing of beauty, with garbage men literally “taking out the trash.” It’s a great button to remind us there’s a finger just above it.

5/5 Stars.

Addendum: Nathan making the valiant effort to spit Dead Prez was something I didn’t know I needed, but I sure am grateful for it.

Our Favorite Things from 2023

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As we approach the end of 2023, it’s only natural for us to look back on the past year in entertainment. We covered a lot of things here on The Workprint, from The Mandalorian to Magnum P.I. and all points in between. So as we await the dawn of 2024, the writers here though it would be cool to share with you some of the things that brought us the most joy in 2023.

We present a few of our favorite things.

Mary Fan’s 2023 Favorites

Fave Sports Movie You Probably Haven’t Watched:

Chang Can Dunk (Disney+)

Xiao Ming “Bernard” Chang, a 5’8″ unpopular sophomore, is determined to prove the mean kids wrong by dunking a basketball in front of the whole school. Classic sports-movie set-up, right? Except this film plays with the old clichés and in the end flouts them. The combination of complex characterizations and warmhearted comedy makes for a feel-good sports movie that doesn’t quite go the way you expect.

Fave TV Show that Must Be Saved:

Warrior (MAX)

After being canceled and then un-canceled, Season 3 of this pulpy martial arts crime drama, set in gilded age San Francisco, finally made it to MAX. And dang, was it fun! Full of gorgeously choreographed fight sequences and thrilling plot twists, this season was a (bloody) joy to watch. Sadly, the show has been canceled AGAIN. Here’s hoping its growing cult status will help resurrect it… again.

Fave Casting in a Broadway Show:

Jordan Fisher as Orpheus in Hadestown

Hadestown, a folksy retelling of the Orpheus myth, arrived on Broadway in 2019 to great acclaim, and I had the good fortune to see it that year. And it was excellent, with a phenomenal cast, with one glaring exception: the guy who played Orpheus. As depicted in Hadestown, Orpheus is meant to be a penniless but brilliant young musician, naive yet pure-hearted. Played wrong, he just seems stupid and self-indulgent, and that’s how he came off in the show I saw. But I saw it again this month with Jordan Fisher, who recently stepped into the role, and that changed the whole show for me (turns out, it’s easier to love a show when you actually like the hero). Fisher brought that pure quality to Orpheus and made the character ring true, and I’m just bummed there isn’t a recording I can listen to over and over.

Norton’s Best of 2023

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Since I did a glowing review of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, I thought I would focus on a different animated film deserving of love: TMNT – MM, was a refreshing reboot of a classic franchise that did not stoop to fan service but instead embraced the property in a way previous iterations had not. Simply put: It made those mutant ninja turtles into Teenagers! For REAL. How novel, to stop ignoring the “teenage” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Is it flawless? No, but that kind of works in its favor. Rather than making another fan service throwback cash-grab, this movie forces the fans to love the property in a new way — in the present no less. Easily one of the best of this year.

Gen V

Much like its progenitor, Gen V is violent and surprising, but it has something The Boys sorely lacks: hope! Made up of a hardcore diverse class (we’re talking Black, Latinx, Asian, and white, not to mention the LGBTQ+ angle), this show represents the pun of its namesake pretty well. But, Gen V isn’t just The Boys with a younger, more inclusive cast; it has its own personality, too. Less about revenge and brute force, this show hones in on flawed heroes coming to terms with a flawed system. A fine reflection of the world today, eh? Better still, instead of violence for violence’s sake, Gen V really makes it count. Dialing back the gore in favor of a better way to tell the story — see the puppet massacre. I highly recommend this show. It took me a while to watch it, but man, am I glad I did.

Final Seasons

Because I watch way too much TV, it is hard for me to pick out a single show for love, but I can pour some out for the ones leaving us this year. Plenty of shows ended this year, but I’m singling out two for very different reasons.
First is Kung Fu — what could have been a tired reboot of a vaguely insensitive show turned out to be an excellent injection of empathy at a time when anti-Asian sentiment was at its zenith. Not to mention, when this show ended earlier this year, it brought things around in a nod to the original. Classy!
Second is Miracle Workers — an actual comedy anthology where each season takes place in a completely different time period while boasting the same cast. And what a cast it was! Daniel Radcliffe, Geraldine Viswanathan, Karan Soni, Jon Bass, and Steve Buscemi all played their parts magnificently, regardless of how those parts changed. What’s more impressive is that it managed to tell a complete love story over the many seasons — poor Daniel and Geraldine finally got their happy ending.

Sunil Patel’s Three Favorite Indian Films of 2023

Being an Indian and a cinephile, I’ve made it a point in the last few years to actually watch movies from the homeland, and with the breakout success of RRR last year, I’ve seen a lot more interest in Indian cinema from Western audiences, so for my money (in rupees, of course), here are the cream of the crop this year:

1. The Archies (dir. Zoya Akhtar)

Zoya Akhtar reimagines Riverdale of Archie Comics as an Anglo-Indian hamlet in 1960s India, and the results are absolutely delightful! The film juggles a multitude of subplots encompassing the classic Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle and a classic Save the Community Center whose narrative tendrils affect everyone from Reggie and Jughead to Ethel and Moose. I was completely transported to this retro world I didn’t want to leave and bopping on my couch to these melodic and sonorous rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Akhtar captures the energy of American sixties youth counterculture in this different context so well, it’s impossible not to be charmed. Movie musicals are coming back into fashion, and this was my favorite of the year.

2. Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (dir. Karan Johar)

I had very little interest in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (aka Rocky and Rani’s Love Story) despite the presence of my Bollywood crush, Alia Bhatt, because it looked like a very typical Bollywood rom-com/family melodrama from Karan Johar, that being his specialty… but it’s been four months since I’ve seen it, and I can’t stop thinking about how fucking good it is. This is an incredible version of that typical film that actually updates it for a more progressive time. The titular Rocky is a hilarious himbo who massacres the English language in creative ways (Ranveer Singh would have made a great Ken), and the titular Rani is a strong-willed career woman who challenges him to grow up but also challenges herself to see the world from a new perspective. After a very successful rom-com, the family-swap plot of the second half really allows all the characters to shine, and I was rather astonished at some of the ideas I was hearing brought to the mainstream Indian film audience here. The soundtrack is fantastic, full of references to Old Bollywood, and the film itself is one-way ticket to Bollywood bliss.

3. Jawan (dir. Atlee)

Megastar Shah Rukh Khan starred in three movies this year — and had a cameo in another— and Jawan was by far the best due to Tamil director Atlee bringing that South Indian flavor to Hindi audiences. It’s an excellent example of the Indian masala film, a multigenre extravaganza featuring wild action sequences, a twisty crime plot, a rom-com interlude, an incredible dance sequence with hundreds of background dancers, and a pointed social message all in 169 minutes that remain consistently engaging throughout. Jawan is best going in without knowing anything at all because it has so many surprises in store — and the best pre-interval sequence of the year — but this socially conscious vigilante thriller has backstories involving suicide and dead children and a scene in which Shah Rukh Khan stabs a man with a knife he’s holding in his mouth, so it’s got everything. Everything!

Robert J Kijowski’s Best of 2023

BEST STREAMING PODCAST

The Best Show has been a staple in comedy for over two decades. Having moved base from their humble studio in Jersey City to Forever Dog studio in Los Angeles, CA, the show has only grown in audaciousness, streaming live every Tuesday night. That includes this year’s 24-Hour Podcast.You read that right. On a summery Jersey night, I spent nearly 16 hours on and off (“the spirit was willing, but the flesh, weak”) watching Twitch, in awe of and in total hysterics from the likes of host Tom Scharpling and a plethora guests musical and otherwise to rocket this podcast into a stratosphere all its own, all of which can be seen on Patreon and heard wherever you get your podcasts.

BEST MUSIC VIDEO

Victoria Monét’s video for “On My Mama” hit the scene hard this summer, drenched in sexy-as-fuck throwback Y2K R&B swag. Incorporating complex choreography from start to finish, the banger plays out like something that exists out of time and space — a scintillating look into the future through the lens of the past. Ms. Monét knows exactly how to blow the roof off with heavy confidence, elegance and sapience in these 3 minutes and 36 seconds of baggy drip that look even better now than when I remember them back in high school.

BEST TRUE CRIME DOCUMENTARY

The third month of summer seems like the only month fitting for HBO to have dropped Telemarketers. Directed and produced by Adam Bala Lough and Sam Lipman-Stern, the 3-parter is nothing but genuine, confrontational and, I’ll say it, august.Following two former telemarketers, the serious sleeper of a series takes a deep dive on those who put national dread on the map: the cigarette smoking, on-the-job drug-taking, Central Jersey crew of the CDG that made the unscrupulous draining of unsuspecting citizens’ funds a high-fucking-art form.

Victor Catano’s 2023 Favorites

Favorite Movie:

GODZILLA MINUS ONE

It wasn’t a banner year for franchises. Marvel and Disney had well publicized stumbles at the box office. Both Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford had trouble connecting their classic characters with audiences. And DC… well, let’s just not mention them right now.But there was one literal box office titan that towered over all of them.Produced by Toho Studios at about a tenth the cost of the recent Hollywood versions, Godzilla Minus One is both a tribute to the classic Godzilla films of old and something completely new. I’ve always been a Godzilla fan, but the giant monsters can sometimes feel campy. Not here. For the first time I can remember, I was scared in a Godzilla movie. The destruction and loss of life feels real and visceral. It’s a return to Godzilla‘s roots as a metaphor for Japan’s post-war trauma and nuclear anxiety. For the first time, I was invested in the humans and actually cared if they got squashed. It’s a remarkable movie, better than any Hollywood SFX blockbuster I saw this year, and in a just world it would get some Oscar love.

Favorite Show:

BLUE EYE SAMURAI

I reviewed this in depth a month ago. This was not only the best animated show of the year, it was my favorite show, period. A beautiful and bloody tale of revenge and identity in feudal Japan… yet it was so much more. The characters are all perfectly defined, the dialogue is so sharp it could cut you, and the animation is the best you’ve ever seen. If you’ve got the week off, there is no better way to ring in the New Year than by binging this epic on Netflix.

 

Favorite Play:

HERE WE ARE, ACT I

The final show of the late master of musical theater, Stephen Sondheim, arrived in New York, off Broadway. Even if this were terrible, it would still be noteworthy because it’s the very last music we will ever get from him. But it’s Sondheim! Even his lesser works are fascinating. And this is a very moving show.Here We Are adapts two movies from surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel. Act One adapts The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and Act Two covers The Exterminating Angel. Act Two is a very black comedy and only has a couple songs early on (because Sondheim was unavailable for rewrites, obviously). Act One is much more of a farce or comedy of manners, and it is a pure delight.

The cast — featuring Bobby Canavale, Dennis O’Hare, and David Hyde Pierce — is wonderful. The songs feature all of Sondheim’s trademark wit and wordplay. In the best number, which has a waiter at the Everything Cafe explaining that they are, in fact, out of everything, he gets off the line “we may get a little latte later,” which recalls his classic wordplay in “Into the Woods.” (“While her withers wither with her.”) Even going into his nineties, Sondheim was an unmatched talent to the very end. Cross your fingers and hope that a cast album comes out soon.

‘Rebel Moon’ is 2 Hours of Tropes in Search of a Story

You’ve seen this film before.

Maybe it wasn’t called “Rebel Moon,” but you’ve definitely seen this. Have you ever seen a space opera? A movie where a plucky band of rebels fight against a superior force? Have you seen literally any science fiction movie from the last 50 years? Then, yeah, you’ve seen this.

Rebel Moon (Part 1) is the latest movie from writer/director Zack Snyder. Snyder is a fantastic visual stylist. If he drew comic books, he would be highly sought after. His eye for a killer shot is incredible. Unfortunately, his story skills and pacing leave a lot to be desired. Too often, his movies get bogged down in bad, portentous dialogue and awkward story beats that lead nowhere. (Ah, remember all the fun we had with “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?” in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?)

Snyder pitched this movie to Lucasfilm as a darker, more mature Star Wars. Lucasfilm passed, prompting Snyder to go make this on his own for Netflix. The thing is, we already have a darker, more mature Star Wars project. It’s called Andor, and it is sensational. Rebel Moon is not.

Rebel Moon tells the story of Kora (Sofia Boutella), a young woman working on a farm on the moon of the  planet Veldt. She’s been happily toiling away, hiding her dark and mysterious past, until a ship from the Imperium shows up. The Imperium, as the opening narration dump explains, is a thousand-year-old empire based on the Motherworld. After consuming all of their own resources, they have taken to conquering other planets.

However, in the power vacuum after the King and Princess were assassinated, there are sparks of rebellion, led by Debra Bloodaxe. The sadistic Admiral Noble (Ed Skrein) is leading the hunt for her, stopping on Veldt to torture the populace and steal their grain. Realizing that the Imperium isn’t going to stop until they’ve taken everything, Kora reverts to her old ways. She was a high-ranking soldier in the Imperium, and after killing the garrison Noble left behind, she heads out to find the rebels herself so they can help her defend her new home. She comes across a number of badass fighters who volunteer to help, including the ne’er-do-well pilot Kai (Charlie Hunnan, rocking a ludicrous Irish accent), the nobleman-turned-jacked-slave Tarak (Staz Nair), the expert swordswoman Nemesis (Doona Bae), and the disgraced former general of the Imperium, Titus (Djimon Hounsou).Once this ragtag crew is assembled, they head back to fight off the Imperium.

Rebel Moon is made up of snippets from other movies. There’s Star Wars, of course, with the space opera setting and a cantina that is a wretched hive of scum and villainy and the laser swords (I am really wondering how those got in without a cease and desist from Lucasfilm’s lawyers).

“Mr. Snyder, Lucasfilm is on line one.”

The plot echoes that of Seven Samurai (or the remake, The Magnificent Seven) The Imperium ships look very similar to the ones in the anime Space Battleship Yamato. The Imperium itself seems inspired by House Harkkonen in Dune, and their fascist soldiers in trench coats are straight out of Starship Troopers. Tarak flying on a hippogriff creature looks like a cut scene from Avatar. The distaff crew is lifted right out of Firefly. There are even references to Snyder’s own films, like 300. (One of the mercenaries they pick up is on a gladiator planet. Not sure if they’re betting with quatloos.)

Snyder picked all of these tropes and scenes because he obviously loved all of these movies, but rather than stopping to ask why these scenes worked and what made them funny or clever or interesting, he just picked the stuff that looked cool and threw it in.

Now, I have no problem with tropes or borrowing plot prompts. (“Plucky underdog stands up to overwhelming foe” is a story as old as the Bible, for goodness sake.) But if you are going to lean into tropes, you need to make them interesting. They need to serve an actual story. Tropes are a good shorthand, but if they aren’t being used to add character depth and are instead the entirety of the character, then it’s a problem.

It’s a real problem, because the tropes are doing all of the work here and Snyder put absolutely no effort into the dialogue or characters. Every word sounds like it came out of ChatGPT after it was fed a “Space Fantasy” prompt. There is honestly a line a character is forced to utter that goes, “Queen Issa was called the Life Giver. It was said she had the ability to give life.” I heard that and my brain hurt.

The characters don’t fare a lot better. Aside from Kora, they have no backstory and literally no motivation to go help a farming colony on a distant world. Yet, all of them follow Kora with little hesitation. The characters don’t have personalities; they each have one trait. Kai is a charming rogue. Nemesis has honor. Kora is a brooding bad ass. They’re archetypes. This affects the story, because situations and scenes that ought to have weight and emotion just feel hollow. For example, the film is building to a confrontation between Kora and Noble, and it certainly seems like there ought to be some history between them, but none is ever  mentioned. It just becomes yet another of Snyder’s well choreographed fight scenes, complete with his trademark slo-mo and random close ups.

The pacing is also weirdly off. So much time is spent on the set up, there’s barely any room to meet the crew. Some of the characters — like Nemesis and Titus — have hardly any screen time, but the viewer is supposed to care about them. Djimon Hounsou is a wonderful, Oscar-nominated actor, and he has maybe five lines here. The pacing is such a hash that by the end of the 2 hour and 15 minute film, it’s basically gotten to the end of the first act of Seven Samurai. 

It’s a real shame, because the visuals here can be stunning, to the point of frustration. Snyder puts so much care and effort into a wide shot of an asteroid field around a ringed planet, or a sun setting through a mist, yet he can’t be bothered to type out a line of dialogue that doesn’t hurt to listen to.

And I could forgive even all of that — the tropes, the bad dialogue, the flat characters — if this was at all fun to watch. It’s not. The best you can say about it is that it’s much lighter on its feet than Zack Snyder’s punishingly long Justice League cut. But that’s really not enough to recommend this.

Part One is available on Netflix now. Part Two comes in April. And I doubt that I’ll be interested enough to check it out.

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Curse Review: “Self-Exclusion” Doesn’t Protect, Only Attacks

Karama doesn't have a "first of the month". | photo: Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

The focus of the cold opener in the seventh episode of The Curse (Showtime/A24), titled “Self-Exclusion,” is on Nala (Hikmah Warsame), who has it out for bully Josie (Aspen Martinez). Wishing for a foe to fall, especially when it’s from a rope climb in gym class isn’t what concerns me. Kids are kids, and nobody got hurt. Nor is the P.E. teacher (Greg Fernandez) not taking Nala’s side because Josie’s bullying is only verbal, throwing me off. Disheartening? Yes, but that’s just the failure of our public school system. What’s most disquieting is how intent Nala looks while Josie’s on the ropes. It’s a death stare worthy of Kubrick.

Whitney (Emma Stone) comes with her set of baggage, literally and figuratively, when she purchases the horrid wooden Native American statue at the golf course and hauls it right to the doorstep of Cara Durand (Nizhonniya Luxi Austin), who is initially none too pleased. It’s a shameless shill at buying Cara’s signature on the art release forms, and I’m not the only one that’s uncomfortable with this. Cara herself is also very uneasy, given Whitney’s genetic disposition of disrepute.

Stone’s acting in just the face alone when being rejected is some of her finest acting yet without words, and when she finally reveals all that’s plaguing her concerning Asher, Cara simply listens. It’s evident that Whit’s tearing at the seams, but this show has a beautiful skill of imploring me to look at these individuals through a finer lens. Is she being sincere, or is she playing the emotional card for Cara?

My vote is for the latter, especially factoring in how many times she deploys the term “friend” as if to weaponize it, and we go back into her original intent: making Cara a cultural consultant for the show. Money talks, and I believe this is Whitney at her cruelest yet. She’s trying to get an artist to sell out. Freedom and integrity are the true hallmarks and net worth of an artist, and the look on Cara’s face is just devastating as she mulls over the paycheck in exchange for her principled values as an artist, whatever they may be.

While Whitney is looking like slime, they do something interesting with Asher (Nathan Fielder). At his comedy class, he’s ground more into the floor when the lesson on self-deprecation doesn’t land for him. Not only is he verbally being “pantsed” by his teacher Jeff (Doug Montoya), but also unknowingly forms a bond with Nala.

The brilliance of this scene lies in its parallel to the cold open. It’s another instance of someone tamping down years of bullying only to fail when put on the spot, the incompetency of their feckless “saviors” front and center, which also is touched upon when Whitney passes a bunch of roadside protestors, decrying the name 3HO/Kundalini Yoga Community leader Yogi Bhajan.

If you recall, Whitney visited the community earlier this season. These threads that are never dropped only add to the richness of the tapestry Fielder and Safdie are weaving on screen. Yogi Bhajan (a real person) by accounts was a horrible person who eventually died in Española. Since Whitney and Asher are surely no exemplary people in the least, it’s a nice visual cue to their days being numbered.

Smack dab in the middle of the episode, we go from bad to holy shit. If Asher running over what I’ll assume is a strategically placed box in his driveway wasn’t enough, Whitney’s side-eye says it all. Asher’s information to Monica Perez (Tessa Mentus) bore fruit in what is a gorgeously shot exposé on how Whistling River Casino allowed a recovering gambling addict to play and win big before revoking the money.

I get an even bigger hit when the exposé releases footage of the onsite inspector and Asher laughing as recovering addict Joanna Hernandez (Bertha Benitez) welcomes in the demon of intemperance before their very eyes. Whitney’s seen the story, but hard as Asher tries to slither his way out, he just burrows himself deeper in the shit, and Nathan’s performance in this moment is truly haunting.

It’s the inflection of his voice, the timbre, the rhythm. These aren’t aureate lies he’s spilling forth to save his marriage; they’re half-assed, fully-defeated excuses to save his hidebound ass. I agree with Whit: if it weren’t for her, Asher would just be Satan. His ensuing “stigmata moment” wasn’t the show’s most subtle if they’re painting Asher as some “false savior” to Abshir’s family, but it works. I do feel like he’s in a spiritual war of his own as well. No notes.

At Whit’s first real confessional, we get some time with Dougie (Benny Safdie), who is particularly taken by her monologue, especially about the part of not knowing the person you thought you knew. Stone knocking it out of the park isn’t rarified territory in this season, but it bears repeating: she’s simply phenomenal, and Whitney stopping just short of accusing Asher of holding her back makes me ill, but not for the obvious reason of Asher in that footage acting sub-human.

Sure, Whitney’s spoiled, displaying zero growth, especially when enabler dad Paul (Corbin Bernsen) lends her cash. Sure, she’s in a toxic co-dependent (redundant, I know) relationship. Neither of which are good, but as much as I am so Team Dougie, I don’t know that he’s not just using the couple as his magnum opus; why celebrate marriage when he could be at the vanguard of a new form of reality TV: dissolution of marriages? To be fair, Dougie has every right to be pissed off at Asher for not inviting him to Shabbat.

The tertiary Nathan Fielder-directed episode, even in its last minutes, gives us even a few more sludgy moments when we see that it isn’t the network that’s paying for Cara’s employment; it’s Whitney buying her friend under a false premise. I mean, she purchased a Native American at the beginning of the episode. That sort of full-circle poetry is why the show’s never displayed a dull moment.

With Asher taking notes on the recorded argument they had earlier, I’m not sure whether to believe he’s trying to better himself by self-critiquing for the sake of personal growth and learning to accept responsibility instead of being an excuse factory… or just as a means to game Whitney and win arguments. I hope he at least took from the class that emotional intelligence begins with being self-aware.

The final moments of this episode completely knocked me for a loop. Though Nala’s wish didn’t first come true, it does rear its head all the same, coming full circle. Hmm, I also noticed the “C” in the title itself is circular, as are camera lenses. The show never lets up giving me frissons of simultaneous dread and excitement — a fever dream I don’t mind being enveloped in.

That snake charm was more than just on the set of keys to one of Whitney’s abodes in this episode. It’s also in Whitney. Let me find out there is no fucking consultant position. I have a feeling Whitney just bought Cara’s whole artistic identity for twenty stacks, even though Cara might be smarter than to sign an actual signature, but even then, that’s fraud. She’s got her “friend” over a barrel, but what does she care? She got her way.

It’s also interesting for how it’s shot, with the camera lingering inside the bank to zoom in on Whitney until Paul with the audio coming in clear as fuck, as if they were mic’d up. We also get an odd scene of Asher getting made up for his confessional. This particular shot is interesting because it sets up a tonal shift visually. Something about seeing his warped reflection in the house is both funny-looking and creepy, almost like a clown. This is fantastic foreshadowing if his Arthur Fleck moment is in the cards.

The episode is named “Self-Exclusion”, for the voluntary act of a recovering addict signing away their rights to play at any casino for a set amount of time. I curiously think the language of the form itself might be the actual template Whitney uses to get people to sign away their rights. I don’t remember if we’ve gotten a look at Whitney’s form yet. The duo’s cowardly yet brazen tactics to ride roughshod over anybody that stands in their way is sickly poetic, since the most poisonous they are, are to each other.

5/5 Stars.

Isn’t It Romantic? ‘Quantum Leap’ Explores Relationships in “Nomad”

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Image: NBC

Quantum Leap is all about time, and keeping track of it in the show can lead to some head scratching. Just how long has it been since Ben discovered that three years had passed back at HQ in what was, of him, the blink of an eye? Does he ever get to sleep? If each leap lasts only a few hours or at most days from his perspective, does that mean from his perspective, the whole show so far has only occupied a handful of weeks? Just how does he experience time?

I found myself wondering these things because of the rushed nature of his romance with Hannah. Scarcely a few episodes passed between him being heartbroken over Addison, who moved on during that three-year time jump, and him locking lips with another fetching blonde, midcentury super-genius Hannah.

And now she’s back, in episode 208, “Nomad.” The title refers to the asset (real name Layla) that Ben’s spy host is supposed to save from certain death, but it could just as easily apply to Ben himself. This time, he’s in 1961 Cairo, which Hannah just happens to be visiting for a conference. We get a few fun moments of international intrigue, where Ben, as a CIA agent investigating how Russia was operating in the Middle East during the Cold War, has some nasty run-ins with the Stasi, the former East German secret police.

Image: NBC

But all that feels like it fades into the backdrop once Hannah shows up on the scene. Despite Ben wearing a different face, she somehow recognizes him without him saying a word. She mentions that she’s asked numerous strangers over the six years since their last encounter too. At no point does she or anyone else bring up what happened after Ben leaped mid-kiss following their last encounter. And neither do they care what becomes of this current host, whose face the show doesn’t even bother revealing via the usual reflection or photo.

Look, I get that Quantum Leap is just a sci-fi show, and perhaps it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the ride. But gaps in logic (and ethics) like this just bother me. I wish I could go “aww” over Ben and Hannah’s softly lit, whisper-acted, gooey-eyed romantic moments. I love me a good romance, after all. But the fact that Ben is occupying someone else’s body — someone who hasn’t consented to any of this — is simply too distracting. Have you ever woken up after a wild night out and been told you made out with some stranger while blacked out? That’s pretty much what’s happening to these hosts.

Worse, there’s a moment when it looks like Ben might have failed in his leap. The mission goes wrong, and Nomad/Layla (who really feels like an afterthought despite being the episode’s titular character) is presumed dead. Ben faces the possibility of being stuck in 1961, and all anyone can say is, “Well, at least he’s with Hannah! Maybe this is his happy ending!” Um… what about his host? Where is his host during all this, anyway? Unlike the original show, which showed the hosts in the Waiting Room, this version never explains that (or where Ben’s body is).

Image: NBC

Meanwhile, Addison and Tom appear to be moving quickly as well. Addison is convinced that he’s about to propose. She’s also perfectly happy third-wheeling with her ex and his new girlfriend, and doesn’t seem too bothered over the speculation that the reason they keep meeting across time is because they’re in love, implying that Ben has some kind of control over his leaps. In the original, it was revealed that Sam could have leaped home whenever he wanted. Is that true for Ben too? Did Addison simply not matter enough to him for that to happen, but Hannah, who he’s known for a matter of days, is so special that he encounters her again and again? Ouch.

The show really feels like it’s borrowing from the novel / TV show The Time Traveler’s Wife this season, and showrunner Martin Gero has mentioned that the story line will conclude in Season 2. I have a feeling that will mean Ben eventually encounters an aged Hannah on her deathbed, with dramatic music playing for full tragic effect.

Anyway, despite wanting to enjoy the spy thriller aspect and the dramatic backdrop of Ben’s first international leap, the romance aspect was simply too distracting for me. We spent an entire season investing in Ben and Addison as a couple — the whole reason Ben leaped in the first place was to save her life — and while I don’t entirely object to breaking them up for dramatic effect, throwing in a replacement girlfriend so quickly isn’t working for me.

Unfortunately for me, it seems Hannah is here to stay (for season 2 at least). Here’s hoping one of the writers finally speaks up on behalf of Ben’s hosts before the pair decides to sleep together and we have to wonder whether she date-raped someone.

2.5 / 5 stars.

‘Wonka’ Is a Delightfully Sweet Treat Perfect for the Holiday Season

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It may surprise you, dear reader, that the person who decided to review Wonka isn’t someone that suffers from a debilitating sweet tooth. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sweet reward now and again. But even when I was a young boy trick or treating, I cared more about sorting my haul than actually eating it. That said, there is one thing I definitely share with the titular protagonist: We’re both dreamers. And while that might seem insufficient on occasion, sometimes all you need in life is a dream and the motivation to make it a reality.

Wonka | Rainbow

One thing that struck me as somewhat of a revelation in recent years is how talented Timothée Chalamet is. I went from barely knowing who he was to fervently looking forward to what he’ll do next. It’s not easy having a range that encompasses Paul Atreides, a terrifying drifter, and Willy Wonka. So it’s fair to say he’s having a moment right now, and I welcome it. For his current role, he brings a captivating, energetic charisma to bear. He’s constantly singing and dancing (and sometimes awkwardly rhyming). Wonka is optimistic to a fault, and manages to use his mystical knowledge of chocolate making to conduct acts of culinary magic.

Wonka | Colman

Now, many prequels fail to live up to the original, but I’m happy to say that Wonka is at least as entertaining as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original classic, not the creepy Johnny Depp version). A big part for that success comes down to the directing of Paul King, who you may know from the ridiculously cozy Paddington movies. Wonka moves at a brisk pace, with extravagantly colorful set pieces and a cast that’s equally capable of dark humor and goofy slapstick. That includes the likes of Keegan-Michael Key, who plays a corrupt police chief; Olivia Colman, a demented innkeeper that enslaves her poor inhabitants to work off their debt in her laundry prison; and Rowan Atkinson AKA Mr. Bean as a chocoholic priest.

Wonka | Cartel

Then there’s the Chocolate Cartel, a trio of miscreants including Slugworth, Prodnose and Fickelgruber, that has the Gallery Gourmet on complete lockdown, and who pushes any upstart new shop out, and that’s if they’re lucky. There’s also relative newcomer Noodle, played by Calah Lane. She starts out as a broken down and broken-hearted orphan, but with Willy’s help, she finds a new drive to make something positive of her life.

The crux of the movie is that Willy wants to open up a shop in the Gallery Gourmet, and he quickly finds that everything is weighed against him. Most of the cops are on the take, bribed by the Cartel in sweet, sweet chocolate currency. There’s also plenty of thieves and con men willing and able to take every silver Sovereign Willy owns, from shoe shine urchins to struggling young mothers.

Wonka | Bleacher

Perhaps the worst of all was the aforementioned innkeeper played by Colman, Mrs. Scrubitt, and her accomplice, the brutish Mr. Bleacher. She seems jolly and helpful at first, willing to keep Willy off the cold streets for a night. But he suddenly discovers he’s accrued debt for doing things such as using the stairs (coming and going), availing himself of the “mini bar” of soap, and even drinking a glass offered to him by Scrubitt herself. Young Noodle, who’s also “employed” by Scurbitt, tries to warn Willy to read the fine print before he signs Scrubitt’s contract. There’s just one problem: Willy is illiterate. So the optimistic young Wonka finds himself enslaved and thrown into the laundry dungeon.

Wonka | Captives

It wouldn’t be much of a movie if he stayed there, so fret not, Willy finds a way to evade these confines. But not before meeting and befriending a goofy cast of other inmates, including an accountant, failed comedian and others. At first they think Willy’s optimism is misguided, until he finds a way not only to escape each day, but to keep them from having to do an ounce of work.

Wonka and Noodle

I should mention that while Willy Wonka is more known for his chocolate-making skills than anything else, we learn here that he’s also something of an alchemist. In one flashback, he recounts how he was actually interested in being a magician first, but then his chocolatier mother instilled in him a drive to learn her skills. Especially after she died from an unspecified illness when he was younger. So in the present, Wonka is equipped with skills and masterful tools of his trade. Those include an unfolding cabinet of ingredients, a staff that doubles as a coat rack, and a hat that seemingly can hold an endless number of items. And when he makes chocolate, he doesn’t use basic ingredients or limit the palette of his confections. No, he uses all sorts of unusual flavors and ingredients, notably including giraffe milk.

If that wasn’t enough, most of Willy’s chocolates have secondary properties thanks to their exotic ingredients. Which isn’t a surprise if you’re familiar with the original movie, but it’s no less delightful here. There’s chocolates that make you hover, others that make you drunk and emotional, even one called Silver Linings that helps people get out of the doldrums. Later in the movie, his chocolates are spiked with something called Yeti Sweat, which shockingly cause those that eat them to grow colorful masses of hair all over their bodies.

Wonka | Keegan

There’s ups and downs in Willy’s quest, thanks in large part to the scheming of Slugworth and the Cartel. To my surprise, despite how sweet the movie was, it’s also a little bitter and dark at times. There’s a Dickensian quality to the inequality on display, with orphans and twisted innkeepers. Willy even bites the bullet not once, but twice, nearly getting exploded and then almost drowning. But it wouldn’t be a heroic journey without challenges, and I’m happy to say there’s plenty here to keep Wonka busy and the audience entertained. Perhaps one of my favorite moments is when he starts opening pop-up shops all throughout town, making money and ducking into the sewers whenever the Chief of Police and his cops arrive to bust him.

Wonka | Oompa Hugh

I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on another exemplary performance in Wonka: Hugh Grant’s turn as an Oompa Loompa. I’m not a big fan of Mr. Grant normally. I didn’t think he was handsome in his earlier years, and I didn’t think he was charming in his later. But when he’s shrunk down into the form of a arrogant orange ninja? Then you have my attention. And he brings all his British gravitas to bear in a delightfully insane performance, complete with little songs and dances. Best of all, he’s after Wonka for reasons I won’t disclose, but which add a lot to the lore of the series.

Wonka | Atkinson

While there are no bad performances in Wonka, I am sad that we don’t get more screen time for the amazing Rowan Atkinson. I loved Mr. Bean as a kid, and I was excited to hear he was a part of the cast. But in reality, he’s on screen for maybe 10 minutes total, and the majority of that is towards the very end of the movie, much to my chagrin. On the plus side, when things really get crazy for him, it involves escaped zoo animals and a hungry, hungry giraffe chasing him. Other than that, my only real complaint is that I wanted to know more about Willy’s mother and childhood. Though in the grand scheme, these are pretty minor quibbles.

It’s hard to impart comedy in written form, but I’ll do my best to touch on some of the things that made Wonka such a delight. Part of Willy’s scheme to escape his confines involves tricking Mrs. Scrubitt into believing that Bleacher is some sort of Germanic lord, which escalates to him “showing some thigh” to captivate her. Then there’s what I call the Nutty Professor antics of Key’s Chief of Police, who gets more and more obese over the course of the movie thanks to his payment in chocolate. Perhaps one of my favorite things is when Hugh is trapped by Willy, only to escape and bash young Wonka upside the head with a frying pan.

Wonka | Shop Song

Combine this with the musicality of the movie, which not only features several original tracks, but even one very familiar song for fans. Some of the standouts were “Have You Got a Sweet Tooth”, “Scrub Scrub”, and “A World Of Your Own”. If it wasn’t enough that Chalamet is a talented actor, he also boasts an impressive singing voice, along with his constant dancing.

I won’t spoil the big moments of the movie, other than to say Noodle is more interesting that she first appears, and the Cartel’s stranglehold is undone by a well hidden treasure. Ultimately, the movie is all about one line delivered by Willy’s mother: “Every good thing in this world started with a dream“.

Wonka | End

In the end, Willy’s dream comes true, and he manages to make the world a better place in the process. It’s a wonderful and colorful film which is the perfect thing to get your mind off the darkness of the world, even for a little while.

The Curse Review: In “The Fire Burns On” Rebirth is Defined by Scorching, Not Shedding

I'm sure Dougie's called everyone in the department "chief" at one point. | photo: Anna Kooris | A24 | Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

In episode six of The Curse (Showtime/A24) titled “The Fire Burns On”, we’re dropped right in on Flipanthropy. Janice (Aliyah Lee) and Pascal (Alexander Adrian Gibson) are killing it with their on-screen chemistry before Whitney (Emma Stone) can present them with their house key, fittingly affixed to an artisanally crafted snake pendant. When asked about it, Asher (Nathan Fielder) with a forked tongue redefines its meaning to represent rebirth. Much like the opening of our last episode, we’re hit with a bad omen. Snakes never mean anything good, but the color palettes in these opening minutes are stunning and good enough to eat. The directorial decision to tantalize our eyes in this dream world is smart. It almost acts as a cold open, but I wouldn’t classify it as one for a reason we’ll soon find out.

Cut to: Reality. The footage thus far isn’t sitting well with Whit and isn’t giving Dougie (Benny Safdie) hope. Even the oversold enthusiasm of the “new homeowners” isn’t enough to make anything worth watching, and the jaunty music only underscores the fakery of it all.

I’m fucking glad that Whitney’s finally seeing the light, though that’s Dougie’s time to shine, which, to me, can only mean letting a bit of darkness in when Dougie’s “talent” is at long last sought. She’s beginning to open her eyes. What the show lacks is personality, and I love that Dougie knows he’s got a goldmine staring him in the face.

Her inherent frustration with Asher is enough to get anybody to tune in and veg out. I love that Dougie knows that to sell a vision, no matter how pie-eyed and utopian, you gotta give the people what they want, not what they think they need, and I would be willing to bet you dollars to donuts that more people watch reality shows for the conflict than for any resolution, real or fake. A staged trainwreck may leave bruised egos, but a real one will leave broken spirits. Now tell me, which sounds more intoxicating to you?

The way Whit bristles about Asher is the secret sauce. The way she lights up when bagging on her recalcitrant wad of a husband to Dougie is like drugs to me. It’s an angle that will give the show more buzz than her battery-powered “Steven”. I love that Dougie remains a goddamn mystery to me. He texts Cara but claims she’s ugly and hates her smoking. He’s honest in wanting a true connection, but also honest in going low for sky-high ratings. He talks ad nauseam about the fatal night but shies away from lingering on the death itself. My fascination with him only grows and the professional union of him and Whitney is brilliant because it’s not a Royal Flush. For someone who conducts themselves in inimical defiance of being held to account, Asher is just as scary if not more than the homunculus of Whitney-Dougie. He seems like he knows where the bodies are buried, and I’m sure for most of his life, he’s been the butt of many japes, so for my money, this power shift still looks more akin to a Mexican Standoff — they just don’t know it.

We get a few key tonal shifts in this episode that hit hard and fast. The first big one comes in the form of Asher at the hardware store with erstwhile co-worker Bill (David DeLao) icing him out, befuddling the fuck out of him. A few of the camera angles in this scene are a little suspicious, and the beat ends on an ominous note, prompting the title… but we’re already over a quarter into the episode! Just when I believe I’ve got a scintilla of the show in my grasp, it finds a way to remain inscrutable.

Whitney and Dougie working in tandem at the Española Fire Department shoot has me excited. It’s certainly a far cry from the start of the last episode, and with both making Asher the butt of the joke, we’re given space to get behind a side. Are we Team Whitney? Team Asher? Together, however bloody this may get, the show has a shot, so are we team Dougie? Or do we want to bear witness to the metaphorical house that the trio built burn to the ground? We’ve already seen Dougie socially scar a literal burn victim. Why not up the stakes with a married couple this time?

Fielder and Safdie keep the stakes high when we see that jeans store thefts are beginning to hemorrhage Whit’s bank account. Couple that with Cara not signing off on her art being used, and not giving a fuck is looking better to her. Her confidence starts to burn brighter with each take, even flirting with a fireman. It’s “good TV”, but Nathan and Benny have no reservations in making us, the audience aware of what the cameras don’t show you, emotion too raw for TV that invariably ends up on the cutting room floor. We all know Emma’s a revelation in this series, but Nathan is bringing it. It’s painful to watch but feels like something I need to bear witness to, much like Whitney’s abject sadness when listening to the Fire Chief describe the “baby drop off”, giving un-expecting mothers a choice. It’s watching the wind go out of each other’s sails, watching the light go out in their faces… and it’s fucking compelling TV.

Our second tonal shift is when we once again get our fair glimpse at Asher’s equipment when he uses the bathroom, this time for a longer duration. Normally I would say, who cares, you see it for more than a second and it’s just another shock tactic, but I honestly feel Nathan and Benny wouldn’t do anything in this show without merit to the grand scheme of chaos, this being the strips of chicken he notices on the sink, naturally accusing Dougie of a prank, injecting even more mystery into Asher’s taxing day.

I still get the feeling we’re getting B-Roll fed to us in some shots. I don’t see why since the B-Roll team caught Asher’s first bad deed they wouldn’t keep the camera rolling on the both of them. It would make sense they would overlook the eyes and ears of the production because of their status, and if this is the case, I give the show major kudos for cluing the audience to a plot point “hidden in plain sight.”

The tension crescendos at Questa Lane, where we see our tertiary and final tonal shift. After the visit from a chiropractor, I’m not entirely convinced Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) is better than when he started. It wouldn’t be a gift from Whitney if her best intentions didn’t fuck you in the ass and equally as disconcerting is Asher’s game of guessing with Nala (Hikmah Warsame), not for her ability but rather for his actions. A single rivulet of blood from a pained and worried HGTV co-host is another image (much like Fernando’s gun in the last episode) that remains seared in my brain. Nathan, you’ve done it again.

At slightly 38 minutes and change, this might be the shortest episode yet, the most whipsawing yet. Nathan Fielder in the director’s chair consecutively for two episodes is a great way to see his scope in a more cinematic fashion. Both episodes, though stand-alone in all facets, exist to me undeniably as a pair. Of what, exactly? Ironically, for all the shit that’s gone down in both episodes, I’d say a pair of Baoding balls.

We’re presented with more mysteries. What’s up with Bill? Could the crew have paid him to ignore Asher? Is the crew in on it? Though I suspected Dougie and Cara making fun of her behind her back (which I’m sure they do, just not in text messages), what are Dougie and Cara to each other? What’s up with that weird racist statue at the mini golf course in Albuquerque? How will Asher’s public torching go?

With Cara not letting up on exposing racist hypocrisy through art, something tells me that Whitney and Asher’s vile “valorization” of Española may be her biggest project yet. This series is hitting even harder now in the understanding that all things could and should be looked at with a finer lens (is that why the title font is so weird?). I’m catching a strong feeling that the devil is in the details, and details overlooked, animal, vegetable, or mineral, can and will do you in.

5/5 Stars.

Extracurricular Activities Provides a Twisty Magnum P.I. Episode

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MAGNUM P.I. -- "Extracurricular Activities" Episode 518 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tim Kang as Detective Gordon Katsumoto, Lance Lim as Dennis, Stephen Hill as Theodore "TC" Calvin, Martin Martinez as Cade -- (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

If you caught trailers prior to tonight’s Magnum P.I., you’d be forgiven for thinking “Extracurricular Activities” was another comedic episode. While there are definitely lighthearted moments, this week takes things in a decidedly different direction than last week’s fantastic showcase of the comedy stylings of Jin.

The episode begins with Magnum playing frisbee with a group of young college kids. Despite only being on campus for a day, he already has a nickname, M Dog, and is invited to a toga party later. Thankfully Higgins is an adult, and keeps her free-spirited boyfriend on a short leash. They’re not at college for fun, after all, they’re here to investigate an allegation against one of the dean’s professors.

Sam Brody is a professor and bioengineer researching crop resilience. There’s lots of rumors swirling about him coercing sexual favors for research positions at his lab. The dean doesn’t want to ruin the man without proof, so Thomas and Higgins head out to find what they can. Higgy starts her usual hacking routine, but runs into an unexpected roadblock. The professor’s devices are all heavily encrypted. Meaning Thomas and Juliet are going to have to go back to school and surveil him the old school way.

Extracurricular Activities | Father and Son
MAGNUM P.I. — “Extracurricular Activities” Episode 518 — Pictured: (l-r) Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin, Martin Martinez as Cade — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

As for the rest of the team, they have a different extracurricular in mind. T.C. and Gordon are heading out for a father / son camping trip with their boys, after raiding La Mariana for supplies. Rick complains, as expected, and manages to whine his way onto the trip. Mostly for a chance to get some much needed sleep after dealing with his newborn for several months. Since they’re already taking so much food and supplies, T.C. and Gordon agree to let him come along.

Back at college, Juliet sits in on a Brody lecture, and overhears two girls gossiping about how one of them is on a first name basis with the professor. Then when one boy named Travis starts offering high-minded opinions, Juliet proves him wrong and accidentally embarrasses him. Later she goes to apologize, and realizes Travis may be the one circulating rumors about his professor. Mostly because he’s salty about not getting the research position, which he insists Brody only gives to attractive young women. Which is why he’s not trying for Brody’s open research position. Though Travis did overhear Brody making time with someone in his office the other night, who he thinks is a girl named Kelly.

Meanwhile Magnum heads to Brody’s office to get to his phone and upload some spyware. He’s pretending to be a repairman and gets in effortlessly, though the hack is a bit more complex. In order to access the phone, he makes an artificial fingerprint and starts the upload. As he twiddles his fingers, he gets a call from Juliet about how class is out and Brody’s heading back to his office. Problem is, the upload is taking forever. So poor Magnum has to hang from the window frame outside as Brody mills about. Fret not, he’s able to sneak back in without breaking any bones. And with the spyware in place, he finds texts from Brody about having company over, along with a cringy winky face emoji.

Extracurricular Activities | Snooping
MAGNUM P.I. — “Extracurricular Activities” Episode 518 — Pictured: Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Magnum and Higgins do some surveillance from a vehicle parked close to Brody’s house, and find Travis was wrong about one thing. Brody isn’t interested in Kelly, he’s hot for a student named Helen. He’s about to get smoochy with the girl (apparently this isn’t their first tryst), when he mentions that the rumors about him means he has to give the research position to someone other than her. That ruins the mood, and Helen leaves, pissed. Our intrepid investigators thus decide to get Helen’s side of the story.

Back in the woods, it’s an awkward camping trip. Rick is playing pack mule, as Gordon forces the group to look for a rugged campsite, not one of the cushy, pre-made ones. Dennis is proud he got into Michigan in the fall, and when T.C. suggest Cade ups his college preparation, it’s clear Cade’s hiding something from his adoptive father. On the plus side, Rick brought a portable generator, which Gordon and T.C. think is too easy.

It turns out, Cade wants to enlist in the Marines, just like his adoptive father. T.C. isn’t happy about that, and just wants his boy to be safe. It dampens the mood, and T.C. is mopey. Gordon tries to lighten things with a deck of cards, but nobody wants to play. Then the next morning everybody other than Rick is exhausted. Turns out, Rick’s a bit of a snorer. He wants to make breakfast as recompense, just one issue—their generator and food are both gone.

Higgy continues to pretend she’s a transfer student, and talks her way to Helen’s table. Unfortunately she doesn’t get anywhere with her. Thomas has more luck finding a past assistant named Lydia who apparently killed herself 4 months ago. When they talk with Lydia’s mother, they discover she lost weight, couldn’t sleep, spent nights at the lab and didn’t talk with anybody. Magnum manages to get access to Lydia’s phone for answers.

Extracurricular Activities | Hot for Teacher
MAGNUM P.I. — “Extracurricular Activities” Episode 518 — Pictured: Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Juliet has an old MI6 contact try and remotely figure out what’s happening with her faulty spyware, just as Magnum discovers Lydia was being blackmailed. A month before her death, Lydia met with the blackmailer in a cafe on campus, which happens to have cameras. And to my surprise, they didn’t show Professor Brody blackmailing the dead assistant. No, the blackmailer was Helen!

It gets worse—Higgy’s contact confirms that the spyware issue was that two different spyware programs were running on the same system. Which means Helen is a Chinese spy, not just a lovestruck student. She shows her true colors by pushing Brody to give her the position again, and he refuses. So she asks again with a pistol to his forehead.

In the woods, Rick and T.C. find a homeless man with all their food and generator. Him and his son have been living in the woods for months, and our team feels sympathy. So Rick loans the stuff to them until they don’t need it anymore, and it’s clear T.C. comes to a realization about Cade as well. He has to let his boy follow his own instincts, since he’s a proven survivor.

Though Brody resists, Helen decides to go the hard route and knocks him out, using his fingerprint to access his terminal and copy all his data. She wants to use his study of crop resilience to create deadly pathogens to use against China’s adversaries. With the mother lode in hand, she heads for the Chinese consulate, and it’s an epic race to get there before her. First in cars, and then with Higgy and Helen jumping on motorcycles. It seems Helen might get there first, until Magnum comes in and sideswipes the spy to the curb.

Extracurricular Activities | Bros
MAGNUM P.I. — “Extracurricular Activities” Episode 518 — Pictured: (l-r) Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright, Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

It ends with Brody resigning, though the dean is unwilling to bring all the facts to the surface. She’s clearly a political animal, and Thomas and Juliet aren’t happy she’s hiding things for expedience. But at least they can tell Lydia’s family how and why she killed herself, stressed to the max being forced to work for a spy. As for T.C., him and Cade finally talk, and he realizes he has to let his boy do what he wants. Overall a solid and well-written episode of Magnum P.I.

WITCHCRAFT! ‘Quantum Leap’ sends Ben further back than ever before

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Photo: NBC

Rules are made to be broken, and in the case of Quantum Leap, the show has now thrown any pretense of staying within the leaper’s lifetime out the window. The show has broken the lifetime rule before, of course, both in the original and the reboot. But it’s never gone quite this far before.

Episode 207, “A Kind of Magic” takes place a whopping three centuries before Ben was born. It’s 1692, and Ben’s host is a Puritan servant girl named Elizabeth in Colonial Massachusetts. You know where this is going… yup, the witch trials.

Photo: NBC

The ginormous leap throws off the team back home because lack of historical records makes it hard for them to do their thing — you know, using articles and databases and whatnot to dig up info to help Ben on his leap. But other than that, they’re oddly nonchalant about the magnitude of the leap (other than a moment when Ian resorts to a seance to try to find out what went on back then). It’s just a brief moment of “whoa, that’s a long time,” rather than anyone fussing over how it’s even possible. Which I’m not too mad about because drawing out that conversation and getting into the nitty-gritty of the sci-fi tech wouldn’t be very fun. I’d rather focus on the leap anyway.

But before we get into that, another plot point that feels kind of swept under the rug is the whole thing with Rachel’s mysterious, unnamed “boss” spying on the project. Thanks to Rachel, that’s fixed now. I’ll bet it’ll pop up again in future episodes, but the team, again, feels a little to casual about the whole situation, which kind of kills the tension of that whole arc.

Photo: NBC

Anyway, onto the leap! Massachusetts 1692, witch trials, Ben in the mix… without having watched a single trailer, I knew immediately where this episode was going. Of course some poor innocent lady was going to be accused of being a witch by fire-and-brimstone Puritans — it’s a young woman called Bridget Smith, aka Goody Smith. Brief aside: “Goody” is an honorific, not a nickname. It was short for “Goodwife” and the equivalent of “Mrs.” for civilian women back in the day (whereas “Mistress”, which would later be abbreviated to “Mrs.” was for ultra-high-class women who were the heads of households).

Anyway, of course Bridget was being blamed for the town’s mysterious misfortunes, and of course Ben was going to try to science his way out of it and end up being accused of being a witch as well. The one wrinkle is when the local apothecary, an unconventional woman called Morgan, tries to stick up for the other two and ends up being the third accused witch.

Photo: NBC

Ben is here to save Bridget, and later himself and Morgan too. I wanted to be more invested in the story, but I just felt like I’ve seen it before. The ignorant Puritans, the impassioned but ultimately useless pleas for rationality, the historical misogyny… there wasn’t anything to set the episode apart from all the other tales about the witch trials out there.

It also stuck out to me that Ben didn’t even try to blend in, and didn’t seem too concerned about what kind of state he’d be leaving his host Elizabeth in when she returned to her body. I mean, he gives CPR, techno-babbles about the science behind the town’s misfortunes, and uses future knowledge to appear to summon divine intervention. What’s poor Elizabeth to do when she returns with no memory of any of this (as the current Quantum Leap has established that hosts black out during leaps)?

Photo: NBC

Ian and Jenn take turns being the hologram before Addison finally steps back into the imaging chamber… turns out, being the hologram takes skills that Ian and Jenn aren’t quite up for (they’re better off nerding it up behind the computers). I’m glad to see her back in her previous role — even the character acknowledges that she’s been sidelined, and I was starting to worry that she’d all but disappear from the show. That said, I do hope they keep rotating in Ian, Jenn, and Magic as circumstances require. Letting Ben interact with different members of the team provides more storytelling opportunities (the Ben/Addison romance-then-break-up thing feels played out at this point).

All in all, “A Kind of Magic” was decently executed, if a bit underwhelming. More than anything, the writing felt a bit careless. Which is a shame because this episode will be remembered as significant due to the magnitude of the time travel and really deserved better.

3/5 stars

The Curse Review: The Hosts and Their House Fail at Keeping Cool in “It’s A Good Day”

Do prisoners tell prison jokes WHILE in prison? | Richard Foreman Jr. | A24 | | Parmamount + with Showtime

The fifth episode of The Curse (Showtime/A24) titled “It’s A Good Day” starts with another day of filming, this time of the Juniper Lane couple, Lucinda (Nikki Dixon) and Dennis (Eric Peterson). Dougie (Benny Safdie) is visibly over and done trying to make lemonade with Whitney’s (Emma Stone) backseat directing, and the fugazi yet positive vibe immediately gives way to frustration, so we get apt foreshadowing in the very first scene. We also get a taste of what may be behind the voyeuristic moments when Whitney’s told off by cameraman Remi (Oscar Avila) “as a joke” and boom operator Jose (D.J. Arvizo) is accused of listening in on her getting Asher (Nathan Fielder) to obtain couple’s signatures on a contract so duplicitous, even Janus would be jealous.

The contentious Pueblo lease agreement negotiations are enough to make anybody sweat, but this Juniper Lane abode has that covered with inefficient cooling. To me, the use of Whitney’s houses as a metaphor for the couple themselves is still exceptional, cinematic storytelling. The internal elements clash while externally, the mess calls attention to itself by trying so hard to fit in. Whit’s houses are like an extension of her, which isn’t a compliment. It’s why she takes umbrage with buyers changing anything inside. I would even argue the structures themselves are monuments to past trauma.

Speaking of, another side of Whit is unceremoniously unveiled when dad Paul (Corbin Bernsen) and mom Elizabeth (Constance Shulman) show up to filming unannounced. It’s a smart and believable move because when nothing’s going right, the last thing anybody wants is a reminder of the source. Whitney’s febrile outburst about the land she was “promised” by her parents legit took me aback and the air of unironic entitlement concerning a whole community only highlighted how threadbare her cloak of philanthropy is. I’m not ashamed to admit, that when her day is further derailed, I was legitimately giddy. It’s as if the universe was giving her a complimentary class on diplomacy but instead of proving her parents wrong by handling her shit like a boss bitch, she crumbles under the weight of her cowardice.

I’m happy to report, she’s no better than her husband in lacking a vertebrae, especially with Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon). I love that the fantasy continues to erode before her very eyes when she notices her star barista still packing heat, a surreal image that exists rent-free in my brain. Whitney’s ignorance is truly bliss for me. It’s like a damn narcotic when she hands over her credit card to pave over future incidents of theft because it’s the most myopic I’ve seen her yet. I want her to succeed, but only time will tell.

Money does seem to have a big presence in the show, so I’m beginning to think it could be the curse. Whitney grew up with no need to worry about it and judging by Asher’s constant state of anxiety about it, he’s most likely used to not having it. Something’s lining up with his former employment and how hard he doubles down and keeps hitting in situations that could easily sink the entire city… but so far, I’m only getting intimations of what fireworks may be in store.

If the two pompous poltroons want to see any tangible results, they gotta get their beautifully manicured hands dirty by being just fucking good people, but Benny and Nathan have done a great job of reminding them they’ve nothing to warrant or legitimize their presence in Española. One such reality check comes in the form of Cara Durand (Nizhonniya Luxi Austin). Able to see through Whitney’s bullshit, her being called on only has the artist passive-aggressively calling out her fraudulent friend.

The Siegels are not welcome and I’m not mad at the show for knocking the deluded duo down a peg here and there; it’s when their truest selves show. I’m also not mad at Cara and Dougie for potentially having chemistry. Their alliance could add some explosive moments to the pretty decent trash fire currently underway.

Whitney just becomes further unglued when she sees the opportunity to use people on the street as “avatars” (re: tokens) for her houses as if this were an effing Sims game. The dialogue hits so real because it rawly encapsulates her: the candy-coated outside belying the evil within. I would assuredly earmark this as an eye-opening moment.

To be fair, had I any doubt of it being so, the scene gives the audience a glaring clue to the show’s conspiratorial tone in the way it’s being presented. It’s the first time we see someone not affiliated with the show in the direct shot and the first time a person breaks the fourth wall by acknowledging the camera. I’m sure naysayers would deride this as just another ‘arthouse’ moment A24 fans can collectively nut to, but to me, it’s an inspired decision. The thing is, even though it’s detail kind of hard to miss, it’s just a taste. The inscrutability of the show hasn’t waned for me, especially with Asher and Whitney becoming more apparent, so why not just let it ride?

Asher for some reason didn’t feel as weighty in this episode, but his lying then yelling at Dennis and Lucinda, going behind his wife’s back and against her wishes for a sale, and mistaking her comment for a self-deprecating joke gave me new insights. Nathan does a great job of exemplifying someone with a total lack of regard for himself, or the only person in the world he wants to please. He also made me believe that he’s genuinely trying to wipe out some karmic debt with Questa Lane.

The dude’s far from exceptional, but at least he doesn’t have as much of a god complex as Whitney does. This temerity is deliciously checked when she must compromise when Asher nabs a buyer in Mark Rose (Dean Cain), someone whose surface ideals her branding doesn’t align with. Whitney takes this as a crushing blow rather than a chance to grow and therein lies the magic of these two titans of tantrums.

They operate with the grace of a bike with a flat. Even their wins are losses because they’re not united. Still, despite some untoward moments of theirs, I’m pushing for reformation, for recovery. That latter is a theme I’m beginning to notice in Asher. Comedically, recovery is an Achilles’ heel but let me find out it extends out into former addiction as well. It would bring even more grit to the character.

At first, I wasn’t completely blown away by this episode. However, as of this writing, I believe the 53 minutes and change did what it set out to do in introducing new problems that determine which way the wind will blow for the remainder of the season while giving us some vague answers through choice camera shots. These elements make it enough of a high-wire act for any director, but Nathan Fielder made sure these elements made it to the finish in what, pacing-wise, felt more like a slurry than a storm. Sure, if you know and love Fielder’s idiosyncratic brand of humor, the sentiment isn’t one of derision but more of observation. I would say for a mid-season episode, the alchemic talent it takes to mix the cantankerously contentious Whit, the hilariously thirsty fill-in Pascal (Alexander Gibson), and the leaden atmosphere of Mark’s arrival isn’t going unnoticed. Sure, the pacing seemed slightly soporific, but it was far from static. I just hope we’ve not seen the last of Mark Rose, as the albatross around Whitney’s neck was set up as too much of a fucking snack not to have been dreamt up by some ancient god of mischief.

Lastly, the closing shot of the malevolent married couple, worlds apart, snuggled under Cara’s violent artwork assuredly lets me know that everything’s far from copacetic, so the show surely delivers on hitting that last beat so right.

4/5 Stars.

Napoleon, an epic…comedy.

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Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic Napoleon is less historical and more aspirational? I’ll be honest, as a big fan of the legendary Emperor of France, I went into this movie excited to see my man conquer the big screen. Unfortunately, what I got was another movie that proves Joaquin Phoenix can’t play anyone but himself.

But, before I get into my rant, let’s cover the few positive things about the film. First and foremost, though highly inaccurate, the battle scenes are easily the best things in this movie. The sheer scope, detail, and emotion of these moments truly prove what this epic could have been. It’s almost sad really, because it’s a glimpse at greatness in a sea of subpar.

My favorite, by far, is the battle that ends with Napoleon tricking his enemy onto a frozen lake and then shooting cannonballs to break the ice beneath them (factually inaccurate, like most of the movie). I just sat there in awe of how amazing Napoleon was, and also how ruthless in war. That’s what you want, though: someone who puts their emotions aside and beats their enemy down in body, spirit, and mind. There’s a line in the movie where a British general is talking to the king of Austria (I think; I honestly ignored a lot of the details since the movie clearly didn’t care about them either), and he describes Napoleon as brutal. How boss is that?

Secondly, gotta give props to my girl Vanessa Kirby for playing Napoleon’s embattled first wife Josephine. Now, I’ve seen Kirby in The Fast and the Furious movies, I’ve seen her in The Crown, girl’s got range, and I love her for it. But here? Oof, she does what she can, I imagine, but like Phoenix, there are a number of times where I feel she breaks character and Scott simply doesn’t care. Mostly, I’m giving her more credit than she’s due because I really don’t like Phoenix as an actor in general. Kirby has proven herself capable of fantastic range and emotional depth, and here she even gets to give her inner Posh Spice a spin (that scowl!), while Phoenix never feels like he plays anything other than a quirky man-baby with delusions of grandeur.

The third, and final plus side is the costuming and set design. For as stupid as this movie is allowed to be at times, the costumes and set design do not shirk their responsibilities, becoming the only elements that remind the audience that this is supposed to be a serious movie, guys! I feel a little bad, as the acting and writing do not live up to the promise the costumes and set design speak of.

That’s about all the praise I can give this film. Actually, there is one other point I can give to this movie that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It is hilarious. Honestly, unexpectedly, and at times painfully, funny. From Napoleon’s horse getting its chest caved in by a cannonball to the pissy catfights between the emperor and his wife, this movie is ripe with truly random moments of hilarity. There’s a line during one of the contentious dinners between Napoleon and Josephine where she calls him fat and he, for real, responds, “Destiny has brought me this lamb chop!”. Like…seriously??? It felt like an outtake that had somehow snuck its way into the finished product. There are plenty of these moments throughout the film where I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity and I wasn’t sure if that was on purpose or not. I kind of hope not, because if it was, then what exactly is this movie supposed to be? What is the tone Scott was going for?

And, speaking of the director, allow me to bring up the main issue that plagued this movie: a man who should retire. Much like his subject matter, Scott is past his prime but too stubborn to admit it. I’ve seen Gladiator; it was an amazing movie with a simple plot but great acting, direction, and casting. This? This is a fart. Mind you, I’m not picking on Scott either. I recently saw Killers of the Flower Moon, and I would say the same to Martin Scorsese. Killers is a looooooooong movie, but to his credit, it doesn’t feel as long as it is; however, it is weirdly structured. The movie jumps around a lot, very similar to Napoleon in that sense, but both movies have something else in common: they are beautiful. As I’m a believer in constructive criticism, I would suggest that these guys give up directing and instead become cinematographers. While the staging, direction, and pacing of their movies can be questionable at times, the imagery is not.

One of my biggest complaints is Phoenix, who, for most of this movie, felt like he’d messed up his line or let loose some odd ad-lib or just dropped out of character entirely (that feeling was consistent), seeming to admire the period piece he’d been cast in like some You-Tube prankster. The instances of his inner monologue making it to the screen ruined sincere moments. Frankly, I don’t think Kirby had to do much acting to look as annoyed as she did.

Also, what the hell was up with that weird toxic relationship? Kirby’s Josephine appears largely disinterested in Napoleon for practically all of it. She dances with him in a detached way, seduces him in a detached way, and fights for their relationship in a — you guessed it — detached way! In fact, one of the only times we see her come to life feels like an accident. During the divorce scene, Josephine can’t stop laughing, but it doesn’t fit the scene too well. I mean, up until that point, she’d understood the idea that she had to get a divorce since she wasn’t making any heirs, but then the moment comes, and she’s just laughing at the absurdity. It genuinely felt like Kirby was laughing at having to act next to a guy like Phoenix.

There’s a lot to hate about this movie. The strange pacing that doesn’t seem to give a shit about its subject so much as battles both on the field and in his personal relationship. The Oppenheimer level of awkward sex. The historical inaccuracies that rob the subject of his true accomplishments and boils him down to all the worst stereotypes ever made of him. The poor use of score which forces the audience to wonder if the director fell asleep while editing it, because there are some jolly musical backups to what should be somber scenes. And of course, the acting, writing, and directing. But, to be honest, as much as I’ve ranted against this movie, I actually didn’t hate it.

Overall, Napoleon’s absurd humorous undercurrent saves it from being a complete dud. So long as you can embrace the fact that no one making this movie actually cared about it, save for the cinematographer, costume designer, and set designer, you can just go with the flow. Enjoy it as another bullshit Joaquin Phoenix performance dressed up as an Oscars vehicle. I have no doubt he and Kirby will get nominated for their work here, if only because they played dress up as two well-known historical figures, but they really shouldn’t win. Napoleon should not be Oscar bait for anything other than score, costumes, set design, and cinematography (essentially, any technical award). This is, in my humble opinion, the kind of “historical epic” Tommy Wiseau would have churned out. Ok… this is easily better than anything he ever made, so congrats Ridley Scott, you edged out a guy several leagues below you.

The thing is, if Scott had simply made a historical epic set in France during Napoleon’s time and created a Napoleon proxy character instead of focusing on actual Napoleon, I believe this movie would have been received a lot better. Because, in all honesty, for as weirdly funny as moments in the film are, it isn’t without charm. The battle scenes are epic, the drama is delicious if not over the top, and without tying itself to a being a movie about Napoleon, it could have easily soared as a borderline satirical romp through the ridiculousness of French aristocracy/royalty, the ambitions of one man, and a marriage decidedly on the rocks. But, by labeling the movie “Napoleon”, it loses that freedom and gets a harsher criticism than I think is deserved.

If I want to really stretch and give Scott some kind of “genius” credit, I would wager a guess that this is in reality a movie about Trump. Here’s a man who definitely didn’t come from nothing, and certainly didn’t conquer everything, but in this movie he is touted as a battle genius, made emperor, and gets a hot detached wife. If that’s not Trump, I don’t know who is (granted, this would be a warning type of movie, but still). Even the way Phoenix plays Napoleon feels like a Trump impersonation. The little man-child in charge says insane things throughout the movie, makes horrible choices, gets his own men killed in droves because of these choices, and never takes the hint that he’s disgraced his country despite being exiled from it — twice! But that’s me giving Scott and this movie waaaay too much credit.

Bottom line? Save this one for on-demand or streaming, or even when it hits cable in what I’m guessing will be no time at all. Don’t waste any real money on this. Napoleon deserved better, and so do we.

Consciousness of Guilt Lets the Humor Shine in Magnum P.I.

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MAGNUM P.I. -- "Consciousness of Guilt" Episode 517 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Jon Lovitz as Pierre -- (Photo by: NBC)

Don’t let the dramatic start to the latest episode of Magnum P.I., “Consciousness of Guilt”, fool you. Sure, the main story is about a murder. But the best part of the episode is a humorous arc involving Jin, with a fun little cameo from the legendary Jon Lovitz.

It all starts with a frantic call to 911. A man named Tate Walker says his brother Michael had a horrible accident and isn’t breathing. Fast forward to a skeptical Gordon Katsumoto checking out the scene and then talking with Tate. As his brother lies lifeless in the pool, Gordon catches Tate in an inconsistency. Then we jump forward again, with Gordon on the stand in Tate’s trial. It’s going well at first, until his shady lawyer plays a game of character assassination on Katsumoto. Despite evidence that seems to point to Tate murdering Michael over their dead mother’s estate, the trial ends in a hung jury. Worse, they’re not willing to retry the case without serious evidence. But Gordon’s not done yet.

Cut to Jin with headphones on, a shirt emblazoned with the title Jin Dog, and him dancing like a maniac to, well, Flashdance’s “Maniac”. Apparently the goofball is a dog walker now, and he uses his client’s code to walk in and grab the happy puppy, Pippin. Just one problem — a woman named Margot is there, and says Ms. Fredricks is on a cruise for a couple weeks, so Jin’s not needed until she gets back. Despite nothing seeming dramatically out of sorts, he’s very, very suspicious.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Consciousness of Guilt” Episode 517 — Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Tim Kang as Detective Gordon Katsumoto — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

At La Mariana, Rick is regaling Magnum and Higgins with his horrible new leprechaun voice, which is a hit with his baby Joy. He’s been using it to entertain her since he’s finally living with his baby momma and bundle of joy. T.C. finally has things going his way as well, and is hot and heavy again with his lady friend, Mahina. Which leads to Higgins asking if her and Magnum spend too much time together, and are “missing out on missing each other”. Which falls squarely under “be careful what you wish for”, as Jin comes in hot.

He rushes into the bar, saying that Ms. Fredricks is missing and something is clearly wrong with this Margot person. And as “a former thief / con artist / male model”, he knows a criminal when he sees one. So a very unsure Higgins is roped into working with him, while Magnum goes to talk with Gordon about a potential murderer set free by the justice system.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Consciousness of Guilt” Episode 517 — Pictured: Taylor Handley as Tate Walker — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Gordon wants Thomas to find something, anything to convince the jury to retry the Walker case. He loops in Magnum, and says Tate is from East Coast money, a spoiled golden boy. Tate claimed he was at his private cigar club when his brother Michael suddenly died. Worse is the fact the judge that tried the case is a member as well. So Magnum and Rick decide to take a little detour to see what’s what.

Magnum and Rick walk into the cigar club in big pimping style, with a day pass as prospective members. Rick worked his magic, and he really knows his cigars. So much so that he’s able to pepper the club manager with questions and keep him distracted while Magnum snoops. Though he doesn’t find anything in the club’s records that might indicate Tate left the club early, Tate suddenly walks in, providing another avenue of investigation. They chat, and the man says he’s celebrating his freedom. He also knows who Magnum is, as he was warned about him by his lawyer. He warns Magnum off, and makes things more complicated with a restraining order.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Consciousness of Guilt” Episode 517 — Pictured: (l-r) Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright, Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Not content to quit, Magnum finds that Tate was dropped by his first attorney right before the trial. So he goes to see an old frenemy played by Jon Lovitz. He makes a living taking naughty pictures of people to provide evidence to spouses and significant others. Thomas walks right into his car as he’s taking some photos, and asks about the attorney, named Zoey. Lovitz had been asked by her to do some snooping about her would be client, and whatever he found made her jump ship. It’s something called Ocean Sunset Oldies, a LLC under Tate’s mothers name.

To the surprise of nobody, Jin is not great when he’s stressed. He’s inhaling cheese puffs over Higgins’s shoulder while she looks into Margot. Everything she finds seems clean as a button, but he pushes her to keep looking, while getting cheese dust everywhere.

In the ongoing misadventures of Jin and Higgy, he gets a text from the old woman he’s immediately suspicious of. For one thing, she calls him Jin, which is weird, since he tells Higgins Ms. Fredricks always called him John, despite his best efforts. Higgy has had enough, so she leaves Jin to his search. Which ends up with him trying to use the code to get into the house again, and finding it’s been changed. Which then leads to a hilarious sequence with Jin trying to use the doggie door to get in instead, and getting stuck like Winnie the Pooh. Only the clever use of a doggie toy and Pippin playing tug of war get Jin through, but then he finds Margot pretending to be the old woman and talking about signing over paperwork. He also spies she has a pistol.

Magnum and Gordon suspect that Tate might have paid off a witness named Harris $50K. Harris was a gardener at the mother’s estate. That search leads to a possible missing woman named Paula that Magnum cannot find. But that doesn’t stop either of them, so they head to talk with Harris about Paula. This leads to the revelation that 20 years ago, Tate killed Paula, and Harris came upon the body. Only to be paid hush money by Tate’s mother, and then again in the present by Tate. Magnum thinks Harris killed Michael, but he says it’s not him. Plus, Michael had called Harris about Paula’s murder. Then Gordie and Magnum realize there’s something odd about how Tate refuses to sell his dead mother’s house, and wondering why.

MAGNUM P.I. — “Consciousness of Guilt” Episode 517 — Pictured: Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Jin hides in Margot’s trunk, and seemingly finds the old lady’s corpse there. Terrified, he calls Higgins just before his battery dies. Realizing Jin wasn’t full of crap for once, she calls T.C. and asks for him to search the skies in an Island Hopper chopper. Then, as an added jump scare, Jin realizes the old lady isn’t dead, just hurt badly. Margot shot her, dumped her in the trunk and was getting ready to steal her money. Jin does his best to fight off Margot, but she manages to grab her gun and train it on him. Luckily Higgins is a better shot, and her and T.C. arrive in a chopper to save the day.

As for the main case, Magnum and Gordon get a warrant to check under a patio in the mother’s house, and find a skeleton. That’s enough to get Tate imprisoned for one murder, and more than enough evidence to look into the suspicious death of his brother Michael. It all ends with Magnum and Higgy realizing they don’t spend too much time together and dancing to slow music. Overall a pretty solid and fun episode, and thankfully one where Jin got to really shine comedically.

It was Nice Getting to know You Before The World Was Doomed

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Photo Planet Earth aerial view
Image Credit: Andrey Armyagov

A lot is happening in the world right now and the last thing you’ll probably want to hear is a final post on this blog from me. Yet, I thought it important to close this 6-year chapter of my life. Say something honest to talk about why it is I’m finally leaving, but also, to honestly address where I see the industry is going.

To be clear, this piece is meant to address why I have chosen to finally step away from The Workprint, the website and blog that for all intents and purposes, have helped rebuild since 2018. It’s very hard for me to say goodbye as I’ve learned so much here. It’s been sad to say the least saying bye to the place that taught me so many things.

Now, not many people know who I am but they have seen my work a bit of everywhere. I’ve got a couple of quotes for my gaming coverage on Steam. Death threats for my critical take on Cyberpunk 2077 when it was first released. I’ve worked with major brands covering shows from Prime Video, Netflix, Paramount, and NBC Universal. Had done more than my share of Marvel coverage for the comics and unlimited line and even, online movie premieres. 

I have been plagiarized, pull-quoted, and asked a million times over to attend an event, function, or convention, writing about the most random topics and the most indie games and premieres. You name it. I’ve done it. Playing point person here for just about everything. From movies to games, to TV, Film, and indies. On average, I probably am sent 50 E-mail solicits a day.

Yet when I talk about The Workprint, almost immediately, everyone thinks that it’s my website. It isn’t. Nor has it been. Nor will it be, despite my over 100 episodes of podcasts edited and recorded along with efforts to monetize and get writers onboard. My life the past few years has been answering a sea of e-mails from every PR organization from every major player you can imagine. I am a living breathing communications network these days.

Honestly, for such a small outlet, we have such a large amount of connections, partially from the work we put out before I came on here, but also in many due thanks, to the work I put out there time and time again. Gaming. Film. TV shows. Board games. Indies. I prided for so long in myself in creating a place where voices matter. It’s what my podcast monomythic was about. It’s why I wanted to be a journalist.

My interview skills are a specialty of knowing the market while also taking deep dives into the lives of creators – getting to share their story and just how much their project, big or small, meant to be out there and find its place in the world. 

In my time here, we had a longstanding relationship with Syfy working on titles such as Resident Alien. We also built a relationship with IDW—covered events in NYC during the pandemic. Even interviewed a slew of creatives from Marvel and IDW along with just about any creative product by SYFY or even NBC.

Suffice it to say I’m proud of what our little outlet achieved.

But now the hard part. The reason I’m leaving is I decided to just write for myself. I am juggling too many writing projects between my comic books, my book deal, and hopefully, a TV show that I’ve been asked to script for a pitch. Having been onboarded at TheBeat, arguably one of the last vestiges for good comics journalism with the legendary Heidi MacDonald, I can’t really pass up these opportunities right now. Not with so much going for me… which leads me to another issue I’m experiencing: getting older.

Health problems. I’m 35 now and things are slowing down with my body. I can’t push over the edge anymore and I’m in dire need of self-care that I’ve been neglecting. The past few months, I’ve had an MRI done on my brain due to a DVA I’ve had in there since I was about 17 (I’m 35 now), along with a CT scan of my lungs due to discovering that my entire workspace has been flooded with high amounts of radon that I’ve been breathing in for over a decade.  

Thankfully, both ended up being clear. No signs of cancer (which was what I was afraid of) and I pray that it stays that way. However, I have to acknowledge that at this age, I can’t really neglect myself any longer. I see that now and so I am going to try and lose weight and eat a heck of a lot healthier than I have. Because none of this means anything if you run out of time. And health? Kinda the big gatekeeper of how much time you have on this planet.

Though that’s not the only reason I’m going.

In all honesty… the industry seems more doomed now than ever before.

In the past year, I’ve seen my cohorts in gaming, comics, and most especially, the journalism space of the industry get laid off. If not at least one time this year, then multiple times in the past several. People who are far more talented than I am and who by far deserve better are being laid off. People, not just with a slew of bylines, but also, a genuine work ethic in trying to get the truth out there. Just people trying to share the story… 

In all honesty, journalism seems like its dying. PR maybe not so much, but even then, who do you go to when everyone is no longer there to report the story?

It makes me worry about my future. For any graduates out of college right now, the best word of advice I can give is it pick up a practical skill. To be reassured about attending trade schools. Better yet, to start your own business and brand as it seems impossible to survive right now unless you’re hustling, though to also, keep a day job while you’re at it, because this entire job market is all but non-guaranteed – no matter the skillset… Minus maybe healthcare, though not doctors, who at this point, may be better off going to school as nurse practitioners or physician assistants, as their jobs are also starting to be relegated to other services as well.  

I’ve also seen a slew of people in technology be laid off. Which in total as of now, stands to be around 300,000 in the past two years.  Today alone, Spotify just announced they were laying off 1,500 people. Everyone seems to say tech is safe, but from what I see, I do think this is the next sector to get replaced with AI. A lot of the tech skillsets will probably no longer be needed. At the same time, a lot of the AI replacing these types of labor is still in its early days of seeing what’s useful versus what’s noise, so there’s no guarantee for work there, either.

In the comics space, which has notoriously always been rather rife with changes, there have been layoffs at Image, Oni, DC, and IDW – the last of which, I was providing coverage for as a new beat on the site before layoffs hit them as well. Hell, even in the entire journalism space, Vox and Conde Nast just announced layoffs. G/O media just shut down Jezebel entirely. Bustle Digital group has repeatedly performed layoffs this year. In the gaming sector, about 6500 people have been laid off  in what’s strangely being considered, the greatest gaming year in over a decade – though one terrible for anyone working in the industry.

What’s strange to me is that most of these places are claiming it’s because of the pursuit of getting revenue into the green. This is why you’re seeing things like WB content being pulled before debut for the sake of a tax writeoff, though all of which, doesn’t seem to coincide well with a growth-based acquire users for the sake of services as an economy, especially when interest rates were so low less and just about everyone was spending, unrealistically in favor of high-growth models of revenue. 

Add on top of this AI-driven content this past year from places such as Sports Illustrated, CNET,  and AI Content-driven websites and it’s become painfully obvious the direction this industry is heading. 

If I had to gamble, which I am with my future, I’m well aware, I’d rather take this risk on in spaces I truly care about and feel like I can make a difference. That’s in writing, both fiction, but also, non-fiction, as there are a ton of stories I want to share that I’m starting to see… perhaps only I can. 

Climate change is approaching the point of no return. We’re at war globally just about everywhere in the world. Nowhere’s entirely safe. Humanity feels like it’s at a breaking point and I refuse to sit down and watch my fellow humans go through it.

So I’m going to tell the hard truth through my writing. If not as a journalist, then as someone who can forge entertainment into a wake-up call. Sort of address things I see always being neglected and am to sick of seeing go past without something being said.

That’s why I’m leaving. I want to help save this planet before it’s too late… or die trying.

And I plan on doing that through stories

Good luck everyone. Thank you for reading. I hope you’ll follow what I’m trying to do, at ComicsBeat, but also, just the writing on the whole.