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The Curse Review: There’s Plenty Room for Shady Stuff “Under the Big Tree”

It's like staring in the mirror. l photo: Showtime

The fourth episode of Showtime x A24’s The Curse titled “Under the Big Tree” cold-opens on a mystery involving Dougie (Benny Safdie), a clearing, a dropped call from HGTV bearing good news, and two abandoned vehicles, you’re turning up the thermostat in the desert. However, when you add the good brain in this producer’s head and the bad omen of a scorpion, two slips of paper with names and keys to the other two vehicles attached, and a potential ancient piece of pottery, we’re now cooking with gas.

Naturally, Asher (Nathan Fielder) and Whitney (Emma Stone) are beaming with the news that they were picked up for a 10-episode run and naturally, I’m not surprised that Whit takes offense to the network wanting to focus more on the people they are kicking out. At times, I’m not sure if I’m rooting more for her because her myopic nature is just as frustrating as Asher’s bullheadedness.

The whole conversation does seem intimate in how the scene is blocked. The interesting thing is that moments like these in the show give me momentary pause. Amid the jubilation, something brilliant takes place when Whitney displaces her unassuredness in the project and projects that negative energy onto her husband, asking (with trepidation due to his anger) Asher to take a comedy class to up his on-screen appeal because all he can think about is making money. Nobody likes to be called unfunny. To have strangers do that to you is one thing, but to have your life partner agree with them has got to sting, causing Asher to go immediately on the defensive.

He’s not someone that can ever be reached and when you hit a nerve, and he acts like a baby. That sounds like a public figure we all know, but even then, this is a situation played off with so much humanity on both Fielder and Stone’s parts. Against my better judgment, I’m rooting for Asher to take the high road, grinding his molars all the way, but the tense moment only begets a bigger problem when their neighbor Maria (Diana Navarette) informs them of an accusatory client. I adore that this is far from open and shut, with Asher imploring her not to fly off the handle like Buddy Rich because of this guy’s tech connections for the show. Every other tether in The Curse‘s world is frayed, every other nerve shot. Nothing is clean. Every situation that arises in this creation of Nathan and Benny comes at a price and with a lien to the ultimate bank which is the chaotic Universe.

I love that Asher can’t read the fucking room. He keeps digging into Whitney to not harass this accusatory neighbor, going as far as to weaponize her passion by framing the situation as an opportunity to showcase her new design. I believe it’s safe to call Asher a snake at this point. Hey, he fits right in with the ecosystem.

I also love that despite her attempts to connect with the community, Whitney is anything but welcomed. These people are tolerant of her because much like her around Asher; they’re on eggshells… save for Victor (Alexander Poncio) now a (proud?) owner of what I’ll hereby refer to as a “Siegel original”.

Because Vic throwing out the induction oven disqualifies the structure from being passive, Whitney’s passive aggression is just too ambrosial in her “just mind your use of language next time” speech, which is peak managerial (not boss) syntax. It’s something we are loathe to hear, so kudos to the show for incorporating that character richness into the script. I don’t believe Asher’s taken hold of her. I believe she’s forward-thinking, just going about shit ass-backward. Still, she’s now thinking about her version of the long game. I mean shit, we’re only just beginning to unearth her story with her backstory outside of her parents.

Dougie’s story picks up again in grand fashion when he shows up at the first address and it turns out to be a teenager who claims to his mother he bought beer for. Dougie owns up to it and still manages to leave with dignity. The thing is, I believe Dougie. He may be all about exploitation, but that’s the business and he’s at least upfront and honest about it, unlike the “stars of the show.” Ugh. The gag reflex was heavy on that one. It’s an exploitation daisy chain; bring three buckets for this mess.

Oh, we don’t stop there. Asher visits Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) with stuff from the pantry (because he’s too cheap to buy fresh), and we deliciously dive into the cringe when he imposes himself on this family in a most boorish way. Even when Nala (Hikmah Warsame) opens her heart possibly even a little bit to him, Asher’s presence is taken as a clear threat to Pops and Hani (Dahabo Ahmend), and Nathan Fielder does such a bang-up great job portraying someone so oblivious to the damage he can cause. The scene fills me with a lingering dread, like watching an overeager child immediately running to a felled bird’s nest in slow motion. Knighting himself “Uncle Asher” is probably one of the most cringeworthy moments in a series full of hard truths and exposure, so kudos, fellas.

Whitney not getting much warmer of a welcome in her own house (office) when she notices that assistant Luisa (Sidni) and head of security Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon) are becoming friends and is feeling so good right about now. She refuses to connect at all to anything natural of the land because she forces it. She sees race first, person second, and despite her protestations, I’m convinced Fernando’s side-arm will soon become Chekov’s.

I’m thinking that she’ll eventually use Fernando as actual muscle in some capacity, putting his life at risk in more than one way as he’s an ex-convict, and if it goes that way, I’d be happy. It’s not that I’m taking bets on these predictions, but a good show will get your mind going, and this has that in spades. This is especially true in the next scene, where my mind is making connections of Asher having crew hand Freckle (Edward Martinez) do the heavy lifting (just as Whitney had Luisa do such verbally with Fernando), this time with Vic’s former stove which is a parallel worthy of praise. The insouciance with which Asher handles his denting of Freckle’s F-350 door is hilarious but the sick, sad reality is that callous people like him exist in the world, their shameful actions barely given screen time, especially not in reality television, so this is still like a breath of fresh air. Except this environment ain’t friendly.

Asher’s cowardice results in a literal bust, so he wanting Dougie to take Vic out of the show’s narrative in favor of the Juniper Lane couple he wanted to capitalize on post-show airing isn’t surprising. It’s nice that they have him thinking long-term now and, I strangely find myself rooting for that play. Why am I suddenly feeling like I want this win for him?

It may have to do with Dougie, still riding high on their big win of being picked up, apologizing to Asher for bullying him when they were younger, including standing him up and pantsing him at swim meets. Asher meakishly brushing the shit off as japes is a clear sign of trauma and repression… but no time to linger on the past when their presence together is dictating the future of Flipanthropy. Dougie wants Vic. I want Vic.

What transpires next, however, had me very much second-guessing shit when Dougie shows Asher the footage of him being cursed. Each episode thus far has included at least one sharp shift in tone where the awkwardness melts away to reveal the terror of the unknown. The potential supernatural angle is effective but Dougie truly believing he was also cursed to the point it visibly upsets him honestly intrigues me a little more.

The episode winds down brilliantly with Whitney happening upon a white Sikh retreat, which gave me heavy Atlanta vibes in that it’s exploring an oasis, a place hidden in plain sight but unequivocally alien in your backyard. The thing that snaps me back to knowing it’s The Curse is, however, that I can easily imagine Whitney using this as a move to exploit, find peace, or both. Meanwhile, Asher flies in the face of improvement when he acts out at improv and not in the intended way. And ya think you know your neighbors…

4.5/5 Stars.

Addendum: I feel the piece of pottery from Doug’s dig has a personal connection to him. Lineage or wife, perhaps? Wicked curious to see going forward.

Miles Davis and The Search for The Sound is a Synesthetic Comic about an artistic Legend

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Amongst the luminaries who inspired a generation of musicians in the mid-20th century, Miles Davis was an exception. A lodestar talent in a universe all of his own. His influence and career in music was multi-generational, and his album, Kind of Blue, is still considered the greatest Jazz album of all time. When everyone was ditching jazz clubs for the rock concert, and artists wanted to become the next rockstar, it was Miles Davis who took the stage emphasizing the importance of reinventing yourself, moving from post-bebop to electric jazz, wailing on a trumpet-like electric guitar with the inclusion of wah pedals and all.

This was the kind of music jazz instructors taught in private schools. The kind of material meant to those seeking to understand the basic fundamentals of chord progressions, arpeggios, and the very fibers that made sound, musical.  

“But what was Miles’ s search for the Sound?” 

Better yet, how does one visualize the color of music? The task was meant for someone who knew Miles Davis’s story well. A virtuoso who equally knew both worlds of art and music just like Miles Davis himself. It’s why cartoonist and jazz scholar, Dave Chrisholm – known for his musician-inspired comic works such as Enter the Blue and Chasin’ the Bird atop his own stylized trumpet career – heeded that call. 

Created in collaboration with Z2, this graphic novel biography, Miles Davis and The Search for The Sound by Dave Chisholm, is a creative tour de force venture that looks into the life and times of Miles Davis. Having impressed Davis’s son Erin with his graphic novel work depicting the life of Charlie Parker in Chasin’ the Bird, with the Miles Davis estate’s permission, Chisholm was allowed to create this spiritual sequel. This time focused in on the life journey of Jazz legend, Miles Davis.

It begins with Davis recovering from a debilitating stroke in 1982, having found painting as a form of creative therapy. Chisholm skillfully navigating these moments of vulnerability in the life of Miles Davis’s by interspersing the artist’s own words as he draws about, with fond remembrance, his life’s journey with music. Notably, it underscores how Kind of Blue missed the mark for Miles Davis, a revelation savored against the backdrop of its tunes. The comic then became a bit of a page-turning look at a man’s artistic pursuit of perfection. Above all else, Miles Davis’ search for sound…

With kinetically paced, forward-moving art, you can see that this story is going places in terms of its pacing, becoming a visual symphony that mirrors Davis’s pugilistic drive in pursuit of that perfect sound. The pages thus feature abstract shapes splattered with vibrant colors and deft paneling work utilizing techniques of knowing how to stretch out an image or give emotional moments of verbosity to the page.

This dramatic use of large panels, layered with color, resonate with the harmonies of the very songs and albums under discussion, creating an intricate tapestry that reflects the essence of Davis’s music, in a visual metaphor for the evolution of Davis’s musical odyssey. Some of the best moments in the story embrace moments of stillness. Or at other times, the opposite, loaded with character work and dictations of how his artists around him should be playing in the days where Miles was often seen, rushing ahead.

Employing these narrative shifts to showcase his growth over time, the biography offers a tale accessible to all—a human experience of major successes intertwined with intimate failures. Navigating through his life with fellow musicians, including icons like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Art Blakey, Jimi Hendrix, and even later in his life, Prince, the biography does not shy away from the tumultuous aspects of Davis’s personal life—failed marriages, substance abuse, and the intricate web of relationships.

This engaging biography delves into the fragments of Davis’s personal life—a tapestry woven between accomplishments in creating albums and performing with some of the greatest legends in jazz while being utterly atrocious with his often abusive treatment of the very women who took care of him in his life.

Seeing these moments interspersed with Miles’s on-and-off-again struggles with addiction, atop of his complex romantic entanglements, it becomes soon obvious that the selling point of the life and works of this man’s genius is met with his utter disdain for the fact that he had motherhood abandonment issues. His chase for the elusive sound and his relationship with it—capturing a lost innocence and mimicking other autobiographical portrayals often seen in fiction.

Journeying through Davis’s changing musical styles over the years, the narrative unveils Davis’s range of influences. From his early life performing with Bird to the Davis’s ongoing struggles with race, not only in his personal life, but which was also embedded in the entire cultural tapestry of jazz. Mind you, this story is told during racially charged 20th century America, a country on the cusp of the civil rights movement. Miles’s story then becomes a bit of a message of hope. His dream was to see Jazz as a genre young Black youths could flock toward (but didn’t).

It is here where Chisholm’s dynamic storytelling approach and adventurous designs groove together, creating a synesthetic canvas through visuals of Miles’s life. The results are pages that mirror the diversity and vibrancy of Davis’s musical legacy, providing readers with an intoxicating introduction to the life of a challenging genius whose quest for sound led him through a myriad of both styles and ensembles. 

The pages thus unfold like a finely-paced musical masterpiece (one which you can play albums of Miles Davis’s music along with), inviting readers to acquaint themselves with Miles Davis not just as an artist, but also as an incredibly flawed man whose struggles felt ineffably human. The narration used in the panels is a delicate dance of Miles’s own words, drawn from interviews, essays, and his own written biography about his life.

 

In this work, Miles Davis, the person, emerges out of this biography a complex individual entangled in a struggle for love, connection, and an unquenchable thirst for artistic perfection. For those unfamiliar with Davis’s journey, this narrative unfolds with surprising humanization and the inevitable ebb and flow of creative inspiration all seemed tied to this grandiose purpose…

In essence, Miles Davis and The Search for The Sound transcends the boundaries of a his own biography. It is a testament to the evolution of music, the death of an era, and the interplay of styles and shapes that could be provoked with sound. It invites readers not only to understand Davis but to immerse themselves in the fusion of person, experience, and the ever-changing tapestry of musical history. All in a symphony of words and images and an ode to a musical genius whose search for sound forever altered the landscape of music history.

Read this book if you love Miles Davis or would like to see a prime example of synesthesia in action. It’s a fantastic work of art and arguably, Dave Chrisholm’s best work. 

 

Review: Iron Maiden and Z2 Comics Team Up to Celebrate 40 Years of Piece of Mind

Forty years ago, the fourth studio album of Iron Maiden’s titled Piece of Mind was released. The album’s art is iconic with mascot Eddie lobotomized, bound by nothing more than a straightjacket and chains. The contents of the record therein are just as evocative. From the piercingly beautiful and warrior-like vocal styling of Bruce Dickinson, the melodic, jackhammer guitars of both Dave Murray and Adrian Smith along with the fucking thunderous rhythm section of bassist Steve Harris and (then newly joined and current drummer) Nicko McBrain, each song was festooned with literary references galore and a fire inside that could topple an empire.

Forty years later, Z2 Comics have joined forces with Iron Maiden to bring you a gorgeous, 75-page tome, covering different writers’ and artists’ unique and inspired takes on each of the 9 songs on this album. Here’s my album-like breakdown of the contents therein.

Review:

“Where Eagles Dare” is the first song on the album. Inspired by the 1968 film of the same name, it’s also the first story out of the gate. Penned by Steven Grant (Punisher) with art from Carson Thorn, the story is imbued with unwavering grit and tension. The artwork is kinetic and the beautiful use of blues, whites, and blacks by colorist DC Alonso gives the feeling of tranquility below while chaos reigns from above.

Next, we have “Revelations” penned by Tony Lee from a story from the band’s very own Bruce Dickinson. Artist Damian Worm (The October Faction) creates a world that is dark empowering and sensual. The song, inspired by famed occultist and all-around bad-ass Aleister Crowley, lends itself effortlessly to the story of inquisitiveness and enlightenment. Powerful stuff.

“Flight of Icarus” written by Ivan Brandon with art by Francesco Dossena is about a warrior’s son, Ceo. The message that lies therein is universal and strong, about carving your own path, and never mollifying others. We get a glimpse into what one can sacrifice for status and hubris. The art is soft almost having a sketch-like quality to it and the warm pastels from colorist Heather Moore give the entire world a very dream-like quality. The warm interaction between a son and his mother wonderfully contrasted by the cold, steely nature of his father is captured perfectly through the pages, culminating in the young one’s audacious moment of truth.

Screenwriter Sacha Gervasi (My Dinner with Hervé) and artist Christian Nosado helm “Die With Your Boots On.” The funny thing about this particular song is there isn’t too much information on the inspiration behind it. It was written during the time of the Cold War with an apocalyptic bent and self-fulfilling prophecy heavily present in the lyrics. From there, we’re given a glimpse into the relationship of a soldier and a woman with a lot more to her than meets the eye. What transpires feels very cinematic in both tender intimacy and bloody mayhem, ending on a pretty neat twist. The art reminds me of a 1980s comic book, which seems very fitting given the original intent of the song.

“The Trooper” scribed by Atomic Blonde creator Antony Johnston with art from Staz Johnson gives us a sweeping poem through five major battles in human civilization. The narrator extols the brutality of war because of what is being fought for. Much like militia on the battlefield, the words roar in the beginning, attack in the middle, and lie dormant in the end, harking back to the old adage “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It’s certainly a unique version of storytelling and one of my favorites in this book.

Writers Leah Moore and John Reppion give us their trippy interpretation of “Still Life.” Originally inspired by a 1964 short story by British author Ramsey Campbell, we see a very popular mythos wildly overtaking a painter and his descent into madness when he finds a provincial Lakeside house in the English countryside. His narration is presented in scribbled notes, which I think is a brilliant mood, adding another layer to the storytelling. The art by John J. Pearson is insanely gorgeous, simultaneously dreamy, violent, and magnetic in a very painterly style. Fun fact: “Still Life” is a song with a hidden message if played backward, done as a goof on the laughable “Satanic Panic” of the time.

“Quest for Fire” takes us prehistoric, compliments of comedian/comic-writer/metalhead Brian Posehn, artist Michael Avon Oeming (Powers), and letterer Taki Soma. Set in Paleolithic Europe 80,000 years ago, both the song and the story are influenced by Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1981 film of the same name. Brian puts his own humorous, bad-ass spin on the song, including a T. Rex chomping on a caveman, and immediately, as instructed, I’m casting all inaccuracies aside for the compelling story of how the gift of Prometheus was not something to be trifled with. The art was rough and jagged with stark blacks, warm browns, and radiant yellows that not only bolstered the smartly sparse script but also gave the story real heat.

Bruce Dickinson’s love of both famed post-war novelist Yukio Mishima and real-life rōnin Miyamoto Musashi, “Sun and Steel” puts us in the very able hands of iZombie co-creator Chris Roberson and artist Danijel Žeželj as we’ve now traveled to Edo Period Japan to follow a young swordsman. The narrative itself takes a circular approach, a play on the dying words of a samurai who is defeated before his very eyes by old age until our protagonist is old and comes across young blood. The art is intoxicatingly inky and DC Larson’s vibrant colors give the whole story a very arthouse cinema feeling. No notes!

“To Tame a Land” concludes the album as well as the book. Written and illustrated by Alison Sampson (The Department of Truth), this story is wildly unlike the rest in look and it being wholly wordless, based on a song originally titled “Dune” before Frank Herbert himself had denied lending use of his seminal work’s name to Iron Maiden (since he was not a fan of rock music, especially the heavier good shit). Herbert’s loss is both the band’s last laugh as well as Sampson’s when we travel through two different worlds, one seen, and one unseen. One crumbling and one rebuilding. The strategic use of one massive panel hovering over six smaller ones is brilliant, as it introduces a new way of enjoying a comic, allowing our neural network to create new paths and evolve. Isn’t that what sci-fi is all about? All I will about the ending is it’s something both Ursala K. Le Guin and Arthur C. Clarke would have a good chuckle over. It’s definitely my favorite story and a bombastic bookend to these nine vignettes.

Additionally, we get a very heartfelt and powerful letter straight from the Iron Maidan Fan Club, compliments of Anthrax’s own Scott Ian. We get nine piercingly beautiful Chapter Plates, compliments of Montos, Nat Jones, Carin Hazmat, Steve Chanks, Travis Knight, Rantz A. Hoseley, Jan Meininghaus, Jay Seldhof, and Kyle Hotz with Dan Brown. We get a boatload of Eddie art as well as fan testimonials prefacing every story. The writer/artist/colorist profiles are a robust two pages and a letter written by the band’s manager Rod Smallwood greets us with a richly detailed account of what it was like making the highly collaborative album.

This anthology is a must for any fan of Iron Maiden, available in four different Collector editions at Z2 Comics.

5/5 Stars.

The Curse Review: These New Kids Are Not Welcomed on the Block in “Questa Lane”

Should've sprang for Domino's, Asher.

The tertiary episode of The Curse (Showtime/A24) titled “Questa Lane” comes in hot with Asher (Nathan Fielder) at an auction to bid for a lot, Questa Lane. For a piece of land that doesn’t even have water rights, outbids a few at $62,500 for the win. It’s very telling and chilling that the only people in the room are old and white. Whitney (Emma Stone) adds to the discomfort when she reveals that her hubby went over their limit by over 20 stacks. I think it’s a perfect setup because nothing seems like it’s done without purpose, so this just feels like a figurative rattlesnake lurking, waiting to strike. It also gave me pause. Is Asher a former gambling addict? Is that why he knows what drives one and how to capitalize on it? It feels slimy, but it’s making sense to me.

The couple watching the result of a focus group at the request of Dougie (Benny Safdie) immediately becomes uncomfortable. The scene preys on all of our insecurities when actual criticism comes into the picture. Nobody likes Asher. They find him dryer than the plot of land he just purchased and not easy on the eyes. More of the group skirt the likability of Whitney to dunk on Asher and the couple’s mission statement. Even with them praising Whitney (save for one member on the inefficiency of her houses), this had me squirming and the married couple trying to justify themselves to… themselves just makes it harder to watch.

We actually find Nala (Hikmah Warsame), the black girl that Asher denied the hundred dollars, in school, upset due to a class pet dying. The ostracization is succinctly felt and her bad day gets worse when later, Asher shows up, frightening both her and her sister Hani (Dahabo Ahmed). Gee, Ash, you don’t think knocking on their door like the fucking cops and drilling out their deadbolt wasn’t enough of a hint to beat it? Nope. The dude’s only objective is to cleanse himself karmically with a simple, uninspired act. Goddamn rat (with all due apologies to the rodent community).

The inevitable police being involved ends up as predictable as I’d thought it would be, but this isn’t a bad thing. He’s white, the cop is white, and even with the officer’s audible disdain when Asher proves his innocence by identifying himself as one-half of the ‘mirror house’ couple, Asher’s still a white landowner. The family is considered squatting in the eyes of the law, but instead of kicking them out, Asher sees this as an inspired moment, only to take a patented steaming shit on it when bragging about it to his wife.

Though initially impressed with her Focus Group Sweetheart, good on Whitney for calling into question his previous story (ahem, lie) and for being more uneasy when he then doubles down on the tall tale. This is why you don’t fabricate to increase your self-worth and I adore that Whitney isn’t . Like Howard in Uncut Gems, his greatest strength and ultimate Achilles’ heel is his tunnel vision, fueled by deception. No wonder Whitney doesn’t let him inside of her.

His impudence is only compounded when he harangues the gynecologist about time frames for intercourse… not minutes after his own wife had the physical embodiment of hope inside of her. It’s wonderful symbolism. Asher’s becoming more and more the living embodiment of that ‘dead weight.’ Nathan Fielder plays a mayfly so fucking well when it comes to not giving a fuck about anybody but himself, I can easily say with aplomb, “fuck this guy.” The scene balances the scales nicely when she ignores Asher for the doctor’s story about his vacation, complete with a few laughs (which Asher wasn’t able to provide the focus group with).

Asher’s assholery doesn’t stop there, oh no. He blows off Dougie’s extended hand for friendship. Bearing witness to the rejection on Dougie’s end is just painful. To see somebody sob is never a comforting experience (unless you’re that person) and greasy as Dougie may be, he’s still a human being. The beat itself has a very voyeuristic tone to it, as, like with the focus group footage and Whitney’s doctor visit, we’re at times still viewing this through window panes or surreptitiously from above. Dougie’s breaking down doesn’t feel like something we should be in the presence of and I love it.

Things thankfully don’t let up when Whitney gets a hard dose of reality (TV) when Whitney sees that their paid sponsor Barrier Coffee only stayed open for the production, prompting her to fumble through an apology to Fernando for selling him a paper-thin dream. It beautifully mirrors what all these ‘feel good’ home makeover shows try very hard to keep behind the curtains. Sure, Fernando came from the prison system, but the wonderful land of Oz this ain’t.

They continue on to the home of Nala, Hani, and their father, Abshir (Barkhad Abdi). The way the couple is written is fabulous, Whitney especially. It does, however, take the deft nuance of Emma Stone to spin those words in the script into a stellar performance. Her character Whitney is so desperate for validation from those she’s trying to help that her nauseating assumptions of people who aren’t white actually come off at face value as harmless, though the implications are toxic. I’m still convinced that her curse may be white guilt and to harness the dichotomy of harming through helping is a goddamn skill that Emma holds in spades.

Asher, on the other hand, is a different kind of jackhammer in the family’s household. He calls to attention how much he’s doing for the family but keeps to a whisper only to his wife what he’s not willing to spend on the impoverished trio. Unfortunately for the family, Whitney’s not backing up her words in ink, heaven forbid either of them is actually all in on charity and kindness. That’s good though. As the audience, we want some change, but not all of it or else it’s a damn snooze-fest. Kudos to Nathan and Benny for keeping this so far very entertaining.

We also find out what Nala’s curse was. Inspired by a TikTok trend, the “tiny-curse” angle (which is just an inconsequential jinx) now gives the series an air of mystery and horror. Sure, it was just something to affect Asher’s dinner that night, but his hearing it was enough to instill the fear of god in him. The funny thing is that he’s still skeptical. He doesn’t want to believe that an unseen force higher than him can dispense justice. As much as I want you to be better, never change, Asher. For the benefit of this series, never change.

The episode doesn’t let up, even when the day winds down and it’s night in their lovely abode. Whitney and Asher end up in an explosive fight that all started with a stupid sweater Whitney’s having trouble getting off, though it’s not about to sweater to me but rather what it means to both of them. It’s a great visual metaphor for their relationship with him pulling and her resisting.

Once off, a tender and genuine moment of victory is shared between the two only to be cheapened by Whitney when she wants to replicate it for internet clout. At first, I was feeling a bit sick with the show slapping me back to reality in that whatever true companionship they have for one another has one foot out the door and they’d soon chop that leg off and stay miserable than do something about it.

They ostensibly aren’t on the same page for the staged video or even this ‘tiny curse’, ultimately resulting in scurrilous accusations towards Ash of bigotry, which sends the scene to the heights of cringe when it’s an all-out screaming match. The past is dug up (ew) and the airspace grows intoxicatingly noxious when his cries for validation from his “nasty” (sound familiar) are only met with years of bottled anger spilling out of her mouth, all of which are being recorded.

We end the episode with Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon) setting up a watch right in front of the closed Barrier Coffee shop with nothing but a chair and a rifle. The frame of his face, a face of hope and determination is very striking. My guy did say the freaks come out at night. I hope in the next episode we get to see yet another world of seediness when Española is bathed in moonlight.

If a 10-episode season is treated like a three-act structure, that would mean this would roughly be the start of the second act, which is where the meat is. We’ve seen the bubble, bubble. The cauldron’s been properly stirred in this episode. Hopefully, for the next five episodes, we’ll see some delicious toil and trouble.

4.5/5 Stars.

“Monarch” finally gets the human element right in the Godzilla franchise

I love Godzilla. I love kaiju in general. Yes, I am That Guy, the one who will stop you when you say Godzilla breathes fire and say “Well ACTUALLY, it’s radiation. You see, Godzilla is a creature of the atom, born out of Japan’s post war anxieties about…” (I’d probably shout the rest at you as you backed away from me.)

I’ve always been a fan of the big monsters stomping though cities and whaling on each other. I watched Godzilla vs. Kong about six times when it debuted on HBO during the pandemic.

Well, I watched about half of it six times. The parts where Kong is trying to chop Godzilla in half with an axe and then throwing a revolving restaurant at him like a frisbee, or where the two alpha monsters team up to destroy Mecha-Godzilla. Those are awesome! I mostly zip through the parts where the human characters talk about things like “hollow earth” or a mute girl teaches Kong sign language, or where a corporation secretly builds a tunnel from Pensacola, FL to Hong Kong. (We can’t get three miles of subway track built in NYC without a decade of environmental impact studies, but you built a 5000 mile undersea tunnel without anyone noticing? Cool cool cool.)

Which is to say, the human characters in these movies are largely afterthoughts. They are sometimes there to help the plot along, but otherwise the main job of a human in a kaiju film is to run away screaming while Godzilla tramples everything in his path.

So, when Apple announced they were creating a spin-off series based on the recent Godzilla movies of the past decade called Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, I was expecting some nifty monster scenes but not a lot else. So it is with no little surprise that I report that the humans characters are pretty compelling, and the show is worth watching just for them.

The show follows Cate (Anna Sawai), who is traveling to Japan to settle the affairs of her late father, Hiroshi. Cate is a survivor of the Godzilla attack in San Francisco (as seen in 2014’s Godzilla), and she is suffering from severe PTSD. She was on a school bus that was teetering on the Golden Gate Bridge as Godzilla crashed through. She escaped and tried to get the kids off the bus, but a lot didn’t make it. Her dreams are haunted by the screams of children and giant lizards. The last time she saw her largely absent father was at a refugee camp after the attack. Once he saw she was safe, he told her he had to go do something and left. His plane crashed somewhere over Alaska.

When she gets to Tokyo, she is shocked to discover that the apartment she expected to be empty is occupied by her dad’s secret family. He has another wife and Cate has a half-brother, Kentaro (Ren Watabe). They quickly discover that Hiroshi had ANOTHER secret apartment (geez, slow down, guy!) where they learn he was a part of something called Monarch.

In the movies, Monarch is the organization that tracks and studies the giant kaiju that are roaming the planet. If you’re concerned about continuity (and honestly, you shouldn’t worry all that much about it), this show takes place in 2015, one year after the events in the first Godzilla movie. It also jumps back to the early years of Monarch, where a pair of romantically involved scientists – Dr. Keiko Miura (Mari Yamamoto) and Bill Randa (Anders Holm) – and their military escort Lt. Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell) track down the titans, or MUTOs as they call them. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms.) I guess “AAAHHH MONSTERS!” wasn’t scientific enough.

Cate and Kentaro find that dear old Dad had a stash of hidden data tapes that they take to Kentaro’s hacker friend (and ex) May (Kiersey Clemons). When she decrypts them, Cate is shocked to see a picture of her grandmother, Keiko (the same Keiko we see in the past sections), standing in a giant Godzilla footprint.

This also triggers an alarm in Monarch headquarters, which causes a pair of agents to chase them across Japan. Which causes Cate, Kentaro, and May to seek help from Lee Shaw, who is still alive and living in a retirement community in Japan. Old Lee is played by Kurt Russell, and it’s a nice touch having father and son play the same character at different ages. Lee is disgusted with what Monarch has become, more concerned with covering up the existence of MUTOs rather than studying them and warning people about them. He joins them, and soon they’re on a quest to find what Hiroshi was looking for.

The show is really good in creating a world that feels lived in and that is dealing with the sudden realization that giant monsters might come stomping through their city. Tokyo has Godzilla Evacuation Route signs everywhere, with batteries of missiles trained on the ocean. During a Godzilla alert, Cate has a panic attack while sheltering in a subway tunnel. There are even conspiracy theorists, who speculate that is was all CGI by the Deep State. (Check out the cabbie’s podcast to learn more!)

The relationships here all feel fleshed out and real. Cate and Kentaro aren’t exactly thrilled to discover each other’s existence, since each one is proof of Hiroshi’s bad behaviors. But as they are forced together, they start to accept each other and bond over their dad’s habits. Wyatt Russell does a great job with young Lee Shaw, as someone who grows to like the scientists he was ordered to protect. The intergenerational connections are being revealed thread by thread, and I suspect that the subtitle – Legacy of Monsters – is going to have layers of meaning.

Oh, and the monsters? They’re used sparingly, but effectively. There’s about one big monster scene an episode and they’re all used to great effect. In the premiere, we see Godzilla destroying the Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Cate’s perspective and it truly feels like an ant trying to figure out what is stepping on it. Other episodes show how small and futile humanity is in the face of these beasts. It’s very frightening and one of the few times in the Godzilla movies that the sheer sense of scale really comes through.

This is a worthy addition to the Godzilla canon. The mysteries here are intriguing and the MUTOs are scary. And for once, I actually care about what happens to the humans.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has new episodes each Friday on Apple+. Three episodes out of ten have been released so far.

Rating: 4.5/5

‘Where The Body Was’ Review: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips create a Short Little Masterpiece 

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Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, the incomparable creative team behind works such as Criminal, Kill or Be Killed, and Night Fever, have once again graced the world with another crime fiction story in, Where The Body Was. This remarkable new work by Brubaker is a captivating noir-lite mystery story, set in a seemingly tranquil suburban backdrop, but rife with unexpected twists and turns. The kind of writing and pivot points that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Kicking off with a narrative that centers around the discovery of a lifeless body, what unfolds ignites a labyrinthine web of questions regarding how it ended up there and, perhaps even more crucially, who it belongs to. This thread becomes the driving force behind the story intertwining with a colorful array of characters living in 1984 suburbia, each with their own distinctive personalities.

Where The Body Was unfolds with a charming map of the local neighborhood and a small page-length profile page as an introduction to the cast. A tool that effectively immerses readers into the community. Once the story kicks off, the reader then jumps from character to character in a series of narratives serving as slice-of-life characterization, all while utilizing skillful use of monologues that breathe life into these people with very well-defined voices. Overall, these early pages plus friendly colors set the stage for their subsequent interactions and conflicts, as suburbia turns into delinquent chaos propelled by interpersonal expectations and desires. 

The result becomes a delightful portrayal of a high-stakes murder story with a unique twist in how it isn’t really at all about the mystery. It’s distinct from Brubaker’s previous work in that while expectations start with what you think will be a cop drama, then almost entirely deviates from what you think will be the mystery. The people you think you know from those opening intros serve as tropes very typical of these genre stories, yet all of them prove to be vastly different from the caricatures you think they’re meant to be.

It’s thus in its genius storytelling and illustration, that rather than focusing solely on solving a mystery, the narrative delves deep into the lives and histories of the street’s inhabitants, the local neighborhood, and truly, an intricate tapestry of human experiences. It’s not the mystery, it’s the characters. People with backstories reflected in substance abuse, marital neglect, superheroic aspirations, and even attempted murder—all interwoven into the rich tapestry of this engrossing tale utilizing both bending expectations and foreshadowing. By using a bit of a flashforward which bends what you think is happening in a way that’s very reminiscent of early pulp comics. Where crazier, kooky ideas and misdemeanors elevate into substantially dangerous, but oftentimes also hilarious, climaxes for everyone’s thread.

Where The Body Was comes highly recommended for those seeking a compelling and unique reading experience. The stark contrast between the seemingly idyllic suburban setting and the dark secrets that lurk within intensifies the narrative’s impact. 

 

With a runcount of 144 pages, this comic arrives in comic book shops on January 16, 2024.

The Curse Review: What’s Meaning Without Understanding in “Pressure’s Looking Good So Far”

"Is It ON You?" l photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with Showtime

The episode of The Curse (Showtime) “Pressure’s Looking Good So Far” opens up with a close-up of a pregnancy test being filled as the icy synths fill me with a sort of wonderment as the two lines appear. What I’m digging so far is we’re all in the dark on this titular affliction. I could see each episode posing new threats that might be the singular sentence.

Asher (Nathan Fielder) meets up with Monica (Tessa Mentus) and I couldn’t be more thrilled that we’re not giving Asher an easy out. Without video proof of the Gaming Control Board not protecting gambling addicts, the story cannot run and with it already being two weeks, it’s now or never for him, which means going into the belly of the beast. Did you know casinos have no windows on purpose and it’s legal?

At Whistling River Casino, we once again see the true colors of Asher in radiant ‘circadian light’ when former co-worker Bill (David DaLao) shows my guy the fruits of his labor for the House in a few new forms of subconscious devices to get people to gamble more. Asher is the unconscionable one and though the exotic neon glow of money being lost by the second lights him beautifully, all I see is a big shit stain on the screen.

Though not a gambler myself, I fucking love the allure of a casino. It’s a breeding ground for sin and a playground for the id, bathed in neon, gold, and marble. Time has no fucking place in a casino, which is why it’s so fucking sexy. Asher’s mind seems to still be here. I feel it’s a smart move on Fielder and Safdie to make this a microcosm in their world. The casino is its own habitat, so even if we don’t visit it much, a few more times outside of this episode would be entirely welcomed by me.

Because his boss Wandall’s not in, Asher has no choice but to return at a later time. Meanwhile, Whitney (Emma Stone) meets up with the Governor of the San Pedro Pueblo, James Toledo (Gary Farmer). He’s very proud of the patches of Pueblo land still available. I feel that Whitney really wants to feel the plight of the Pueblo, but she’s just fucking struggling as if it’s a silent spiritual war of her own. Oh, it’s all in Emma’s acting.

Whitney invites the Tewa gentleman to her Tiwa friend’s art gallery opening. The mistake seems earnest enough and she is trying. Yes, this is for major cultural clout and her way of handling these matters toes the line of appropriation. Rest assured, she’s also knocked down a few pegs when her artist friend Cara Durand (Nizhonniya Austin) can see through the bullshit. Whitney is no artist. She is stealing a look from a famed artist.

The beautiful juxtaposition is later on at Cara’s opening, “dinner for ten”, which includes MLB bobbleheads. Yes, she didn’t make them. Yes, they are in fact stolen. Yes, this was to prove a larger point about Major League Baseball, re-contextualizing. Yes, there’s a toy tee-pee where Cara sits, carves turkey with a deli slicer, and screams whether you eat it or not. I’m sure it all means something to her, no matter how silly or pretentious is may mean to some. What do the houses mean to Whitney? Not a goddamn thing.

The outsides are not inspired and birds keep fucking flying into them. The insides have art that isn’t theirs but rather Cara’s to sell the look and investment. Everything about the structures seems more wasteful than the purpose they’re supposed to serve. A fucking change needs to happen… one that does not include appropriating her ‘friend’ nor the governor of the San Pedro Pueblo for clout.

Not all hope is lost, however, when Whitney reveals to Asher about her being pregnant.

Dougie (Benny Safdie) himself has an interesting C Plot. He’s out on a date with one of the crew, Laura (Adrianne Chalepah). He’s a smoothie, even when revealing some grisly details about his wife’s death with him at the wheel with a BAC slightly over the limit. Benny keeps me riveted to Dougie. He seems genuine, but his tactics aren’t the most becoming of him, so when he offers to drive Laura home, the pit in my stomach is very present. That is why I was pleasantly shocked when he blew a red while driving, immediately prompting him to pull over and walk… to the casino. Where else is he going to go but back in Asher’s designed ‘trap’?

Though finally getting his meeting with former boss Wandall (Marcus LaVoi), his attempts at getting some work there fall flat, causing the awkwardness to kick into high gear when he basically has to weaponize his wife’s pregnancy as a means to getting to his old computer to show him a stupid viral clip before making a literal mess of the situation for distraction. Though not a visceral motor wreck, the scene gives you a few seconds heads up before what happens happens. They want you to visualize what will happen and not want it to happen before it does. I think that’s a really sweet move.

Another sweet move is when Whitney has her house checked for leaks. As smoke fills the house, we’re informed the “pressure’s looking good so far.” The visualization of the cloudiness in their own home leads to an even stormier ending.

Whitney does catch up to Cara to congratulate her but she cannot seem to reach her… or anybody in that building. The acting is great in saying nothing but putting it all out there. she’s not welcomed and the uneasiness in her face says it all. At the gynos, where they’re getting the results for their baby. They’re in high spirits, but something’s amiss and it’s very quickly revealed that Whitney’s had a previous abortion. Asher is floored. The acting is also great for saying nil in the moment, letting his face do all the talking.

However, they fucking sing as a duet when it’s revealed that what Whitney has is an ectopic pregnancy, and the sooner they act on it, the better. It’s something I feel I shouldn’t be watching, especially through the camera lens so invasive, yet intimate. It’s being shot from the outside, and though it feels invasive, the regular glass naturally reflects the beautiful nature as we zero in on the cursed black spot on her sonogram.

Could this be the curse? Whitney’s suddenly inspired to do a mosaic house, Pueblo style. Is this her gift? Inspiration. I could see this as a series where everything shitty that happens for Ash happens great for Whit. Six weeks. They’ve given us a time window for the season, which I love in series these days.

Directed by brothers David and Nathan Zellner with a script from Carrie Kemper, Fielder, and Safdie, the uneasiness doesn’t relent and shows that you can raise the stakes by removing from the equation. As for the chemistry between Nathan and Emma, I’m not hating it. They’re not a perfect couple, much less paragons of society. They have money, the one thing that makes people feel invincible. What they lack is soul. I believe both are fighting for whatever remnant of that hope is in them, together but alone, and in order for them to maybe (or never) get their balance restored, be hectored by the universe a bit. I’m still here for it, especially with Whitney’s new loss a maybe an auroral beginning.

4/5 Stars.

Ultimate Spider-Man #1 Features New Marriage Cover by Scott Campbell

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The highly anticipated Ultimate Spider-Man #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Marco Checchetto just received a new cover by longstanding Spider-Man artist J. Scott Campbell. In stores on January 10th, the cover features a hand-in-hand Mary Jane and Peter forming a little heart as they dance over each other’s legs and hosts a Spider-Man heart-shaped logo in the backdrop. It’s an adorable little feature celebrating the new take on their story for the ultimates line, as a middle-aged Peter Parker and Mary Jane operate his life as a crimefighter while still having to raise their kids.

“When we decided that we were going to do a book about an older Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man, we really wanted to lean into him starting his super hero life from a very different place than what’s traditionally expected,” Hickman explained in a statement by Marvel. “Peter and MJ being married is one of many decisions we made that underline this being quite a ‘different’ kind of Spider-Man story.”

You can check it out in the official press release below.

New York, NY— November 20, 2023 — Honoring the vision of the original Ultimate Universe, Marvel’s new Ultimate Universe spinning out of Jonathan Hickman and Bryan Hitch’s recent Ultimate Invasion series will captivate new and longtime readers with bold storytelling choices and extraordinary fresh takes on iconic characters! Hickman and Marco Checchetto lead the way into this new era with their radical transformation of Peter Parker’s super hero journey in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1. Hitting stands on January 10, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1 will spin a new web for Peter, presenting him as an older, wiser super hero who balances his great power and responsibility with being a loyal husband to Mary Jane and a loving father to their two kids. It’s a new Spidey for a new generation and the introduction of the Parker family promises to make it the most surprising Spidey story of the 21st century!

To celebrate this new chapter of the Spider-Man mythos, legendary Spider-Man artist J. Scott Campbell has turned out a gorgeous variant cover for issue one! Also available as a virgin variant cover, the best-selling artist’s latest piece captures Peter and MJ’s romance in his iconic style!

“When we decided that we were going to do a book about an older Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man, we really wanted to lean into him starting his super hero life from a very different place than what’s traditionally expected,” Hickman explained. “Peter and MJ being married is one of many decisions we made that underline this being quite a ‘different’ kind of Spider-Man story.”

Check Campbell’s cover now and stay tuned later this week for more ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN news, including the premiere of the new ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN trailer!

mary jane and peter in ultimate spider-man #1 cover by Scott Campbell

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1 – 75960620796100111

Written by JONATHAN HICKMAN
Art and Cover by MARCO CHECCHETTO

Variant Cover by J. SCOTT CAMPBELL – 75960620796100181
Virgin Variant Cover by J. SCOTT CAMPBELL – 75960620796100139

On Sale 1/10

‘Quantum Leap’ Takes Ben on an ‘Da Vinci Code’-style Adventure

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Image: NBC

The original Quantum Leap had Sam Beckett romancing a bevy of interchangeable beauties while totally ignoring what consent means when you’re in someone else’s body, and your partner thinks you are that someone else. And they got away with it because it was the late ’80s / early ’90s and Scott Bakula was considered Grade A man candy, so whatever, bring on the (seriously icky, from my 2023 POV) kissing.

Season 1 of the new show skirted the issue of dating while leaping by giving Ben a loyal love interest back home — no flirting with strangers from the past when you’re engaged to your hologram — and avoiding having any guest stars romantically interested in him (or making clear that the person was interested in his host while he basically said “ask me later”).

Season 2, however, started by blowing up Ben’s love life with a 3-year time jump that allowed the writers to hit the “reset” button on a few things… including Ben’s relationship status. With Addison out of the picture — literally, now that he has banished her from the imaging chamber — the door opens for some time-travel romance.

And boy, does he move on fast. Did you really think the fetching genius waitress from two episodes ago would be left in the leap after that long, softly lit conversation? Of course not… she’s back in Episode 206, “Secret History,” which takes place 6 years after her first encounter with Ben. Apparently, Hannah took Ben’s advice and went to Princeton, where she’s studying wildly complicated sci-fi physics.

Image: NBC

The ostensible reason for Ben’s leap this time, to 1955 Princeton, is to uncover a secret formula that Einstein left behind. This formula, if discovered, could change the world. The episode kicks off with a murdered professor who uses his dying breath to whisper a code word to Ben, whose host is also a professor. So now Ben must search for and decode clues in what is essentially a Da Vinci Code-style treasure hunt, while, naturally, being chased by baddies who want the formula for their own nefarious reasons.

But the plot isn’t what matters in this episode. Rather, it’s Ben’s star-crossed romances that take the spotlight. First with his re-encounter with Hannah, which immediately leads to more soft lighting and goo-goo-eyed close-ups that scream to the audience “Love interest alert!” (Ben has a thing for blondes, doesn’t he?). She, of course, becomes his partner while seeking Einstein’s formula, and there’s an immediate connection between the two… which is a bit weird since Ben is now inhabiting a different body from the one he first met her in. But she seems to recognize him nonetheless…

Meanwhile, with Addison barred from the imaging chamber and Magic out of the office, Jenn initially takes on hologram duties before being pulled away by Ian, who needs her help dealing with security issues (and vague threats from a mysterious entity). That just leaves Tom, Addison’s new boyfriend, who also went to Princeton and might have some insight into the location. Awkwaaaaard…

The writers must know that in 2023, you can’t ignore the consent issues that make the original Quantum Leap romances seem pretty icky, because they have Ben confess his true identity to Hannah midway through the episode. And Hannah acknowledges that she sensed that he was the same person she’d encountered six years ago, just in a different body (don’t ask how, that’s not romantic). Okay, cool, she knows just who she’s flirting with.

BUT THEN. The episode ends with a rather sudden kiss just as Ben leaps… which means Hannah’s about to find herself lip-locked with a professor whose real personality she’s never encountered, and that professor is about to come out of a blackout with his mouth on a woman he’s never met. YIKES. C’mon, writers, y’all can do better!

The whole thing also comes rather fast… Unlike the audience, Ben doesn’t get a break between leaps. And it was only in the episode before last that he booted Addison from the imaging chamber to give himself space to heal from the heartbreak of losing her. Last episode took place over the span of a few intense hours during the 1992 LA Riots… not exactly conducive to healing. So from Ben’s point of view, barely a day or so has passed since he said “I need some space” to a tearful Addison. And given how tight the episodes are and, again, the lack of any time between them from Ben’s point of view, it’s probably barely been a week since he discovered Addison had moved on. The whole thing feels rushed, especially for a show that’s generally been great at depicting its characters’ emotions, that spent an entire season exploring the now-discarded Ben-Addison relationship.

Image: NBC

I wouldn’t have objected to a Ben-Hannah romance if they’d had maybe one or two more leaps together, and it does open up some interesting storytelling possibilities (I’m imagining him appearing at various points in her life, out of order chronologically from her POV). I just wish the writers had given Ben more space from Addison first, while also allowing Hannah to develop a bit more; at the moment, she’s a bit bland… sure, she defies midcentury gender norms by being a scientist, but the “girl genius who is otherwise conventionally feminine and still, above all things, hot” route has been taken so many times in entertainment that by now, it’s boring.

All in all, “Secret History,” was a generally solid episode with some fun treasure-hunt moments and interesting hints as to what Ian might have gotten everyone into back at HQ. We get some cool scenes where Ben and Hannah are figuring out what the clues Einstein left behind meant, and some tense encounters with baddies. Plot-wise, the episode does pretty well, and Ben and Hannah’s chemistry works in general, even if it is a bit boring (Addison left some big shoes to fill…).

I just hope they address the whole bodily consent thing next time Hannah appears, which I have a feeling won’t be far off…

3.5/5 stars

Happy Life Day to All Who Celebrate!

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Happy Life Day, everyone!

On this day in 1978, millions of children gathered around their family televisions to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special. I was one of them. The previous year, I had seen Star Wars (and it was just called Star Wars. This was the original release, long before “A New Hope” was added as a subtitle). I was four and a half when it came out, and I was an instant convert. I’d seen the movie about 10 times in theaters, I had all the action figures, I had a vinyl record that was basically an audio recording of the movie that I was wearing out the grooves on. Star Wars was everything to me.

And now, there was finally more!

Empire Strikes Back wouldn’t come out for another 18 months, so any shred of Star Wars content was welcome. So I was very excited about this!

For reasons, that will soon become clear, I do not have memories of my six-year-old self  watching this, so I’ll let my mom take over here and describe my reaction:

“You were so excited. But once it came on you wouldn’t stop crying.”

Yes, the Star Wars Holiday Special is where so many children learned about disappointment for the first time. Don’t come at me with your scorching takes about how The Last Jedi ruined your childhood. You obviously didn’t spend an evening in November 1978 crying over your grape juice and Jiffy Pop because you just watched an old Wookiee named Itchy get aroused by an intergalactic Diahann Carroll. I have blocked my initial viewing of this show from my memory.

The Holiday Special is legendary in its awfulness. The “plot” ostensibly centers around Han and Chewie trying to get back to Kashyyyk in time for Life Day, the Star Wars version of Thanksgiving, but really it’s all about cramming in some truly awful comedy bits and songs. All of the characters you know and love from the movie — Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2, Threepio — were contractually obligated to make an appearance, but you can tell they aren’t real happy about it. Harrison Ford can barely be bothered to grumble his lines, and Carrie Fisher had the good sense to get stoned out of her gourd before singing her stirring Life Day ballad.

And speaking of stirring, how could anyone forget Harvey Korman’s legendary cooking video where he dresses up in drag and has four arms and shows Nala — Chewbacca’s wife — how to make Bantha Surprise?

Or Bea Arthur singing in a cantina? Or Art Carney as a human fixer, trying to aid the Wookiees? Or the fact that about half of this show is just Chewie’s family — wife Nala, Dad Itchy, and son Lumpy — hanging around their tree house and grunting, with no subtitles?

It’s comically bad. It owes more to the campy variety specials of the 1970s than it does to Star Wars. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from the Brady Bunch Variety Hour or Donny & Marie, not the highest grossing film in history. George Lucas loathed it, and his name appears nowhere in the credits. According to legend, he said that if he had time and a hammer, he’d destroy every copy.

The Holiday Special has never been officially released on home video or for streaming. (The animated segment that introduces Boba Fett — The Legend of the Faithful Wookiee — has popped up on Disney+, under the heading “Star Wars Vintage.”) It’s amazing that the special even survived at all. George Lucas bought up all the rights to it, allegedly so it could never be rebroadcast. I would assume that there were a few families that had early VCRs that managed to record it, and then did not destroy those tapes or use them to record episodes of Dallas. But, ever since YouTube became popular, those grainy recordings have found a digital home, allowing for new generations to be traumatized each year.

And maybe because of those campy YouTube clips, the concept of Life Day has become actually popular! It’s actually a canon holiday in the Star Wars universe. It’s mentioned in the first episode of The Mandalorian! (Just as Din is about carbon freeze him, Bobby Moynihan’s character complains that he wanted to get home for Life Day.)  Disney made a Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, which featured Nala, Lumpy, and Itchy coming to visit Chewiee on the Millenium Falcon. So, his family is canon. Along with Diahann Carroll as a space temptress, I suppose…

Disney has even leaned into marketing it. You can buy actual Life Day merch! There’s a Chewbacca plush with him wearing his red Life Day robes! They had a whole Life Day event at Disney World last year, where you could get photos with a glowing Life Day orb! You can even get your own official robes!

I have to admit that I find this very bizarre. I understand that if there is a buck to made off of something, Disney is going to make it. But the Star Wars Holiday Special was literally traumatic to me as a child. I know that everything under the sun gets reclaimed at some point, but the Holiday Special? For real?

Granted, there is some tongue-in-cheek attitude from Disney and Star Wars about this. There is an acknowledgement that the special was dreadful, but hey, let’s have some fun with it. Sure, but someone is buying those $60 Life Day hoodies.

In case you think I’m exaggerating how bad this is or making a mountain out of the molehills of youth, I am going to include a link to the special below. Watch it for yourself! But I would recommend you follow Carrie’s example and have a few edibles before doing so.

And remember: when making the Bantha Surprise, it’s whip then stir.

In Showtime’s The Curse, the “Land of Enchantment” is an Oasis By Design

We are TV ready and hell-bound.

From the very jump of the Showtime x A24 collab The Curse, we go a bit claustrophobic, looking into the window of Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon), an ex-gangbanger and his cancer-stricken mother. Asher (Nathan Fielder) and Whitney (Emma Stone) Siegel are a couple filming the pilot of their HGTV series. Even with their joyous reveal of ‘giving’ Fernando a job at the new local coffee shop, I’m feeling tense. As a fan of Fielder’s, viewing the ‘uncomfortable’ might be a kink of mine because it’s at times a task for me to stare it down in person. Watching him feels like I’m afloat in a warm, saltwater soak until long, greasy-tressed showrunner Dougie Schecter (Benny Safdie) enters the picture, exercising creative license, fabricating tears for the mother, blowing menthol in her eyes for the redness. I’m suddenly feeling a bit uneasy inside. So far, the price of admission is one dropped stomach and I’ll happily plunk it down.

Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems, Oppenheimer) and brother Josh are goddamn craftsmen with high tension and anxiety. I remember feeling equal parts amped and uneasy watching Uncut Gems. When you combine that with the 151 Proof of Nathan Fielder’s awkwardness, the cold open feels like my first time drinking White Russians: I was queasy throughout, but the taste and elation of inebriation had me going back for more. Bottoms up.

Making Dougie an asset highly recommended by the network gives his agency more bite, but making Whitney’s character aware of their situation gives her more of an edge. The goddamn optics look pretty touchy themselves with them both being a straight, white married Tesla-driving couple who travel to Española, New Mexico to ‘save’ its destitute Hispanic/Latino community with their new eco-friendly homes, driving up the rent and ultimately displacing the Hispanic/Latino community like what happened to the Indigenous before them… for public display.

It’s gorgeously stomach-churning, right down to Whitney’s ‘invisible homes’ as an architectural example of the farce hidden in plain sight. The ‘net-zero’ passive houses are what I can only describe as Architectural Digest subscriber’s fever dream, externally looking like reflective modern art installations. Similar designs are meant to reflect nature, essentially erasing the house itself, which is what they’re doing to this neighborhood, deleting it. The structures are good “show, don’t tell”, just irritating enough to be disruptors in their own right.

On opening day at the Barrier Coffee shop, Asher blows quite possibly their only shot at promotion, interviewing with the local news station, blowing up at field reporter Monica (Tessa Mentus) for a sneak attack on Whitney doing more harm than good with her houses and mentioning her slumlord lineage, prompting Asher’s Mr. Hyde to emerge. Though not entirely unsolicited, his hostility is fucking creepy because it’s bubbling passive aggression, a measured type of screaming.

The ghastly first impression is a testament to Nathan’s acting. I felt that shit, so it only makes sense to me that he makes it right with a scoop for the reporter to retire off of in order for the review to be killed. It’s “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul”, which is precisely the type of high-stakes shit we had seen with Benny’s other work.

We don’t let up when the focus shifts to Dougie, staging an extemporaneous shot with Asher and a little black girl selling soda, embodying the very foundation of what makes reality TV the insidious mind rot it is. When the camera rolls, a redemptive moment blossoms before our very eyes before Asher figuratively snatches it away from us and literally from the little girl, prompting her to “curse” him, twisting the tone in a most distorted way.

Who even cares if his meeting with Monica ended kind of positively? A curse is in play and by dint of watching Asher, I feel cursed. Messes showing up on one’s doorstep? Compartmentalizing acts of shit so they don’t intersect until they all explode in magnificent fashion? It’s a Safdie staple for a reason.

Whitney’s parents fittingly don’t win any humanitarian awards. Paul (Corbin Bersen) is at best tolerant of his Jewish son-in-law with his wife Elizabeth (Constance Shulman) at least contributing to her daughter’s eating disorder. We’re not meant to like any of these people, but maybe just be surprised by them. Paul’s greenhouse speech about small dicks whilst he nourishes his tomato’s soil with his own urine is oddly enlightened, creeping back into the surreal. We get a solid glimpse of Asher when he urinates a few scenes prior and though I remember vaguely reading about it beforehand, it still snuck up on me. It’s not used for titillation but rather food for thought. Could this be the source of the dude’s anger, this curse, and the only way Asher can accept his gift, which, from what Paul says in no uncertain terms is accepting the truth? It’s a matter of philosophy ending on a ‘button’ of a visual micro-penis gag. “The Cherry Tomato Boys.” Wow.

Crass? Yes. Cringe? You bet, and even after a tender moment of decompression when finally home after a tense car ride, we’re back for more “Should I be watching?” in the bedroom where Asher uses a vibrator named “Steven” on his wife while being frozen out. It feels like we’re not meant to see this, but yet here we are. Then again, why should I spend all this glorious time feeling gross when it’s been a minute since I last felt dirty?

This comes hilariously in the form of Dougie showing Asher and Whitney his unaired reality dating show that places a masked burn victim in front of 15 potential partners. It’s hilariously in horrific taste, but the silliness is quickly swapped for queasiness when Whitney comes across the footage shot from earlier with the little girl. Come on, did you really think Dougie would cut?

I’m a fan of Asher consequently being forced to right a heinous wrong and pinheadedly ignoring the few ways he could. Sure, he doesn’t find the little girl, but instead of helping keep the lights on in a homeless shelter for one more night, he paints over the necrotic wood of his soul by giving a woman with a baby the money (only maybe scoring him a couple of good Karma points) then lying to his wife about finding the girl, embellishing to make himself sound heroic (putting him in the Karmic debt).

The episode titled “Land of Enchantment” ends with Dougie in Whitney’s ear and a question in ours. Sure, Dougie’s scuzzy, but at least he didn’t dash a little girl’s dreams. What would we do? It’s given the audience an interesting hypothetical to mull about.

Showtime Studios with A24 is an inspired choice, though I can see where the divisiveness can factor in. A24 is like McDonald’s in that when you pass the Golden Arches, you don’t smell food, you smell a brand. This arthouse studio is no different. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I can see where A24 sycophants (like myself) will eat this up without holding more of a critical eye to it.

From the sometimes distant, yet intimate cameras, we’re given something that feels voyeuristic, not unlike the Nathan Fielder docu-comedy The Rehearsal. Benny Safdie employs the sick synths, compliments of jazz musician John Medeski and fellow Safide collaborator electronic music producer Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) to keep the tension taut. The score grips you and never lets go, no matter the tonal shifts in the script.

In a show where glass houses are as much of a visual satire as they are a metaphor, we see the real invisible house, the farce of the facade: a couple constantly wallpapering over their shit for the camera. Seem like good bones to me.

Chicken Suits, Amish and Patrick Fabian Make Run With The Devil a Great Episode of Magnum P.I.

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MAGNUM P.I. -- "Run With The Devil" Episode 516 -- Pictured: Tait Blum as Jacob -- (Photo by: NBC)

I had thought last week’s Magnum P.I. would be great because of my favorite former convict, Jin. Turns out, all the show needed to do better was an Amish kid, Higgins in a chicken suit and the fantastic Patrick Fabian. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning of the latest episode, “Run With The Devil.”

Though most episodes start with a small, humorous anecdote, I really have never seen anything like Higgy in a chicken suit, hawking nugget fliers for a place called Chicken & Brisket. Unable to resist, Magnum makes many horrible puns, but she’s there for a reason. She’s playing lookout for someone that skipped bail heading to a pawn shop across the street. When he finally shows up and she flashes her badge, poor Juliette is knocked on her feathers. Magnum checks on her first before chasing the guy at full throttle.

Not to be outdone, Higgy gives chase as best she can in the cumbersome suit, at one point accidentally rolling with a frustrated ‘bollocks.’ So it was surprising that Thomas was the one to get crashed into by someone’s windshield. Then the chicken lady manages to collar the criminal, though her suit loses a wing in the process. Sadly, she doesn’t wear the hilarious suit the entire episode.

Run With The Devil | T.C.
MAGNUM P.I. — “Run With The Devil” Episode 516 — Pictured: Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin — (Photo by: NBC)

At La Mariana, Gordon is devouring a juicy looking burger and bacon as Rick stares hungrily at his plate. He’s trying to shave off a few pounds so he can fit into his dress suit for a Marine Corps ball, so he’s only eating kale and cucumber smoothies. He’s fighting the dreaded baby weight, and Gordon is having a lot of fun torturing the man. T.C. arrives, and to Rick’s dismay he’s not planning on attending. Mahina was his plus one, and after they broke up, he has no interest in going. Lucky for him, Rick’s not content to let his buddy sit it out.

Though Magnum is in a sling from his crash in the chicken incident, he still notices an Amish kid named Jacob placing missing girl posters on cars. He and Magnum talk, and it turns out his sister Hana is missing. Thomas asks if it’s unusual for people to leave the community, and Jacob insists his sister wouldn’t just leave him and his parents. He fervently thinks she’s in trouble and asks for help.

Kumu is tasked with contacting Jacob’s parents via the general store in Pennsylvania. As the two investigators continue researching, they find Hana stayed at a hostel in Hawaii, scooping ice cream. Then Thomas finds Hana on social media, noting she recently adopted a puppy. They track the mutt to her former residence, but only find Hana’s roommate. She says she loved showing the wider world to the Amish girl, but Hana lost her job. Somehow she kept paying rent, and then started bringing sketchy guys by. Eventually the roommate woke up one day to find Hana and all of her belongings gone. She also shares Hana had been spending a lot of time in nightclubs and bars before she left, which is the next lead our team follows, leaving Jacob with Kumu.

Back with Rick’s misadventures, he starts trying to find a date for T.C. to attend the ball. There’s a sweet girl named Emily benefitting from La Mariana’s free wifi, and Rick chats her up. It’s clear the girl thinks he’s asking for himself, but when he reveals he’s helping a friend and overshares, he scares Emily off. Suzie arrives with lunch, and suggests Rick try a celebrity date for T.C., since helping veterans is good publicity.

Run With The Devil | Higgy
MAGNUM P.I. — “Run With The Devil” Episode 516 — Pictured: Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins — (Photo by: NBC)

Back with Higgy, she’s been asking several places about Hana, and finally finds a lead at one nightclub. The bartender says he noticed Hana, but that she went by Chloe. She seemed badly drunk and kept getting hit on by men. Then one guy left with her, only for the bartender to find him screaming about how Hana and some guys robbed him. Also, it turns out Hana wasn’t drunk, except on club soda.

Gordon helps fill in some blanks. He knew Hana by reputation and had been hunting her for weeks. Several open cases paint a bad picture, including shoplifting, credit card fraud and a marijuana dispensary robbed at gunpoint with footage of Hana and 3 others. Maybe our little Amish girl has broken bad?

Jacob doesn’t believe Hana went criminal, and neither does Magnum. He thinks it would take longer than a couple weeks to totally discard all her values. Thomas is convinced she’s being coerced. Then Higgy finds a similar case involving a girl named Nora, so they head to the prison to talk with her. As for Rick, next he stalks an actual celebrity named Malia Manuel, and asks her to help T.C. out. He also overshares again, but somehow Malia is game to help out.

Run With The Devil | Surf
MAGNUM P.I. — “Run With The Devil” Episode 516 — Pictured: Malia Manuel as herself — (Photo by: NBC)

As they talk with Nora, Magnum and Juliette find that the men with her took her phone away, and threatened her with harm if she told anybody about them. When they push for a name, she provides a guy named Ben. With Gordon at the helm, SWAT then raids his place, only to find corpses. Not Hana’s, just the men that were using her.

Kumu seems to be bonding with Jacob over Hawaiian food, and talking about diversity as a strength and respecting different cultures. Then she gets called back by Jacob’s parents, and finds a problem. Jacob isn’t Jacob. His name is actually Saul, and he’s only 14. He stole his cousin’s ID to help find Hana, but the rest of his story tracks. The problem is Kumu is really hurt by his deception.

Meanwhile Thomas and Juliette decide to look for someone that Hana’s merry group of thieves might have harmed, and who may have retaliated by killing everyone but her. They find the marijuana dispensary was bankrolled by a private equity group. And wouldn’t you know it, the guy in charge, Sam Bedrosian, is played by none other than Patrick Fabian! AKA Howard Hamlin from Better Call Saul! He’s clearly shifty and nefarious, but when they ask to trade for Hana, they realize he doesn’t have her. Though it’s very likely his men are responsible for the carnage they found at Ben’s place.

Run With The Devil | Lucifer
MAGNUM P.I. — “Run With The Devil” Episode 516 — Pictured: Patrick Fabian as Sam Bedrosian — (Photo by: NBC)

Thomas thinks Hana escaped, and is ready to look for her. There’s just one problem – Saul got upset and ran away from Kumu. He’s busy placing fliers again when he gets a call about Hana, which he foolishly responds to. When Magnum and Higgins search for his phone later, they find it by a dumpster. Then it rings and the person on the other line wants to trade Saul for his sister, and the money she took with her.

They manage to track Hana by a saying Saul kept repeating, and find Hana took refuge with a pastor. The only problem is she doesn’t have the money Bedrosian’s men want, as it was stolen from her. So now they have to find a way to trade money they don’t have for Saul’s life.

It culminates in a tense standoff, as the armed men holding Saul are ready to kill him when Thomas shares they don’t have the money. But they have something better – Bedrosian bound and gagged in their truck! That does the trick, and they get Saul back. But not before Bedrosian swears revenge on them, so I fervently hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the talented actor.

Despite Rick’s best efforts, T.C. isn’t interested in going to the ball with a date, so he goes stag. Suzie and Rick are both ready to get crunk, and T.C. is just ready to enjoy a quiet evening. But then Mahina arrives as his surprise date! She’s gorgeous as always, and it looks like maybe their relationship isn’t over. Which is good, since T.C. needed a good break after his painful stint in recovery.

“Run With The Devil” ends with Magnum and Juliette watching Saul and Hana playing on the beach, as the adults talk about whether or not they believe in god. A really solid and fun episode of Magnum P.I. Here’s hoping Patrick Fabian shows up again to cause some trouble for our team of investigators.

The Killer Review: Fassbender Leaves A Trail of Dead in Fincher’s Dreamy Adaptation

“He knows so much about these things”

The Killer (Netflix) is divided into Five Chapters with an Epilogue. With the source material being Le Teuer, a French comic book by Matz and Luc Jacamon, it seems most fitting. We are immediately given the title credits. It’s been a veritable dog’s age since last I’d seen a movie without a cold open or the title at the very end, so this was a total breath of fresh air. They’re reminiscent of a video game, as they slink past like Roman shades as flashes of The Killer’s method of erasing others as well as himself complement the icy synths of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross seep into the airspace before we report to The Killer’s first job of the movie.

His cool, calm, and collected inner musings are the first words to hit our Eustachian tubes. Hope you like voiceovers because outside of his direct actions and his playlist, this will be our only way of getting to know The Killer. Yes, the narration device of voiceover or V.O. in movies and television in years past had been shunned and vilified in the world of professional screenwriting. As a scriptwriter, I was taught to stay away from it when possible, but also to embrace it if it’s truly called for. Now, this is a David Fincher joint; you know this ain’t his first rodeo with the device. He plays in it as Johnny Marr would play in harmonics, so I’m all in. This Killer’s voice exudes equal parts detachment and bonhomie. He’s addressing us directly, but at times he’s just amusing himself and it’s feeling like a fucking back massage to experience.

“But I haven’t got a stitch to wear”

We kick it off in Paris. Amid the piercingly gorgeous rococo architecture, The Killer (Michael Fassbender) awaits The Target (Endre Hules) in an almost monastic fashion, like a hunter in a perch, setting the film’s pace. We wait with the protagonist because we have to. We never take our eyes off of him, not for a second. We follow his every movement. From his stretching regimen to his routine naps in order to stay vigilant to his bromides and insights, our sights are set on him as he prepares for The Target. Could we be the hunter as well? I mean it definitely feels as if we’re almost watching a nature documentary.

Donning some really nice, brightly colored digs, complete with a bucket hat, The Killer doesn’t look like any assassin I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t possess the trench, beanie, and tea shades of Leon (though we do see him nap in sunglasses later). I suppose I’ve seen a similar “German tourist” look in the Hitman franchise, because for both Agent 47 and this guy, it’s not a uniform, it’s camouflage. My guy doesn’t need a damn tactical suit like John Wick because the methodology behind his look is tactical to a floral button-down tee, which is pretty rad because it makes the most sense. In his words, “…at least avoid being memorable.”

It’s been five days. I like this a lot. It forces us to have patience with The Killer, to take a seat and pull up an ear for more of him waxing philosophically. With a movie title like The Killer, we’re expecting guns, grit, and gasoline because that’s what we were fucking fed for the last few years! What we if took a breath, put on some Smiths, and let the reward come to us, as a successful hunt should be.

 

I can feel your heartbeat.
Let’s make this a slow jam.

“I know, I know, it’s really serious”

In sniping, nothing is left to chance. Everything must be precise. However, statistics only get you so far. You can’t account for every single thing, you can only plan for it. Even then, nobody’s perfect. Suffice it to say, The Killer flubbed this shit. He flubbed it but good. Now, he did specify that he wasn’t a big fan of long-distance shit. If we remember anything from Leon: The Professional, sniper rifles are for novices. The fact that this motherfucker is most at home with the most intimate of killings in creatively staged accidents is ball-retracting chilling.

We don’t know this guy’s backstory, only their worldview and just now the shit show that’s landed on their doorstep. It’s a smart move because we don’t need much. If we’re in The Killer’s mind, his disquietude becomes ours, with his Cobra-like reflexes in self-erasure from a crime scene being just as entrancing as the location he’s in. It’s like watching a flower bloom before your very eyes, which makes the floral shirt so much more apt.

He’s now batting nine hundred and I’m finding myself stressing with him. Fassbender has a talent for showing ever-so-subtle cracks in this guy’s steely-eyed composure, especially when his boss is freaking the fuck out. His anticipatory instincts serve him well to change the flight last minute, but this is all about taking Mr. Perfect out of his comfort zone. This comes in the form of collateral damage in our second act.

“My only weakness is a list of crime”

Even when confronted with the rippling effect of an incomplete task, in this case, goons breaking into his hideout in the Dominican Republic, sexually assaulting his romantic partner Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) for info she never gives up, The Killer’s voice only grows icier in its resolve. Still, his soothing tone flies in the face of his actions, with the cadence of someone recording a memoir as he tags, tails, and hurts methodically all the way to the top, starting with his first “improvised” kill of a livery driver before heading to his former academic mentor and current employer, The Lawyer (Charles Parnell) and his secretary Dolores (Kerry O’Malley) in New Orleans before we get to Magdala’s assailant, The Brute (Sala Baker) in Florida. When I say this is a fight for the ages, it truly is.

It’s David and Goliath Disparity type shit and I’m all here for it. Shit, The Killer’s been talking our ears off for the last hour and a half, I would now like to see how his calisthenics pay off. You have size vs. speed and thanks to the beautifully choreographed stunt work, it plays out like a brilliant ballet of brutality in which everything not tied down is used to buy just a fraction of an adrenaline-drenched second. So much for “not improvising.” The fight looked damn good as if it were shot through the lens of an eu de toilette commercial, making it truly a set piece and a half. Give the Fassbender, Baker, stunt people, production designers, prop department, and sound designers their fucking roses.

 

Why so sad, Dolores?

“Please keep me in mind”

Many times, characters with “certain skill sets,” as dope as they may be at first, are poorly written because in all cases, they mainly have the upper hand which is fucking boring. They operate with the elegance of a basic directional pad in their thoughts and actions because their black-and-white autonomy isn’t being tested enough. In this case, you take a star and make him doubt himself. It’s subtle, but therein lies what makes Fassbender’s assassin so memorable.

True, from old TV sitcom aliases to vast amounts of coin to storage units as makeshift safe houses complete with “to-go” kits, The Killer is never ridden hard and put up wet the way John Wick was. He’s not ‘inherited a problem’ like Leon. I don’t want to bring it back to Fight Club, but The Killer’s only true enemy is himself, which is fabulous because you can never outrun your shadow, just wait for it to go to sleep.

The Killer isn’t some demon stirred so rudely from his ancient slumber. He’s simply a skilled practitioner in a highly exclusive service, enjoying what he does, or at the very least, not running away from it. He’s like Jay Leno in that he’s touched much of his “Tonight Show money.” I believe that he at least likes what he does. He’s in his prime, and his method for getting in and getting out is so beautiful to watch because it’s just as uncomplicated and single-serving as his personality. That being said, I like that as cool and compartmentalized as the man typically is, the external entropy and internal chaos as a direct result of his own actions hem and haw at this very crucial edge, making him even more engaging as the movie progresses.

“So drink, drink drink”

It’s only when we hit the third act that the momentum itself takes a bit of a nap as well. The Killer arrives in New York to meet with The Expert (Tilda Swinton). He’s not there for the cuisine or vintage whiskey drams. He’s there to listen. So am I. I could listen to Tilda all day, however, but I’ve seen enough of this lately to be kind of tired of it; a prestige actor in a high-positioned role that runs the potential risk of being just a fancy Pez dispenser for cheap exposition. I ain’t mad at it though because she does to The Killer exactly what the killer does to us by spoon-feeding him a bit of food for thought through humor. However, she did it with a grizzly bear joke as philosophical as it is comical.

Finally, it’s off to Chicago. With the voices of those hurt or killed as a result of his actions serving as a new mantra, The Killer slithers his way to The Client (Arliss Howard) in a way that sheer pleasure to witness. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it can’t buy you peace of mind and The Client filling in the missing pieces of the blood-soaked puzzle does little to assuage The Killer, but he does get to suck air for another day. Are those the floral notes of empathy I sense?

 

A night for improvisation.

“Driving in your car, I never ever want to go home”

I’ll keep it a stack. My initial disappointment in the movie was the usage of the soundtrack. I’m not familiar with the source material, but neither was I the first time I watched Fight Club. I don’t know how much killing actually goes on in the comic book itself, but I was anticipating full-fledged vignettes for each kill, nearly full-length Smiths songs, each a sonic reflection of the creative dispatching… until it was brought to my attention in the opening credits this was scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. By the beginning of the end credits with the melodic rattle of Marr’s acoustic guitar and militant jangle of Rourke’s bass on “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” everything fucking made sense to me. The Killer is sad. His line of work is fucking grisly. Death is his business. As a Smiths fan 20 years strong, happy as they sound, you don’t listen to them in hopes it’s going to be a good day. The Smiths. Sad music for sad people.

Having watched it twice for this review, I realized that just a hair above two hours (yes!) the shit’s just a solid work of art, through and through. It’s like a big hunk of Brazilian cherry wood that’s been hewn, sanded, treated, and conditioned to make a one-of-a-kind centerpiece that stands out a mile away for its audacity, elegance, and odd, alien familiarity. This movie is elevated in its simplicity. It’s lush in its pin-drop moments as well as its blood-soaked ones. The Killer’s taciturn wit serves as the intoxicating elixir, an assurance to himself as well as us that everything’s going to be alright. Each frame of this movie I could fucking hang on my wall. David Fincher once again enlists Academy Award-winning Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (Mank) for a film I can only hope gets made into an art book at some point. The adapted screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) has some serious heat on it. It’s lean, slick, and packs a wallop. I think it goes without saying that Fassbender should absolutely be on the list of Oscar nominees.

It truly was the rewatch for me that cinched it. Something I didn’t catch the first time. The ending credits song is “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” It’s a very jangly, jaunty joint with funerary lyrics through a sardonic wit. This is precisely what the killer sounds like when he speaks to us. The song, despite poetically waxing of despair, shyness, and dread, there exists no hint of aloofness, despite the lyrics “If a ten-ton truck, kills the. both of us/ To die by your side/Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine.” The songs are ultimately about hope.

A light that never goes out represents a house that’s always open, a place that’s always welcoming. In the tune, Morrissey pleads with his driver to take him “anywhere” because (like the transient Killer), he doesn’t really have a home. Though Morrissey also follows that up with “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care,” he really does. So does The Killer, ultimately breaking his cardinal rule of actually “giving a fuck.”

Give Mr. Fincher his gladioli.

4.5/5 Stars.

Loki finds his “Glorious Purpose” in the season finale

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We start the episode off where the last one ended – with Loki in control of his time slipping. His initial efforts to fix the loom fail, leading him to revisit his confrontation with Kang. It appears that death was just part of the plan for Kang. He’s been in a never-ending cycle with Loki, having the same conversation about his fate trying unsuccessfully to convince the God of Mischief to allow him to win. Trying to show Loki that killing Sylvie is the best course of action, not only for himself, but for Loki and the universe as a whole. Still, Loki isn’t one to be told what has to be.

After a few other visits to past moments the trickster god gets a solid idea of what he ultimately needs to do. Destroying something isn’t the worst outcome so long as you replace it with something better. And, while the TVA isn’t a perfect institution, the temporal loom is an inherently selfish and cruel device designed to benefit one man and one man alone. In the end He Who Remains doesn’t give a shit about the world or any of the people in it, he’s there for the glory. He revels in it, believing himself to be right above all others. But Loki knows what it is to lose, to fight, to evolve and learn from his mistakes – he understands the importance of free will. Oddly in direct contrast to his infamous speech from The Avengers.

In the end, Loki does lose, but losing is put into perspective allowing him to finally “win” as it were. Confused? Yeah, I think that’s the point.

It’s a powerful season (potentially series) finale. High concept as all hell, but well executed and better understood with a few follow up views – and some internet sleuthing. Ultimately, Loki gets the throne he so desperately wanted, then didn’t want, becoming the center of the World Tree (Yggdrasil). He is now the God of Stories – a title he picked up in the Marvel Comics – a multiversal being capable of rewriting and creating the “stories” of all those around him. In this case it seems he’s more interested in maintaining and protecting these “stories” (the timelines, I’m guessing) than creating or rewriting them. This sequence is amazing, visually. Watching Loki go from a cog in the machine of the TVA, stepping out into the temporal radiation, to transform into his full god self – complete with horns. Then, as he uses his magic to break the loom, and take hold of the branches, before vanishing with the timelines to the End of Time to take his place on the throne. My favorite image is the World Tree itself – it is beautiful.

What does all this mean for the show? Personally, I don’t think a season 3 should happen. We got a lot of questions answered here and the main protagonist got a hell of a resolution. Mobius’ past with Ravonna was revealed – he failed to kill a child variant (I’m thinking Kid Loki), which is how he got demoted to an analyst and she got promoted to a judge. We learned that Kang allowed himself to be killed by Sylvie in order to prove he’s inevitable. The TVA, as predicted, evolved into a Kang hunting force among other things. It also looks to be an agent for unification between the various timelines. Sure, questions still remain – will Miss Minutes go back to being a murderous love-sick AI? Will Mobius kill and replace his exiting self? Where is Sylvie going to go? How exactly does the TVA work now? Is Ravonna gonna survive the land of lokis? Probably my biggest one: why did Kang give Loki the ability to time slip?

Actually, the better question is how. If you pay attention to the end of the first season, the why isn’t much of a curiosity. Kang explains that he’s tired. He’s willing to give up the throne to Loki and Sylvie so long as they take up his cause. Giving Loki the ability to time slip might have just been a way to prolong the sales pitch, especially since he could see Sylvie wasn’t going to bite. But Kang is, as we know, an ordinary human being – he’s not a god who can grant powers to someone. So…how exactly does he grant the trickster god his new trick? We’ll never know, unless they do a prequel or cover it in some other MCU project. Frankly, I’m OK with the mystery.

I doubt Mobius will do any harm to his timeline self, if anything, he might find a timeline where he died and assume that life, or make a life for himself ala Sylvie on another timeline. Sylvie will also likely continue her exploration of what it is to be alive – if anyone deserves a spin-off series, I think it’s her. Ravonna should be fucked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she wrangles the Lokis and makes herself Queen of the Void. As for the TVA, that could also be fodder for a spin-off series.

The main argument against a third season would be Loki himself. Now that he sits at the center of the World Tree, how do you handle him in a new season? If a third season were to happen it would likely involve either a way for the Story God to visit the worlds he’s protecting, OR, explore the life of another Loki variant. Again, my vote would be for Sylvie, though even if it was another Tom Hiddleston Loki variant, Sylvie could easily make an appearance. Hell, you could even throw in Mobius, the TVA, and Ravonna, but honestly? This was such a perfect ending the series that it would be a disgrace to continue.

Make a spin-off series if anything, but please, greedy capitalist media moguls don’t make a third season! I hate even numbers, abhor them, but even I can admit a third season would be a huge mistake. Let Loki rest in peace. Hasn’t he earned it?

Upload Episode 3×8 Review: Is “Flesh and Blood” Meaty Enough for a Finale?

We know all victories have a shelf life in the world of Upload.

Review

With Dr. Kapoor now six feet under because he knew too much, the season finale of Upload titled “Flesh and Blood” throws us right on the trial, where Holden (Kristine Cofsky) exposes Horizen’s ad campaign aimed towards children for Lakeview. While putting Lucy (Andrea Rosen) under scrutiny is mildly satisfying to me, it’s downright bliss to Karina (Jeanine Mason), which skeeves out Aleesha (Zainab Johnson) with each passing comment. I get their relationship and where it plays in it all, but if they wrote this relationship to be only shallow, I’ve absolutely no problem with that. I don’t know if there’s much there worth exploring outside of a means to an end.

Nathan (Robbie Amell) proposes to Nora (Andy Allo) a trip to Montreal but there’s little to no room left for guessing why. They all but shove it in Nora’s face. What I’m taken about slightly is that she’s taken aback. Sure, she’s got a lot on her plate, but knowing the location is a honeymoon destination and not putting two and two together I ain’t exactly buying. It is interesting, however, to know that in the projected future, North America will have its own Paris in Quebec.

Nathan asking Luke (Kevin Bigley) to be his best man is a pretty joyous moment and for a second, I think that the same thing’s going to happen when Luke gets a call from backup Nathan asking him the same but with regards to Ingrid. In a classic tale of wires getting crossed, Luke would think Nathan’s getting “Upload dementia” or something, inadvertently spilling the beans harder than Kevin in The Office, setting up for a very messy outcome at the end of the episode. Nope. No such luck.

In this episode, we keep Aleesha (Zainab Johnson) Luke’s priority, which is what I’ve been waiting for. They want to take down Karina, enlisting Tinsley (Mackenzie Cardwell) and AI Guy (Owen Daniels). Tinsley’s ditzyness is momentarily played up a bit more than usual which would typically be annoying to me, but at this point, I don’t care. It’s not that I’ve thrown up the white flag on Tinsley but in a finale, moments have to pop, and her splash of uber-gullibility coupled with AI’s desire to feel more human brightens an otherwise simple setup to a fun plan that’s not super distracting to the rest of the story, as I’m a fan as any of group hijinks, which is a department they’ve been lacking in, so I’m happy with whatever the show throws me in the 11th hour.

I’m also a fan of the one person who can seemingly fall Horizen is not only the most accessible but also the hardest to flip. Looks like Nora and Nathan have to wine and dine Ingrid (Allegra Edwards). Hoo boy. The design of the swanky LA restaurant is based on the fucking horror show that is the Red Lobster lobby, except with livestock. It’s definitely a more effective satirical jab than the shock and awe of a fucking Cow-terpiller, but they actually work better together as a commentary.

Even though Nora is ravishing in red, all I see is red with her not picking up on the whole Montreal thing at dinner. It’s simply out of character for the typically on-the-take Nora, but I’m immediately distracted by Nathan 2.0’s good news to both IRL Nathan and Nora. I’m giddy because this means that some shit’s about to go down in the worst way. I love a series that has a talent for making hopeful territory fertile ground for catastrophic outcomes. That isn’t a slight in the slightest.

Ingrid does take some convincing, but Nora delivers on that with quite possibly the most important opening statement of her pre-law career before we check in with backup Nathan and a disaster waiting to happen at a beautifully lit area of Lakeview’s woods when he pops Ingrid the question. It goes as well as you think it would in the world of Upload, but at least we get to see AI Guy in his best outfit this season. This does lead to one of my bigger caveats with the episode.

Ingrid right before stepping into court is probably the most paralyzed and vulnerable we’d ever seen her but giving her very little choice in being a hero isn’t giving her much of a sympathetic angle from all of the horrid behavior she’d exemplified this season. There is absolutely nothing for her at stake since she’s already cut off from her family. There isn’t any risk of death or even losing her own Nathan for the sake of upload-kind.

Ingrid’s questioning of her standing with backup Nathan is completely valid seeing what Nora went through, but her waterworks do not seem earned. Even with Allegra giving it her all, it’s not punching hard enough because she was kept annoyingly spiteful and insecure the entire goddamn time. I’ll sidestep that for a brief moment to address Nora’s blind spot with Montreal.

Montreal ain’t the problem. It’s the damn lack of communication between her and Nathan throughout these eight damn episodes. With Nathan now a flesh-and-blood reality, they ironically couldn’t be farther apart in their interactions. Yes, their whole arc this season had flashes of unbridled warmth and inspired brilliance, but also many moments of utter aloofness and embarrassing vacuity.

I’ve proposed a few possible explanations. A.) Nathan truly hasn’t been carrying his own weight in showing affection B.) Nora’s the one who’s checked out C.) They both don’t care anymore D.) Their dynamics have unintentionally failed this season. E.) Their relationship is way more complicated than we think and is more representative of the true caprice in human beings.

With this being a comedy-drama, not the other way around, my money sadly is on “D.” It’s fucking hard to paint a hopeful picture of something that you may be too close to that can hold a lot of pain. The doubts in Nora and even Nathan throughout this whole season represent something so fucking raw and real with long-distance relationships. How do you inject hope into something with such a dismal success rate? Clearly, Upload hasn’t cracked that code yet. Their relationship this whole season seemed way more closed off when out in the real world and though most signs point to them getting together in the end, I’m just not rooting for them nearly as much as I should be.

Ingrid putting a target on Nathan through her impassioned declaration of love for an upload was a nice noose-tying of her own because it was an honest and heartfelt mistake, which is what makes what happens after her day in court when she comes home to Lakeview and a very understanding and loving Nathan a bit more… promising.

I was given the glimpse that Ingrid would have to lose majorly this season early on when they refused to show any real improvement in her character. Major shifts in a character’s personality are so much the fashion these days as a prologue to a major event in the finale, it’s not even shocking anymore. However, throwing something majorly painful at Ingrid is the only way we’ll see any character development in her. She’s not suffered enough to know what true happiness is, so I’m hoping that’s where the fourth season goes.

Ultimately, a battle’s been won in court but the war wages on. Sure, Horizen’s been fingered in the suit, and a landmark case had been won, resulting in a payout and peace of mind for the Freeyond victims, but IRL Nathan is no longer the property of Horizen which keeps him undocumented and now, detained. What’s more, Horizen’s still got the upper hand with a rebrand, now allowing all uploads to work, which will most likely bring in some lofty labor law commentary. These two revelations are a great setup for next season. I love that the people we care about are in for a Sysphean uphill battle. That’s the great part of this show. They put these people through the wringer… just some more unduly than others.

But that’s not what you’ve read up until this point are here for. What do I think about the final cliffhanger? I think it’s drawn me back in. For all of the gripes I’ve had with this season being more fulfilling than last season, but less punchy than the first, for the first time this season, they’ve given me a hopeful moment that I can count on in the elimination of a Nathan. Maybe we can start moving along with some true character development for Ingrid now?

4/5 Stars.

The Marvels Review: Higher, Further, Faster!

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Generally, when I go to watch a Marvel movie, I go for the veteran characters. Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man and the like. Which makes it so unusual that the reason I went to watch The Marvels wasn’t Captain Marvel, nor was it the incomparable Monica Rambeau. No, it was all about Kamala Khan, at least for this fan. And while I went for the delightful acting of Iman Vellani, I’m glad I stayed. Because The Marvels was not only full of heart, but it has some amazing fight sequences and great character interactions.

The Marvels | Supremor

To the surprise of nobody, the reason that the three main characters get entangled is because of the actions of the villain, the Supremor Dar-Benn. This twisted zealot is like Ronan the Accuser on steroids, and determined to make Hala whole and livable again. A noble enough endeavor in theory, except that she plans to do so by stealing resources from other planets. Worse, she has the means to do so. First thing in the movie, she finds the twin bangle to Kamala’s, and uses it to devastating effect, opening a rift in spacetime.

Believe it or not, that’s not much of a spoiler, at least if you have seen any of the trailers. That said, I will do my best as always to avoid the biggest ones. Though in fairness, there are not many big surprises in the movie, outside of the mind blowing mid-credits scene that every fan of the MCU should already know to sit and watch for. That aside, let’s talk about what makes The Marvels so much fun.

The Marvels | Lost in Space

Like many other Marvel movies, this is a rollercoaster. It starts fast, and though it occasionally slows down, it’s never for long. Usually it does so to give us a training montage or flashback for context. I admit I forgot how Monica is connected to Carol, so I really appreciated some of those flashbacks. In many ways, this is a movie you can only truly appreciate if you’ve seen a ton of series on Disney+. Specifically, Ms. Marvel, WandaVision and, to a lesser degree Secret Invasion, on top of the Captain Marvel movie. That’s a lot of viewing, almost making The Marvels feel like a mini Avengers team up of sorts.

The Marvels | Monica

One thing I liked about the movie is how each of the main characters has a purpose on the team. Carol is the brute force, Monica is the brain, and Kamala is the beating heart that draws them all together. She’s also hilarious, regularly fangirling, yelling “Twinsies!” and reminiscing “Oh captain, my captain” as she stares wistfully at her favorite blonde bombshell (while an exhausted Monica simply rolls her eyes).

The Marvels | Captain Marvel

Each of them also gets their own amazing comedic moments, such as Carol’s look of pure panic as she crash lands in the Khan household, and tries to walk covertly outside with mixed results. Or Monica’s patience with Kamala as she keeps trying to workshop a nickname for the former Lieutenant Trouble. Hell, even Nick Fury gets in on the fun, yelling at Monica to use “Black Girl Magic” to finally fly and save an endangered plummeting Kamala.

The Marvels | Kamala

As if that wasn’t enough, Kamala’s family is also very present in the movie, with her mother stealing the camera more than once, and providing some amazingly uncomfortable laughs. Her dad and brother also get dragged into space by a series of events, and let’s just say Dad doesn’t like Nick Fury’s space elevator. Also, as a fan of all things feline, I’m very happy that Goose gets lots of cameos in The Marvels! Not only does the space kitty terrify Kamala, but she manages to save the day during a very tense sequence on the S.A.B.E.R. station. I won’t spoil it, but it’s amazing and easily one of my favorite scenes outside of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

The Marvels | Water Planet

Also, did I mention the fight scenes? Not only are they well choreographed, but many of them take place in multiple locations simultaneously, taking good advantage of the swapping mechanic afflicting the three ladies. The first big fight nearly destroys the Khan house, and they don’t get much calmer from there. Once the big bad realizes Kamala has what she most desires, they get even more intense.

The Marvels | Bad Beeyotch

The smartest thing about The Marvels is how Carol is forced to work with a team. By herself, Captain Marvel is a cosmic hero, capable of almost anything. So it’s hard to make a villain to counter that sort of power. But here, she’s constantly foiled by the entangling. Worse (for her, at least), Dar-Benn’s bangle can absorb light energy, which she uses to great effect to thwart Carol’s best attempts to defeat her. Not to mention, she swings a pretty mean hammer.

The Marvels | Nick Fury

As to why Dar-Benn is so pissed off, let’s just say the movie is all about unintended consequences, and there’s definitely some collateral damage. Dar-Benn’s first atrocity forces our team to save as many Skrull refugees as possible from a dying planet, and Kamala definitely takes it hard when they can’t save everyone. Not to mention, Carol has some dark history she’s afraid to face, but which eventually is forced into the light of day.

The Marvels | Flerkittens

Though the movie’s not perfect, and definitely can strain credulity as far as how the powers involved work, I still rather enjoyed The Marvels. Kamala and company make a surprisingly effective team, and the aftermath of the movie sets up some fun possibilities. Don’t buy the negative talk about the decline of the MCU. This movie shows there’s lots of potential in the stories yet to be told.

‘When Evil Lurks’ Review: Bleak and Brutal Film Revels in the Visceral Horror of Demonic Possession

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When Evil Lurks gripped me far more tightly than Terrified, Argentinian writer-director Demián Rugna once again displaying his talent at crafting unnerving imagery but now offering more in the way of worldbuilding, narrative, and emotional investment in characters to deliver a brutal, nihilistic horror film that will satisfy those who are into that sort of thing and traumatize those who aren’t. Like Talk to Me, it’s got a fresh new take on demonic possession, but unlike that film’s more obvious metaphor, this one has an idea so cool and horrifying I’m surprised I haven’t seen it done before.

Most possession horror treats possession as an extraordinary event that occurs to a single person. Rugna, however, posits a world that feels almost post-apocalyptic, where demonic possession is common enough that the police don’t want to deal with it, but uncommon enough that you as an individual might still find it extraordinary when you witness your first possessed one. Which is what happens to brothers Pedro and Jimmy after they investigate some mysterious gunshots in the middle of the night—I love that this film wastes no time, its plot kicking off immediately from the opening scene, the entire rest of the film occurring because Pedro and Jimmy heard some mysterious gunshots in the middle of the night.

This is one of those films that’s best to go in knowing nothing about it because Rugna, as was clear from Terrified, likes to just throw the audience into a world and let them figure out what’s going on and why. There are certain approaches to genre that really appeal to me, and they’re opposites. One is where the film exists in a very heightened world and simply asks you to accept that it’s quite different from our own. The other is where the film exists in a very grounded world that integrates the genre element into it so seamlessly and matter-of-factly that there’s almost an element of cognitive dissonance because the world is too close to our own. This film does the latter brilliantly, and so we learn the rules of this world by observing what the characters who know the rules of this world say and do. (And Rugna’s kind enough to give us a scene where a character literally lists the rules of this world and a scene where a character provides a bit of backstory about the origins of this world.)

Rugna doesn’t explain everything, but he explains just enough to be able to follow what’s going on without demystifying the supernatural horror. There’s no sound effect or visual effects to indicate when people are possessed, for instance. You just…know. Because they are…off. And also they will violently kill someone. That’s usually a good sign they’re possessed.

Once things start going bad, they just get…worse and worse, as Pedro and Jimmy attempt to escape with their family. And people weren’t kidding, this movie gives no fucks. Don’t get attached to anyone. But also do, because no one feels disposable here! I actually cared about the fucking characters, unlike in Terrified. Ezequiel Rodriguez and Demián Salomon have good older brother/younger brother chemistry, and I spent the entire movie waiting for something bad to happen to one or both of them.

The film establishes early on how few fucks it gives and what lines it’s willing to cross, so that keeps things niiiiiice and tense for the rest of the movie. Although to be honest, from the way people were talking about this movie, I was expecting a lot worse. Rugna’s violence is vicious and unexpected, and he gives some gore but, again, not as much as I expected from what I’d heard. It’s the sort of movie where you think you see more than you actually see because the impact is just so hard.

And he’s operating on a psychological level as well, evoking the supernatural dread of the demon’s ultimate goal, the eerie hopelessness of seeing or hearing a loved one possessed by a demon, and the uncanny spookiness of creepy fuckin’ children. This is an intentionally distressing film, and Rugna knows what he’s doing. God, the precise and controlled camera work here is so masterful, and Pablo Fuu’s score really adds to the atmosphere.

The film does make a couple of missteps. One of Pedro’s sons, Jair, is nonverbal autistic, and I’ll admit I just assume any portrayal of a nonverbal autistic character in a movie, especially a horror movie, is offensive in some way because, you know, film history. Here, the character himself seems fine until it becomes clear the only reason he’s autistic is so the film can play with the intersection of autism and demonic possession in this world, which veers into Magical Autism territory…until it doesn’t? I don’t know, feels like the film still could have gotten to the ending it wanted without being another horror movie that’s not great about disability.

And speaking of that ending, I did like the resolution of the demon storyline, but the denouement/punchline relies on characters somehow…forgetting about another character until it’s relevant. There’s a bit of messiness in the second half for sure compared to the expert build of the first half.

When Evil Lurks delivers on the visceral horror of demonic possession, but it has more than blood and guts on its mind. There’s a lot to unpack with regards to what the possession represents—one character compares it to a disease, and indeed a lot of the individual and community reactions do mirror reactions to communicable disease—and what the construction of this world is meant to say about our own. It seems telling, for instance, that you’re not supposed to use firearms on a possessed one. Rugna does not find much light in this world—and definitely not electric ones, which produce some subtle shadow effects I wanted more of yet almost found scarier for the fact that the film didn’t call attention to them—but that doesn’t mean he’s not trying to shine a light on something or other. And after this movie, you just might want to keep the lights on.

Blue Eye Samurai is the Best New Animated Show of the Year

One of the features of Netflix is that thing often just appear, without warning, and can be easily overlooked if you don’t happen to check your home page the day they’re released.

This almost happened to me with Blue Eye Samurai, an animated martial arts revenge thriller. I had heard nothing about this show before its release. If I hadn’t heard something about it on social media, I might have skipped it entirely. I’m not a big anime guy, but the reviews were so glowing that I decided to watch an episode.

And I am so glad I did. This is, unquestionably, the best animated show of the year, and the best animated show Netflix has put out since season one of Arcane. (Hey, speaking of Arcane, when is Season 2 coming out, Netflix?)

Created by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Green and Amber Noizumi, the story offers a twist on the revenge plot so popular in samurai and martial arts movies. There is a lot of weight given to what revenge costs and how it weighs on the soul. Green was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay to Logan, and you can see a bit of that DNA in the script.

The story is set in feudal Japan in the mid-1600s, after Japan has closed its borders to the outside world. Mizu (voiced by Maya Erskine) is the title character. The blue eyes come from from her mixed-race heritage. When she was born, there were only four white men in Japan. Mizu’s plan is to kill each one as revenge for making her a mixed-race bastard and an outcast. So she wears colored glasses to hide her eyes. And since revenge and swordplay are not paths open to women, she must disguise herself as a man as well.

On her quest, she meets a variety of characters, including the lovable Ringo (voiced by Masi Oka). Ringo sees Mizu dispatch some villains in his father’s noodle shop and immediately decides to become her apprentice, much to Mizu’s annoyance. Ringo has no hands, and he feels a kinship to Mizu because they’re both “deformed.” He can still make great noodles and medicinal brews, though. Ringo fills the archetype of the good-natured lummox with hidden depth splendidly. Ringo is fantastic. If Ringo is not your favorite character, we cannot be friends.

She also comes across Taigen (Darren Barnet), a samurai in a town she passes through. After defeating everyone in his dojo because they won’t give her the information she wants that will lead her to the first white man she wants to kill, she proceeds to humiliate him by lopping off his topknot. This enrages him so much that he follows after to demand a rematch. This in turn causes his fiancée, Princess Akemi (Brenda Song), to chase after him lest her father marry her off to the Shogun’s cruel son. Akemi is more than just a lovestruck girl, however, and over the series shows resilience and intelligence. Akemi is accompanied by her governor, Seki, voiced by George Takei, and George Takei gets to say some absolutely bad ass lines. Holding a sword to a bandit’s throat, he says “It’s been a long time since I killed a man. I wonder if I remember how…”

Believe me when I tell you that the animation is gorgeous It’s a combination 2D and 3D techniques, and it looks spectacular. Every frame is beautiful. There’s a fight on a beach at sunset, where the red waves are crashing as the two enemies fight, mimicking waves of blood.

And the action! These are beautifully choreographed fights, fluid and vicious. There’s a sequence where Mizu has to defend a brothel from about one hundred hoodlums, all armed with Wolverine-claw gauntlets. There’s another where she fights off four assassins called the Four Fangs while doing handsprings down a cliff face. It is spectacular. It’s amazing, yet it all feels realistic and grounded, and not at all weightless like it would if this was CGI in a live-action film.

This is very adult animation, and not just because of the violence and sex. (Though to be clear, the violence is very graphic, with limbs flying, blood spraying, and people being disemboweled. And so is the nudity and sex, as a couple of episodes take place almost entirely in brothels.) This also covers a lot of adult topics, like class, racism, and sexism. The show is very explicit about how badly people treat Mizu when they see her eyes, spitting insults like “half-breed,” and how limited the options are for women.

If you’ve been looking for a new show that’s great to look at, with memorable characters, and some great dialogue, get to your device of choice right now and start watching. Get those numbers up, because I want to see about 10 more seasons of Mizu’s revenge quest.

‘Quantum Leap’ revisits a dark piece of Asian American history in “One Night in Korea Town”

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Image: NBC

Looking back on how American history was taught back when I was in school, it often felt literally Black and white. Which was odd for someone who, as the child of Chinese immigrants, was neither. Even as I entered my college years and beyond, even as civil rights matters surged back into headlines, throughout the 2010s and into the 2020s, I often felt like I existed in some kind of null space outside the world the rest of America — at least the one that was being written and talked about in the media — seemed to exist in. Everything I know about Asian American history, I learned on my own, reading and watching documentaries in an attempt to fill in the gaps left by the American education system.

I remember a few brief lessons in school about the 1992 LA riots, and they all focused on how the riots erupted after a Black man, Rodney King, was brutally beaten by white police officers, who were then acquitted. What they never taught us was that a second injustice — the murder of a 15-year-old Black girl, Latasha Harlins, by a Korean store owner, and that store owner’s subsequent light sentence — played a part as well.

Image: NBC

“One Night in Korea Town,” the fifth episode of Quantum Leap‘s second season, takes Ben to this dark chapter in Asian American history… one that’s too often glossed over or ignored outright. In most of Ben’s leaps, his race is inconsequential; even when he leaps into a person of color, it doesn’t significantly impact his quest. This time, though, Ben leaps into a fellow Korean: the teenaged son of LA sneaker store owner Jin.

In an eerie nod to what happened to Harlins — who was accused of stealing an orange juice for perhaps no reason other than that she was Black — Jin sees a Black teenager, Damien, enter the store and immediately accuses him of trying to steal. Though it turns out Damien is known to Jin’s other son, Sonny.

The episode briefly explores generational tensions between Jin and his two sons. Like many immigrant parents, Jin is very proud of what he has built after arriving in America with nothing and wishes to pass on his legacy to his children. But the boys have different ambitions… Sonny wants to start his own shoe line, with Damien as his designer and business partner, and Ben’s host is planning to join the Marines.

Since, at Ben’s request, Addison is no longer his hologram, Magic is the one who steps into the imaging chamber this week — a necessary move on the part of the writers, since the episode explores tensions between Black and Asian Americans, and so his perspective is vital. Magic is also the only member of Team Quantum Leap that hadn’t taken on the role of hologram yet, and so you could also say it was his turn. I’m glad the show will be rotating who gets to be the hologram this season; Ben and Addison’s drama has been well played out over the course of Season 1 and early Season 2, and it’s nice to give the other characters (who are all excellent) more time to shine.

When the deadly riots break out, Ben learns that his quest this time is to save the people around him. First, a nurse who’d stopped into the store for shoes and would have been caught in the crossfire trying to get home. Then Jin, who arms himself with a rifle and attempts to defend his store.

Image: NBC

Tensions and emotions run high as Ben hunkers down with Jin, Sonny, and the nurse in the store, unable to leave without running straight into the violence outside. Magic initially tries to act professionally detached, advising Ben on strategy. But when he sees Damien, who’s fated to be mistaken for a rioter and shot by police, the leap gets personal. Because Magic knows what it’s like to be treated like a criminal because of his race alone — it happened to him as a young soldier. And he was there for the 1967 race riots.

Image: NBC

The episode also gives us a glimpse into Magic’s personal life — something the show has been relatively vague on until now. Turns out he’s more than the tough, competent boss he was portrayed as in Season One. Now, he’s also struggling with alcoholism, exacerbated by the stress of Ben’s disappearance and the loss of Quantum Leap during the three-year time jump. And he’s been dating Beth Calavicci — Al’s widow.

Image: NBC

This iteration of Quantum Leap has placed great emphasis on humanizing its characters — both its regulars and its guests — and takes special care to give each and every one emotional depth. “One Night in Korea Town” does a particularly good job of doing that for Magic and adding layers to a character we already know and love. Ben was the main character of this episode, but Magic was truly the standout.

There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, and given the heavy topic it chose to tackle, its conclusion feels a bit overly optimistic, wrapping everything up in a little too neat a bow. But then again, that optimism has been a part of Quantum Leap‘s DNA since the very first episode of the original show. After all, the entire premise of the show is that it’s possible to change history for the better. And let’s face it, we could all use a happy ending now and then.

5/5 stars

Upload Episode 3×7 Review: In “Upload Day”, the Only Display of Growth is Sadly in Ingrid’s Nose

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The penultimate episode of Upload (Prime Video) season three opens on Nathan’s new base of operations in Lakeview, a white space with a very comfortable chair. The idea of having Nathan (Robbie Amell) affixed to Nora (Andy Allo) like Iron Man’s “Football” armor is really appealing, especially when mobile. Their using the twenty minutes affectionally before Nathan uploads is the perfect setup for impending doom. I mean, the look of love in bed could make anybody delay the inevitable. It’s a tried trope for a reason. I’ll give them credit, they laid out the 1-2 punch of “that doesn’t sound good” and “once again for those in the cheap seats”. Happy “Upload Day”, IRL Nathan.

The one thing I’ve found most depressingly consistent in this season so far is dropping the ball with Ingrid (Allegra Edwards), and I’m confident to report this episode doesn’t disappoint. Her grilling Nathan 2.0 about the time spent in the Memory Parlor with Nora is truly grating, but not for the reason intended. I’ll fucking bitch about Ingrid’s portrayal until it’s remedied. Her asking Tinsley (Mackenzie Cardwell) to prepare Nora’s skin is not only creepy (which I’m sure is the point) but also very gross in a manipulative way on her behalf. It’s as if ya’ll didn’t realize there’s a common enemy that’s actually evil.

Ingrid playing Nora just feels wrong — not because it’s a white woman donning a person of color’s digital skin, but because it’s all in the context of the story, but rather because it just seems to be low-down, sickening behavior. We get it. Ingrid’s supposed to be the one you’re rooting against and jealousy’s a beautiful motive, but it shows no growth in the writer’s room concerning her and very much exemplifies that just because a series is set in the future doesn’t guarantee its mindset is caught up.

Luke (Kevin Bigley) requesting to meet Karina to sniff out her character seems like an apt enough choice in the script. It was only a matter of time until it happened anyway. But why now? Last season was so beautiful between him and Aleesha (Zainab Johnson). I have absolutely nothing wrong with Aleesha having someone in the real world, in fact, she is damn deserving of it. However, a juicy setup for a love triangle seems to be shot down when Luke is referred to as a ‘friend’ by Aleesha. On second thought, is yet another love triangle what we really need at this juncture? The penultimate episode should be for all the pieces coming together so we can start to blow them up by the end of our season finale in the next episode, so any unlit sticks of dynamite plot-wise they happen to throw in now just kind of seem like last minute additions.

Speaking of, Nathan 2.0 thanks Ivan (Josh Banday) about the Choak drives, but mum’s the word… between the three. Oh, AI Guy (Owen Daniels) heard it all, and I like that they’re peppering in his expanding humanity. His unbridled desire to tell a secret is enough fuel to propel the scene, in spite of otherwise milquetoast Ivan. I will say that Ivan’s exquisite garb in Lakeview is top-shelf, but even that just seems a glaring way to mask his character’s lack of depth. Josh Banday fucking owns the screen though when he’s on it, so no notes on the acting. He’s truly making lemonade.

Nora wants to make Nathan’s first Upload Day special, including breakfast, and a birthday-gram. Nathan knows you can only delay what’s coming, not eliminate it and as the universe would have it, Nora is called down by Holden (Kristine Cofsky) with a client getting cold feet. I’ll be honest; I eat this stuff up with a tablespoon, just shovel it into my brain, Upload. I love the inherent romance in tragic love. These outcomes you can usually spot from miles away only because they’ve been such an effective tool in storytelling for so long. Timing is so crucial in all of this and as sci-fi as this series is, time is the one uniting factor that makes this series effective in its immediacy. There are very few slow moments overall. The minutes forge on, whether the characters like it or not, and the constant chaos of life is something that could never be too out of reach for us as viewers to read as fiction. These grounding elements keep the clock ticking (and my mind guessing) as to how this will all play out.

The first hit of bad news comes when Choak’s shit is inadmissible by nature of being stolen property while Nathan is a no-go in the witness box because his mind’s owned by Horizen. With Nora still on the hook with Holden in her offices, this delay of celebration has kept me invested as I’m not even trying to think of when the cork will pop but how as he waits for his complimentary meal.

Having Luke set up a date for drinks with “Al” and Karina doesn’t seem out of place, and neither does Karina (Jeanine Mason) switching it to her private executive bar to display her power. Luke not capitulating to her pomp and circumstance but showing his hand by spilling the beans on his hacking ability was a great way to paint a target on his head. Oddly enough, as much as Luke is up there as one of my favorites, his dummkopf moments make a lot more sense than Ingrid’s. For those of you screaming at your screens, hear me out. I don’t care if Luke fucking served under Napoleon himself, even though he’s got a soldier’s heart and fight, him losing the awareness I’m okay with because it kind of would make sense. He ain’t on the battlefield anymore. Far as he’s concerned, this is goddamn Valhalla. He’s allowed to be a bit on the slower side as opposed to Ingrid, who still has a flesh-and-blood vessel in this constant battlefield of the real world. She ought to have a bit more self-preservation than someone who’s already lived their life on this mortal coil.

Ivan sweating a little in Lakeview because of the threat of AI outing him did absolutely nothing for me. It was a thread that went absolutely nowhere. Having Ingrid work in Lakeview because backup Nathan called her bluff didn’t do a damn thing for me either except throw another carrot dangled into the fire. The reason is that Ingrid’s defending of herself comes off as less of taking a brave stand and more of an explicit threat on “Nora’s behalf”, so the optics come off more as “I’m comfortably wreaking havoc in someone else’s name” than “You’ve affronted me and I’m going to verbally rip you a new one.” That’s some cold-hearted shit and if that wasn’t the intention, was a beat with the already comely Ingrid in the body of the also comely Nora weaponizing her sexuality against of bunch of IT nerds even fucking needed?

It’s a fake high. There is no growth, only static in the scene. You could have done anything else. Maybe I’m the dumb one here, but as much as Ingrid’s vapidity suited her well for a while, I’ve always suspected a smarter person on the inside, almost a Paris Hilton type… but the show’s failed us time and again with any depth to her.

If they wanted us to unequivocally rally around a pretty girl being chastised by IT nerds (which is so old-hat it ain’t even funny anymore when technology is so prevalent in our lives), “This is not the way.” Kids are smarter than you think, guys. Her Tiananmen Square moment seems more like a half-written attack on people who were disappointed in someone who couldn’t do her job. We don’t see her actually redeem herself on the remaining jobs. That could have been such a fucking stellar C plot. For a criminally underwritten part, Allegra truly sells what she’s given. The only difference between her and Ivan is I care about what the shit happens to her.

We wind down the episode with news of a surprise star witness as well as Holden offering Nora a job, surely a thread for next season, and get back to Lakeview with Nathan 2.0 wanting Ingrid to spill the beans. She doesn’t (what a shocker) and though this could have been another chance for her redemption, backup Nathan gives her a pass when the “L Word” is dropped. The more I think about it, the more it seems the show is making their relationship less and less meaningful with each passing deception.

The last few minutes of the episode play out in an almost arty way. It’s actually a glaring slow moment, which leaves me conflicted. On one hand, you have this beautiful dip in momentum, a moment of unbridled calmness and happiness. Honestly? Possibly the first real one I’ve seen this season. It’s meant to stand out for a reason so that the final moments of the episode play out in chaos.

I’m going to chalk this up to an unhappy U-Day, for reasons both intended and not. Who knows, maybe I’ll be duly impressed in the finale.

3.5/5 Stars.

Loki asks what’s “Science/Fiction” when it comes to life?

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As predicted, no one’s dead, but they’re not unaffected either. Loki’s time slipping is back – not sure why – and it’s taking him to specific places. The TVA (before its destruction, obviously), Casey’s timeline (who knew the guy was such a rebel!), Sylvie’s timeline (this is an issue we’ll come back to), B-15’s timeline (poor girl still doesn’t get a name), and Mobius’ timeline (the jet ski connection is finally explained), until he seems to settle on O.B.’s timeline.

Lucky for him O.B. is an aspiring science fiction writer who teaches theoretical physics on the side. Since Loki’s tale reminds him of the book he’s unsuccessfully trying to sell, he’s all ears. His theory is that in order to return to the TVA Loki needs to find others who have a strong connection to it. As Loki’s time slipping has taken him to each one of these individuals, O.B. further surmises that the God of Mischief should be able to control it, after all he hasn’t been slipping randomly. Following many failed attempts Loki suddenly slips after giving O.B. the TVA handbook.

From here the episode becomes a heist movie recruitment sequence – especially once O.B. creates a working temp-pad prototype. The added complication of amnesia makes things a bit tricky but seeing a time door goes a long way to changing people’s minds. The only hold out? Sylvie. The Lady Loki is content to be selfish, sticking to her own world while convincing Loki his motives are no less self-serving. The crisis of faith here really doesn’t compute, but it’s a moot point when Sylvie shows up to warn everyone that the thing Loki’s been saying would happen, is. Without the TVA the branched timelines are dying (uh…why? We’ll be coming back to that, no worries). And, while it makes no sense, it proves motive enough for Loki to get his time slipping under control, leaving us with hope for the finale.

Not a bad episode given the weight of the previous one, but it sure has some issues. As mentioned earlier, my biggest problem is the mythology surrounding the TVA, the variants, and the branched timelines. All three are on full display in this episode. Before we get to those, because it will be a long discussion, let me briefly complain about the crisis of faith here.

When Loki goes to 1982 to recruit Sylvie to the cause, she refuses him. She explains that her motives are purely selfish – she wishes to live out her life, left alone by the drama of the TVA. Ok…sure, I get that. She’s got a lot of issues with the TVA for obvious reasons, but then she turns the argument against Loki. Granted, he kind of forces her hand since he doesn’t fathom why she wouldn’t want to help an institution that tried to hunt and kill her for decades just for existing. Still, she pushes him to admit that his desire to save the TVA has nothing to do with “glorious purpose” (in this case saving the universe and all its timelines), but is rather about getting his friends back. It tracks – Loki, like Sylvie, hasn’t exactly had much luck in the way of personal relationships. Even his failed courtship of himself (Sylvie) had to sting, but at the TVA he bonded with Mobius and to an extent with Casey and O.B., this season. However, even if that is true, and his only reason for wanting to save the TVA is to get his friends back is that so terrible? He has faith that the TVA is an important institution to the fabric of the universe, even if logic says otherwise, so saving the TVA, while tied to his friends, is no less important.

There’s also the very real fact that Sylvie isn’t necessary for him to save the TVA. Or she shouldn’t be, all logic considered. Let’s be honest, Sylvie may have strong feelings about the TVA, but she doesn’t have a strong connection to it in the way that O.B. presents it. B-15, Mobius, Casey, and O.B. all make sense because they worked there, for a long time presumably, but Sylvie didn’t. Sylvie spent her time running away from it and hating it, and ultimately tried to destroy it before learning to ignore it entirely. I mean, just take the hint that she doesn’t want to join your mission and move on man, why take the bait and suddenly give up on this thing you’ve been fighting for the entire fucking season?

OK, back to the larger issues at hand. As I understand it, the TVA’s sole purpose was to prevent branched timelines from being created out of the fear that variants of Kang would eventually come into being and lead to a multiversal war. Before the TVA, the timeline branched without issue (excluding the Kangs). So, why, without the TVA, do the branched timelines suddenly die? If it’s a Kang issue – if Kangs are at the source of the problem – at least show some indication of this. There’s zero mythological explanation for why the branched timelines can’t survive without the TVA.

Issue number 2: If the whole purpose of removing variants from the timeline is to prevent branched timelines, then how do the variants of the TVA have lives to return to on branched timelines? The easiest explanation is that without the TVA pruning variants those original branches happened to get recreated by different variants, but that’s me being generous. Realistically, this is a flaw in the logic.

Lastly there’s Loki and Sylvie. Why didn’t they return to their respective branched timelines? Why did they retain their memories? Let’s tackle the latter first.

It’s possible this has to do with their not being a part of the TVA. All the other variants purposely had their memories erased by Kang, but Loki and Sylvie were meant to be pruned so there was no reason to wipe their minds. Though, it does inspire new questions like, how long ago did Kang wipe everyone’s memories? Did he pick the employees specifically and completely all at once and no one new ever joins the ranks? Loki’s story suggests that any new recruits would be shown their ultimate fate, meaning staying at the TVA would be the better option, but then…isn’t everyone’s ultimate fate death? Also, the trajectory of Loki’s life shown to him is a lie if you think about it. Loki is a variant, his branched life could have gone very differently, he may have lived a lot longer than his “sacred timeline” self. The point is, the memory retention can be understood, even without the memory-wipe aspect there’s the fact that Loki and Sylvie are gods. It’s entirely plausible their magic shields them from memory loss, especially given most of their magic is in mental projection and manipulation.

The branched timeline side of things is tricker. Because my argument would have been, well, the branched timelines didn’t happen because they were removed. However, since all the others returned to their respective branched timelines and I already covered how that might be OK, the question remains. For Loki, the time slipping could be key here. Although, that leaves Sylvie without a proper excuse. My theory then becomes due to their magic Loki and Sylvie were able to return to places they wanted to be, instead of places they were supposed to be. Places they felt were “home”.

A small comment on Loki’s time slipping – how exactly is it back? I get that it was tied to the loom and all but, we never really got an explanation for why it started in the first place, so why is it back? I’m gonna go with plot on this one because it appears to be the only solution to the problem of preventing the destruction of the TVA. It also serves as the means by which Loki is reunited with his friends from the TVA. I did notice, and perhaps I missed it the first time around simply because of the novelty of the thing, that it is a purposeful act. When Loki slips into the future, some part of him knows he’ll be there to prune himself. Here, he slips when the effort to speak with his comrades is either impossible or not helpful, just getting a glimpse until O.B.. With O.B. he only slips again once he gives the physicist the key to the TVA.

I’m curious to see where this goes for the finale (also, will it be a series finale?). Since the temp-pad gets built, I don’t think getting the band back together was actually necessary, but for the thing he needs to accomplish he’ll need all the help he can get. I’m expecting Ravonna, Victor, Kang, and Miss Minutes to return. Likely X-5, Dox and the bunch, and D-90 too. Can I get the odds-on Miss Minutes getting a human form? I don’t know the status of a season three, so if this is a series finale, I’m wagering it’ll be an optimistic one.

Will Loki combat Kang? Will he go back and baby Hitler the man at the end of time? Will he build his own TVA and run it with Sylvie for the purposes of good? Only…wait for it…time will tell!

Bad CGI Gator trailer sees Full Moon Features Fully Embracing Their B-Movie Subculture

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Bad CGI Gator is the latest B-Movie gem from indie low-budget filmmaking darlings, Full Moon Features. Written by Zalmand Band and directed by Danny Draven, the movie is a direct-to-video release that’s decidedly going down the wind tunnels of bad CGI monster flicks such as Eight Legged Freaks or Sharknado. With Fool Moon Features seemingly more adamant in embracing its admittedly bad special effects.

Shot in the Georgia swamplands, Bad CGI Gator is pretty much exactly as it sounds. A B-movie storyline that sees a terrible CGI gator terrorize a group of sexy college graduates. It’s a film that’s about on par as absurd as seeing flying sharks absorbed in tornados, with promise of the premise simply being: this is a bad CGI Gator. Synopsis as follows: 

“Six college grads on Spring Break get a cabin in the swamplands of Georgia. They decide to throw their school laptops in a backyard lake in an act of youthful defiance, which unknowingly turns a lurking alligator into the dreaded and insatiable… Bad CGI Gator!”

“I’ve long been against the overuse of CGI in genre films, and in many ways, this movie is a fun, tongue-in-cheek antidote to that,” says Full Moon’s CEO and founder of Full Moon Features, Charles Band. “When done right, CGI is a great tool to accent special effects. When done wrong…well, we get BAD CGI GATOR! Get ready!”

Full Moon Features is known for its B-Rate direct-to-video horror movies such as Jack Attack and the overall Puppetmaster franchise that were quite popular in the 90s. More recently, the studio has made major headlines in revealing that they’re also making an actual Barbenheimer movie, based on the popular summer trend of seeing Barbie and Oppenheimer. 

Upload Episode 3×6 Review: “Memory Crackers” Doesn’t Crumble Under the Pressure

Punchy, drunk love.

Review:

The sixth episode of Upload (Prime Video) titled “Memory Crackers” spares little time in splitting up both halves of Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) leaving Leia Organa, I mean Luke (Kevin Bigley), a bit jealous. Though Nathan does promise to make time for him, the script gets off to a good start with Viv, now knowing of the truth, in possession of David Choak’s hard drive in the hands of Nathan’s mom, reminding us that time is something they have very little of.

Nicely juxtaposing, for Nora (Andy Allo), time is something that’s suddenly stood still. Aleesha (Zainab Johnson), now her Angel, attempts to calm her down with Karina in her ear, squeezing her for information instead of just squeezing her, whispering pillow talk in bed. The very alive, but heavily drugged Nora in a precise copy of a traditional Lakeview bedroom plays out quicker than I would have liked, as it could have put both women in a spot where they’re forced to be open and transparent with each other, but with Karina (Jeanine Mason) keeping a watchful eye over it all, I understand the logistics on that wouldn’t work in a half-hour time constraint.

Aleesha knows what they’re doing is the opposite of ethical, but Karina knows what buttons of hers to press. Nora does let slip a few vague details, but Aleesha’s able to penetrate the fog in her best friend’s skull enough to warn her before Karina arrives to grill her and guide her through mannerisms. Having Karina buy it and not Miro Mansour (Bassem Youssef) makes me think that they might be setting up Karina for a redemptive turn, as she still seems trusting. Whether they do or don’t though honestly makes no difference to me. A higher-up getting involved with an employee isn’t anything new, but Karina to me doesn’t seem more than a vehicle for Aleesha to get where she needs to be. I’m all for that, but taking that into consideration has me considering what I would have done with that character’s arc.

Cutting Nora loose and dropping her off in the middle of a park, where she finally gets in touch with Nathan doesn’t seem out of the blue as much as it seems abruptly. Sure, where else can they go in the script if she isn’t saying anything plot-wise, the show had a missed opportunity for some real talk between her and Aleesha. Still, the story has a decent motion with real Nathan heading to his mother as Nora goes back to Lakeview to meet backup Nathan, who isn’t taking any more of Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) and her patented deception.

Nathan gets a private few words in with a now-captive David Choak (William B. Davis) while Nora and Nathan 2.0 share a tender moment before all three go on a deep dive into the evil geriatric’s memories. They’ll be there for a while, so they try to fill in a few blanks with each other while hunting for the Choak’s smoking gun. See? That’s what I’m talking about. Let’s get intimate, let’s get vulnerable. It doesn’t have to be so fast-paced all the time. Give it room to breathe.

Backup Nathan getting Nora flustered when he hits on her throws an interesting fly in the virtual ointment. Holden (Kristine Cofsky) encourages it, but Luke (unwittingly) encourages backup Nathan to go for Nora, further murkying an already sticky situation. However, even then, when it comes to back-up Nathan’s views on Ingrid and her extreme devotion, fishing out the conclusion that she inadvertently helped him get with Nora by having his body grown unequivocally tells me his mind hasn’t caught up.

I mean, Nathan is still Nathan, no matter how ya slice him, dice him, bake him, and/or fry him, so lack of emotional maturity seems to be an intractable trait. Clearly, it’s a trait that Ingrid would happily take any day of the week, swilling down her woes at the Lakeview bar.

I’m ecstatic because it’s a reason to see AI Guy (Owen Daniels) who this season is wiping the floor with everybody, scene-stealing-wise. His smile alone is infectious and his hard-hitting advice earns him a kiss on the lips from a fully inebriated, doubtfully enlightened Ingrid. She’s off to make things right with… you guessed it, with Nathan.

Ugh. Come on, Upload. I don’t ask for much, but having Ingrid this long as the histrionic hen, pecking at both Nathans is now beyond reproach and now just a “moment of the show I can emotionally check out of” which is something you don’t want in a series. However, her showing up blitzed, casting woes onto Nathan, gives me temporary hope. Ingrid displays a more vulnerable facet with the bottle of hooch between the two, causing a very crucial but subtle shift to take place: Real-life Nathan may fall for Ingrid again.

The poking and prodding of Choak’s memories yields a few bombshells. We see that evil incarnate is short votes to flip the swing state of Wisconsin, prompting Miro to cash in on a favor, giving the board total dominion over the entire United States with law HR2235. The political angle, though not 100% prevalent, was a through line enough for me not to bat an eyelash at the reveal. I was more interested in that the law gives uploads the right to work. This speaks to something even more sinister, labor laws, which is something that doesn’t get much play in mainstream media, so a big kudos.

Nora does notice Karina in the file, who by the way is currently giving Aleesha such mixed feelings, she goes to the best font of advice she can think of, Luke, upset with Nathan’s new bond with himself. Leesh wouldn’t leave him out in the cold, however, fixing him up a steaming hot cup of undivided attention. Interactions like this bolster my hope that, despite little to no interaction so far this season, my favorite second-season duo (not Nathan and Nora) are getting more screen time.

When both Nathans, Nora, and Ingrid watch a memory containing her pops, Oliver (Barclay Hope) being paid off by Choak himself to rent him the uploads Horizen owns only to of them to save a half-billion dollars, the nail in the coffin isn’t for Choak but rather Oliver when he laments his pockets won’t grow fatter while his daughter still roams the earth. What sticks in my fucking craw is this very optimal moment for growth and grace on Ingrid’s part is unceremoniously shot down when she gets handsy with Nathan. Sure, the alcohol is a goddamn great solution for lubricating the id, but it’s almost as if this series is either too uncomfortable making her character anything but 2D or way too comfortable in portraying her as nothing more than “the mess” until an even bigger shit show arrives. There’s been no satisfying medium thus far and this moment seems like a solid nail in that coffin, which holds the real tragedy in this scene.

The only takeaway Nathan 2.0 and Nora have is that their ‘partners’ had a fun time without them and while it may not seem like much, jealousy is a febrile emotion, so it could set up for some heated talks in the next episode. Yes, Nora realizes that “the fantasy” vs. “the reality” are literally and figuratively worlds apart. Grey zones aren’t just unsanctioned wastelands of unlimited possibilities in a virtual afterlife operated by the evil rich and because nobody involved can afford to wax philosophically on the messy machinations of the heart, feet need to be planted and boundaries set, which Nora does. Injustice may win out in the end if people don’t start hauling ass, so though the episode ends on a bittersweet grey area between all four involved with the memories, we’re also reminded very much throughout this episode that the ‘clock is ticking.’

Owen Daniels’ (yes, AI Guy) first “Written By” credit for the series sets up the last two pretty decently. These days streaming seasons are 10 episodes or less (which is a great thing), so fires need to be lit quicker with a lot more punch than their network counterparts. Though shaky in parts and annoyingly intractable in keeping certain characters whose names I need not repeat from spreading their wings, relationship dynamics were shaken, and a very big fuse I believe was lit.

I mean, come on, you don’t just get over the news of your father wishing you truly were dead, especially while drunk.

4/5 Stars.

‘A Capsule for Robin’ Takes a Meditative Look at the Apocalypse

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How do you plan for a future you won’t be a part of? Is it even worth it? Those are the questions at the heart of writer/director Lalithra Fernando’s sci-fi short film, A Capsule for Robin, which debuted at the International South Asian Film Festival (iSAFF) in Canada and will be screening at Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF, Nov. 2-12), both in person and virtually.

After an unnamed plague wiped out most of the world, Rina (Ami Sheth), one of the few survivors, gathers her remaining friends to celebrate being chosen, along with her husband, Gus (Vandit Bhatt), to be genetic donors for a child who may be born in the future. The title refers to a video they’re all recording to serve as a time capsule for this child. But conflict arises when Gus reveals doubts about bringing kids into an uncertain future that no one they know will be alive to see.

The entire 13-minute film takes place in the couple’s home, coming to life through the characters’ interactions. Unlike a lot of sci-fi, it doesn’t concern itself too much with the nuts and bolts of what went wrong, focusing instead on the toll of the fallout. The apocalypse, described only vaguely in a few lines of dialogue, serves as a backdrop to the human story at the film’s center. And it’s one that reflects thoughts that many of us have likely had, thanks especially to the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. Is it ethical to create a new life when that person might have to live in a terrible world, one nobody can predict? Through finely crafted dialogue and subtle yet emotional acting, the characters in A Capsule for Robin flow between despair and hope as they contemplate their decision.

Rina (Ami Sheth)

The darkness outside is reflected through the literal darkness of the set, with the black of night pressing against the windows in the background. Yet the warmly lit home, which has contemporary trappings apart from a sci-fi gadget being used to record the virtual time capsule, feels familiar and comforting… perhaps representative of the glow of life amid the wash of the void beyond. Quiet and meditative, yet packing an emotional punch, A Capsule for Robin is a beautiful and contemplative look at uncertainty, despair, and hope at the end of the world.

Gus (Vandit Bhatt)

“Science fiction questions the default,” Fernando said in his director’s statement. “Who gets chosen to repopulate the world? What culture do they pass down? More fundamentally, is it even right to bring kids into a troubled world? A CAPSULE FOR ROBIN delves into a somber world and finds characters who still choose to believe in a better future for their children and the world.”

View a trailer for A Capsule for Robin below.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

Upload Episode 3×5 Review: “Rescue Mission” Saves the Dreaded Mid-Season Slump

I mean, ya gotta see what the Power Charging Station looks like to a guy!

Review:

Luke (Kevin Bigley) now a full-time lunch paler rocking the Eddie Bauer business casual is a strong start to the episode. Not that I want A.I. Guy to be turned in, but I’m excited to see more of Luke’s journey. This would be the time to galvanize what relationships are already on shaky ground. Instead? We divide them. Aleesha (Zainab Johnson), beaming from the retreat, hits up her “friend-o” in the Grey Zone. I am taking note that all interactions in the Grey Zone are fitting. Luke being as opaque to Aleesha as Nora (even with her safety in mind) seems like the more digestible way to further her growth, but that also kind of entails the possibility of her mistrusting her crew in the 11th hour. If that is a possibility, I’m very much on board.

The betrayal of trust kicks off the next plot when Nora’s pissed at him for lacking transparency. Luke’s in a bit of a bind, leading us to the inevitable lie of omission on the part of Nora (Andy Allo) to Nathan (Robbie Amell). For the moment, Luke just wants help while Nathan 2.0 wants answers. Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) balks and dips. At the moment, there are still a few embers of hope that her arc may win me over.

Her story diverting to Nathan 2.0 makes sense and I’m a massive fan of Andy’s acting and her honesty in portraying uncertainty. This makes total sense with long-distance relationships. It’s the gap that continues the longing that nourishes the fantasy. Reality distorts that, so I’m curious where this will be headed. Ingrid does catch them, but her genuine emotion in Lakeview and her actual reaction in the bathtub seem incongruous. At least we get to see her do something outside of finding a sliver of agency and pissing it away, right?  Her friend Mersaydeez (Veronica Long) ain’t giving me hope, though.

When Aleesha is brought in to pilot a clone of A.I. Guy (Owen Daniels) in the real world, I’m for it. It’s another trial by fire, so you don’t need to tell me twice to get pumped. Her verbally guiding ebullient A.I. Guy through ten blocks of NYC streets was satisfying because it knocked Lucy down a peg while impressing Karina (Jeanine Mason). Don’t get me wrong, I like that Lucy (Andrea Rosen) is Lucy to the bone, a holdover from a more toxic era. I feel at this juncture, any saving grace to Lucy’s soul would be plucked from the drawer containing Hand of God moments since the only sympathetic bone they’ve thrown at her was during the last episode when she revealed her shitty sleep was due to a divorce. It was a genuine shared moment immediately overshadowed by everything she’s said or done after that. Gee, it’s as if this series doesn’t respect some of its biggest diamonds in the rough sometimes.

With Nora telling Nathan 2.0 he’s the ‘knockoff’ (ouch, but his words), we have an almost a-Ha “Take On Me” moment. Two halves of a whole, two different worlds converging. Now, you’d expect this to have an air of dramatism to it, but it’s played for laughs as a pivot to them now having to work together without Nora. The interesting thing is it puts on display the uniquely human trait of delusion, injecting a banana peel joke either for the fuck of it or as a character trait. He was in the Marines. I’m sure it’s not too far off the mark to know that Luke knows how to mark his trail. At the end of the day, love it or hate it, is still a classic setup for physical comedy.

As both Nathans head to the black market, the tension builds. A rap about relationships past/present is to me about as close to what I believe is spelling out to the audience as they’ve been yet: technology can create a human pumping heart, but it cannot replicate what makes a heart “human”. We’re fucked up, complex creatures that live in the grey area, sometimes our whole lives. Placing both Nathans on an escalator to their destination kind of beats over the head what’s been the story that I’d wish they’d break out of: Nora still remains the object of both their affections, which basically leaves Ingrid out in the cold. It’s like bro, lay off Ingrid. She’s getting some much-needed depth, but it feels like they’re trying to get us to rally around her by dint of her having nobody. As if being alone for the time being wasn’t a noble fucking thing.

Gotta say I’m not a fan of the season dangling independence in front of her face like a fucking carrot before tearing it right out of her head. She may have started as the epitome of avarice, materialism, and possessiveness (all stunning qualities in a would-be villain), but I believe she’s earned the right to stand on her own. There’s no reason why she couldn’t have had this since the beginning of the season. Make it a throughline. Make that your challenge. Have the audience rally around someone we initially were meant not to like through finding oneself. I never said it had to be boring, just don’t make it so that she looks to still be co-dependent.

At VR equine aerobics, although meant to be silly while serving the plot, we’re served naught more than a queef joke served alongside the cold fact that Ingrid isn’t giving herself time to process any hurt and grief. Her plot in this episode could have been so much more. Is having a day to yourself such a bad thing? Sure, writing-wise, it has the potential to be static and go nowhere, but introducing a friend just to show the audience how far she’s come wasn’t really convincing me of any progress.

Her white-hot flashes of independence this season are only tamped down by her blind devotion to Nathan who she only knows exists as an idea. Yes, she cannot cast the first stone, but she’s not undeserving of the companionship of any kind, even in Lakeview. Shit, LA’s got a gargantuan homeless pandemic. I’m not saying throw her in the damn soup kitchen but at least put her in a situation where she’s given a choice, her old life or a new experience. Put her in a slightly uncomfortable reality and let the path of empathy take hold. The writers’ room must know Ingrid’s not a one-note monster, but ya’ll play too damn much. Instead of keeping her the repository of half-baked ideas for character development, why not just do the work and nudge her story more to the front? Keeping a person starved for connection in what is essentially now a bizarre love triangle is playing on the edge of a knife. Let’s hope Ingrid still has hope in her future… without a present Nathan. Wishful thinking, eh?

Luke Leiai’d up to Russian gangster Zalan (Yasen Peyankov) is a sight gag worthy of the setup to break him out. My only reservation is why Luke would want to give up A.I. Guy in the first place. They’d been ‘boyz’ in the past, so it really doesn’t seem like a move that’s totally in line with Luke as we know and love him. I’m not buying that the Grey Zone changed him because we were introduced to this deployment of employment just last episode. One could argue that Luke allowed A.I. Guy to escape, hell, even turning A.I. Guy could be a positive character trait that backfires… but Luke being a standup man would’ve meant he would’ve tried an alternate way before even thinking about the ramifications of giving up what amounts at this moment to his only readily available friend in Lakeview. Fuck bro, he could’ve still landed in the same position if he just tried to go straight to Zalan himself. Luke’s a good person and the banana peel joke I took as an elegant, predictable (by design) visual gag that would portend to him acting without a second thought (which is both great and horrible in a war), but also being a commentary on where the scene is taking place itself. Everything that goes on in the Grey Zone is morally grey, from the conversations to the actions made. It honestly makes me love this series that much more as a whole.

Nora’s plot ends the most abruptly because it’s treated like less of a plot and more of a thread, but a thread that is immediately tugged with great force and vigor. A thread that is part of a virtual sweater that will kick off the antepenultimate episode. We’re in the final stretch. The effective fashion these days in streaming is to truly earmark the last three episodes as truly blowing us away. Fingers crossed.

4/5 Stars.

Addendum: “Rescue Mission” marks a top cameo of the year in television for me (beating out both Jamie Lee Curtis in The Bear in addition to Patton Oswalt in What We Do in the Shadows) with William Gibson as the holographic herald of the Terms and Conditions to the Public Library. If you don’t know who that is, maybe invest (your time) into obtaining a library card. They are the only free pass into the world’s most dangerous place.

Something is rotten at the “Heart of the TVA”

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Last week Miss Minutes (MM) confessed her real motives for helping Victor, Sylvie spared the Kang variant so he could potentially save the TVA, and Ravonna was promised a big reveal.

This week Ravonna learns she was Kang’s #2 until he had her memories erased. MM enlists her help in taking over the TVA, and running it without the man (girl power!), so they go back to recruit Dox and her minutemen to the cause. It does not go well, ending with just one added soldier. Meanwhile, Victor is given the 411 on the looming danger (I had to!). After him and O.B. lamp shade the Ouroboros in the room, he’s happy to put that brilliant mind to the task of saving the TVA. But, MM, Ravonna, and X-5 are not going to make it easy. X-5 kidnaps Victor after pruning D-90 (Neil Ellice) so Ravonna can drill him for information as MM fucks with the facilities. The solution? A system reboot will take the evil AI offline, and give Loki and Sylvie access to their magic within the building.

It works, Sylvie gets the drop on X-5 and enchants him to prune Ravonna, and Victor is rescued. Sadly, though they have all the puzzle pieces ready, the temporal radiation kills Mr. Timely almost instantly (a very untimely death, eh?). And before any kind of Plan B can be made, the loom explodes in the wake of an atomic blast level surge of energy. The bright light heads for Loki and the TVA, and that’s where we end.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

There’s definitely stuff to unpack in this episode. Not only does Ravonna prove why she was Kang’s #2—ruthlessly murdering Dox and her squad via time box when most of them refuse to align with her, but MM goes full psycho. I’ll give credit to the animators here because they expertly capture the morbid glee as it gradually takes over her face. At first she’s kind of shocked, maybe embarrassed, but by the end she’s given into it completely. It’s a chilling scene.

We finally learn what happened in the future Loki visited. Who the phone was for, who Sylvie was looking at, and who pruned him. In yet another time paradox twist, Loki (forced to take the stairs thanks to MM) comes upon himself, hears the phone, and realizes what moment this is. Yes, Loki pruned himself. Hiddleston does some great, subtle heavy lifting but Di Martino matches it with her own. Sylvie watches her comrade get pruned only to then see who did the pruning. The two of them perfectly convey the absolute insanity they can’t linger on because that phone needs answering. Who’s calling? Why O.B. and Casey to remind Loki and Sylvie of the ticking clock, but also to suggest shutting down MM.

Then there’s that ending. It reminded me of both “Lamentis” and “The Nexus Event” from season 1. The first episode mentioned finds Loki and Sylvie trapped on a doomed moon as it explodes, while the second is when Loki is pruned. Both are solid cliffhangers, and this one follows suit. Still, since we know there’s two episodes left this season it’s unlikely Loki and the gang are actually dead. The real question is where do we pick up?

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Will we see Ravonna in the land of Lokis (a potential army if she can wrangle them)? Will it be a flashback to Kang and Ravonna’s war? Maybe it’ll follow MM’s journey this far up to her reboot. It’s a juicy mystery, perfect for a thirsty audience.

Let me say that while I did enjoy this episode, there are problems with it. Firstly, what exactly is Ravonna and MM’s plan for the TVA? Renslayer’s carrot to Dox and her squad was a place on the sacred timeline (ST) if they wanted it, but that just brings me back to the issue with Brad’s episode. If being a variant is what fucks up the ST, then how do you return a variant to the ST? Also, does Ravonna know why the ST is sacred? MM made a strong case for saying nuts to the patriarchy and letting the women run the show, but wasn’t the whole point of the ST to prevent Kang variants? If that’s the issue, then once again, the easiest solution is to form a Kang hunting squad, no? I really don’t trust MM at this point, and if Ravonna is smart she won’t either.

Consider the memory she played for Ravonna, how do we know that’s not doctored? Getting rid of Kang’s #2 puts MM right back where she wants to be—by his side for all of time. Given she’s basically the system there’s no reason not to believe she altered that footage to pit Ravonna against Kang.

However, a very important flaw becomes clear here. If MM was in love with the man at the end of time why didn’t she save him? It’s clear from this season she has corporeal capabilities: she can grab things, possibly push people, so why not hulk out and save the man she loved when two rogue Lokis were gunning for him? On the one hand you can argue that maybe Kang told her to stand down, maybe he locked her out, or maybe she’s just not strong enough, all fantastic counters but the larger issue is mythology.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

See, when you world build, you need to have a plan. In order for it to work right and please the audience, world building can’t be a seat of your pants, fly by night operation. If MM is going to be a sinister figure, to the degree that once Gen. Dox sees her it clearly causes concern, you need to set that up in the first season. Otherwise the brain goes… wait… why is the general so afraid or distrustful of the cartoon clock? Was this always a thing? Has Dox brought this concern up to anyone in the past? What happened between Dox and MM? What does Dox know about MM?

Dox is new this season, as is evil MM, and while Ravonna isn’t, her alliance with MM isn’t well established. I love O.B., I love that Casey has a better place in his world suddenly, the temporal loom is growing on me, but there are times when these changes are blatantly shoehorned in. And, while I have nothing against adding new characters or new motives to old characters, if you’re going to evolve an already conceived world, it needs to be done so it makes sense. Sequels based on high concept worlds fail for me when they ignore or break rules they’ve established in the first movie (book or season).

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a good example of this. Wreck-It Ralph established some cool rules in the first movie which the sequel promptly takes a sledgehammer to. A weak story didn’t help, but rule breaking made it worse. The first season of Loki put enough bricks in place that the second season is now clumsily tripping over as it tries to expand the TVA.

Still, I’m along for the ride. Let’s see what’s on the other side of that bright ass light.

‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Ends Season 4 Heavy of References but Light on Plot

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Image: Paramount+

The problem with a show being very, very good is that you wind up expecting more and more from it. An episode that you once might have appreciated as, “Oh, yeah, that was decent,” feels more like, “Eh, they could have done better.”

Star Trek: Lower Decks has set the bar extremely high for itself. For four seasons now, it has proven to be more than a cartoon comedy that parodies its own franchise. It’s also a solid sci-fi show in and of itself, presenting great character development and unexpected stories as well as references and humor. And with its season-long plot arc, showing various alien vessels being attacked by a random mysterious ship nearly every episode, it also set the bar high for how it would all conclude.

Image: Paramount+

Episode 410, “Old Friends, New Planets,” does manage to tie up the mysterious ship plot with a neat little bow in just 20 minutes, while also allowing for its signature humor and references. That’s a pretty impressive feat. The execution, though, felt a bit… easy.

The episode opens with a flashback to Starfleet Academy, back when Mariner was a bright-eyed bushy-tailed little froshling. Nova Squadron, from the famous/infamous Next Generation episode “The Last Duty,” is discussing the ill-fated maneuver that will get Nick Locarno — revealed at the end of last week’s episode to be this season’s Big Bad — expelled. Of course, all the original voice actors are back… would it even be Lower Decks without such fan service?

Thirteen years later, Locarno still hasn’t gotten over being kicked out. All those ships that looked destroyed were actually being stolen… by their own lower deckers, who then marooned the officers. And the point of all this? Why, to form an independent fleet! Nova Fleet! And what exactly will Nova Fleet do? It seems nobody knows… all these lower deckers were just sick of being pushed around and looked down upon.

And you know what? The show could actually have taken that somewhere. The Cerritos itself is hampered from saving Mariner after Locarno nabs her because Starfleet’s bureaucracy doesn’t want to risk ruffling non-Federation feathers. How many redshirts have died senselessly across five-plus decades of Star Trek, sometimes because of profoundly unwise decisions made by the command crew around which the shows revolved? This show is called Lower Decks, and it might have been interesting to explore the perspectives of low-ranking officers and crewmen who, unlike our Cerritos team of Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford (and now T’Lyn), are thoroughly disillusioned and disgruntled, possibly for good reason.

Image: Paramount+

But, no. Nova Fleet, and Locarno himself, serve only to function as wild-eyed, one-dimensional villains for our heroes to defeat. Locarno kidnapped Mariner thinking she, the forever ensign (alongside Harry Kim! But that’s a topic for another post), would appreciate his mission. Which of course she does not. I guess they already had Mariner quitting Starfleet in a huff last season, so they couldn’t exactly do something like that again. Instead, she barely pretends to side with Locarno, then immediately snaps into Hero Mode when given the chance, interrupting his Big Villain Speech and taking off with his bargaining chip, a black-market Genesis device. The ensuing chase is… not very interesting, to be honest. Some clever maneuvers, some tossed-off quips. Visually pretty, but somehow not much fun… maybe because it was so predictable.

The plot with the Cerritos fared better. After being denied Starfleet’s assistance, Captain Freeman goes rogue. And of course her entire crew sides with her. Thanks to Tendi, they have a plan for penetrating the super-high-tech shield Locarno has keeping enemies away from Nova Fleet… and Nova Fleet (including the ship Mariner steals) inside the star system. It’s to obtain an Orion war ship from Tendi’s sister, introduced earlier this season during Trek‘s first-ever jaunt to the Orion home world.

Image: Paramount+

Tendi’s solution — to pit a Cerritos fighter against an Orion one, and to choose Dr. Migleemo because the big Orion fighter has allergies — was quite fun to watch. I mean, Migleemo puffing up and causing the enormous warrior lady to knock herself out wheezing was pretty hilarious. Unfortunately, she faints on top of the hapless counselor, making her technically the winner. So Tendi offers up herself in exchange for the ship instead, and her sister accepts. The continuation of the Orion story line was pretty satisfying, and Tendi’s bargain means we’ll get to see more in Season 5.

There were a few other delightful moments as well — Boimler and Rutherford arguing over Locarno’s resemblance to Tom Paris, a throwback to one of the more absurd moments this season (the Twains, also from the fourth episode), Boimler thoroughly enjoying himself as acting captain, T’Lyn just being T’Lyn. And getting to see Freeman stick her neck out for her troublemaker daughter was fantastic; I daresay Freeman was the best part of the episode.

Image: Paramount+

All in all, “Old Friends, New Planets,” was an enjoyable, if somewhat disappointing watch. Perhaps Lower Decks tried to squeeze too much plot into a few 20-minute episodes. Perhaps it just set the bar so high after the first three seasons, that it was bound to stumble eventually. Perhaps it got so formulaic with its set up — depicting a different alien vessel vanishing each week, plus having Mariner very obviously self-sabotage in each episode — that any conclusion would have felt too easy (Mariner’s big revelation last week seems to have resolved all her issues once and for all, the speed and expediency of which weakened an otherwise great episode; oh, and I rolled my eyes so hard when Locarno got offed… mostly because he turned out to be such a flat villain, and his demise was pretty flat too despite a last-ditch joke).

Or perhaps Lower Decks starting to outgrow its premise. Remember how the show was supposed to be about the lowest-ranking officers on the least important ship in the Federation? About overlooked underdogs and the workplace-type humor of being just an average shmoe in Starfleet? Perhaps the lower deckers are still only lieutenants junior grade, with plenty of menial duties, and perhaps the Cerritos is still technically a support ship, but the plots keep escalating, as TV plots tend to a few seasons in. Often, it feels like shows can’t accept that it was the lower stakes their earlier episodes that allowed the characters and fun to thrive, and instead have to keep pushing and pushing for bigger external threats, at the expense of what made it special.

Image: Paramount+

I hope Lower Decks doesn’t go in that direction. One thing that was sorely lacking from this season finale was that heart-of-gold warmth that earlier seasons managed, and perhaps that was because Mariner was isolated from the rest for the majority of the episode. I get that Mariner has to develop eventually, but this season seems to have sanded off her edges… her defiance and self-sabotage was so blatant as to be unbelievable (you, like Ransom early on, knew she was doing it on purpose).

After a generally solid season, I was hoping for a conclusion as epic as that of Season 3, but I get it, it’s a tall order. So credit where credit’s due — Season 4 tied up its plot threads very neatly (a little too neatly) and served up its usual amusing fare and fan-pleasing references.

Episode 410, “Old Friends, New Planets”: 3 / 5 stars

Lower Decks Season 4: 4/5 stars

‘The Retrieval’ Is An Irritating Step Back for Magnum P.I.

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MAGNUM P.I. -- "The Retrieval" Episode 515 -- Pictured: Bobby Lee as Jin Jeong -- (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

After last week’s great episode of Magnum P.I., I had high hopes for this week’s episode, called “The Retrieval”. Especially once I discovered that my favorite former convict, Jin Jeong, played a role in it. Unfortunately, I found this episode a step backwards, and don’t feel Jin was given enough to work with in order to really shine comedically.

It all begins with the team plus Jin outside at a wooden table eating Korean ribs and eggs for breakfast. Despite placing his order last, somehow Jin got an extra rib, which Magnum gives the cook a hard time about. It’s in good fun, but he guesses correctly that it’s just a tribal thing, since the cook is also Korean, and even gives Jin a little secret fist bump. It’s good that Jin gets a little boost, since the rest of “The Retrieval” does not go his way.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Retrieval” Episode 515 — Pictured: (l-r) Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright, Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

The main story involves a group of gamers that haven’t met in person, but who regularly play raids in a game called BattleCraft online. They Zoom our favorite investigators about a concern. Their friend Artemis2673 (they don’t know his real name) suspiciously missed a raid he planned, and they haven’t been able to reach him afterwards. One of them, named Minka, is especially concerned, and so Thomas and Juliette take the case, certain it’ll be an easy solution.

At first Magnum and Juliette are bored out of their minds watching replays of the BattleCraft games, until she finds the point where Arty went missing. He had placed a food order, and Higgy hacks that to find his real identity, Kilo Mona. This leads to information that Kilo has been missing at work as well, at the Oahu Family Clinic. When they go to his residence for clues, they find a bloody scene with signs of a struggle. Magnum retraces Kilo’s steps and uses a plastic bag to get a blood sample. Meanwhile Juliette checks his computer and finds pretty serious threats against Kilo / Artemis from someone that goes by Chewy. Including a photo of where Kilo lives.

Back at La Mariana, Jin is super twitchy with Rick and T.C. about his ex partner in crime getting out of prison. His name is Beau, and turns out him and Jin don’t have a great relationship. For one, he considers Jin his lacky, not even a sidekick. For another, he’s not there to visit. No, Beau needs his cut that Jin had been hiding away for him. Beau promised it to someone named Heavy Mike to protect him in prison, and if he doesn’t get it to him quick, there will be serious trouble.

So, Jin shows up at the crime scene Thomas and Higgy are working, leaning on their car trying to look cool. He needs their help finding a dryer where he hid a map that leads to the cut. The problem is, his landlord sold the dryer on Craigslist. Lucky for him, Higgy is a great hacker, and finds the new location of the dryer in moments. Which is about the last thing that goes right for Jin.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Retrieval” Episode 515 — Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Ignoring Jin for a moment, Thomas and Juliette get an update from Minka, who knows a bit about the mysterious Chewy. Despite the threats he’d been sending, turns out Chewy is a 15 year old kid named Sam. He was upset because Kilo had implied he was cheating in BattleCraft, which took away any chance of getting sponsored. But he’s not a criminal mastermind. The only thing he helps with is providing the last known location of Kilo, which oddly enough was at the clinic he works at.

The clinic is air gapped, so Magnum and Higgins have to pretend to be there as clients. They talk with a Dr. Lim about wanting a family, and have a pretend argument about different parenting styles that very much doesn’t feel like it’s entirely make believe. Thankfully it works well enough, and the doctor leaves to give them space to talk, which Higgins uses to hack her computer. As she does, they talk about discipline and freedom, and Juliette reminds Magnum she went to boarding school, so he can guess where her parenting style stands. Then they find an email that the clinic had been robbed. Not of cash, but of frozen embryos. And wouldn’t you know it, the missing Kilo was a lab tech.

When Dr. Lim returns they give her the third degree, and she reveals Kilo’s keycard had been used to access the lab. She was sworn to silence by the true criminals behind it, but they also used burner phones and disguised their voices. The reason she didn’t say anything is she was warned not to involve the police, otherwise the embryos would be opened to the warm air and ruined. The only thing helpful she reveals is the embryonic container has a tracking chip, and she had been tracking it up until the signal suddenly cut out.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Retrieval” Episode 515 — Pictured: (l-r) Stephen Hill as Theodore “TC” Calvin, Bobby Lee as Jin Jeong — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

In the ongoing misadventures of Jin, him, T.C. and Beau go to find the dryer in disguise, pretending to work for an energy company. They manage to talk their way into an older woman’s house, and Jin finds the map. At first it looks like gibberish, but he’s a fan of Mad Magazine, and shows how folding it a certain way reveals a hidden message. One that seemingly leads to the buried loot.

Magnum and Juliette track the last location of the signal, and find a dead end. Literally. Not only was the transmitter ripped out of the container, but they find Kilo’s corpse nearby. And as a gamer myself, I was a little perturbed that the one time they don’t save the victim in Magnum P.I., it’s a gamer. But that’s a conversation for another day. Gordon is pissed that he was kept out of the loop, and Kilo’s friends, once informed, are bereft. You might think this was the end of this episode, but there’s a twist coming that keeps it going.

When our duo returns to Dr. Lim, she reveals that now the criminals that were extorting her are extorting patients individually. Meaning her efforts to hide the theft are over, and things aren’t great. Worse, it seems the criminals were extorting vulnerable individuals, such as cancer survivors. One is named Lana Turk, and it seems odd she hasn’t been in touch. So the two go to meet her, and find her about to pull out of the driveway with a bag full of cash. She talks with our team, and they convince her not to pay the ransom for her stolen embryos. Instead, they’re gonna try things Gordon’s way, and set up a sting.

As for Jin, he’s lazily lounging while T.C. and Beau dig up piles of dirt, only to realize that his map lead to the wrong place. So he tells them to move someplace else, only to remember the map was a decoy. He actually didn’t bury the cut, he gave it to his mentor, a man that goes by Squirrel. Information that doesn’t go over well with the two men that had been doing all the hard work.

MAGNUM P.I. — “The Retrieval” Episode 515 — Pictured: Tim Kang as Detective Gordon Katsumoto — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

Long story short, it turns out that Lana has been lying to everyone. She said she was married and had to put aside the embryos thanks to a cancer scare. But she’s actually divorced, meaning she doesn’t have access to her own embryos. Worse, she’s one of the people behind the whole theft, along with a partner named Nico. Magnum and Higgy track them to a mall, and both split off to chase one of the criminals. Higgy fights with Lana in a kitchen, while Magnum has to chase Spider-Man lite all around. Nico hurls the lid off the container to distract Magnum, so he’s forced to grab it and secure it before the embryos are ruined. Luckily Gordon is there to clothesline the criminal before he can escape.

“The Retrieval” ends with Jin forced to refill the holes that T.C. and Beau dug up, Beau getting his cut to Heavy Mike, and Thomas and Juliette talking more about kids. She’s worried their love won’t be enough in the face of their different styles, but he’s convinced they can make it work. A good enough episode, but I really hope for better next week.

NYCC 2023 Exclusive Interview: Dee Snider on Messed Up Parents, John Denver and His Upcoming Graphic Novel from Z2 Comics

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Speaking truth to power isn’t a new concept but in the form of music, the accompaniment of melody turns mere words into fucking war chants. From Aretha Franklin’s divine command of the alphabet on “Respect” to Zach de la Rocha’s belted bombs of ‘Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!’ on “Killing In The Name Of”, bubbling frustrations and otherworldly anger is distilled to their rawest form: the anthemic roar.

This doesn’t mean that it’s always welcomed. Look to the ancient Greeks. The Athenians invented “freedom of speech”, but Socrates was also tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by Hemlock for ‘corruption of the youth’ when he implored others to think for themselves by questioning authority (in this case, the gods). Even in 1985, one year after Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was released and 2,421 years after Socrates’ death putting hypocrisy (another Greek invention) on the map, things haven’t changed, but neither has the damn fire in our bellies to fight for what’s right.

I was just under a year old when the trio of Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider faced down a snarling committee of the Parents Music Resource Center (or PRMC) in Capitol Hill. As an import from El Salvador, a country going through its own blood-soaked rebellion, I was far too young to realize something major was happening in my new country of America that was to change the course something that would turn out to be a lifelong love and obsession for me: music.

Only years later in the 1990s, during the formative teenage years of free thought and rebellion would I see specials on VH1 and MTV that went deep into the archival stacks to show the real backstory of some of music’s most watershed moments did I learn of the origins of the Parental Advisory sticker, a stamp I once saw as more of a badge of honor on a Cassette or CD for the artist as much as it was for the consumer. To be fair, my mother was a music teacher, and God-fearing as she is, she never restricted musical tastes in the house. (I just wasn’t allowed to watch Simpsons, lest I follow Bart Simpson into the depths of depravity. How does that work?)

Of the fifteen artists in question on this “Filthy Fifteen” list as a sort of bellwether (or rather cowbell) of what’s morally objectionable in the then-modern day music scene, Daniel “Dee” Snider stepped up to represent. The reason? The iconic music video “We’re Not Gonna Take It” portrayed “violence”. Not his song lyrics. Not his message, his music video and one could see that he was going to show Tipper Gore and the Stepford Wives of the Senate that behind his snarling, ambiguous look that is theatrical, his actual words and intentions are the real thing they should be worried about… because they speak truth to power.

Dee Snider with co-writer Frank Marrafino (Marvel Zombies) and the amazing art of Steve Kurth (Avengers, X-Force) take it from the stage to the page in Dee Snider: HE’S NOT GONNA TAKE IT, an explosive 117-page graphic tome from Z2 Comics. I sit down with the legendary rocker from Long Island and get a bit of the skinny on failed band names and the lasting effect of dunking on OG Karens for all to witness in the name of artistic freedom.

Transcript below:

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Robert Kijowski: I’m Robert Kijowski for the Workprint. I’m here with Dee Snider speaking about his new graphic novel, “He’s Not Gonna Take It.” It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.

Dee Snider: Thank you.

RK: Brio. Grit. Determination. These permeate the entire book. What was the spark of you wanting to make a visual realization about this all?

DS: Well, in all honesty, I didn’t really think about it until Z2 Comics approached me and felt that it was a great graphic novel in not just me going to Washington, but how I became that voice moment at that moment in time.

RK: Yeah.

DS: You don’t just appear from the aether-

RK: Yeah!

DS: You know?! It’s like I had a whole life behind me before that and I know that different people like to get their information in different ways. Like in this day and age, there are people who will not read books, but they will listen to books on tape endlessly.

RK: That is very true! Yeah.

DS: There are people who like a visual representation who don’t just want words on a page. They want to see some images go with it, so I knew that. I’m a fanboy, so I knew the graphic novel would tell the story to people who might not normally hear and know about the story. Plus, I get to be portrayed like a superhero.

RK: Oh, definitely, definitely. The art is honestly in the book is as kinetic as your music. What was it like working with a co-writer and a comic book artist?

DS: Well, credit to my son Jesse, who’s written comics at Marvel and DC and they said “Who do you want to use as an artist,”  and he recommended the artist when Z2 saw him, please, look up his name [Steve Kurth]… when Z2 saw him, they said this is the guy and he did an amazing job. So, to see those- my life brought to life in that incredible comic, and by comic, not comedic but just that way those impossible shots that comics get…I wanted me on stage from an angle that I knew existed, but there was no person or camera [at the time] that could see me like that, the hand reaching up [gesticulates holding up microphone], it was just amazing and the artist really just brought the whole story to life. And that’s, I wouldn’t say the most essential part, of course, the story is, but to have something to really capture that, frenetic, you use the word frenetic energy…it is frenetic.

RK: Yes!

DS: Yes!

RK: You mention designing band logos and coming up with band names. Are there any that you remember from your youth?

DS: Sure! I mean, you know, there’s “Snider’s Spiders” and “Dusk”, D-U-S-K, which I mention in there, and “Heathen“… “Quivering Thigh“…

RK: Ooh!

DS: Pretty good one!

RK: I like that one!

DS: That was from an R. Crumb comic.

RK: Oh, nice!

DS: Quivering thigh. And a horrible name that I didn’t come up with… a band called “This”. T-H-I-S!

RK: T-H-I-S?

DS: And when they told me the name of the band, I said “That’s the name of the band, THIS?” and they said “Yeah, like this is great, this is the best” and I’m like “What about this sucks??”

RK: Yes! Perfect rebuttal. The perfect rebuttal!

DS: Exactly! When I joined Twisted Sister and they wanted to change the name I said “Ohh, no. That’s money. That’s the keeper! We ain’t changing that name, Twisted Sister.”

RK: It’s got the rhyme, it’s got just the perfect amount of syllables-

DS: Yeah, everything.

RK: Now, you also touch upon a song from your childhood that immediately would make you cry. My mother actually had a song that she would sing at the piano as well that would immediately and instantaneously make me weep.

DS: Ohh.. let’s commiserate for a second… yeah, what a fucked up thing, yeah, sorry-

RK: Yeah! It’s all good.

DS: Yeah, yeah! It was “So Long, It’s Good To Know You” by Woody Guthrie!

RK: Yes!

DS: And when they [parents] realized how I reacted to the song, they would play it incessantly and laugh! They thought it was hysterical that this child was weeping! But it struck a chord with me, a sadness, but why on earth would you do that to a kid?

RK: That’s true!

DS: Why? Why?!

RK: Yeah, I totally fucking agree with you! Now you were also part of the triumvirate that was [Frank] Zappa and [John] Denver as well with the PMRC. What did it feel like watching them on screen, kicking ass?

DS: Well, I knew they would be there and I was the only one on the “Filthy Fifteen”, so we were spokespeople-

RK: You came to represent!

DS: I came to represent. Frank, you know, I knew where he would stand, and he was brilliant. But Frank and I were in the back area, John was coming from NASA, where they were interviewing him to be the first musician in space, and he was so “mom, American Pie”; we were worried that he would be against us.

RK: Yeah.

DS: And as we watched him speak, his words were so profound because coming from someone appearing straight [laced], which it turns out he wasn’t, he hit very hard to the conservative people that this icon John Denver compared what was going on to book burnings in Nazi Germany!

RK: Yes! Yes.

DS: We were so happy the people were cheering.

RK: I have to honestly say, the PMRC thing was a total inspiration for me.

DS: Thank you.

RK: What does it feel like for the new legions of fans coming up to you and saying, “I’ve seen this on Youtube”? How inspiring, how inspired is that?

DS: It’s crazy that it resonated for decades. It’s taught in schools. And days go by when somebody just like walks up to me and just shakes my hand and says “Thank you!” At the time, with the exception of Frank and John, I felt very left out and hung out to dry.

RK: Yeah.

DS: Most of the music industry sort of just went quiet. They agreed to the sticker. My phones were tapped. My mail was being checked.

RK: Yes, that’s nuts!

DS: Yeah, all that stuff was going on and it really felt like, “What did I do?” Part of me said, “Did you make a mistake here?” but I did what was right. So I never regret doing what’s right.

RK: I will say, I read the comic through and through; it’s a true inspiration.

DS: I haven’t read it yet, so thank you.

RK: I will say, you are a true testament. To anybody that naysays or dream-kills, you are a true testament in saying “Fuck you guys, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do, and I’m going to make it work.” Total inspiration.

DS: People, those are my words, but he heard them and he’s regurgitating them to you! And that’s what really needs to happen! People need to spread the message.

RK: Buy the book! Buy the book!

DS: Spread the message.

RK: He’s not gonna take it.

DS: And you’re not alone either!

RK: It was a pleasure talking with you, sir!

DS: Thank you!

Dee Snider: HE’S NOT GONNA TAKE IT from Z2 Comics will be available at retailers everywhere on November 21st, 2023.

An Interview with Christian Angeles and Jameson Matunas on the Tomb of Baalberith V2

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It’s not every day I get to interview a friend and colleague about an exciting crowdfunding project. But that’s exactly what happened today! I got to interview Christian Angeles and artist Jameson Matunas about their inclusion in a new horror anthology on Kickstarter called The Tomb of Baalberith V2. The following is a transcription of our conversation.


The Workprint: First and most important, how cool has it been working with Mark McKenna and Virtual Inks Inc. (VII) to contribute a story to The Tomb of Baalberith V2?

The Tomb of Baalberith V2 | Christian

Christian Angeles: Mark has been an amazing friend and mentor so I’m excited to be working with him, to say the least. One of the original members of John Romita SR’s Romita’s Raiders, the man has more publications with his name than most professionals in the industry, with over 2000 titles.

Not only is Mark the coolest in my book, but in 2017, I won a comics writing contest with my story, Paperless. It was a contest to make a comic book in a day where Mark McKenna was one of the judges, and he absolutely loved my story I made about a tree come to life who effectively became a CEO, replacing a human labor force with anthropomorphic trees. That said, Mark got me my start both there and with this comics anthology. We’ve been good friends ever since.

The Tomb of Baalberith V2 | Jameson

Jameson Matunas: When you pull back and look at Mark’s overwhelming tower of contributions, it is humbling. When I first got to sit down and speak with Mark, he was warm and welcoming. Mark’s passion for storytelling runs deep and it shows in his conversation, collaboration, and creation. He has a way of passing on his creative fire.

 

TWP: Tell us a little about yourself. What comics specifically got you excited about creating your own stories?

CA: In 2011 I tore my Achilles tendon and was bed ridden in recovery for 9 months. While in recovery, that was when I read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. A story which changed the course of my life. Before that, I was pursuing a career in academic psychology and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a series of prospects in my future. But reading that comic book, seeing the world from the perspectives of the Endless, these anthropomorphic larger than life entities encompassing life’s deepest intricacies – I was hooked.

That’s when I realized everything in my life up until then was a lie. I knew there and then I wanted to be a writer, and soon after, read everything by Gaiman and the legendary Alan Moore, who was sort of Gaiman’s mentor in comics. I wanted to make larger than life stories to change the world for the better. That’s my mission in life whether it be through fiction or random acts of kindness.

JM: Being able to express your experiences, your innermost feelings, your burdens and your dreams.. is healing. I first felt the flicker of reflection, in comics specifically over any other medium. Reading panels, you can reread or linger, sequentially or not. You tell the story chosen through how you enjoy interacting. Finding myself in each read, each character, supplied endless moments of self discovery – of knowing who and what I needed to become.

My first love was X-Men #23 by Clairmont/Lee. I remember Cyclops is being influenced by Mr. Sinister. Tension between Scott and his love was palpable. Scott never dons his blue and yellow armor, instead wearing a trenchcoat and scarf, all the while being hunted by a gang of ruthless mercenaries. Which struck me as beautiful, because I realized the magic of storytelling – that I was hanging on the words of an underhanded discussion between villain and hero as they quietly walked through a chilly winter forest, I was more concerned about a guy with relationship turbulence and gray moral conversations. There was no victory, just more complications when trying to navigate the choices before you.

The Tomb of Baalberith V2 | Demons

TWP: What are you hoping to bring to your tale of terror in Tomb of Baalberith V2?

CA: I wrote about it extensively in a previous post, but ideally, I wanted to take something I found toxic in today’s culture, in this case the be-all-end-all chase for fame and commentary on it. I did so with an examination of beauty influencer culture and Instagram celebrities. People selling their looks for a dream of being famous, with the intention of portraying a character who would absolutely do anything within her power to be famous through her good looks. Sort of that dream taken too far.

The idea was never to shame people pursuing this as a career, but rather, to stress that there are indeed toxic people who will do anything to get that level of success and fame they feel entitled toward. My character, Brandi, is exactly that type of character. What results… isn’t so much a foreboding tale as much as it is… sort of acknowledging a truth we take for granted.

That some people only care about themselves. That there are those willing to sell what’s theirs in order to conquer the world. Way I see it, there’s a toxic nature in the be all end all type of thinking that I think is in some ways, is a terrible influence on youth of today. I wanted to showcase this type of monster.

The Tomb of Baalberith V2 | Succubus Draft

JM: I was hoping to infuse the tale with a sense of self awareness. A sense that while we may not be Brandi, or even live her life, her choices are our choices. Her desires are human and her choices are what define the character and perhaps the mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly.

For approaching the illustration, making certain her emotions, specifically pain, was genuine. Allowing for a deep and lasting moments of empathy and self reflection.

 

TWP: Tomb of Baalberith V1 had creators doing double duty as artist and writer. How has it been teaming up with someone else to create a story for this volume?

CA: Sometimes in life, you find moments of serendipity and Jameson and I meeting has been that for me this past year. We have similar visions of wanting to wake up modern culture and media from what I call, THE GREAT DISTRACTION. We both want to make stories that say something about the times, rather than create more escapist entertainment that so proliferates our culture today. His art style and vision absolutely sees my strange dreams become reality so it’s been amazing for me to say the least. I also give him a lot of free rein to be himself, as I do think comics are a partnership between art and story. An agreement of saying something important done to the best of our ability, using the tools available to us… Because it’s both our art, but also, our life story, and it’s been thrilling to grow with him to say the least.

JM: It’s been a dream. Christian and I are parallels. We have the same fire for self growth and expression. We have built ourselves in similar ways with different tools. Communication and creativity are free flowing. Adjusting from conversation to conversation to serve our dreams. We help each other best we can, which makes even the most strenuous moments fun and memorable.

The best part has been making something beautiful that could not have existed without our combined energy.

 

TWP: I’ve backed a lot of videogames, but not as many graphic novels. What sort of exciting rewards is this project using to incentivize backers?

CA: There are a lot of tiers for the Kickstarter but the biggest one is the both the digital and physical books themselves, including signed copies of everything. There’s also commissioned art and original pieces from all of our artists and a wrap around variant cover from Shawn McManus. We also have T-shirts and bottle openers too, along with prints that Mark’s been gracious to share with backers, taken from his personal portfolio.

The Tomb of Baalberith V2 | T shirt

TWP: This question is for your artist, Jameson. I find artwork is often what first draws me to comics. How did you get your start drawing, and what are some of your inspirations?

JM: I think.. Static imagery. Still photography, illustration, painting.. are ways to hold onto a feeling.. Forever. I’ve never been able to separate from the endless energy a single image can provide. Alphonse Mucha and Rembrandt classically and Bachalo, Coipel, JRR, Kuberts, Murphy, Ramos, Lee, Kirby, Scalera, Nihei, Mora, and DiMeo contemporarily.

The Tomb of Baalberith V2 | Clown

TWP: Also for Jameson – Do you enjoy horror? What’s your favorite genre to illustrate?

JM: I do love horror! I love Noir imagery, striking uses of shadow and composition. Horror allows for freedom to play on the subtle and subconscious. The shadows, deep blacks, loose or obscured lines. The imagination does the heavy lifting when viewing horror. I think any story can hold calm, still moments that matter. I find that fitting those moments in any genre make it exciting.

Though, slice of life has to be my favorite to illustrate. Making the mundane extraordinary will always be my daily effort.

 

TWP: If Tomb of Baalberith V2 does well, are there any plans for a third volume down the line?

CA: That’s entirely up to Mark but I will say this is the beginning of Jameson and my partnership on the comics journey. My bet is yes. Though, if so, I’d like to do an entirely new story about the trying times of today. That was always the mission. To say the things we’re too afraid of addressing kind of like the series Black Mirror or the Twilight Zone.


Many thanks to Christian and Jameson for their time. And if you like what you’ve heard, be sure and check out The Tomb of Baalberith V2 on Kickstarter!