Last time we saw the seven misfit super(anti)heroes who make up the Umbrella Academy, they had narrowly escaped the fiery cataclysm that resulted when several chunks of moon shrapnel crashed into the Earth, obliterating the planet and wiping out the rest of the human race. Now they’re back, having traveled through time and space to Dallas in 1963, where (surprise, surprise) they’re once again facing an imminent apocalypse, this time somehow linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But to make matters even worse, the entire team has been split up.
The first trailer for the upcoming second season gives us a good rundown of what’s going on and where our protagonists have ended up: necromancer and drug addict Klaus (Robert Sheehan), unsurprisingly, has landed himself in a psychedelic cult; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has become a lawyer specializing in civil rights, and I can already envision plenty of scenarios in which she uses her mind-control powers to win cases; Luther (Tom Hopper), the team’s muscle-bound strongman, is working as a boxer; Diego (David Castañeda), the guy with all the knives, is stuck in a mental hospital with a new character who appears to be his love interest; Vanya (Ellen Page), the seemingly harmless violinist who caused the apocalypse with her ability to control sound waves, appears to be looking for normalcy in rural Texas, because that makes sense; Ben (Justin Min), the ghost of a former Umbrella Academy member, appears to have broken free from Klaus and is now just sort of chilling; and Five (Aidan Gallagher), time-traveling teenage know-it-all that he is, is trying to round them up all in order to hopefully prevent yet another end of the world scenario.
The trailer promises that the dysfunctional family will be burdened with just as much emotional baggage as they were in the first season – that might seem like an unusual selling-point, but it’s one of the key elements that made the show so wildly popular in the first place. However, there’s another secret weapon that The Umbrella Academy has, and that’s its roster of bizarre yet terrifying villains – and thankfully season two is already setting up a number of those: Swedish vacuum-cleaner salesmen who double as ninja assassins and a Commission bureaucrat with a fishbowl for a head? Count me in! We also get a brief glimpse of season one’s reluctant killer Hazel (Cameron Britton), now reformed and significantly older, helping Five on his mission, which is pretty sweet.
Once again, the CGI budget for the Netflix series looks incredible, and it seems like we’ll be treated to a bunch of epic action scenes utilizing each of the Hargreeves siblings’ superpowers in clever ways. Intentionally or not, however, the focus seems to have shifted away from the characters with special effects-heavy powers like Klaus and Vanya, and more towards Allison and Diego, both of whom, while undeniably very dangerous and effective, don’t require a whole bunch of CGI for every fight sequence. In fact, it’s now become a running joke that Allison tries to use her powers as little as possible. But we’ll see: I have no doubt that, despite not being featured very prominently in the trailer, Vanya will still be accidentally wreaking havoc everywhere she goes.
And of course, even as the family drama moves into new territory, the Hargreeves’ can’t ever escape from the looming shadow of their abusive father-figure, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, who appears at the end of the trailer as a somewhat younger gentleman. From the context of the scene, it appears that the Umbrella Academy will have to seek him out for help, possibly (hopefully) so he can finally give them some answers about where they came from, why they have powers, and why he was so obsessed with the moon.
So what do you think of the first Umbrella Academy trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Because of the recent news that the Tron franchise is apparently still a priority at Disney and plans for franchise-expanding sequels or reboots are still underway, I thought it might be interesting to take a circuitous stroll back down memory lane and revisit one of the strangest movies from what is often considered Disney’s Dark Age, in the early 1980’s. This era of the studio’s long and storied history isn’t known for producing a whole bunch of timeless classics (if there are any hardcore fans of The Black Cauldron out there, I’d love to know about them), nor box-office hits – but how do you even begin to describe Tron? The needlessly convoluted sci-fi adventure flick about glow-in-the-dark humanoid computer programs fighting to overthrow their tyrannical leadership doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any box, and so of course it has acquired a kind of well-earned cult classic status over the years – even leading to the creation of a poorly-received sequel in 2010 which, while not a box-office flop, failed to recapture much of what made the original film so…bizarrely endearing.
There are so many things wrong with Tron from a storytelling standpoint, and yet, despite quickly falling into the classic sci-fi/fantasy trap of trying to seduce the audience with incredibly complex world building instead of, you know, a particularly good story, or well developed characters (though, considering how badly the sequel’s attempts at character development went over, perhaps we weren’t missing anything anyway?), somehow it still works – or at the very least, it works about as well as a movie about warring sentient computer programs possibly could in 1982, at the very dawn of the age of special effects. Knowing some of the story about the cutting edge technology used to create the sprawling electronic landscape of The Grid (which, to the modern viewer’s eye, probably just resembles partly-completed digital artwork of Flatland) definitely helps to make the movie interesting from a cinephile’s point of view: its influence on CGI is far less well known than the influence of, say, The Little Mermaid on animation, but the two films are arguably comparable in terms of the lasting impact they made on the industry. The difference is that The Little Mermaid was a juggernaut that almost immediately birthed an unstoppable Disney renaissance – Tron was a financial disaster for the company that was snubbed at the Oscars for the Special Effects award it clearly deserved, apparently because Academy voters thought using computers was cheating.
That doesn’t make the work that went into designing Tron any less commendable, however. The film was born out of an idea to create a neon gladiator mascot for the fledgling Lisberger Studios, which felt that the character needed a starring vehicle to sell him to audiences and establish the studio’s brand – ironically, the cost of making the film became so high that Lisberger Studios had to turn to Disney for help with financing and marketing. In a classic case of studios being afraid to invest too heavily in something radically new, Disney allowed them to make the movie but decided not to give it the marketing push it also needed until too late in the game. Behind the scenes, the process of designing the world of Tron using rotoscoping and the even more grueling technique of backlit animation (which gives the movie its one-of-a-kind glow in the dark look) had to be fast-tracked to meet its release date, with director Steven Lisberger eventually having to hire a whole separate team of animators from Taiwan to ease the stress on his own employees. Miraculously, they managed to get the job done within nine months, a true credit to the power of teamwork.
But on its own, separated from its later impact and the behind-the-scenes work that went into it, just looking at the finished film as a whole: does it hold up? That’s a bit of a harder question to answer. As I said, Tron has a lot of story issues – the audience gets handed a whole bunch of information about the cyber world right up front, and is then expected to retain all that information for the next thirty minutes, while we watch the Real World storyline play out (which itself is pretty complicated). Then the Real World completely ceases to exist as far as the movie is concerned, and we’re plunged into The Grid, where computers wage brutal warfare against each other: highly ritualistic warfare involving motor-bike/smart car hybrids, but warfare nonetheless. There are solar sailers to be flown, beacons to be lit, and electric blue water to drink (I bring that up because there’s one scene of the main characters drinking said water that seems to go on for way longer than it probably needs to). It’s all very confusing.
Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner lead the cast of mostly identical white men trapped in glowing outfits with ridiculously oversized helmets, most of whom wield Frisbees to complete the look (a look which somehow warranted an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design). Bridges’ character, brilliant programmer and arcade video game champion Kevin Flynn, is supposedly the star of the movie, though there’s no good reason for why that is when Boxleitner’s character (dissatisfied ENCOM employee Allan Ward in the real world, legendary hero Tron on The Grid) has his name in the title, has just as much if not more plot agency than Bridges’, and actually is the clear male lead for the first thirty minutes of the movie. It’s like if Star Wars: A New Hope started out being about Luke Skywalker and then changed to become Han Solo’s story partway through (interestingly, there’s actually several similarities between Kevin Flynn and Han Solo, particularly in the sequel). David Warner gives the best performance in the film as the sinister E. Dillinger, President of the ENCOM company (in his Grid form as Sark, he comes off as a sad Darth Vader ripoff). As a side note: whenever Warner’s Dillinger was onscreen, I was constantly distracted by the nagging thought that, if Disney ever reboots this franchise, they absolutely need Ben Mendelsohn for this villainous role. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), the female lead, shows a lot of potential as a spunky scientist, but of course this is the 80’s, so it’s not long before she trades in her intelligent and pro-active role for the part of demure, soft-spoken damsel Yori. In keeping with the Hollywood tradition of rebooting classic franchises with the original male leads but conveniently forgetting to bring back the female leads, both versions of Morgan’s character were dropped for the sequel, despite her repeated efforts to try and contact Disney.
On the flip-side, two women played an integral role in giving Tron the eerie techno vibe we know and love: composer Wendy Carlos, an openly trans woman best known for her work on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, collaborated with Annemarie Franklin on the score – parts of which, unfortunately, were removed by Disney and replaced with songs by Journey: the rock band’s contributions to the film were honored in the sequel via a slightly random use of the song “Separate Ways”. But Carlos’ iconic score is still a lasting testament, like all her work, to the often underappreciated achievements of trans people in the film industry.
I, for one, am glad that Tron will be getting another chance at proving its value to modern audiences: moviegoers (or, quite possibly, Disney+ subscribers) deserve a chance to see more stories from The Grid, told with the best new technology available to the studio, and longtime fans of the franchise deserve a continuation of a series that has been pretty much dead for a long time. We all deserve a little more Tron in our lives.
What is there to say about Hamilton that hasn’t now been said a million times before in the five years since the musical phenomenon burst onto Broadway? In those five years, Hamilton, the story of one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers, has sparked a mini revolution of passionate conversation about American history; inspired a dedicated fandom; and now, on the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence, made the long-awaited jump from stage to screen. There was never any doubt that this moment would be huge: Disney paid a hefty sum of $75M for the rights to the musical, and it’s already right up there with The Mandalorian as one of the most high-profile original productions that Disney+ has to offer. But the outpouring of support for the film is still incredible to see: yesterday, the day of its release, Hamilton and a slew of other hashtags related to the musical were among the top trends of Twitter, and people (like myself) flooded social media with our reactions. Amid all the talk, what is there left to say?
Well, the fresh new format in which the musical is being presented is cause enough for conversation; though, unsurprisingly, it’s not quite as interesting a subject for many as, say, the story or world-famous soundtrack. The movie was filmed over the course of three days, with cameras placed in the audience during two live performances of the show, before moving onstage to achieve a more cinematic experience – no easy feat, I’m sure, considering how many dancers are often crowding the stage, sometimes so many that we lose sight of our main characters (one of only a few flaws in the actual staging of the musical). Overhead shots are utilized in a number of scenes, particularly for duels. And extreme close-ups bring us nearer to the actors’ facial acting than was ever possible before, even for front-row audiences: from Daveed Diggs’ repertoire of eye rolls and dramatic sneers as a quirky, flamboyantly dressed take on Thomas Jefferson; to the spit flying from King George III‘s (Jonathan Groff) mouth as he sings his breakup song to America, assuring them they’ll come back to him once they’ve had their fun.
Diggs and Groff are among a number of standouts in the supporting cast who surround Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) on his journey from poor immigrant to cornerstone of early American government. Diggs, notably, is one of several actors with two or more roles in the musical: before he transforms wholeheartedly into the fast-rapping character of Jefferson for the rousing second act, he is no less hilariously charismatic as the Marquis de Lafayette, America’s ally from across the Atlantic. Anthony Ramos is both Hamilton’s close friend John Laurens during the Revolutionary War, and then later his son Phillip (though the latter role is probably the more interesting of the two, I personally found Ramos to be more fun in the first, and I can’t wait to see him star in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights next year: if coronavirus hadn’t moved the film from its original June 26th release date, these past few weeks would have been a showcase of Lin-Manuel’s musical talent; but then again, if coronavirus hadn’t struck, we would still have been waiting until October of next year to see the Hamilton film on the big screen).
In the next tier (not in terms of talent, but based on how close they are to Hamilton) we have Christopher Jackson as the indestructible, untouchable George Washington, whose role as a mentor and something of a father figure to Alexander Hamilton is pivotal to the entire story. There’s Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry), one of Hamilton’s many lovers and the most dynamic, at least initially, of the three Schuyler sisters. And of course we have Leslie Odom Jr., who brings plenty of fiery passion to the somewhat underwritten character of Aaron Burr, an ambitious political candidate forever walking unwillingly in the shadows of larger-than-life figures; the man whom history will forever paint simply as the villain in Alexander Hamilton’s story. And isn’t that the whole theme of the musical? It’s a story about the power of legacy, and how powerless we are to define what that is; as George Washington notes, you have no control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.
The woman who tells Alexander’s story and who, in my humble opinion as a first-time viewer, seems like the understated heroine of the piece, is Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo), Alexander’s wife and later his biographer. Her personal journey, running parallel to Alexander’s lofty dreams, may seem small and inconsequential to some: but in the end, she is the woman still alive fifty years after her husband’s death, still sifting through his writings and trying to piece together a more complete picture of the man, continuing the work on the garden he never saw bear fruit, on the symphony he left unfinished. Hamilton is really a story about people like Eliza, the people who will tell our stories when we’re gone, if we’re lucky enough; whose own stories often get overlooked amid all the heated discourse about their subjects. And Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t really a modern day Alexander Hamilton, but he is a modern day Eliza, taking back control of a narrative that rarely if ever finds a place for the marginalized, but using this opportunity to uniquely inspect the story of America’s foundation through their eyes: the eyes of immigrants, the Black community and people of color, women, radical thinkers. Through embellishing the story with song and liberally picking and choosing which parts of Hamilton’s life story to adapt, Miranda is exercising his own right as a creative and a chronicler to reinvent Hamilton once again for a more modern audience. It’s hard to tell how Eliza herself would react to all the fame and glory she and her husband now enjoy – but one would hope that, like her musical counterpart, she would gasp in joy and awe at the audience gathered to witness her husband’s legacy in motion.
And then there’s Alexander himself: it’s hard to find many faults in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance, though it’s easy (and, in fact, important) to see the flaws in the complex character – apart from the historical fact that the real Hamilton was willing to stay silent on the issue of slavery whenever it suited him, the musical’s more liberal version of Alexander hurries through life, too concerned with his future to savor the present, too obsessed over protecting his legacy to be worried about what cost his actions have on those he loves. Alexander himself recognizes this and even sings about it on several occasions (most notably in “The World Was Wide Enough”), but once again it is Eliza who illustrates this point most brilliantly, in “Burn”, a heart-rending number sung in response to the devastating Reynolds Pamphlet scandal.
While we’re on the subject, my favorite subject, I want to highlight several of the songs which made the biggest impressions on me, at least during this viewing – first of many, I hope. Much to my surprise, neither “The Room Where It Happens” nor “Alexander Hamilton”, despite being the two most instantly recognizable songs from the show, would probably crack my top ten if I had to rank them all. “Burn”, my favorite off the entire soundtrack, draws our attention to the gaps in the narrative with its cleverly-constructed lyrics; George III has three catchy songs, each following the same melody, starting off with the sassy, self-righteous “You’ll Be Back”; Hamilton and Jefferson’s rap battles, particularly the first one, are exceptionally witty; and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”, the final song in the musical, gives the story an appropriately epic send-off, reminding us once again that the legacies we leave behind are never truly ours and ours alone, but belong just as much to the people who survive us, who keep those legacies alive long after we’re gone.
In conclusion, I doubt I’ve managed to say anything truly new about Hamilton, but what I hope is that by lending my voice to the conversation I can help to draw further attention to this rare achievement in American theater. This show may look like a scrappy, low-budget historical reenactment, but what it lacks in spectacle it more than makes up for in passion and unquestionable cultural impact.
The Tolkien fandom can collectively sigh a breath of relief: several months after production ground to a halt on Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings due to the advent of coronavirus, the high-profile series is finally getting back on track, with preliminary work already underway and actual filming expected to start up again soon.
The Lord Of The Rings began shooting back in February, and we now have confirmation that, before the government-mandated lockdown in March, almost two full episodes of the series’ first season were completed. This means that Amazon Prime’s original gameplan – to film two episodes and then go into hiatus until September – won’t actually have to change that much. This lines up with Lord Of The Rings actress Morfydd Clark’s recent statement that she won’t be able to return to her home country of England “for a while”, which The Daily Mail took to mean sometime in the autumn (though it’s worth noting they also missed the memo that this isn’t actually an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings proper, since they referenced Gollum, Gandalf and Frodo as well, none of whom should be in the series). This is very good news, not just for Amazon themselves, but also for those of us in the Tolkien fandom who are constantly having to combat negativity towards the series: there are already a number of cynical and pessimistic detractors of the show out on the internet, and they tend to cling to any bit of bad news they can find.
But why the sudden change, after so many months? New Zealand’s government has officially granted border exemptions to a number of personnel from various different TV and film productions that were set to film in the country, including Lord Of The Rings, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, and – completely coincidentally – a film starring original Lord Of The Rings trilogy star Viggo Mortensen, entitled Greatest Beer Run Ever. Over the next six months, cast and crew from all these productions will be allowed to return to the country and resume work (after first going through self-quarantine). New Zealand had one of the most comprehensive and effective responses to the coronavirus crisis anywhere in the world, which is what has allowed them to return to relative normalcy earlier than most other countries.
In fact, New Zealand’s quick action when dealing with coronavirus may pay off in many more ways than they could ever have expected – their Economic Development Minister declared the country “a global safe haven” for the film community, and that’s not really an exaggeration: most other nations are still suffering heavily from the pandemic, and have a long way to go before they can safely bring in large film crews from all around the world. In recognition of this, New Zealand is increasing funding for both international and domestic film and TV projects in their country to upwards of $230M. In exchange, New Zealand’s economy is expected to receive a massive boost from big productions like Lord Of The Rings and James Cameron’s Avatar sequels, which could bring in about 3000 new jobs and $400M for the small Pacific nation. It looks like Middle-earth will never not be a hugely profitable investment for New Zealand.
So what do you think? Is New Zealand making a wise decision allowing film crews back into their country, or is this still risky? No matter how much we may want to see The Lord Of The Rings on our screens sometime next year, peoples’ lives matter more than any piece of film or TV, and I cannot reiterate that enough. STAY SAFE, and share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally gave us some answers to some of the burning questions we’ve had since the final season premiere – and at least some of them were actually helpful. If you were wondering what the Chronicom shape-shifters actually want with the Earth, or where Leopold Fitz is in all this chaos, then you’re in luck. If, like me, you were hoping for answers to both these questions that actually feel like answers instead of further riddles to unravel, then you may still have some waiting to do before you actually get what you’re looking for – especially since next week’s episode, by the looks of the teaser trailer, is going to be completely focused on Director Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) and Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward).
Many of the answers we got this week come from an epic confrontation between Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the being who seems to be the leader of the Chronicom invasion force, a woman known as Sibyl (Tamara Taylor), who calls herself a “Predictor”. Her powers aren’t quite as simple as one would expect: she can’t see the future, but she can see what actions need to be taken in the past to lead to any given future (I think). Coulson and her actually get to have a pretty interesting conversation, despite the fact that she’s not so much an exposition-dump as an exposition-landfill, basically overflowing with information on every topic. For instance, what do the Chronicoms actually want? According to Sibyl, their grand scheme to wipe out the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and conquer Earth isn’t anything personal: they just want to ensure the survival of their species. Of course, that’s in character for a group of sentient aliens who have been shown to be completely devoid of human emotions, but it doesn’t really make for an interesting villain origin story – and Sibyl doesn’t ever explain why they’re only going after S.H.I.E.L.D. and not, you know, the Avengers or something. Nor does she stop to clarify why Earth, out of all the planets in the universe, is the only one where the Chronicoms can live. I was partially hoping she and Coulson would be able to strike up a deal to take down HYDRA together – but that doesn’t seem likely, since HYDRA took a backseat this week and may not come back to the forefront for a while.
Even Nathaniel Malick (Thomas Sullivan), the son of HYDRA leader Wilfred Malick, reveals that he has his own agenda that has nothing to do with his father’s organization. No, his motivation for kidnapping Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) in last week’s episode is pure selfishness: he wants to harvest Daisy’s Inhuman powers for himself, and he’s also come to the mistaken conclusion that Sousa is an Inhuman because he doesn’t age. Last week’s stinger, revealing that the younger Malick was in contact with nightmarish Nazi doctor Daniel Whitehall (an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. antagonist from the series’ second season), gave me very high expectations: only for me to be slightly underwhelmed this week, when Whitehall was a no-show and Malick only got to wield Daisy’s quaking abilities for a couple of seconds before bringing the roof of his secret lair down on top of himself. But his storyline wasn’t a complete disappointment: Sullivan makes the most out of his small amount of screentime, giving Malick a vibrant, if dangerously unstable, personality; Daniel Sousa gets an opportunity to open up to Daisy while they’re both imprisoned, comforting her with wartime stories; and now there’s some doubt as to whether Daisy has any of her powers left – though if that’s the case, and such a momentous event in Daisy’s life was handled mostly offscreen by a one-and-done minor antagonist, I’ll be very angry: this season has already forcibly depowered “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), and I’m not keen on the idea of another woman having her powers taken from her without her consent.
The only character who has gotten a power upgrade this season is Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), whose ability to read and imitate peoples’ emotions (or lack thereof) is becoming very useful indeed, allowing her to identify Chronicoms and other enemies just by touching them. But this new power comes at a terrible cost: the complete loss of May’s own emotions. I’m still conflicted on how I feel about this: back when Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had twenty-two episodes in every season, a story arc like this might have had plenty of time and space to expand, and I might have really enjoyed it – in a season that only has thirteen episodes, six of which we’ve now plowed through, I don’t know whether May’s character arc will receive the screentime it desperately needs.
On that point, let’s discuss another subplot that needs to be more adequately explored: Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and her memory issues. Last week’s episode sparked several theories that Simmons, who appeared to have some sort of device plugged into the back of her neck, might be a Chronicom or LMD (Life Model Decoy), but it has now been revealed that that device, which for some reason is nicknamed “Diana”, is simply meant to suppress Simmons’ memories of Fitz. Specifically, her memory of where he is, a question that fans have been asking since he vanished last season. Simmons tells Deke that Fitz is in an exposed location, and that if the Chronicoms find out they’ll kill him – so in an effort to protect her lover’s life, Simmons has removed most of her memories of him and placed them in “Diana”, where she hopes they’ll be secure. This, obviously, doesn’t actually answer the question of where Fitz is, but I’m sure we’ll find that out when the Chronicoms inevitably hack into “Diana” and extract Simmons’ memories.
The Chronicoms are becoming ever so slightly more interesting as the season progresses, this week entering a new phase of their evolution: now, rather than just being able to steal faces, they can also steal personalities. This does make them more formidable, but it also essentially just turns them into LMD’s, which we already dealt with several seasons ago. Until we get to see them actually adapt into three-dimensional characters, I will continue to say that the Chronicoms are the weakest part of this season, which has up until this point proven to be pretty good.
But let’s see what happens. As I mentioned earlier, it looks like next week’s episode will follow Mack and Deke (who got separated from the rest of the team and are now stuck in the 70’s, where they must spend a considerable amount of time, considering that next week’s teaser trailer shows them in the 80’s, Mack now sporting a sizable beard and Deke wearing something indescribably hideous), but when we reunite with the rest of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I expect to have clear answers to a number of my own questions: does Daisy still have her powers? Did LMD Coulson actually get destroyed in the explosion he set off under the Lighthouse to destroy the Chronicom hunters, or will he be back, as May confidently assured her teammates? Will HYDRA return as well? How will the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. learn to adapt to their next problem? Only time will tell.
Confession time: I’m a sucker for dumb wholesome movies with musical numbers, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga fits the bill perfectly. Is it by any stretch of the imagination a good movie, technically? Nope. Is it, on the other hand, a really stupid comedy filled with outlandish humor, ridiculous scenarios and catchy songs? Yes, and it’s so unapologetically the latter that I can’t in all honesty fault it for not being the former. Sometimes, you have to just accept something bad and love it despite that fact – and there you go, I’ve summed up the entire plot of Eurovision Song Contest for you.
Now, here’s another confession for you: I am American, but I actually knew what Eurovision was long before watching this movie, and it surprises me that so many are only just now being introduced to the zany glory that is the real-life Eurovision Song Contest. Started after World War II with the intention of uniting the European countries through song and dance, the contest is still going strong to this day (well, actually, not this year, thanks to coronavirus), and now even hosts countries that technically aren’t part of Europe, (looking at you, Australia), all of which come together to try and outdo each other with a series of successively weirder and weirder performances. Some people will poke fun at the contest: it’s an acquired taste, and I understand that. I just think some people don’t admire or respect the contest’s noble purpose. But yeah, anyway, I love Eurovision. I also love a number of obscure musical artists from all over Europe, some of whom have performed at Eurovision, some of whom, unfortunately, haven’t gotten the chance – yet. This film, thankfully, manages to temporarily satisfy my unceasing desire for more weird European music: though let me be clear, it barely does so.
My biggest complaint with the film has to be that there’s simply not enough musical numbers- especially not ones which exemplify the absolute insanity of Eurovision. There’s “Volcano Man”, the upbeat song about a dormant volcanic spirit looking for love which puts the Icelandic duo known as Fire Saga on the map and sets the tone for the rest of the movie; “Double Trouble”, which is fun, but is also undeniably helped out by the fact that Will Ferrell is rolling around in a giant hamster-wheel during one performance of the song; a mostly uninteresting highlight reel of the other contestants, including Demi Lovato’s “Mirror”; and my two personal favorites – the Song-Along sequence, which involves about a dozen performers passing different songs around the room and each singing a verse, which might sound awkward but is actually extremely fun to watch; and of course the big surprise song in the finale where the film’s real star Rachel McAdams gets to truly shine, with a big assist from Swedish pop-star Molly Sandén’s vocals (Sandén, by the way, has an excellent career apart from this film, and I’m a big fan of her: that information is, strictly speaking, unnecessary, but I just thought you should know).
When I say that Rachel McAdams is the real star of the movie, I absolutely mean it. McAdams’ character, mild-mannered pagan Sigrit Ericksdottir, carries the film through some of its worst rough patches in the bloated second act, and her desperate attempts to try and appease the Elves of ancient Icelandic folklore are, dare I say it, very relatable (this movie is exposing a lot about me). And while she’s not actually the one singing, she still brings all the onstage charisma and dramatic flair one would expect from a real Eurovision performer.
Will Ferrell, on the other hand, is doing his best: but he’s not particularly funny here. He also doesn’t ever really shine when he’s onstage alongside McAdams, as his singing voice isn’t particularly impressive. He has most of the big emotional beats in the story, which all fall a little flat due to being extremely predictable. His character, Lars Erickssong, is at his best when he’s dressed like a heavy metal Viking and dancing in the frigid wilderness: the more conventional parts of his story arc – trying to win respect from his father, who for some reason is Pierce Brosnan; pushing away Sigrit’s romantic advances because he’s focused on winning; making promises to himself to never be laughed at again, and so on – all seem out of place in a movie that should be over the top at all times.
The other performances in the film have good and bad elements: perhaps the most notable is a glorified cameo from TV personality Graham Norton, who provides cruel and merciless narration of Fire Saga’s various onstage disasters. The lineup of other singers includes Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyantly dressed Eastern European with murky motivations, who does at least get to deliver one of the best lines in the entire movie – though it’s in his very last scene, so you’ll have to wait awhile; Demi Lovato as Katiana, another Icelander, who has a very small role in the beginning of the movie and then keeps showing up for reasons that are never explained; and a long list of past Eurovision winners and contestants who show up for brief cameos, including Israel’s Netta, Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, French YouTuber Bilal Hassani, and John Lundvik of Sweden. Mikael Persbrandt, who appeared as the shape-shifter Beorn in The Hobbit, has a small but pivotal role as a member of the Icelandic government whose key-chain doubles as a garrote – because why not?
Unfortunately, all of this talent would probably have been better utilized in a slightly better film – Eurovision Song Contest, is, I must admit, far too long for a movie of so little plot. If every minute of available screen time had been packed full of music, I might have understood why it needed to be just over two hours long: but we spend a lot of time focusing on Lars’ boring emotional baggage, Sigrit being unsuccessfully wooed by Lemtov, Lars being unsuccessfully seduced by a Greek singer, and, worst of all, wandering around Eurovision host city Edinburgh without a single sight of the River Leith – and yes, that’s obviously a legitimate criticism of this film.
But what can I say? I enjoyed most of the time I spent watching Eurovision Song Contest, and I don’t regret it. That being said, you have to remember I have a clear bias: I just really like Eurovision, so this was always going to be my cup of tea. I’m a little unhappy that this movie might not be good enough to inspire viewers to check out the real thing, but at least Iceland now has a movie that honors their rich, vibrant, underappreciated musical culture.
Landing unexpectedly in the 1970’s, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. find themselves confronted with their biggest moral conundrum yet, as they begin to realize just how many alterations they’ve caused to the timeline: HYDRA is rising to power within S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks decades earlier than expected; characters who should be dead are still alive, well, and plotting world domination; and worst of all, groovy fashion is in (okay, well, technically that’s not their fault, but I think we can safely assume that 70’s fashion is the unfortunate side-effect of some rift in the timeline).
But this is exactly what I wanted to see! When the season started off, I was very worried that the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. would somehow be able to hop from time period to time period without ever breaking anything along the way – maybe because I was still reeling from how badly-written the majority of season 6 was, and I was worried we were in for a repeat of that disaster. But we’re not: five episodes into this final season, and I can safely say that every member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is feeling heavy consequences for every action they take – and they take a lot of actions, some well-informed, some very impulsive and reckless. Curiously, looking back with the advantage of hindsight, I almost feel like Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) had the right idea when she gave the order to try and kill a young Wilfred Malick. Considering everything Malick has already done to try and take destroy S.H.I.E.L.D., that no longer seems like it was such an impulsive or reckless notion.
On the flip-side, I’m happy she didn’t get to kill him back in 1931, because then he wouldn’t be around to trouble S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 1970’s, where he manages to do plenty of damage before meeting a (literally) untimely demise. Wilfred Malick (Neal Bledsoe) is exactly the type of antagonist this season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D should have had from the outset – in fact, he’s the type of antagonist that any show should have: he’s wily and conniving, effortlessly manipulates the happily oblivious idealists running S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 70’s (we’ll get to Rick Stoner in a moment), and doesn’t play nice with his enemies. He also has a massive ego, something that tends to happen when you’re given complete control over a network of Neo-Nazi terrorists living like parasites deep within government organizations all around America. Malick’s reign over HYDRA has been extended, thanks to the timeline meddling, and he’s been able to add an extra six years to his lifespan, allowing him time to complete his master plan: a weapon, known as INSIGHT, capable of targeting and eliminating thousands of U.S. citizens suspected by HYDRA of being potential threats, either currently or in the future – Peggy Carter, Nick Fury, Victoria Hand, and even a very young Bruce Banner all end up on Malick’s list of targets. Filling out HYDRA’s ranks in this episode are Malick’s sons Gideon and Nathaniel: the former of whom hilariously tries to flirt with Daisy, not knowing that she will eventually kill him when he’s much older; and the former of whom was supposed to already be dead, but is still alive somehow. At the very end of the episode there’s also a tantalizing tease that Nazi scientist Daniel Whitehall will make his return to the show, probably while trying once again to murder Daisy Johnson and dissect her body.
Of course, 70’s S.H.I.E.L.D. has no idea that any of this is going on right beneath their noses – the atmosphere of the episode, despite it dealing with some very dark and dramatic topics, is fun and light-hearted, from the ridiculously over-the-top opening credits to the jokes about bell-bottom pants to the party going on at the Swordfish bar (which has been redecorated once again) and the silly INSIGHT birthday cake that someone baked for Wilfred Malick, apparently. And, of course, there’s General Rick Stoner, (Patrick Warburton) who was kind of incompetent but also pleasantly optimistic about everything. I love how he fell hard for Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) while she was disguised as the character of “Chastity McBride” in 1973, and still recognized her immediately when he saw her again three years later.
In fact, let’s start our discussion of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. team with May, whose new power upgrade is one of the best (and most) utilized in this season so far – probably both because it’s important and can be used in a lot of clever ways, but also because it’s conveniently cheap. May just has to stand near someone and she instantly feels and imitates their emotions. She knows before anyone else when a situation is about to go downhill, and she also has a bunch of comedic moments: like when she’s in a bar, and starts unintentionally mirroring the drunken giddiness of everyone around her.
Least utilized this week are probably Daisy and “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley). The former has the advantage of being able to bounce off S.H.I.E.L.D. team newcomer Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), and her hacking skills do come in handy once or twice, especially since, as she herself notes, 70’s computers don’t have firewalls; but she only gets to use her Quake powers once. The latter, meanwhile, is still trying and failing to use her own Inhuman abilities, which have been malfunctioning for the past few episodes and don’t show any signs of being reparable: that being said, Yo Yo has had to deal with losing both her arms before, so I’m confident she’ll get through this latest struggle intact. I just want the show to do something big with her character before the end – she’s always been one of the most interesting Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’d hate for her to be sidelined now just because her powers are too expensive for the series’ CGI budget.
Surprisingly compelling this week is Director “Mac” (Henry Simmons), who I haven’t said much about this season because he’s mostly just been standing around and giving orders: but here, the big twist is that he can’t bring himself to give the order to flood the S.H.I.E.L.D. Lighthouse (and stop INSIGHT in so doing) because his parents are prisoners in the base and will drown if he does. Instead, Mac’s decision is to let INSIGHT launch and then attack it with missiles from the Zephyr One – that bit, to be honest, is a little underwhelming because it only takes one direct hit from them to blow INSIGHT out of the sky, but it does now expose S.H.I.E.L.D.’s position, something Mac ominously forebodes.
Meanwhile, Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) is on his own mission: to do what he couldn’t in 1931, and finally pull the trigger on Wilfred Malick. It’s cool that he’s finally getting personally involved in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission, and I enjoyed seeing him take the leap at the end of the episode, shooting Malick dead mid-monologue.
Unfortunately, with Malick dead, I assume we’ll have to deal with more Chronicoms – who are still, with the exception of Enoch (Joel Stoffer) – mind-numbingly boring, from their monotone outfits to their blank facial expressions. I am, however, at least mildly interested to understand why Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) seems to have some sort of technology implanted in her body, something that Enoch appears to know about and which could suggest that the Simmons we’re seeing in this season is actually some sort of LMD like the version of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) we’re also currently following. If this is a fake Simmons, then where’s the real one? Happily married to Fitz in another timeline, hopefully?
Finally, we need to talk about Daniel Sousa. While the episode ends with both him and Daisy Johnson as prisoners of HYDRA, he has the most time to shine throughout the episode, as we explore his character’s shock at being transported somewhat unwillingly to a new era. The “fish out of water” trope can be tiresome, but there’s something fresh and fun about the way Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is handling it with Sousa’s character – it’s humorous to watch him try and wrap his head around the concept of 70’s fashion norms (trust me, he’s not the only one perplexed by those), but it’s also interesting how he reacts to other, more meaningful things: he’s clearly confused by the team’s lack of a structured hierarchy, and he shows obvious disdain for some of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s more questionable tactics. I think he’ll be a exciting character to follow into the finale, as he could be another who, like LMD Coulson and this new, super-powered May, feels like he wasn’t given the chance to decide his own fate.
I’m beginning to suspect that the conflict between fate and free will is going to be a major element in the upcoming finale, as the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. come to terms with what they’ve done to the timeline and try to work out how to fix it – if they can. I’m just hoping that Daniel Whitehall shows up fairly quickly, because now that I’ve been reminded of just how excellent HYDRA vs S.H.I.E.L.D. fights can be, I don’t want to put up with anymore of that Chronicom nonsense.
We’ve known for quite some time that Apple TV is planning to produce a massive, multi-season adaptation of the Foundation trilogy, one of the greatest works of science-fiction ever written and certainly Isaac Asimov’s magnum opus. But apparently they filmed a whole bunch of this series without me ever catching on, because suddenly there’s a Foundation trailer out for the first season today – and it looks brilliant, though also shockingly different from the books.
For one thing, the trailer definitely makes it seem as if we’ll be following one protagonist throughout the entirety of the first season at least: that protagonist being psychohistorian and biographer Gaal Dornick, who in the Foundation books is a very minor character whose only role in the story is essentially to introduce the reader to the actual protagonist, Hari Seldon. For the adaptation, it appears that Gaal (who has been gender-bent, and will be played by actress Lou Llobell) is going to stick around much longer, and probably have a crucial role in the story. Seldon himself, here played by Jared Harris, also seems to have a larger role than he does in the books.
But now for a little background on Foundation, for those who haven’t read the novels – and, to be clear, even I’ve only read the original trilogy: I know there’s prequels, and it appears the series is drawing some stuff from those, but I don’t know much about them so I won’t be referencing them. The story follows Hari Seldon, and later his team of talented intellectuals known as psychohistorians, as they attempt to save the universe from being plunged into a dark age that could last for up to 30,000 years – Seldon’s belief, based on his very accurate calculations, is that, while it would be impossible to prevent it entirely, he can “shorten the darkness”, to quote the trailer narration, to just one thousand years. The books quickly jump ahead, switching protagonists and time periods rapidly: in the first book, we also follow the journey of one Salvor Hardin (whom we see briefly in the trailer, played by Leah Harvey) who, years after Hari Seldon’s death, is tasked with protecting the First Foundation which was set up on the planet Terminus to subtly preserve Seldon’s original plan and prevent it from coming apart – and there are many threats to the plan over the course of the series, from telepathic mutants to bureaucratic politicians. Despite how large the story is, however, many of the heroes of the first book have only very vague characterizations, so I don’t mind the fact that the show is expanding on them – though it does confuse me why so many new characters have been included to fill out the cast.
Then again, even though I don’t know exactly who “Brother Day” is supposed to be – I’ve checked and double-checked: he’s not in the books, not even in the prequels – I do know that he’s played by Lee Pace, who is criminally underrated and definitely deserves another big role like this: he appears several times in the trailer, appears to be a villain, and, most importantly, isn’t hidden under any alien makeup (have I told you lately that it’s a travesty how Marvel costumed and designed his character Ronan the Accuser? No? Well then, here’s your reminder: it was a travesty). There’s also a “Brother Dawn” and “Brother Dusk” – the latter played by another actor I adore, Terrence Mann from Netflix’s Sense8. All three are described as being members of royalty vying for power in the Galactic Empire – in the books, the Empire is already collapsing when the story opens and its impending fall is what Hari Seldon believes will start the dark age: I’m sure Pace’s character and much of his supporting cast have been invented to give us a clearer idea of that.
The trailer, which is partly comprised of footage shot before coronavirus concerns shut down filming back in March and partly constructed from behind-the-scenes material and interviews with showrunner David Goyer, highlights the massive amounts of money that Apple TV have poured into this show. The production design looks incredible, and clearly borrows inspiration from Amazon Prime’s The Expanse, another major sci-fi series; the special effects are extraordinary and already look complete, despite the fact that Foundation doesn’t come out until next year; the level of detail put into everything is inspiring. All in all, while I’m slightly disappointed that I only definitely recognize one scene and less than a handful of characters from the books, I’m at the very least intrigued by what else the show has to offer. Their original content probably won’t ever match the deeply philosophical tone of Asimov’s writing, but if it can come remotely close, then I’ll be impressed.
Michael Keaton must have enjoyed his recent stint as the Marvel supervillain Vulture, because it appears that he’s even considering rejoining the DC Extended Universe – returning to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman for the first time since 1992. And not just for one quick cameo, either: no, the rumor is that Keaton will take on a recurring role throughout several films in the DCEU, in a capacity that many are comparing to Samuel L. Jackson’s guest star roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films as Nick Fury.
Keaton is expected to make his big comeback at some point in The Flash movie. The film – apparently still starring Ezra Miller as the goofy, super-fast hero – has long been rumored to mess about with the DCEU’s already complicated continuity, doing what it can to bring some cohesion to the chaos with the help of alternate realities and time travel. Keaton’s Batman could very well show up to help Miller’s Flash with that daunting task: and as a business strategy, it would be genius. Not only will Keaton’s name and the Batman brand recognition alone entice general audiences, but setting up Miller and Keaton as a comedic duo could keep audiences enthused, entertained, and willing to suspend their disbelief while The Flash and The Batman work out how to fix the DCEU’s canon in a film that could potentially have a lot of pseudo-scientific exposition.
Meanwhile, moviegoers who are still looking forward to Robert Pattinson’s take on the Dark Knight need not fear: while Michael Keaton’s Batman might replace Ben Affleck’s largely reviled version of the character in the main timeline of the DCEU, Pattinson’s version exists on the peripheries, much like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. So don’t expect the entire DCEU to suddenly fit together perfectly due to this: even if we do get a whole bunch of time-travel/world-hopping shenanigans, I’d imagine the intent behind that would be to focus on reversing and/or rewriting parts of Justice League, firmly defining what does and does not exist in the main canon, and putting the franchise on a clear path forward.
Michael Keaton is, as I mentioned, expected to stick around in the role for at least a few more films, including a planned Batgirl solo film. If he were to continue, The Hollywood Reporter notes that his Batman could be “something of a mentor or a guide or even string puller”, which definitely sounds similar to Nick Fury over in the MCU and would probably be very appealing to Keaton, who could reap the benefits for years to come. However, all of that is far ahead in the future, and Michael Keaton hasn’t even been officially signed on yet: The Flash is expected to start filming in the first quarter of next year, giving him a bit more time to make his decision. But the pressure is going to be put on him heavily now: the news is already sparking plenty of fan hype, and the DCEU won’t want to let go of that momentum – they’ve actually been riding high for a couple weeks now, following some very well-received reports that Henry Cavill could return as Superman and that the DC will have their own fan-event later this summer to rival San Diego Comic-Con At Home and Disney’s D23 Expo.
Beyond the fact that Michael Keaton is finally going to return to this iconic role, this casting has major ramifications for the future of the DCEU, as it suggests that other versions of well-known characters could possibly show up, either in The Flash or later down the line – and with DC Comics having a very long history of being adapted to the big and small screen, there’s plenty of material they could draw from: much like what the CW network did when adapting the DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline, where they snatched up a number of actors from various other DC-adjacent properties and had them come together for a spectacular showdown (incidentally, DC may have been laying the groundwork for this very moment when they had Ezra Miller’s Flash cameo in Crisis On Infinite Earths alongside Grant Gustin’s version of the Flash – there’s no word yet on whether CW talent could cross over into the films, but it’s certainly not out of the question anymore).
To be quite honest, this news could be a life-saver for The Flash, which has been stagnating quietly for years now, waiting for someone to come in and save the project from utter oblivion. Andy Muschietti, who is, as of right now, still signed on to direct the picture and is apparently the one who extended the offer to Keaton, was that “someone”. Now let’s just hope we get to see this suddenly very intriguing film soon!
What do you think about the news that Michael Keaton is returning to the DCEU? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
As I noted several weeks ago in my review of Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, I never reviewed The Politician, one of his other, most recent, soapy melodramas laden with intrigue, conflict and meandering filler episodes – in fact, the review I was planning to write for the first season (which debuted on Netflix last year) still sits in my drafts, not even half-finished. So have I come around to the series in the intervening months and hopped on the bandwagon for this new, second season of the show? Well, no.
If anything, the problems that kept me from feeling motivated to write a review of season one have only gotten worse in season two: but that’s, I suspect, why I’m finally talking about it. Because The Politician is very loud – obnoxiously so, at times – about how deep and multi-faceted it seems to think it is, but once you remove all the glossy embellishments and fancy trappings, this story is as shallow as its central character, and I think it’s time I said something about it.
In both seasons, each episode opens with a tantalizingly disturbing montage of the titular politician, ruthlessly ambitious entitled white college student Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), as he is constructed from scratch, his body pieced together, polished and painted like a mannequin’s. And each time I see it, I wonder if the episode I’m about to watch is finally going to be the one that follows through on the promise of that intro: diving deep into this character’s clearly troubled existence and exploring who he really is behind all the hollow campaign promises and performative publicity stunts – but we never go there, or at least not far enough that it counts. Payton merely continues on a straight line towards the White House, and before long the story forgets about his moments of internal drama and moves on to the next scandalous bombshell. After all, who would want to sit through an intricate character study detailing the fragility of a politician’s mental and emotional state when we could just watch Dede Standish (Judith Light) and Hadassah Gold (Better Midler) debate what’s the best way to reveal to the public that Standish is in a committed three-way relationship with two men?
Unfortunately, I’m not confident enough in this show’s storytelling abilities to assume that The Politician‘s version of an intricate character study would actually be more interesting than the scandalous details of Standish’s unorthodox love life. Light and Midler outshine Ben Platt in every way, with powerhouse performances that make me wish this show was all about them and their deliciously wicked smear campaign. Light plays Standish as a charismatic, charmingly devious state senator who has her eye on the Vice Presidency (I’m a bit confused as to why a state senator is even in the running for VP, and especially so far before a Presidential election cycle, but it’s fine, I guess). Midler’s character is a White House Press Secretary in the making: fiery, cunning, and ready and willing to use any situation to her political advantage (and again, strangely well-known and respected in political circles despite only being the personal assistant of a state senator). Only in the very last episode of the season does Platt finally stand alongside them as their equal, and that’s only because he gets to sing in that episode: for a hot minute, I was deeply concerned we would go through this entire season without Platt getting to make any use of his vocal talents – in the end, I felt having him sing two songs one after the other at a New York City nightclub was maybe a little forced, but the show was working with a small number of episodes, and one of those was spent on the requisite “day-in-the-life-of-an-average-voter” scenario, so I can’t blame them for having to force it to make it work.
One thing I didn’t quite understand was why so much of the story is packed into the first half of the season, leaving the later episodes feeling somewhat empty and underdeveloped – in particular, there’s one massive time-jump that completely skips what should be a crucial period in Payton’s life: did coronavirus get in the way, and prevent some much-needed additional filming? Was the decision to cut things short made halfway through filming? Because there are a whole bunch of story threads, such as the sleazy junior senator from Texas with a comatose wife or Andrew (Ryan J. Haddad) and his unhealthy obsession with Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), or McAfee‘s (Laura Dreyfuss) entire character arc, that are built up in the first half of the season – and then just…go away, or are suddenly resolved without warning.
Several of the supporting characters also shuffle around aimlessly on the sidelines for most of the story, pledging their undying loyalty to Payton before predictably stabbing him in the back; then repeating the cycle several times over. Astrid (Lucy Boynton), one of the major players in the first season, has virtually nothing to do throughout seven episodes except stare moodily at Payton, and engage in a boring love triangle with him and his love interest Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), with whom Payton intends to build a political dynasty rivaling the Kennedys or Roosevelts. Despite being enemies most of the time, Astrid and Alice are basically interchangeable, both imbued with the same dead-to-the-world attitude. It’s funny for specific moments (I’d mention one of Alice’s line deliveries in particular, but it’s a spoiler), but boring and downright grating after a while.
Another casualty of the second season is LGBTQ+ representation, something that was prominent in the first. It’s oddly revealed that River (David Corenswet), a character who committed suicide early in season one and lives on as the physical embodiment of Payton’s conscience, was never actually gay or bisexual – he just wanted to be intimate with everyone. It’s hard to tell if Payton himself is even being written as LGBTQ+ anymore, either: he still sees River frequently in visions, but he seems indifferent to him, and it’s even hinted that he didn’t really feel any strong physical attraction to him when he was alive. There are a number of other characters on the show who are still on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including McAfee (shown to have a number of ex-girlfriends) and Skye (Rahne Jones, who for some reason is the only Black woman in the main cast), but their roles are minor and their sexual orientations only briefly touched upon. For a series that is, once again, obnoxiously loud about how progressive and forward-thinking it is, it seems strange to walk back the revelation that the leading man could possibly be LGBTQ+, especially in a way which seems to sacrifice so much of the chemistry that Platt and Corenswet shared in their brief time onscreen together.
One more thing that disappoints me but doesn’t necessarily surprise me about the show: despite being titled The Politician, this series doesn’t really focus too heavily on the political scene – two seasons in, and we haven’t even seen the inside of the state senate chamber in Albany, much less the White House, presumably Payton’s final destination if he doesn’t finally destroy his own career before then. The politics seem engineered as an excuse for eye-catching intrigue, tabloid-headline gossip and shocking scandal, and it’s clear to me that this show might have benefited from being written from the perspective of one of Payton Hobart’s P.R. team. Payton never has any political advisors with him, his only debate performance is focused on obtaining clever soundbites, and his campaign is based around fostering an unstoppable millennial movement rather than actually offering any substantial solutions to the climate change problem that rather abruptly becomes his only real talking point. He’s all spectacle and no substance – and while that may have worked when he was running for school president back in Santa Monica, it begins to feel eerily Trump-like once you put him in an actual election.
And again, that might have worked if the show made any attempt at exploring him as a character and/or examining how that approach to politics is harmful: in fact, it could have been extremely relevant to our modern political climate, allowing us a look into what forces shape the megalomaniacs and dictators of tomorrow. But the show doesn’t make that attempt, and so we’re left with a character who walks like a progressive, idealistic liberal, talks like a progressive, idealistic liberal, and may or may not be a progressive, idealistic liberal behind all the mental blocks and barriers he puts up to hide himself from the world. Until the show finds the courage to start breaking down those barriers, we may never know the truth.
Waves were made on last night’s episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the resulting ripples will probably dramatically affect everything that happens during the rest of the seventh and final season of the long-running series. S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA and a host of time-traveling Chronicoms meet and clash in a three-way battle centered around the life of one man – legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), whose mission to deliver dangerous Russian technology to Howard Stark (MCU namedrop!) puts him on a collision course with death.
But while HYDRA – and HYDRA’s leader Wilfred Malick (Neal Bledsoe), the very same one whom the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reluctantly rescued in 1931 – wants Sousa dead because he knows the extent of their infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Chronicoms want Sousa dead because…well, actually it’s still a little unclear why they want anything…the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. quickly make the decision that they want to save Sousa’s life. It’s a bit of a dramatic heel-turn for Director “Mac” (Henry Simmons), who was fervently against killing Malick in the 30’s, and in the absence of any better explanation I’ll just assume that Mac came to the conclusion that he was outnumbered: Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) both make it very clear in this episode that they support altering the timeline, while Deke (Jeff Ward) goes back-and-forth right up until the moment when he meets Wilfred Malick again for the first time since literally saving his life, only to realize that the man he was so adamant about rescuing then has predictably transformed into a tyrannical killer over the past two decades.
Yes, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are still stuck in the 1950’s, and this week’s episode is filmed entirely in black-and-white to reflect that: Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) narrates the episode like a cheerful, quirky private investigator in a classic murder mystery – delivering exposition in a way that feels fresh and fun, while also providing seamless scene-transitions. This is truly a Coulson episode: from his first scene, handcuffed to a desk and musing on his predicament, to the revelation that he swapped places with Daniel Sousa on the night of Sousa’s imminent assassination, letting Sousa live while simultaneously cleverly deceiving HYDRA – the version of Coulson we’re seeing in this season, while still an LMD (Life Model Decoy), is nonetheless abundantly more entertaining than the “evil Coulson” who befriended and later betrayed the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the sixth season. And of course, he’s still alive by the end of this episode because no matter how many bullets HYDRA fires into him or how lifeless he may look while floating face-down in a pool, he’s a robot and thus nearly invincible. We actually haven’t seen anything yet that has posed any physical threat to him – his challenges have been mental and emotional so far.
Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is facing similar issues, and we even get some much-needed answers to why she’s been acting so unusual these past few episodes. Turns out, she may have lost her own ability to feel emotions in the season 6 finale, but she gained the power to feel others’ emotions when they’re near to her. Last week, we saw her abruptly panic during the attack on Area 51, which apparently was caused by everyone around her panicking. This week, while standing next to tech genius Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) onboard the Zephyr One, she suddenly gets uncharacteristically giddy about science – and later, in Sousa’s vicinity, she gets freaked out, mirroring his own reaction to seeing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ sleek, futuristic aircraft. It’s unclear how large a role her new abilities might play in the rest of the season, but I’m intrigued. Considering how emotionless the villainous Chronicoms have been shown to be, I wonder if May could possibly tap into what little humanity they have. After all, we know some Chronicoms are capable of feeling – just look at Enoch (Joel Stoffer).
In fact, we get a glimpse at Enoch’s new life during this episode, when Coulson enlists him to essentially be S.H.I.E.L.D.’s phone operator. It appears that Enoch hasn’t changed much in the two decades since getting stuck out of time, though the bar he works in has been redecorated. I’ll be interested to see if we follow his subplot through the rest of the 20th Century – the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appear to be headed to the 1970’s after their next time jump, judging by the use of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” to close out the episode.
There are several big twists, of course, but the biggest one by far is the fact that Daniel Sousa actually survives and ends up on the Zephyr One by the end of the episode – and even gets an offer from Coulson to essentially join the team on their final mission. Coulson, in fact, has the best line in the episode while inducting Sousa into the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. family: “Welcome to life after death. I’ll tell you all about it.” If Sousa does serve as a team member (and at this point, I don’t know if he has alternatives), we could see him in the final showdown between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, whenever that is. The post-credits stinger shows HYDRA and the Chronicoms teaming up to take out S.H.I.E.L.D., with the Chronicom leader bringing Wilfred Malick up to speed on everything that’s happened.
That can mean only one thing: S.H.I.E.L.D. is in for a lot more trouble in the near future (well, technically the past, I guess). As long as the series continues to serve up this kind of quality content, I’m good with that. It was about time some waves were made.
Who doesn’t love a good old Disney animated movie? The studio’s recent mini-Renaissance has given us what are (arguably, I suppose) instant classics like Tangled, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, and Frozen II, and hopefully we can soon add Raya And The Last Dragon to the list. But another film from the acclaimed studio is quickly upcoming, and now, thanks to reporting from The DisInsider, we have a title to tentatively attach to the project: Encanto.
Encanto, the Portuguese word for “charm”, may only be a working title for the film, but it certainly feels appropriate considering what little we now know about the story itself: Encanto is supposed to center around the story of a Brazilian family who all possess magical powers – all, that is, except the protagonist, a young girl whose name is still unknown. Should this storyline survive into the final film, the heroine will join several other notable women of color in the Disney roster; though it is not known as of yet whether she will be considered for a spot amongst the Disney Princess line-up. Of course, there are several rules about just who can and can’t be an official Disney Princess, and we don’t yet know if the heroine of Encanto will pass the test.
As for other plot details, we simply don’t know anything yet. The Portuguese-language title means the film is probably set sometime during or after the 1500’s, when forces of the Portuguese empire first settled in Brazil. Most of Disney’s most popular animated films, from Snow White all the way to Frozen II, have been historical pieces, so I’d be a little surprised if this one isn’t – but a historical setting, in this case, might require Disney to tackle the issue of slavery: as a colony, Brazil was built on the suffering of Black slaves, who made up much of the country’s population. Brazil was actually the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. The easy solution, then, would be to set the film in modern day Brazil. The much harder, but possibly more rewarding, solution would be to try and tell a story that doesn’t gloss over this shameful period in Brazilian history, but instead addresses it with sensitivity and awareness.
On that note, it’s interesting that the film is supposedly being directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush: the duo behind the mega-successful phenomenon that was 2016’s Zootopia, a film with very cleverly written but family-friendly social commentary in a stunningly animated, entertaining package. Joining them will be singer/songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, who I guess isn’t ever going to get around to developing that Moana sequel we were all asking for at one point? Miranda’s involvement does, obviously, suggest that this film will be another musical – lending some credence to the theory that the heroine will be a Princess. Charise Castro Smith, a writer and producer on The Haunting Of Hill House, will co-write the script with Bush.
The matter of a release date is still somewhat up in the air, like pretty much everything else in Hollywood right now. Assuming the coronavirus crisis doesn’t necessitate any more calendar-shuffling mayhem, we might expect to see Encanto around Thanksgiving of next year.
So what do you think? How excited are you to see this new Disney animated film? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!