First Look At “The Witcher” On Netflix!

The war to fill the fantasy-adaptation void that Game of Thrones left has begun: HBO is racing around the clock to get Bloodmoon, a Game of Thrones prequel, up and running, while their adaptation of His Dark Materials will debut later this year (and has already been confirmed for a second season); Amazon Prime will drop Carnival Row, a moody Victorian-era paranormal thriller, in August, about the same time they’re supposed to start filming their five-season prequel to The Lord of the Rings – their Wheel of Time series has already cast Rosamund Pike in the lead role of the sorceress, Moiraine, and should go into production soon, while Conan the Barbarian is still in early stages of development, and the Ringworld project has been silent for a year or two now; BBC America will start adapting some of the works of late author Terry Pratchett, which is something I am very much looking forward to; Apple TV’s adaptation of the science-fiction epic, the Foundation Trilogy, is still…maybe…on its way to being greenlit. Netflix’s The Witcher, however, will arrive on screens sooner than most of these adaptations – the first look arrived today.

The photos and official poster that have been released are really exciting, so let’s check them out. First of all, we’ve got Henry Cavill, formerly known as Superman, in the role of Geralt of Rivia, scarred monster-hunter and Legolas look-alike, sporting the silvery wig that had him being ridiculed all over the internet just a few months ago: it looks…better now, even though it’s hard to believe that could be possible.

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A pretty good wig, if you ask me. I’m not a big fan of Cavill’s, but he looks better here than he ever did during his short-lived run as Superman in the DCEU: he looks gritty, weathered, harsh. He’s also, I believe, the only real star-power that Netflix can rely on for The Witcher: besides him, we have Anya Cholatra as the powerful sorceress Yennefer, looking stylish in a heavy fur-coat:

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The outfits look to be very high-quality. Finally, we have Freya Allan as the secretive Princess Ciri, all shadowy and mysterious, lurking in the forest while the others are all posing dramatically by the sea.

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The images look quite good, and give me hope that this might be a pretty decent adaptation – granted, I’ve never read the Witcher novels, so I won’t be able to give you in-depth analysis of what’s different between the books and the show, but I know someone who can: check out Elliot Brooks on YouTube if you want to know more about the show, and the novels, and the accompanying video games that actually made the novels as popular as they are (her channel is awesome, but especially for stuff about The Witcher).

What do you think? Do you like these images? Netflix has announced that they will be heading to San Diego Comic Con with The Witcher, so expect many more updates – and probably a trailer! – there.

“Tales Of The City” SPOILER Review!

I feel absurdly late to this party – the first Tales of the City series came out in 1993, and even this 2019 modernized reboot debuted weeks ago: but because it’s still Pride Month and I only just got around to watching the show, I’m going to trust my instincts, just as Anna Madrigal would say, and try to live by the “better late than never” mantra.

Obviously, SPOILERS AHEAD! If, like me, you haven’t watched Tales of the City yet (stop judging me), then beware! Back away! Avert your eyes!

And for those of you who finished the series ages ago, come on in! Let’s take a leisurely stroll up to 28 Barbary Lane and discuss what happened in a season full of twists, turns, surprises and shocking secrets. And, near the end of our little conversation here, allow me to explain why I think there should be a sequel.

Firstly, let’s talk in-depth about our main leads, specifically Shawna Hawkins (Ellen Page), Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross), Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) and Michael Tolliver (Murray Bartlett). All of them had some great moments, and some genuinely cringeworthy ones, but only Brian and Mary Ann got to fill out a complete character arc, in my opinion, and that’s why they’re my favorites of the show’s leads – excluding Anna, we’ll get to her later. Brian was honestly my least-favorite after the first episode, where he proved himself to be a hypocritical and jealous lowlife who still held a grudge against his ex-wife Mary Ann, after she left San Francisco twenty years prior to start a business. I could even have understood his point of view, had he not been as aggressive as he was, and so over-zealously protective of his and Mary Ann’s daughter, Shawna. Mary Ann, on the other hand, was sympathetic but incredibly irritating; naive, exuberant, ever optimistic (even when the wheels snapped off her luggage carrier), and perpetually unable to sympathize or even understand anyone else’s opinions. The two characters have romantic tension, but their meeting leads to constant bickering and relentless melodrama – which is only exacerbated when Mary Ann discovers that Shawna doesn’t know she’s adopted. One thing leads to another, and before you know it Brian and Mary Ann are back together. That would have been lame and annoying had not the writers and actors done such a good job of portraying the changes in their characters: somehow, by the last few episodes, I found myself waiting for Brian to make jokes rather than start fights (and make jokes he did, providing some of the best comic relief).

Michael Tolliver, the more-than-slightly stereotypical “gay best friend”, takes up a lot of screentime but does basically nothing to move the plot forward, making his story something of a chore to get through. The episodes around the midpoint of the show try especially hard to focus on him for no reason whatsoever, probably only because the last part of the show barely even touches on his subplot. The series’ focus was far too wide in scope, as I mentioned in my non-spoiler review: with two main plots already going on, the subplots generally suffered from a lack of purpose. Tolliver was the most notable example since his story, unlike that of Jake and Margot (more on them later), didn’t even really touch on any of the show’s themes.

Then we come to Shawna. Shawna is undeniably meant to be the series’ heroine, its protagonist, our eyes into this new and beautiful world of LGBTQ+ culture – she doesn’t fit the bill, unfortunately. While Ellen Page is a good actress, her subdued, low-energy approach to the character only served to make Shawna unlikable and, frankly, boring. There were rare moments of levity, usually when Shawna had brief, frantic reunions with her mother, and the two would team up to do something bizarre and hilarious. And then Shawna would randomly turn on her mother, storm off, and descend into a brooding mope. This problem only became worse when Claire Duncan (Zosia Mamet) entered the picture and the two started dating – why these two actresses felt it was necessary to make what should have been the show’s central relationship into slow, angsty staring contests, I have no idea. Every time Shawna and Claire ran into each other, all semblance of energy and liveliness drained away from their already pretty lifeless characters: they would stare at each other, mumble, shuffle around with their hands in their pockets, and then Claire would say something that was clearly meant to be philosophical in an artsy way, but only came off as absurd.

Which is why Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) became very quickly the heroine of the show, at least for me. She starts off as the centerpiece of the entire story: the other characters might hate each other, but they all love her. The main leads all live at her apartment complex, 28 Barbary Lane. They all come together to celebrate her 90th birthday, which causes the chaos and confusion that follows. She’s not exactly an active character, but then none of the leads are, except in their own subplots – Anna seems even passive at first, when she is blackmailed into selling Barbary Lane: an action which has major ramifications on the plot, sending the others into a frenzy to find new housing. When we learn the truth of Anna’s past, and how she took money stolen from the LGBTQ+ community and used it to pay for surgery, a house, her entire existence – even there, she’s the passive character, as the money was all but forced on her by her distraught partner, Tommy. As a transgender woman in the 1960s, Anna survived only by isolating herself from the people who needed her most, refusing to speak up and take action against violence and oppression. Her entire story is built on her passivity – and she’s not proud of it. She is shamed and consumed with guilt: her arc is all about finding forgiveness, and she is finally allowed that peace when the LGBTQ+ community of San Francisco rallies to save Barbary Lane from demolition in the most heartwarming and powerful scene of the series. Anna passes away in her sleep not long after that: “Anna didn’t believe in coincidence,” Mary Ann says after her death, “so neither shall we.” The emotional sentiment is also used to explain how this diverse, dissimilar cast of characters all ended up under Anna’s protection.

The diverse supporting cast are, without a doubt, the highlight of the entire show. The most relevant are Jake (Garcia) and Margot Park (May Hong), a young couple who live at Barbary Lane and deal with serious issues when the show begins – Jake was a lesbian woman who transitioned into a man, and is now realizing he is gay: Margot was Jake’s girlfriend before he transitioned but is still a lesbian, and doesn’t love Jake in his new body. Eventually, even though both Jake and Margot get forgotten for a good long while in the middle of the show, their storyline is sorted out: they break up peacefully, Margot finds a new girlfriend in DeDe Day (Barbara Garrick), and Jake decides to hold off on being in a relationship. The friendship between these two characters after they split is much more powerful than their romantic bond ever was, and it gives me hope that they’ll both be all right. Other highlights are Mateo (Dickie Hearts), DeDe’s exasperated butler; Ida (Caldwell Tidicue), the nightclub owner who shows up to help save Barbary Lane in the final episode; transgender actresses Jen Richards and Daniela Vega as a young Anna Madrigal and her nemesis Ysela, respectively; and Michelle Buteau as Brian’s sports-loving best friend Wrenita. These diverse characters have to work overtime to sell the premise and theme of the entire show, and each of them does it and, in the aforementioned instances, bring a little extra to the table too.

The show does have an issue with its plot, specifically towards the end when all the family-drama about Shawna’s parents and Michael’s relationship suddenly just goes away, allowing us to finally focus on the real story about Anna’s past and the person currently blackmailing and manipulating her: what started as a feel-good story about coming home to San Francisco takes an abrupt turn when Mary Ann and Shawna have to don disguises to follow a suspicious man, who turns out to be completely harmless and in fact helps the family on their hunt to find the real culprit: suspicion falls on Ysela, who’s still around and helping the homeless, but she proves innocent as well. Only after a bunch of misdirects involving a lot of random art do we finally reach the shocking conclusion that Claire Duncan, Shawna’s boring girlfriend, is actually the one behind all this. The grand finale, when Claire is wrestled into some pink feather-boa handcuffs after trying to demolish Barbary Lane and capture the event on film for her documentary about hypocrisy is…conflicting, to be sure. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun, especially when Claire makes the mistake of telling the LGBTQ+ protesters that she’ll just edit them out of the footage, which provokes a chant of “We will not be erased!”. On the other hand, she’s like, what, a twenty-something year old living on the streets, and she somehow managed to convince an entire construction crew to help her demolish a building – and her motivation is…what, exactly? I also have to admit that, even though I loathed her character, I didn’t like the fact that she had to go back to her parents in the end, since they pretty obviously despised her with a passion. It’ll only lead to more trouble, is my guess.

Which leads us to our final topic: is there anything in the future for Tales of the City? Well, at the moment, no – with Anna Madrigal gone, the show has lost its most important character, and Barbary Lane has lost the one thing that really held all its occupants together. Without her, there’s not really a story to be told about Barbary Lane: but that doesn’t exclude other topics from being explored. Jake’s unresolved story, Michael and Ben’s on-and-off relationship, Shawna’s adventures beyond San Francisco, Claire’s future, DeDe’s butler, Twintertainment – there’s some stuff there that could be used to craft some pretty interesting stories, or even just a comedic miniseries or two. Garcia has already said he’d up for a spinoff about Jake and Margot.

What do you think? Would you like to see more Tales of the City, or do you think this is the definitive final chapter? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

“Tales Of The City” Review!

As Pride Month draws to a close, you have just enough time still to binge-watch Netflix’s modernized reboot of the 1993 soap opera Tales of the City, which is in turn based off the 1978 novel by Armistead Maupin. But even if you don’t know the original series (I didn’t), this show somehow manages to perfectly convey the feeling of coming home – to the house on the hill at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco. That’s especially due to cast, social commentary and atmosphere, all of which intertwine in an almost intoxicating blend of nostalgia.

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The cast includes series regulars Laura Linney and Paul Gross, along with the show’s main attraction, Olympia Dukakis, reprising her groundbreaking role as Anna Madrigal, the beloved elderly transgender landlady of Barbary Lane – this time around, she comes loaded with a dark backstory and a few scandalous secrets, not unlike the diverse group of characters, young and old, who live in her apartment complex. There’s Shawna (Ellen Page), supposedly the show’s protagonist, but whose story tends to get lost among all the intersecting threads and character arcs – or maybe it’s just because every time Shawna shares the screen with her girlfriend Claire Duncan (Zosia Mamet), the energy and vitality of the show grinds to a halt, while the two stare blankly at each other and mumble. Paul Gross returns as Shawna’s adoptive father, Brian Hawkins, while Linney is once again the naive, wide-eyed Mary Ann Singleton – but unlike in other iterations of the show, Barbary Lane is only temporarily seen from Mary Ann’s POV. Instead, the focus has wisely been shifted on the real, down-to-earth residents of San Francisco: interracial gay couple Michael Tolliver (Murray Bartlett) and Ben Marshall (Charlie Barnett); Asian-American twins and Instagram influencers Ani and Jonathan Winter (Ashley Park and Christopher Larkin); Hispanic transgender/genderqueer nurse Jake Rodriguez (Garcia) and his lesbian girlfriend Margot Park (May Hong); and especially black cross-dressing nightclub owner Ida Best (Caldwell Tidicue), who has one absolutely awesome scene in Episode 9, donning a silver wig and high heels while leading a troop of Rainbow Warriors into battle against injustice. It’s really not that surprising that Ellen Page gets swallowed up by this rich, diverse cast – her performance is good, but far too low-energy to make her stand out in the crowds of witty drag queens, nursing home troublemakers, and nasty dinner guests.

These people are the products of a brilliant, flamboyant, free-spirited society in the streets of San Francisco: not only its beautiful vistas, sunsets, parks, high-rises or even its oases like Barbary Lane, but also its darker, grittier side. This is made especially clear in Episode 8, an extended flashback to Anna Madrigal’s early life in the city soon after her transition: here, Madrigal attempts to navigate her dangerous new existence as a transgender woman in 1966, and finds herself having to do anything possible to survive. Her “house on the hill” wasn’t built by goodwill and fortune-cookie wisdom alone, as it turns out. The show has an interesting, thoughtful commentary on the history and progression of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement, from Anna’s flashback to one intensely awkward conversation about the privileges of gay men who survived the AIDS crisis. Characters like Ysela (Daniela Vega) and the everyday struggles we see briefly through her eyes as she protects the city’s homeless, show us that no matter how far we’ve come, we have to keep going. And Anna, when she is interviewed, sums it up best when she explains that the city hasn’t changed very much at all since the 1960s – people still make mistakes, and they still have to deal with the consequences and try to make things better.

This commentary would make for one pretty grim show if it weren’t for the fact that Tales of the City actually has a really hard time balancing its two main narratives – the show tries as best as it can to give equal screentime to the family-drama and the LGBT crime thriller that make up its plot: considering that both of these stories literally operate out of the same house, this should have been much more seamless than it ended up being. But if I have one complaint about the show, it would be that – not only is the story lopsided, it can’t even figure out which way it wants to…lop (is lop a word? What is a lopside?) at any given time: one of the most bizarre examples is when a humorous but suspenseful car-chase abruptly turns into a mother/daughter quarrel. Throughout the middle of the show, there are interminable arguments about relationships, parenting, interactive art, etc, etc, and the show begins to get lost – along with many of its characters, who either randomly disappear around the midpoint, or just wander around in the background to give the illusion that they’re doing something relevant as the family-drama plot increasingly narrows in on Mary Ann, Brian and Shawna, while also trying to spare just enough time on Michael and Ben to still give a gay viewpoint on the story.

And then, in the last three episodes of the show, the family-drama stuff basically gets thrown out the window, in place of the crime story – which, honestly, is much more interesting. The finale neatly wraps up that storyline, in a weirdly cartoonish but still entertaining fashion – literally, in fact. Many of the storylines explored in the family-drama plot, however, are left open to interpretation.

Which brings me to a sentiment I expressed early today in an Instagram post, where I said that I need more Tales of the City content. There is ample opportunity for spinoffs and sequels about these characters: I think this show maybe bit off more than it could chew, but a smaller-scale, more intimate series about one of the show’s supporting cast could be very satisfying – for goodness sake, I’d be willing to watch an entire show about DeDe Day’s butler!

I don’t know if I’ll write a Spoiler Review for this show, but there is definitely a lot to talk about regarding the series – so leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Season Rating: 7.9/10

“Murder Mystery” Review!

Where to start with this review? Well, how about this: the movie does not begin on a dark and stormy night – but that’s one of the very few mystery-story cliches it does not tackle in its surprisingly short, swiftly-paced runtime. And I mean, one of the very few: this is a movie that comes packed with all the requisite elements of a classic mystery; from the suave British host to the alluring city-streets of Monaco, illegitimate children of English nobility, enigmatic French detectives and lethal Indian daggers. Every overdone trope gets its moment of melodrama in the spotlight – before it is inevitably wrestled to the ground by hilarious, heartfelt satire.

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But no, our story begins in New York City, with our protagonists: lazy NYPD detective Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) and inquisitive, bookish hairdresser Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston). The couple are bored and tired in their middle-class American lives, until their wedding anniversary, when Nick agrees to take his wife on a long-awaited European vacation – a honeymoon fifteen years in the making. On the plane, they run into the aforementioned suave British gentleman, Charles Cavendish; elegantly portrayed by Luke Evans, Cavendish is immediately suspect even before Audrey openly states that, with a name like his, he would be the bad guy in a mystery story. Nevertheless, he politely invites Mr. and Mrs. Spitz to be his guests on a private yacht rather than have to spend their honeymoon traveling on a crowded tour bus learning about aged Italian ham.

Naturally, the mystery begins there.

The usual suspects are all present. Aside from Charles, we are presented with prospective-heir-to-a-magnificent-fortune Tobias Quince (David Walliams), Charles’ ex-girlfriend Suzi Nakamura (Shioli Kutsuna), the Maharajah Vikram Govindan (Adeel Akhtar), grizzled war hero Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), the celebrity race-car driver Juan Carlos Rivera (Luis Gerardo Méndez), and the silent Russian bodyguard known as Sergei (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), plus the film’s most lavish star aside from the three leads, Gemma Arterton, playing…well, the film’s most lavish star, actress Grace Ballard. The actors all get a chance to take themselves far too seriously, as their caricature characters clash (try saying that one three times fast) in a desperate attempt to win the love – and magnificent fortune – of the elderly, steely-eyed tycoon Malcolm Quince. Terence Stamp gives a brief, but almost Christopher Lee-like performance as Mr. Quince, before he is dramatically slain with, you guessed it, the Indian dagger. The scene immediately preceding his death, in which Mr. Quince realizes that he has two unexpected (and decidedly civilian) guests in Mr. and Mrs. Spitz, is absolutely hilarious – Aniston and Sandler are brilliant in their roles, and somehow sell the premise that they are, in fact, the odd ones out on this high-end French yacht full of celebrities and moviestar personalities.

After Quince’s sudden demise, just when the film should really take off, the movie suddenly jolts in the opposite direction – or maybe “jolt” is too strong a word. Our protagonists sort of just…idle, while the plot stands still around them, allowing for a handful of genuinely funny moments, most of them provided by our French detective, Inspector de la Croix (Dany Boon). But while he can blow an impressive smoke-ring, Hercule Poirot he is not. To make matters worse, Sandler’s characters suffers with sleepiness throughout the movie, but seems to get especially lackadaisical just when things get interesting. With a little less than an hour left, the movie suddenly remembers that it is, in fact, supposed to be entertaining: like a crimson Ferrari gunned into action (that metaphor will make sense later), the story gets fun, fast. We’re treated to another death, an obligatory escape-out-the-window scene in a luxury hotel, and hysterical humor. From that point on, except for some unnecessary marital drama, Murder Mystery gleams. Most of the film’s best material is packed into the last thirty minutes.

The high-points of the movie are the performances, and the finale: Aniston, Sandler and Evans are all exceptional – Evans does grow less so as the movie progresses, and his dashing elegance is, unfortunately, never shattered with comedic precision, but his charm is enough to make up for that. Many of the smaller roles are enjoyable to watch: Akhtar’s Maharajah is delightfully cool; Arterton is blessed with a large enough role in which to show off her range; and, as previously noted, Stamp gets one delectably funny scene, which he dominates. Only Ólafsson and Méndez are forgettable in their roles.

As for the finale – well, I did not actually guess the murderer’s identity correctly. But I loved the way that, even in its closing minutes, the movie had time to turn the tables on one more mystery cliche: and it’s a good one, too. There’s an excruciatingly funny car chase as well, involving one beautiful red Ferrari – I was not expecting goats, but I got goats, and I loved them. The film’s final scene can be read as either a tease of sequels down the line, or just a loving nod to the genre; an apology, of sorts, for all the mischief and madness committed in the name of mystery.

So, is Murder Mystery worth seeing? Well, if nothing else, it will definitely have you smiling and probably laughing out loud in its best moments – it’s not brilliant, and it’s not even the most brilliant use of satire, but it is heartfelt and heartwarming. Sandler and Aniston make a great duo, and have a fun supporting cast. So if you’re an insomniac on a dark and stormy night, why not check it out?

Movie Rating: 6.5/10

A “Magic: The Gathering” Adaptation Is Coming!

Right up front, let me inform you that I am not part of the sprawling fandom devoted to the card, tabletop and digital Magic: The Gathering games. For those of you who are, you will be pleased to know that the upcoming Netflix adaptation of the games will be directed by devout fans – none other than Joe and Anthony Russo. Maybe their names aren’t familiar to you? They’ve directed a couple of films – Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame. Nothing too big.

Turns out the Russo Brothers aren’t just Marvel fans, though: apparently, they’ve been playing the game for “as long as it has been around” – in other words, since 1993. And since pretty much anything that the Russos touch turns to pure cinematic gold – and box-office gold, too – that’s enough to pique my interest in this show. The adaptation will be an animated series, and will be produced in collaboration with game-makers Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. Never having played the game in question, I really can’t say for certain what I expect to see in the series (um, magic, I’m guessing?), but I bet it’s a pretty great game, if it comes from Wizards of the Coast – who also created one of my own personal favorite tabletop games, Axis & Allies.

If the idea of “animation” conjures up disturbing visions of two-dimensional cartoons, rest assured that the show will combine cutting-edge animation techniques with multi-genre storytelling including suspense, horror and drama. Sounds pretty good, right? The drawbacks, of course, are obvious: Magic: The Gathering is a game, and game adaptations aren’t exactly notable for being faithful to the source-material, or even very entertaining on their own merits. And this one is more convoluted and complex than most: there’s a huge cast of characters (sorry, “Planeswalkers”) involved in the Magic: The Gathering game franchise, and an inordinately large number of fantasy worlds and dimensions to bring to the screen. But if anybody can do this, it’s the Russo Brothers, who were able to satisfy both long-time Marvel comic fans as well as general audiences during their four-film tenure in the MCU – and, as previously noted, they’ve raked in a lot of cash with just those four films.

Avengers: Endgame is still in theaters if you want to get a taste of what a Magic: The Gathering adaptation might look like in the Russo Brothers’ hands.