“The Letter For The King” Review!

Considering that I went into The Letter For The King expecting to be bored out of my mind, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with what I got: which, indeed, is mostly a blend of various tired fantasy tropes and scenes or even entire characters plucked straight from other, better, works of art, but also has just enough new – or mostly new – content to distance itself from the pack.

Based on an obscure Dutch fantasy novel from the 1960’s, The Letter For The King simply doesn’t have the name recognition that would enable it to jump into the midst of Netflix’s crowded schedule with a built-in fanbase. In English-speaking countries, there wasn’t even a proper translation of the novel until a few years ago. So it’s unsurprising that the six-part series has to look for inspiration elsewhere: almost the entire plot is comprised of original content, and almost all of that original content is…shall we say, lifted, from fantasy books, films and TV series as wide-ranging as The Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, The Witcher, The Chronicles Of Prydain and Starlight. The latter two, with their largely simplistic worlds, basic magic systems, and archetypal characters, are by far the most obvious source material – even with Lord Of The Rings trilogy production designer Ra Vincent working behind the scenes, The Letter For The King still looks and feels like a small-scale children’s fable (and that’s not a criticism of Prydain or Starlight, by the way: both are fabulous) that might have attracted more attention if it had been released fifteen years ago, when studios were trying desperately to replicate the success of The Lord Of The Rings by using as little money and effort as possible. These days, as the hunt for the next Game Of Thrones heats up, The Letter For The King, with its antiquated fairytale style and low stakes, has little chance of being an underdog champion like its protagonist, Tiuri (alternately pronounced “Tiuri” or “Churri” – I doubt it was intentional, but the constantly changing pronunciations of his name often reminded me of a similar problem in Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic The Lord Of The Rings, where the villain Saruman’s name was changed halfway through production to “Aruman”, leading to a perplexing continuity error).

The Letter For The King
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Oftentimes, adaptations of fantasy and sci-fi literature fail because they try to excessively build their worlds rather than doing the same with their characters or plot: cramming detail and deep lore into every inch of your expansive world is certainly much more fun than patching up plot-holes or charting character arcs, but if done incorrectly, it can bog down a film or TV series within minutes, as the audience struggles to catch up with a constant flow of place names, history lessons and nonsensical exposition dumps. The Letter For The King somehow does the exact opposite and still runs into a problem: because it does the bare minimum to flesh out its world (for example, the world actually has no name: its simply referred to as “three kingdoms”), it ends up looking like any of a thousand generic fantasy worlds – a sprinkling of vague magic, Medieval European societies dotting a map, and an obligatory Chosen One prophecy.

But once it becomes apparent that this is a problem (about five minutes in, I think?), the show starts hurling things at you that give the impression of depth: specifically, actors from other fantasy franchises. David Wenham, who portrayed Faramir, the young, idealistic son of a stern and demanding father, in The Lord Of The Rings, has here been upgraded to playing the stern and demanding father of a young, idealistic son (and make no mistake: he does a fantastic job of it). Andy Serkis, whose revolutionary motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum earned him worldwide renown, here delights in a brief cameo as an actual human being: something of a mix between the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit and Capricorn, the villain of Inkheart (who, coincidentally, was also portrayed by Serkis in the film adaptation of that novel). Serkis’ daughter Ruby Ashbourne Serkis also shares the screen with him, playing his character’s daughter Lavinia, and then goes on to become the female lead of the series – her acting career is off to a good start, judging by the strength of her performance here. And in a very smart move, Kim Bodnia plays the sword-fighting abbot of the monastery at the edge of the world: Bodnia will portray the Witcher Vesemir in The Witcher‘s second season, and this is a tantalizing first look at what he could do in that role – Witcher fans would be smart to check out his fighting and acting skills here, and simultaneously give The Letter To The King some much-needed views.

The Letter For The King
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Because despite being derivative, the series actually does have quite a lot of strong elements: especially if you’re into the more romanticized, outdated style of fantasy that was popular throughout the middle of the 20th Century. It has charm, for one thing – the series is TV-PG and family-friendly: a welcome break from The Witcher‘s gothic horror and Game Of Thrones‘ vicious brutality. And the core cast of characters are all fairly well developed: Tiuri, played by Amir Wilson, isn’t exactly a memorable hero, but he’s also not quite as dull as Starlight‘s Tristan or Prydain‘s Taran (what’s with all the T names, may I ask?). His character also has interesting things to say regarding the racial dynamics in his world – none of which ever actually get said, but still exist in subtext. Thaddea Graham’s hardened rogue Iona evolves into an Arya Stark prodigy (her final scene in the series actually seems to direct imitate one of Arya’s memorable scenes with The Hound from Game Of Thrones, season 8). Jussipo, initially one of the most annoying characters in the series, quickly shows his true colors as a delightfully smarmy, wickedly sarcastic bard. And along with gender and racial diversity, there’s even some surprising LGBTQ+ representation among the main cast – which, after all the recent queer-baiting from other studios, deserves a round of applause for how direct and straightforward it is.

The Letter For The King
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Any good fantasy needs a good villain – a Cersei Lannister, a Smaug, a wicked old witch. The Letter For The King has an up-and-down relationship with its villain, Gijs Blom’s raven-haired goth necromancer Viridian: first it depicts him as a cartoonishly callous sadist without any moral complexity; then it tries to turn the tables on our heroes and reveal Viridian’s noble purpose, which actually works until said noble purpose turns out to be thinly-veiled racism; then it underutilizes him in its own finale before turning him into an overpowered Morgoth knock-off.

Speaking of which, we have to talk about the series’ poor use of action. Action, in a fantasy series, is something of a given: even if its special effects wizardry, you need some sort of action. The Letter For The King, being almost exclusively the story of Tiuri intercepting an incriminating letter from Viridian and trying to deliver it to a neighboring nation’s king, relies heavily on horseback fight and chase scenes. Now, these are easy to do right, with the help of a good cinematographer: in The Lord Of The Rings, Arwen and Frodo’s flight to the fords of Bruinen is a thrilling, suspenseful sequence where horses interlace between trees in a graceful, dangerous dance while Howard Shore’s score wails hauntingly in the background. Unfortunately, the thousands of horse chases in this series never once come close to paralleling that one epic scene, no matter how many times they pan over beautiful landscapes: the music accompanying these scenes is unmemorable, while the cinematography is questionable – mounting a camera on a horse’s head probably seemed like a good idea to make one chase scene more realistic, but did no one stop to consider that it takes the viewer out of the world completely?

It’s the same situation with the special effects budget. Most of the CGI seems to have been used up on Viridian’s finale transformation, meaning that throughout the rest of the series there’s just a bunch of patchy fire and smoke effects and one truly horrific CGI castle wall in the city of Unauwen – which was made doubly inexcusable because of how many times the city was made out to look like Game Of Thrones‘ Winterfell from afar, despite the fact that the one is a mess of bad special effects and the other was an almost entirely practical set.

So is The Letter For The King a must-see? Not by any means. But while we’re all self-quarantining, I don’t know if we’ve got any better options right now. And it’s actually not that bad. Pretty bad? Yeah, just a little. Game Of Thrones season 8 bad? No. Not even close.

Series Rating: 6/10

“Self-Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker” Review!

Netflix’s Self-Made is a mere four episodes long, and each episode is under an hour long, but somehow never once feels too short or too fast-paced: in fact, at multiple points while watching the miniseries, I found myself mistakenly thinking I had watched more episodes than I really had. And that’s because there’s a lot of material in this show – because, shocker, the story of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first self-made female millionaire and a pioneer in black history, is actually just as fascinating as the oft-repeated tales of rich white men. Who’d have guessed?

Showrunner Kasi Lemmons doesn’t just focus on all the defining moments of Madam C.J. Walker’s life either: while the series does center around this incredible woman’s rise to fame and fortune and the legacy that outlasted her, Lemmons also finds time to turn the spotlight on two equally interesting women who circled the Madam during her life: her daughter A’Lelia, who became a fixture of Harlem culture during the 1920’s; and Addie Monroe, a fictional character heavily based on Madam C.J. Walker’s real-life business partner and later rival, Annie Malone.

Madam C.J. Walker
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These three women each find themselves using different tactics and strategies to navigate through early 20th Century America, but it’s Madam C.J. Walker, a St. Louis laundress who starts out the series having just been abandoned by her abusive, alcoholic husband, who comes out on top, rising to prominence as the leading creator and seller of hair and beauty products for black women. From her humble beginnings as the daughter of former slaves to sharing a scene with another Gilded Age tycoon, John D. Rockefeller himself (who offers her some characteristically unhelpful advice on how to deal with workers’ strikes), the Madam is portrayed as a woman determined to make a name for herself and find independence and purpose in what was almost exclusively a man’s world. Octavia Spencer, of course, delivers a fantastic performance, bringing out Madam C.J. Walker’s humor, big heart, and fiery determination: though the series could easily have depicted the Madam as an invincible character breaking down the patriarchy one business deal at a time (and indeed, the idea is tempting, never more so than when our heroine challenges the noted activist Booker T. Washington over his sexist views), it instead succeeds because of how it shows her as a woman with ordinary flaws and weaknesses, as well as incredible strength. This is most apparent when it comes to her relationships with her family: from her husband, C.J. Walker, who has some…difficulty…being anything less than the Walker family’s sole breadwinner; to her father-in-law, who somehow manages to be the funniest character on a show that also stars Tiffany Haddish; to Haddish’s A’Lelia, Madam C.J. Walker’s daughter and closest confidante.

A’Lelia is a brilliant, larger-than-life figure alongside her more reserved, steely mother. She kind of has to be: A’Lelia became most famous later in life for her contributions to the arts as a patron of black musicians, artists, writers and other creatives. The series spends a considerable amount of time following A’Lelia as she come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t share her mother’s dreams, and simultaneously discovers her true calling. But she and her mother clash a number of times as they diverge on how to establish a legacy for the Walker company and family. This situation is made more volatile when it becomes clear that A’Lelia is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who has no interest in settling down with a husband or having children.

And then we have Carmen Ejogo’s Addie Monroe, a character who, as I previously noted, is based on Madam C.J. Walker’s actual business rival. Though she initially comforts and cares for Walker (back when the Madam was still only destitute Sarah Breedlove, doing chores for Monroe in exchange for hair-growth treatments), she quickly parts ways from her former friend after Walker expresses an interest in helping Monroe sell her product – which Monroe, a light-skinned African-American woman, thinks will destroy her public image. But when Walker’s own products outsell Monroe’s and threaten the latter’s business, the rivalry between the two entrepreneurs forces them to think up bigger, bolder plans for their companies, until they both become obsessed with trying to outsmart each other.

Madam C.J. Walker
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But in the end, even though Monroe is still mostly a villainous character, she’s also a businesswoman just like The Madam – and a theme prevalent in Self-Made is that when one woman succeeds, all women succeed. It becomes the cornerstone of Walker’s career, and we see its effects near the finale of the series during a montage (which is strongly reminiscent of an infomercial, but I’ll let that slide) of various women who break the fourth wall to talk about the ways that Walker inspired them to pursue their own dreams and forge their own paths in life – interestingly, there’s a fair bit of fourth wall breaking in the series: for instance, the events of the first episode are intercut with a scene of Walker and Monroe battling it out in a metaphorical boxing match. This is one of the series’ few questionable creative decisions, since it seems to have no real impact other than to make the aforementioned infomercial ending organic rather than jarring.

Apart from that, the series has impeccable production design, cinematography and, of course, hair and makeup (“Hair is power,” Walker declares in one scene: and she couldn’t be more right). Kasi Lemmons and her team have done an excellent job bringing this historical heroine’s life story to the screen in a way that makes her feel very much alive, and just as monumental as any of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies.

So what did you think of Self-Made? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

Series Rating: 9/10

“The Witcher” Season 2 Full Cast Revealed!

Yes, we’ve been receiving a steady influx of casting updates from both The Witcher‘s official social media accounts and outside sources for a couple weeks now, and Netflix themselves recently revealed a long list of new faces joining Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra and Freya Allen in the fantasy phenomenon‘s hotly-anticipated second season, but there was something missing: all these cast lists and leaks were incomplete without an actor locked in for the critical role of Vesemir, which was why I refrained from covering any of those castings – until today, now that Vesemir too has been cast.

The Witcher‘s second season has already begun production, and filming is currently underway. Most of the characters we now know and love (or hate, in certain cases) from the first season will be returning, including Joey Batey as the bard Jaskier, who became a viral sensation; MyAnna Buring as the steely sorceress Tissaia; Mahesh Jadu, Lars Mikkelson, Mimi Ndiweni, Anna Shaffer and Therica Wilson Read as the mages Vilgefortz, Stregobor, Fringilla, Triss and Sabrina, respectively; Eamon Farren as the villainous Cahir; and Tom Canton as the Elf-King Filavandrel. But The Witcher‘s second season will feature the debut of characters both new and well-known, and a number of fan-favorites from both the source material (the Polish fantasy novels), and the thing that everybody thinks is the source material but isn’t (the incredibly popular video game trilogy).

The Witcher
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Kristofer Hivju, best known for portraying the lovable barbarian Tormund Giantsbane on Game Of Thrones, is set to play Nivellen, a character best described as a much more terrifying version of Disney’s The Beast. Transformed into a ghastly were-bear by a priestess’ curse, Nivellen hides in his mansion in the woods, until the day he catches a man stealing a rose from his garden which leads to…you get the idea, right? Basically, only true love can lift Nivellen’s curse, and true love is in short supply in The Witcher‘s dark and monster-infested world. Hivju, with his large, bearish build and bushy facial hair, will be the perfect fit for this role.

Agnes Born plays Vereena, who will appear only in the season’s first episode. Without giving away too many spoilers, Vereena is one of several women who come to lift the curse laid upon Nivellen: but she has her own secrets, and she’s not quite the Belle to Nivellen’s Beast.

Mecia Simson will take on the role of Francesca Findabair, the Elven queen of Dol Blathanna and one of the Continent’s greatest sorceresses. In the books, she lives a life of secrecy, and not much is known about her origins or her fate, but it seems that Netflix will try to flesh out the character further, as their breakdown for the character mentions her having a strong bond with her child. I have faith in showrunner Lauren Hissrich’s ability to develop complex and nuanced women, and I hope that Francesca will be another one to add to the list alongside characters like Yennefer and Ciri (of whom, the former is one of Francesca’s rivals). Simson has already been spotted onset, in scenes with Filavandrel.

Aisha Fabienne Ross will portray a minor character named Lydia van Bredevoort: the personal assistant of Vilgefortz, Lydia will likely have a small but pivotal role, as her breakdown specifies that she “Carries out a horrible deed”. Lydia is horribly scarred, but uses magic to create the illusion of a beautiful face for herself.

Three young Witchers will show up: their names are Eskel, Coen and Lambert, and they will be played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen, Yasen Atour and Paul Bullion, respectively. Coen is likely the most important of the three, as he will be responsible for helping to train Ciri in the ways of the Witchers.

No actors have yet been cast in the very important roles of Sigismund Dijkstra the spy, or the sorceress Philippa Eilhart, both of whom will probably be major players in the events of Season 2. However, the most crucial character in this season has just been cast today, and that is none other than the legendary Witcher, Vesemir.

Vesemir The Witcher
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Geralt’s mentor, Vesemir was briefly mentioned during flashbacks in Season 1, but has yet to appear onscreen: and soon after the first season’s success, the internet collectively decided that Mark Hamill, of Star Wars fame, was the best choice to play the coveted role. Hamill, being a cool, casual guy, was completely onboard with the idea, as was Hissrich – and supposedly, the two entered talks to negotiate a deal. Either the deal fell through or it never happened in the first place, because Hamill will not be playing Vesemir: that role will instead go to Kim Bodnia, best known for his work on Killing Eve. Bodnia isn’t quite as recognizable and eye-catching as Hamill would have been, but he’s still a well-respected actor who is more than capable of carrying what are sure to be the second season’s most powerful dramatic moments.

What do you think of the cast for The Witcher, Season 2? Who are you most excited to see in action? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Self Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker” Trailer Review!

The so-called “great men of history” are all well and good, but have you ever heard of one Madam C.J. Walker? No? Well then, Netflix has got you covered, because the first trailer for their upcoming biopic-miniseries based on the African-American entrepreneur’s epic life-story just dropped today.

Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer plays the Louisiana-born businesswoman who rose to fame and a considerable amount of fortune in the early 20th Century, becoming America’s first self-made female millionaire and the wealthiest African-American woman in the United States. This retelling of C.J. Walker’s life appears to focus on her relationship with her family, including her daughter A’Lelia and her second husband, Charles. But the trailer also puts plenty of attention on the lavish luxuries of the Gilded Age that C.J. Walker, after a hard-fought struggle to become one of the country’s leading developers of women’s cosmetics and beauty products, was able to enjoy. There’s even a couple of elaborately choreographed dance sequences which look like a lot of fun – and trust me, it was hard to resist dancing when I heard Ruby Amanfu’s “I’m A Ruler” playing over the trailer.

Madam C.J. Walker
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Spencer is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, including Tiffany Haddish (who has been slowly transitioning from comedy to drama with mixed results), Blair Underwood, and Carmen Ejogo, who plays Spencer’s business rival. Self Made is directed by Kasi Lemmons, who recently directed a more high-profile biopic of another African-American pioneer: abolitionist and Civil War heroine Harriet Tubman, whose story Lemmons adapted in Harriet. Hopefully, Self-Made will help to get people talking (and most importantly, learning) about Walker and other African-American historical figures who may not be instantly recognizable to the general audience.

So how does Self-Made look to you? What other African-American icons deserve to be immortalized in film and on TV? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Locke & Key” Review!

Netflix’s Locke & Key opens a doorway into an expansive world of dark, cosmic magic that can only be described as deep: there are keys that lead to other keys, which open doors within doors, which then lead to puzzles, which connect back to clues, which are all supposed to interlock(e) – the problem comes toward the middle of the ten-part series, when it becomes clear that there’s no good way for everything to come together, because of a single plot point that splits the series’ focal point in two rapidly diverging directions, which never reunite (and never seem likely to, assuming there is a second season – there’s certainly set-up for one).

"Locke & Key" Review! 1
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Without getting into spoilers, I’ll explain it like this: after a couple of really strong episodes, Locke & Key introduces an idea that immediately forces the adult characters – including the series’ most compelling character, recovering alcoholic and traumatized widow Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) – and the teen or young adult characters – specifically her children, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) – to pursue two very different paths. The adults are left with many of the hard-hitting emotional and dramatic moments, but the kids have to awkwardly carry the horror/fantasy plotline to its conclusion. This divide is…uncomfortable, to say the least, and it also makes both parties look bad: the adults seem naive and negligent for barely ever interfering in their kids’ lives; the kids come off as idiotic and downright mean for never going to the adults for help or advice. And again, this is all because of one plot-point that is never even properly explained: this particular plot-point also seems oddly kiddish in a series that tries to be more edgy, dark and mature than it probably needs to be.

That darker vibe, while inconsistent, does allow for a somewhat memorable antagonist: the beautiful, haunting demon lurking in the well, whose actual name – “Dodge” – is far less threatening than either of her nicknames, “Well-Lady” or “Echo”. Portrayed by Laysla De Oliveira, the ancient demonic entity is able to do a fair bit of damage and wrack up an impressive kill-count, all with style and grace, even while being restricted by another very specific plot-point that forbids her from murdering absolutely everybody in her path towards…whatever it is she’s fighting for (it’s never actually explained what that is, making her sudden shift from “haunted house ghost” to “immortal Lovecraftian shadow goddess” inexplicable, yet still entertaining).

"Locke & Key" Review! 2
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Like Dodge, the entire series gets an upgrade about halfway through – which is both a blessing and a curse, as it simultaneously raises the stakes for all the protagonists while also closing the door on the fun, spooky treasure-hunt adventure that made the first few episodes so unique. The central trio of Locke children splits up, with the two older kids pursuing the main plot with their rapidly expanding group of high-school friends and enemies, while Bode (the most interesting of the three by far) is left at home, shoved to the sidelines, and kept in the dark…despite being the one who initially found the keys and unleashed Dodge. This series has a hard time remembering who its main characters are, at times. The high school story is intermittently dull, with subplots related to clam chowder, charity fundraisers, poorly-developed love triangles and generic bullies. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the sudden, strange decision to make the story all about Tyler Locke, the most boring, familiar, and downright annoying of the main trio (he seems to have a smoking addiction in the first episode, yet turns on his mother for drinking later in the series: hypocritical much, Tyler?) and the one who seems to have the least interest in the plot.

I might sound like I’m coming down hard on this show. But the series does have moments – sometimes even scenes – of true greatness: especially when it comes to the many inventive or witty ways in which the characters use their magic keys, either for good, evil, or stupid pranks. Kinsey using the Head Key to step inside her brain and battle it out with the personification of her own fears and insecurities? Excellent stuff. Dodge using the Anywhere Key to order breakfast at a small-town diner, go shopping at a high-end fashion mall, pull off a diamond-heist and attend a nightclub party all within a few moments? Fantastic. Anything involving the Ghost Key? Brilliant.

"Locke & Key" Review! 3
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Unfortunately, the scenes involving magic often require…magic, a.k.a. a CGI budget that this show clearly does not have at its disposal. The fight scenes with monsters, ghouls and demons are often all too brief, and darkly-lit (probably for the best, as the notable exception to this rule, involving a zombie-type creature attacking someone in broad daylight, looks painfully fake), while keys like the Matchstick and Ghost Key are used sparingly. This wouldn’t even be a problem if the series didn’t try to make itself larger than it had to be – when you’re just running around a spooky mansion, you don’t really need a whole bunch of special effects: when you’re on the brink of unleashing primordial powers from beyond the edge of the world into your small coastal town, that’s something else entirely.

Another issue with the magic system is that it never gets explained: why does it exist? Who made the keys, and why? What is Dodge? What is she doing? Who are the Lockes, and where did they come from? These are questions that are not only never answered, but never get raised in the first place. It’s not like there’s no reason to bring up any of these very important points: the Locke family are fighting to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, yet they never even seem to question how freaky and terrifying their lives have become. By the end of the series, they seem to have all nonchalantly settled down into a daily routine of nightmares, monstrous encounters in the woods, murderous escapees, demons breaking-and-entering, and a weirdly high number of people attacking each other with hammers (I mean, I get it, Nina is a carpenter and all, but are there no other available weapons in Keyhouse? They’ve got not one, but two wicked-looking swords mounted on the mantelpiece, and yet they choose hammers and plastic lightsabers to vend off intruders? Seriously?)

The series is fairly progressive, though fans of the original Locke & Key graphic novels will be disappointed to hear that Duncan Locke (Aaron Ashmore), an openly gay, happily married character in the comic, has a very small recurring role, and is nowhere shown to be gay, as he’s conveniently separated from his husband (whose name is, to be fair, mentioned once or twice) throughout the series.

All in all, Locke & Key has an amazing premise, and a couple of really good episodes: but it doesn’t take long before the plot, the characters and the entire series get lost in the dark. Will you find what you’re looking for amid the Gothic splendor of Keyhouse? I certainly hope so, because I feel like there’s potential somewhere in this story: potential that could be unlocked in a second season.

Series Rating: 5.9/10

“Lost In Space” Season Two Review!

In its second season, the family-friendly Netflix sci-fi drama Lost In Space takes our gallant team of heroes on an invigoratingly suspenseful new mission across the galaxy, searching for a planet to call home – preferably a planet that’s not about to be sucked into a black hole, but hey, sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got: and nobody is better at that than the Robinsons, a family of five plucky, over-achieving geniuses each armed with their own specific arsenal of unbelievable skills.

"Lost In Space" Season Two Review! 4
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After the Season 1 finale that left the family stranded in an alien region of the universe far from their spaceship, the Resolute, and even farther from their planned destination, the supposedly-peaceful human colony of Alpha Centauri, the Robinsons are forced to take shelter on a tiny beach somewhere on a vast ocean planet. There, they set up a base-camp and settle down – for seven months. And there we find them in the Season 2 pilot, as their collective restlessness is once again spurring them into action, forcing them to move quickly to escape the planet and find their friends onboard the Resolute – if they still can.

In Season 1, the narrative focus was largely on the characters of John (Toby Stephens), Maureen (Molly Parker) and Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins), who mostly shared the responsibility of trying to get the family off the aforementioned black-hole planet: all three had big hero moments, leaving little room for their supporting cast to develop into strong, well-rounded characters. The second season does manage to fit in a pretty decent character arc for the eldest daughter, medical student Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell), but its attempts to try and find a narrative purpose for aspiring author Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall) feel forced and unconvincing – especially since the attempt is half-hearted, and simply fizzles out halfway through this ten-episode series, leaving the younger daughter with no conclusion to her arc (back in Season 1, a lot was made of the fact that Will Robinson didn’t feel special compared to his more naturally talented siblings, and that he was the only one in the family who had actually failed to make the cut to go to Alpha Centauri, before his mother cheated the system to get him through – but can someone explain to me why Will, with his advanced knowledge of mathematics, geometry and geology, feels like the odd one out, when Penny’s entire personality consists of making unnecessary jokes during dramatic moments, and the brief snippets of her writing revealed in this season seem half-baked, to say the least? Though I’m willing to cut her some slack if it’s just a first draft).

"Lost In Space" Season Two Review! 5
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The Robinsons’ ally, mechanic Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), has evolved into something of a brusque, headstrong antihero between seasons: some might call him a Han Solo type, but I actually see more similarities to Poe Dameron, a similarly trigger-happy flyboy with a humorous nature, rugged Latino charisma, a shady past, a tendency to disobey superiors, and a strong devotion to a diminutive sidekick (in this case a lucky chicken called Debbie, but the point remains). He doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this season, but I’m hopeful that he’ll have much more time to shine in a third season of the series – which we had better be getting, considering that this season leaves us with a few gut-punch revelations and more than a couple of unanswered questions.

But Season 2’s real star, and the woman who deserves to be the face of this series just as much as The Robot (Brian Steele), is comedian Parker Posey as the Robinsons’ unwilling ally?/friend?/antagonist? Dr. Smith – or Jessica Harris, or June Harris, or whatever name she’s going by at any given moment. Posey’s interpretation of the beloved character is a master manipulator, capable of twisting anyone around her finger with the help of what seems to be a legitimate background in psychology. I don’t think it’s unpopular or controversial to suggest that she’s even a better liar and sneak than, say, Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and she’s cheated death just as many times. It’s impossible to ever fully trust her or guess at her motives, but the show has a fantastic job of giving the other characters logical reasons to place her faith in her – even if it continuously backfires or places everybody in more danger. Posey was brilliant in Season 1, of course, but here she also has a slightly more zany, vibrant personality: from her slouchy, casual attire to her sudden nautical expertise.

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The true emotional core of the show is still Will’s relationship with The Robot, who went missing in the Season 1 finale and to whom Will feels telepathically connected. While their subplot (or, well, I guess it’s technically the main plot) is certainly compelling, it’s also a bit more confusing than the other characters’ relatively simple arcs: there’s a whole bunch of new robots, and new questions about the robots, and about the humans’ connection to the robots, and about the robot culture, and about that weird-looking alien engine that the robots are looking for, and about a million other little things that just show up without any explanation. And while, yes, the story of Will and The Robot has a couple unique complexities, it largely follows the same general structure as any story in which a young child encounters an alien that the powers-that-be would want to hide or abuse, making it the most well-worn of Lost In Space‘s tropes.

Overall, though, the series has largely avoided predictability, and continues to throw curveballs at the Robinsons, masterfully blending wholesome, family-friendly whimsy with darker, more mature themes and genuine thrills, scares and moments of suspense – though, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure any of the most suspenseful moments in Season 2 quite equal the sensational tension of Season 1, the pilot episode of which opened with Judy trapped under the ice of an alien lake with a mere five hours of oxygen left to breathe, Maureen weaving in and out of consciousness while Penny performed amateur surgery on her wounded leg, Will stuck in a forest fire, about to be killed by The Robot, and John forced to choose which of his children he could save without dooming the others to death. There are a couple moments in this season that come close – but, obviously, they’re sort of spoilers.

So if you’re looking for some wildly exciting science-fiction to dive into, I strongly encourage you to set sail for the stars and get lost in all the emotional drama, CGI spectacle and jaw-dropping action of Lost In Space, Season 2. Unless Netflix doesn’t renew the series for a third season, leaving us with no resolution to this season’s epic finale (unlikely, but you never know), then I can pretty much guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Series Rating: 8.7/10

“The Witcher” Review!

Netflix’s hotly-anticipated adaptation of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels and short story anthologies hit the ground running yesterday, quickly gathering a tightly-knit fan community and garnering praise from viewers. Its low Rotten Tomatoes score suggests disapproval from critics, but for my part, I have to say I’m one of those who simply can’t get enough of the “grimdark” fantasy world that Sapkowski created, and showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich has lovingly brought to life.

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The world of The Witcher is a twisted, messed-up place filled with hostile countries and city-states tenuously held together by the secret machinations of royal mages. In this world, mutated men called Witchers roam the violent backwoods corners of The Continent, hunting monsters for a price and carving out brutal, lonely lives for themselves. Our protagonist, the semi-heroic Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) is one of the most legendary, but also the most feared and reviled: where he goes, trouble follows, and people are eager to chase him away whenever he comes close.

Cavill, despite playing a brooding, hulking warrior devoid of human emotions, is surprisingly charismatic and endearing – his enthusiasm for the source material is evident (Cavill has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of both the novels and the accompanying video games), and that same enthusiasm shines through most clearly in his action sequences and fight scenes, all of which Cavill himself performed without the help of stunt doubles. And even though many of us worried that his long, silvery locks and bright yellow eyes made him look like he was wearing a Halloween costume, Cavill rocks the strange but unique style – except in Episode 2, for whatever reason: possibly because it’s the most brightly lit in the entire season, and it accentuates how unnaturally yellow and inexpressive his contact lenses really are. I understand that Cavill doesn’t want to give up the coveted role of Superman in the DCEU – but after watching The Witcher, I think it should be clear that, with his gruff voice and intense physicality, the actor was born and bred for roles like these, where he can let loose and be a feral, ferocious, demon-slaying mercenary. It’s impossible to even imagine him going back to the squeaky-clean Superman persona after this.

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But while Cavill is getting a lot of attention for carrying the show, the talents of his female co-stars Anya Chalotra and Freya Allen are just as worthy of praiseworthy ballads (speaking of which, I’m going to have “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher” stuck in my head for weeks). Chalotra, especially, does a fantastic job as the troubled sorceress Yennefer of Vengerburg, whose journey begins in a town full of bigots who mock her for her physical disabilities – her own father eventually sells her off to a mage for a bargain price. But Yennefer rises above the haters and becomes one of the series’ strongest and most iron-willed characters, as she trains to become The Continent’s most powerful mage. Her story would be especially fascinating no matter what, because it brings us, the audience, into contact with the various guilds of magicians and sorcerers who command The Continent’s destiny, but Chalotra manages to elevate every scene she’s in and make Yennefer our eyes and ears in the show’s most obviously fantastical subplot. She doesn’t get as many fight scenes, but those that she does have (especially in the finale) are epic. Freya Allen portrays Princess Cirilla, or “Ciri”, of Cintra, a stubborn and resilient young girl who is forced to flee from her grandmother’s sheltered palace after the walls are breached by invaders from the shadow lands of Nilfgaard. Alone, and surrounded by people who want to kill her, Ciri sets out into the wilderness with only a name to guide her: the name of Geralt of Rivia, who is supposedly destined to help her. Allen is very good, and possesses a cheerfully expressive face, but her character is rather enigmatic, even by the end of the season, making it ever so slightly more difficult to relate to her in the same way as the older, wiser Yennefer.

The series is structured as something of an anthology, so many of the supporting cast only make a handful of appearances – but even so, there are several highlights. Jodhi May as Ciri’s grandmother Queen Calanthe is a complex and divisive character who is alternately loved, respected, feared or hated – and her unpredictability keeps her friends and enemies on their toes at all times. Anna Shaffer’s Triss Marigold is the show’s most traditionally “witchy” witch, and does a very good job of it; while Mimi Ndiweni is utterly terrifying as the Nilfgaard mage Fringilla Vigo, a callous, sadistic conqueror. The male cast includes Geralt’s on-and-off traveling companion Jaskier (Joey Batey) who has a surprisingly modern vocabulary and a tendency to very nearly break the fourth wall at times (“There I go again, just delivering exposition” he comments at one point), and daredevil Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu), who’s stunts and unique brand of magic are incredibly entertaining to watch.

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At its heart, the show is a cunning blend of subversive fantasy and horror – and the horror elements are particularly strong, mostly because they’re intricately tied up in the world’s magic system. It’s never explained exactly where many of The Continent’s monsters, ghouls and demons come from, but it’s fun enough bracing yourself for the jump-scare moments when they burst from the ground, or from tombs, or lakes, or tall grass, etc, etc. Probably the best of the lot is the demon princess living in a crypt below a Temerian castle that seems to have been pulled straight from a Dracula adaptation (Temeria itself seems to be obviously based on Transylvania), but other highlights include a malevolent shapeshifter that eats children, and a dragon with a peculiar secret – I’m sure Sapkowski’s novels have plenty of material to draw from in the second season, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a Witcher take on the character of Baba Yaga, who I think would fit in perfectly with the assortment of other creatures on the show.

This is a non-spoiler review, so I won’t say too much about the series’ conclusion, or its various twists, turns and surprises – but I can at least assure you that almost all of them are legitimately exciting, and there are a number of storytelling devices employed that shake things up in an intriguing and often suspenseful fashion. Netflix is often criticized for making their original series’ too long, but The Witcher is a perfect length – in fact, by the end of it, you’ll probably be left hungry for more (not to mention angry at Netflix for concluding this first season on a moment that isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but definitely sizzles with palpable tension).

So if you’re looking for a new, dark, twisted fantasy tale, or if you’ve been left disappointed by Game Of Thrones and want to fill the gaping void in your life, try out The Witcher (Thrones fans, in particular, will be pleased to know that the series has many of the former series’ same hallmarks, such as gritty realism and brutal fight scenes, while including things HBO’s long-running fantasy drama never dared to add, such as unmistakable magic). It’s a show that will leave you thrilled, a little scared for your life, and eager to see more of Sapkowski and Hissrich’s world.

Series Rating: 7.9/10

“The Witcher” Final Trailer Review!

The final trailer for Netflix’s new, completely unhinged, absolutely massive dark fantasy epic The Witcher is – all of those things, times ten. But with Star Wars dominating the news cycle and releasing in theaters on the same day as the first season of The Witcher becomes available, will the series be able to find an audience? I think it’s got a strong chance, but it needs to have a hook that will intrigue viewers who haven’t necessarily read a Witcher novel, played a Witcher video game, or ever heard of The Witcher before in their lives. So far, it’s mostly been directing its marketing toward disillusioned Game Of Thrones fans – you want something a little violent, a little dark, a little edgy? This clearly has all of that.

But the final trailer leans more heavily on appealing to fans of the source material, throwing in a bunch of new concepts we really haven’t seen much of in previous trailers and teasers: concepts that don’t mean a whole lot to me, but sound pretty awesome anyway. The focus here is on the “lion cub of Cintra”, Princess Ciri, whose character appears to be the show’s central plot-point – the people of Nilfgaard want her dead, and Geralt of Rivia has been assigned with finding and protecting her. The powerful sorceress, Yennefer of Vengerburg, presumably fits in somehow, but I honestly don’t care what her purpose is – she’s fighting bad guys while wearing a gigantic, heavy fur coat: a skill-set I thought belonged solely to Jon Snow. If we get more of that Yennefer, and less of the Yennefer who just seems to be hanging around at the palace, whispering about death and destruction, then you can count me in. I may be jumping to conclusions, but I think I like what The Witcher is doing with its female characters: they look powerful, strong (in many different ways), and cool. There are also women of color in prominent roles here, something Game Of Thrones never had.

So what’s the hook? Is it Henry Cavill in a platinum-blond wig (I will never stop making fun of that thing, even if it does actually look pretty decent)? Awesome heroines? Magic? Even as the day of Witcher‘s release draws ever closer, I’m still not sure I can identify anything that will be able to pull in non-fantasy fans. Hopefully, this will be a surprise hit, but I’m nervous to make any assumptions yet.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

“The Irishman” Review!

Martin Scorsese insists that you should not watch The Irishman on your phone – if you absolutely cannot find a way to see it in a theater, then, in his opinion, you’re doing something wrong (though he does make an exception if you have a very large iPad). Why? Well, I assume it has something to do with the fact that Martin Scorsese is probably keen on being nominated for an Oscar or two at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, and he doesn’t want any voters to be deterred by the idea that his grand masterpiece of mobster cinema is, in any way, shape, or form, a TV movie. After all, this is a historical epic – not something you can watch while you’re just lounging around on the couch. Netflix has had to deal with this image-problem many times before – just this year, in fact, the dramatic Roma was snubbed in a few crucial categories at the Oscars partly because of the fact that, well, it’s not a “real” movie. And for that reason, Scorsese will do everything in his power to make sure Oscar voters and critics get the message: The Irishman is credible, and most importantly, cinematic. It’s the same reason why he’s going around saying that the film would never work as a TV series (the mere suggestion probably made his blood boil), and that a traditional studio would never have greenlit a movie in which the protagonist ends up in a wheelchair at the end (I strongly encourage Scorsese to go watch Rogue One, a Disney movie in which every member of the main cast dies by the end of the film).

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But he doesn’t have to – because The Irishman speaks for itself. It is a cinematic masterpiece (and it would be whether or not it played in theaters, because, no matter how vehemently Scorsese may disagree, cinema is defined simply as “the art or technique of making motion pictures”). It is, perhaps, less timely than other landmark films of 2019, but that’s because its message is timeless. Some films don’t need to be ripped-from-the-headlines commentaries on society in order to be relevant. And so, without intending to, Scorsese has crafted the darker, more atmospheric cousin to the modern superhero movie – an original movie that simply exists to entertain. The Irishman has plenty of messages (don’t distance yourself from the people you love, karma always catches up with you, killing people for a living is probably a bad idea), but none of them are groundbreaking; none of them are even that deep, or thought-provoking. I don’t think The Irishman is going to linger in peoples’ minds because of its themes, or its weighty analysis of the concepts of regret and remorse – it’s going to be memorable because it’s a fun movie to watch. A really fun movie.

And that’s actually the film’s most impressive achievement, because at three and a half hours long, The Irishman really shouldn’t be as entertaining as it is. But in all that epic runtime, I was only bored twice – during the first and last thirty minutes of the movie. The film starts out very slow, and there’s a few jumps in between different parts of the timeline that are difficult to follow at first (you’re supposed to be able to tell when is when with the help of the various stages of de-aging technology on the lead actors’ faces, but, well…we’ll get to that). But after what feels like an eternity of watching Robert De Niro driving a meat delivery-van, the movie abruptly takes off like a bullet – and then it gets good, when Al Pacino arrives onscreen like the divine, ice-cream devouring presence he is (no, literally, he eats a lot of ice-cream in this movie: so much so that he did an interview about it).

Al Pacino is what makes this movie great, and I have no qualms about saying it. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are obviously incredible actors, legends of the screen, if you will – but Pacino instills the role of notorious labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa with a fiery charisma.  Just as Robert Pattinson recently infused an otherwise drab medieval drama, The King, with his signature brand of insanity, much to that film’s benefit, Pacino here makes Hoffa larger-than-life, ridiculously charming, and more than slightly terrifying. Hoffa’s quirks, from the ice-cream addiction to his long list of pet peeves (he actually tries to kill someone for wearing shorts to a business meeting), are all exaggerated just enough to make them humorous. Yes, The Irishman is actually an incredibly funny movie – something the film’s marketing campaign ignored, perhaps deliberately. But ignoring it is a disservice to Pacino, who uses those laugh-out-loud moments to make Jimmy Hoffa a truly sympathetic character – one whom we don’t want to see get hurt. It’s not historically accurate, but neither is most of this movie.

The lead character, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), whose real-life testimonials about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa are the primary basis for the movie’s plot, has had his reliability questioned many times over the years, and his account of the events of July 30th, 1975 is regarded by many as untrustworthy, to say the least. However, in an effort to preserve the film’s secrets for those who don’t know a thing about the Hoffa case (such as me, before I researched the film’s dubious claims), we’re not going to talk about all the minute details of the disappearance and ensuing investigation – or Sheeran’s even more controversial claim about the JFK assassination. The latter is only briefly touched upon in the film, but is bound to become a major talking point for those who have seen it. As for De Niro’s performance – it’s good. Very good, even. But despite (or perhaps because of) all the stony solemnity and brow-furrowing, he simply didn’t affect me on an emotional level the same way Pacino did. Same with Joe Pesci, who has a sizable role as mob boss Russell Bufalino (though I do admire Pesci’s performance for the way he was able to convey, without a single line of dialogue, when his character wanted somebody killed: just a mere side-eye, and you could immediately tell someone was going to get shot dead).

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All three men – Pacino to a lesser extent than De Niro and Pesci – do have to act around the iffy de-aging technology that attempts to smooth out their faces into weirdly plastic masks for the first half of the movie, and that’s a huge problem that the film’s lighting crew clearly struggled with: thankfully, so much of The Irishman takes place in shadowy Italian restaurants that it’s often too dark to see the de-aged faces – but even in a scene lit by bright daylight, the World War II flashback in which Sheeran is supposed to be in his early twenties, somehow the shadows of De Niro’s helmet manage to hide almost his entire face from the camera.

I could probably ramble on and on about the film’s beautiful cinematography and production design, and the way that each decade of American history was lovingly brought to life (well, except for the early 21st Century, which looks like a lifeless gray wasteland compared to the vivid vitality of the 50’s and 60’s). But I probably can’t explain it better than cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. I would be shocked if The Irishman doesn’t win in some technical categories at next year’s Oscars – it deserves a lot of wins, except for special effects.

And then, of course, there’s the music. The main theme of the movie actually wore on me after a while, and I was tempted to ignore the score entirely if it weren’t for the absolutely brilliant instrumental piece, entitled Remembrance, that composer Robbie Robertson stuck in the movie’s end-credits (but not even the first half of the credits, where some people might be sticking around to listen: it’s shoved right in the middle, somewhere around the point where they’re thanking the medics and food catering service). I might be so eager to forgive the movie’s faults, just because the payoff, that one end-credits musical composition, is so fantastic.

The Irishman does have faults – I mentioned earlier that it’s not great until Al Pacino shows up. It’s also not great once he leaves the film, with half an hour still to go of everybody basically just sitting around and reminiscing about how great it was when Al Pacino was around. Then we get a little bit of trademark Scorsese bitterness about modernity (there’s a scene late in the run-time where Sheeran is shocked to discover that young people these days don’t even know who Hoffa was). But the vast majority of the movie in between Pacino’s arrival and disappearance is an absolutely enjoyable whirlwind of emotions that I think you won’t want to miss out on.

And, just so you know, it’s perfectly okay to watch The Irishman on your phone. I did, and far from missing out on the film’s cinematic subtleties, I actually loved it. Yes, I might disagree with Martin Scorsese on…virtually everything about the definition of cinema, but that has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a masterful director with a keen eye for carving out a powerful and entertaining story from one of the most convoluted and controversial stories in the history of the American mob.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

“The King” Movie Review!

In the eyes of history buffs, The King will probably be a decent, if boringly conventional retelling of a fascinating story from the vaults of Medieval history. For fans of Shakespeare, this interpretation of the bard’s work, watered down in the telling, will probably be a bland disappointment. But in my opinion, the movie, while not particularly fresh or exciting, is worth a watch merely for the performances from Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson, accompanied by Nicholas Britell’s beautiful score. And if you find yourself drifting off in the first half of the movie, with its interminable gray color palette, dreary dialogue and half-hearted brutality – simply fast forward to when Pattinson shows up about an hour in, at which point the movie finally sheds some of its solemn trappings, develops a faint splash of color, and actually gets interesting.

The story itself is classic: the brief, tumultuous reign of King Henry V (Timothée Chalamet) of England, who stormed and nearly conquered France in 1415. But with two versions of the story out there – the historical account, and Shakespeare’s heavily fictionalized version – the film goes for the least interesting option: trying to blend the two into one coherent whole, using historical realism to set the scene, but sticking faux-Shakespearean dialogue into the mouths of its actors, who, to their credit, actually make it sound halfway decent – up to a point. Director David Michôd and writer and star Joel Edgerton haven’t made anywhere near enough additions or alterations to the story, and as a result The King often feels like it’s treading on well-worn ground – or rather, sinking in the muddy field of Agincourt, weighed down by plate armor and brooding plot. To put it simply, the movie isn’t particularly fun, and it doesn’t have much room to breathe. But what it lacks in originality of voice, it makes up for with the casting of two stellar performers.

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Chalamet embodies the young king of England with a stone-cold solemnity that sets the tone for the whole movie – the rest of the movie, however, fails to achieve the same balance of neutrality and watchability as Chalamet does consistently. Rather, the movie itself begins to fall away and fade into fog, while Chalamet’s Henry becomes more clearly defined with each passing minute, until, in its closing scenes, he is the only life it has left. And what life he possesses! Typically seen as a dewy-eyed Hollywood heartthrob, Chalamet is here a gaunt, pale figure with leering eyes that disguise a heart longing for peace in his time – he is at times inspiring (as when he rallies his men for battle on the morn of Agincourt, using dialogue that is nowhere near as impressive as the St. Crispin’s Day speech his character utters in Shakespeare’s play but still sounds good because it’s Timothée Chalamet), or terrifying (as when he confronts his dying father in the latter’s bedchamber, ripping the sheets away from the bed, letting the old man shiver and tremble as the life slips from his body). But he is always a commanding presence onscreen, never rivaled by any of his castmates until Pattinson enters the picture, challenging Chalamet’s calm with a startlingly zany performance that turns The King into one of 2019’s most unexpectedly weird movies.

Pattinson, another actor trying to reshape his image in the public conscious, is a terrifying/hysterically funny revelation in his role as the Dauphin of France. Other reviewers are conflicted about his portrayal of the character, saying he ruins the serious nature of the film, or, alternatively, is its one saving grace. A callous, sadistic idiot, the Dauphin somehow manages to seem like an absolutely credible and formidable force even while being an unabashed peacock, strutting about in fancy black armor, laughing like a maniac and grinning dumbly at his own offensive jokes. But while I personally loved Pattinson’s portrayal, I can easily understand why critics can’t decide whether they love him or hate him – his performance is so deliberately exaggerated that it feels like it must be saying something, or attempting to: but what? If he’s merely trying to insult the French, then at least he’s made Shakespeare happy.

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(Something that struck me in Pattinson’s first scene in The King, while he was busy talking about how he wanted to drain Henry’s body of its blood and bury it under a tiny French tree, was how happy I am that he will be soon be the DCEU’s new Batman: immediately after thinking that, Pattinson turned his head in such a way that it almost appeared that he had elf-ears for a fleeting moment – and that, coupled with his long blond wig, impressive eyebrows and sinuous physicality, made me gasp, pause the movie and go on Twitter to express my regret that Pattinson had not been cast as Sauron in Amazon Prime’s upcoming Lord Of The Rings prequel series. I’m sorry I have to bring everything back to LOTR, but this is something that I cannot now unsee and cannot ever forgive Pattinson or Amazon Prime for: just think of the beautiful young Sauron that might have been, gifted with Pattinson’s charismatic craziness! It would have been perfect).

The supporting cast is okay, though the only other standout is Ben Mendelsohn as the aging King Henry IV. Joel Edgerton’s Falstaff is made out to be the film’s Everyman archetype, but the character is boring and lifeless (and Edgerton’s performance is so tired that it’s hard to tell whether his yawns are in-character or not). Then there’s the Archbishop of Canterbury (Andrew Havill), who I feel deserves a dishonorable mention simply because of how insufferably annoying he managed to be in the five minutes of screen time he possessed. As for female characters – there are a grand total of three. Lily Rose-Depp is merely okay in the role of Catherine of Valois, who only appears in the film’s last twenty minutes and has one scene of importance; her performance is most notable for the fact that Catherine claims at the outset that she can’t speak English and then proceeds to do so anyway for the rest of the scene.

The film suffers greatly from its muted color palette, and cinematography that is, for the most part, drab and uninspiring. The sole exception is the scene in which Henry V’s forces besiege the castle of Harfleur, using massive trebuchets to launch flaming missiles over the fortress walls: who doesn’t love a good trebuchet? They’re far more interesting than catapults, in my honest opinion. And filming them in action also allows for plenty of interesting camera-work, as The King proves beyond a doubt. Beyond that, the film has nothing going for it in terms of visual splendor – there just isn’t any. The splash of somber green we get from the field of Agincourt is a brief respite from the damp grays and browns of Merry Old England – but even that is quickly transformed into a melee of upturned mud, and the filth of violence.

For history buffs (myself included) the legendary battle of Agincourt is what will keep you watching until the end of the movie: and it’s teased in a big fashion, with a single line of dialogue delivered by Pattinson’s Dauphin in one of the most hilariously exaggerated French accents you’ll hear outside of a Loony Tunes sketch, guaranteed to make your skin crawl in anticipation of the inevitable – “Let us make famous that field out there, this little village of Agincourt that will forever mark the sight of your callow disgrace.” I’m glad I watched The King for that line alone – and thankfully the ensuing battle delivers exactly what the film needs: it’s brutally epic, chaotic, and realistic. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drown in mud, then The King is the film for you!

An additional incentive to watch the movie (beyond mud-drownings) is the score by Nicholas Britell, which is stirring and appropriately ominous.

All in all, did I have fun watching The King? No, not exactly. I don’t think it tells the story of Henry V better than any history book can – certainly not better than Shakespeare (and I don’t typically praise Shakespeare). But I do think it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of either Chalamet or Pattinson, or want to check out a “highbrow” sampling of their work. Just don’t expect too much from the movie itself – it may be called The King, but its crown belongs firmly to its stars.

Movie Rating: 6.9/10

“The Witcher” Main Trailer Review!

Henry Cavill is intent on making us believe that he’s rocking that silly silver wig – and you know what? He’s actually doing a pretty good job of that.

That may be, at least in part, because he actually has dialogue and substantial scenes in this trailer, as opposed to the first teaser for this hotly-anticipated Netflix release – which now has a release date of December 20th. Netflix obviously hopes that The Witcher, with its fast-paced action, alluring premise and tons and tons of magic, will appeal to fantasy fans – especially that crucial contingent of unhappy Game Of Thrones ex-fans who might be too impatient to wait for HBO’s upcoming Thrones prequel, House Of The Dragon. It would be a big win for Netflix as the streaming wars heat up and HBO prepares to launch its own streaming platform, HBO Max.

Henry Cavill himself has a personal stake in Netflix’s war against Warner Brothers (and, by extension, HBO), having been unceremoniously ousted from the role of Superman – a bit of a thankless role these days. Cavill is clearly having more fun chewing on the dramatic, darker material he’s been granted with The Witcher than he ever had with the goofy glasses of Clark Kent – speaking of chewing, we learn in this trailer that Cavill’s character, protagonist and anti-hero Geralt of Rivia, had his fangs filed down, which is…cool, I guess? Creepy? By Cavill’s line-reading, it would seem he intended it to sound vaguely seductive (hey, am I going to sit here and say he’s the greatest actor to ever walk the planet? No, but I do think it’s admirable that he’s landed himself a big role and is clearly taking it seriously, even though his performance does occasionally appear a bit counter-intuitive to that goal, at least based off these trailers – trailers which also do nothing to convincingly sell the idea that Cavill is a natural platinum-blonde).

Cavill’s co-stars are a diverse and intriguing cast of characters: Freya Allen as Ciri has a charming, ever-so-slightly hobbit-y look to her; and Anya Chalotra is every inch a sorceress in the role of Yennefer – both characters, whose backstories have only been hinted at before in Witcher novels and video games, will be major players in the Netflix series. And, considering how cool and powerful they seem to be, that’s probably not a bad thing: Yennefer especially seems to have a great deal of dark magic up the sleeves of her impressive fur-coat.

All in all, the series looks good – with a definite focus on delivering a dark blend between horror (sort of: I don’t know about you, but the CGI monster we catch a glimpse of at 0:22 isn’t all that terrifying), nonstop action (with magic!), and political intrigue (okay, I love political intrigue stories, so sign me up for ten hours of palace drama, royal squabbles, and stunningly beautiful costume design).

What are your thoughts on The Witcher trailer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 7.9/10

“Shadow And Bone” Assembles Its Cast!

I only just recently discovered the Six Of Crows series of novels of Leigh Bardugo; and I’m glad that I did, because reading them has given me the ability to speak with some knowledge on the new casting announcements for the upcoming Netflix series, Shadow And Bone, based on her collected works. The series, which will be faced with the daunting task of condensing or combining elements from her Shadow And Bone and Six Of Crows novels, is shaping up pretty neatly, and has me hopeful that, along with The Witcher and Narnia, Netflix could be developing their own fantasy empire to challenge the likes of HBO and Amazon Prime in the near future.

So who’s been cast? Several of the major characters from Bardugo’s novels are present in the group photo released today by Netflix, with a handful conspicuously absent. Among those gathered we have the master thief and strategist Kaz Brekker, the assassin Inej Ghafa, and the sharpshooter Jesper Fahey, all from Six Of Crows, alongside the powerful Grisha sorceress Alina Starkov, the mysterious “General Kirigan”, and Alina’s best friend Malyen Oretsev, from the Shadow And Bone series.

"Shadow And Bone" Assembles Its Cast! 14
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The biggest name among the cast is undeniably Ben Barnes (Kirigan), who previously portrayed Prince Caspian in the Chronicles Of Narnia – but that’s not saying much. Freddy Carter (Kaz) is probably going to be one of the show’s leads, but he is a mostly unknown actor, whose previous work includes Wonder Woman. Amita Suman (Inej) is best known for a guest role on the latest season of Dr. Who. Jessie Mei Li (Alina) has some experience in theater, but only a handful of acting roles in film. Kit Young (Jesper) has no acting credits. Archie Renaux (Malyen) will appear in next year’s Morbius, but has no other acting credits. So, with the absence of any real star power, we just have to hope that these six actors have a lot of talent between them.

We have yet to hear casting announcements for the other major characters of Bardugo’s series, including Wylan Van Eck, Matthias Helvar, and Nina Zenik. But this adaptation will clearly be playing around with Bardugo’s established timeline for her books, so it’s possible that those characters may not be introduced until later seasons of the series.

So what do you think? Are you happy with the casting announcements? Are you familiar with any of these actors? Share your thoughts in the comments below!