“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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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

77th Golden Globes Ceremony Review!

Appropriately, it was Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, a movie which celebrates a bygone era of film-making, that won big at the 77th annual Golden Globes awards last night, taking home three Globes in major categories. In many ways, the ghost of Hollywood Past was haunting the tired, slow-paced ceremony, which saw a mostly white and male ensemble of winners take the stage, during an event that felt unfocused and uninspired, barely held together by comedian Ricky Gervais, who looked bored to be hosting one of the most important events in the entertainment industry, and whose attempts to keep the audience’s attention off world politics felt sadly misguided.

Thankfully, his plea for political neutrality was steadfastly ignored by the majority of winners, many of whom took the stage to deliver impassioned speeches addressing a number of notable issues: from Best Actress In A Mini-Series Michelle Williams calling upon women to exercise their right to choose, Best Supporting Actress In A Series Patricia Arquette using her brief time onstage to demand that viewers vote in the 2020 U.S. elections, Best Actor In A Drama Motion Picture and animal-rights activist Joaquin Phoenix thanking the Golden Globes for serving an entirely plant-based dinner to the audience (a decision that was apparently met with mixed reactions), Australians Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett bringing attention to the deadly bush-fires currently raging across the country, and Best Actress In A Musical/Comedy Series Phoebe Waller-Bridge invoking the name of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who just recently included Waller-Bridge’s hit comedy Fleabag on his annual Presidential Favorites list. LGBTQ+ issues were at the forefront during Kate McKinnon and Ellen DeGeneres’ speech to honor the latter’s acceptance of the special Carol Burnett Award.

But in between these brief highlights, the ceremony still appeared outdated and backwards-thinking: outside of female-exclusive categories, women were handed a bare minimum of awards, with Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir being the exception to the rule, becoming the first solo woman to accept the award. People of color were also suspiciously absent from the proceedings, except as presenters – the exception in this case being Ramy star Ramy Youssef, and comedian Awkwafina, who became the first woman of Asian descent to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress In A Musical/Comedy. Small moments like these help to give the impression that progress is being made in Hollywood, but don’t make up for a list of nominees that is overwhelmingly representative of a long-gone period in Hollywood history – one of Gervais’ few on-point jokes was his callout of the all-male lineup of directing nominees, and his satirical suggestion that soon, Hollywood would go back to simply never hiring women directors: “problem solved”.

Anti-Disney and anti-Netflix sentiment ran strong at the ceremony, which witnessed an embarrassing turn of events for frontrunners Frozen II, The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes. Disney suffered their biggest loss of the night in the Best Animated Feature Film category, where they had not one, not two, but three nominees – all of which lost out to underdog Missing Link, a clay-mation movie from Laika Studios, in a move so shocking it even startled the Missing Link directors into near-speechlessness. Later, in the Best Original Song category, Disney was once again stunned by the surprise victory of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who won for their work on “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” for Rocketman, beating out two Disney contenders, “Into The Unknown” and “Spirit” (both, admittedly, weak contestants). But Netflix’s film division was the biggest loser of the evening: going into the event, the main competition in both the Best Director For A Motion Picture and Best Drama Motion Picture fields had been The Irishman‘s Martin Scorsese versus Todd Phillips for Joker – but in both categories, it was neither man who took home the coveted prize, as Sam Mendes and war-drama 1917 won both times. That wouldn’t have been so humiliating if Netflix had been able to claim Best Supporting Actor In A Motion Picture (which they lost to Brad Pitt for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Actor In A Musical/Comedy Motion Picture (which they lost to Taron Egerton for Rocketman), Actress In A Drama Motion Picture (which they lost to Renée Zellweger for Judy, despite strong competition from Scarlett Johansson), Actor In A Drama Motion Picture (which Joker star Joaquin Phoenix easily won, beating out Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce), or Screenplay Of A Motion Picture (an award that clearly belonged to either The Irishman or Marriage Story, but went instead to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood). Ultimately, only Laura Dern was able to carve out a small victory for the streaming service, winning the award for Best Supporting Actress In A Motion Picture for her fan-favorite role as a sassy, no-nonsense divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. A small win, but a win nonetheless, and one that Netflix Film desperately needed as they continue to fight against Hollywood bias.

The event should have been high-stakes, especially with the amount of surprises, snubs and gasp-out-loud upsets that occurred, but low-energy humor from the host and presenters, coupled with slow, largely repetitive victories (winners often had to walk absurdly long distances to the stage, and a few nearly got lost weaving through the crowd, making the ceremony move even slower) made the 77th Golden Globes an unmemorable footnote in awards season history. Here’s hoping that the Oscars will repeat last year’s surprisingly effective no-host format, and give us a more rousing, entertaining, and relevant ceremony than the Globes was able to offer.

“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 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

Benioff & Weiss Depart “Star Wars” Franchise!

What Deadline is reporting as a “Star Wars Setback”, the rest of the world seems to be praising as one of Disney’s greatest business moves in a long time. The bitter war waged against Game Of Thrones screenwriters David Benioff and D.B. Weiss by their enraged ex-fans has now reached a crescendo, with the two men being forced to abandon their newfound place at the helm of an entire Star Wars trilogy. It’s a big win for audience backlash, which is both exciting and a little frightening.

It’s exciting because, in this case, fans really do have a good reason for wanting Benioff & Weiss to exit Star Wars. The duo are pretty much exclusively responsible for the controversial final season of the HBO TV series, Game Of Thrones, that saw character development thrown out the window, expectations subverted in the worst way, plot twists coming out of nowhere – all of it to rush towards a clumsily-structured, badly-written finale that saw the series’ protagonist and most beloved character slain in cold blood. Fans are understandably worried that what happened to Game Of Thrones can happen to Star Wars, and there’s obviously plenty of reason to believe them. I wrote an entire post on this subject yesterday, in which I addressed Benioff & Weiss’ recent interview (which I think must have been a contributing factor in their decision to depart Star Wars), in which they talked about basically scamming HBO into giving them an expensive film school experience while they were supposed to be developing a TV series based off of books they didn’t even try to understand. I’m sure Disney was also more than a little nervous about hiring two men who just unabashedly revealed that they got into a heated argument with a mother who didn’t want them placing her baby fully-naked on a block of ice, both exploiting and endangering the infant.

On the other hand, it’s also a nerve-wracking development: how closely do studios listen to their fanbases, and how much influence and power should audiences exercise over film-making? It’s a question that has been plaguing us for quite some time, but it’s all about context: when fans rioted about the design of Sonic The Hedgehog in Paramount’s Sonic movie, they were justified because the character looked like an asymmetrical weasel rather than a hedgehog; when protesters demanded a boycott of Disney’s Mulan remake because the lead actress expressed her support for the police-state of China, they were definitely coming from the right place, though that story is a very complex one; when heartbroken fans demanded that Johnny Depp’s career be canceled after claims of domestic abuse arose against the actor, well, we still don’t know who’s right or wrong in that case, or if it’s actress Amber Heard who should be canceled instead, or if it’s both of them. Context matters in these situations. So, yes, in my opinion, fans are at least partly justified in wanting Benioff & Weiss to leave Star Wars, because there are many reasons not to trust the two men with a story of that magnitude, so soon after the disastrous finale of Game Of Thrones.

We could also say they deserve a second chance, and that’s true, to some extent: which is why it’s a good thing that Benioff & Weiss already signed a deal with Netflix, which is where they will be headed. If they do a good job over there, with some smaller projects that don’t run the risk of upsetting a franchise that has only just regained its footing to begin with, then maybe they should consider coming back to Star Wars – if Kathleen Kennedy will have them. But in the meantime, Disney is keeping that galaxy far, far away from the divisive duo.

In Benioff & Weiss’ defense, their statement on the matter implies that it was their obligations to Netflix that prevented them from devoting their full time and attention to Star Wars – but while I suppose that could be true, it seems more likely to me that it’s the polite way of flattering Netflix into offering them more job opportunities.

So what do you think? Is this a win for fans – or a loss for Disney? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

“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.

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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!

Netflix’s “Umbrella Academy” Adds To Season 2 Cast!

While the second season of Netflix’s gritty superhero drama Umbrella Academy is still at least a year away (at best), the show has begun filming in Toronto, Canada, with the main cast returning to their instantly-iconic roles. But alongside the Hargreeves siblings, there are three new faces to add to the mix.

Netflix has just cast Ritu Arya, Yusuf Gatewood, and Marin Ireland for what appear to be large roles on the show. So let’s break down who they’re playing, and what their inclusion could mean for the series, and the future of the Umbrella Academy.

First of all, are they playing new members of the Academy – a.k.a. any of the thirty-six other supernaturally-gifted children all mysteriously born on October 1st, 1989? Well, it’s most likely that Arya and Gatewood, who are both around the same age range as the other Hargreeves, could be some of those long lost kids.

Additional confirmation of this could come from the character descriptions released by Netflix: Arya’s character, Lila, is an unpredictable “chameleon who can be as brilliant or as clinically insane as the situation requires”. To my mind, that suggests she has the ability to either shape-shift or, more interestingly, drastically change her personality in such a way that she becomes an entirely different person to any but the most discerning eye. Lila also has a macabre sense of humor: this suggests a villain at first, but pretty much everybody in Umbrella Academy has a macabre sense of humor, so it’s not very telling.

As for Gatewood, his character Raymond sounds more than a bit like Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Alison Hargreeves – a “born leader” with the “innate ability to disarm you with a look”. He’s married, and devoted to his spouse, and seems to have a wide social circle who love and adore him. But what does it mean? Is he, like Alison, creating a perfect life for himself by mind-controlling his friends and family? Or is he just a really great guy? That seems way too good to be true on a show like this, where everyone is hiding a secret.

Marin Ireland’s “no-nonsense Texas mom” Sissy doesn’t seem as much like a possible Umbrella Academy child to me, but she sounds interesting: at forty, Ireland will be portraying a “fearless”, free spirited woman who seems to be getting past a stale marriage and moving on to the next chapter of her life with fervor. She probably lives in Texas, and she obviously has kids: other than that, we don’t know too much about her, but she sounds like she could be the moral compass of the next season, like Agnes (and, to some extent, Hazel) were in the first.

All in all, this sounds like a great deal of fun, and the characters each seem to have a lot of depth and layers already: we’ll just have to wait and see whether they turn out to be long lost siblings, time-traveling assassins, or maybe even more donut-shopkeepers.

“The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” Review!

Right up front, I’m going to express my disappointment that my review of Netflix’s new original series is not quite as glowing as certain others are. Not only do I disagree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 89% Fresh rating, but I don’t understand it. I do notice, though, that the series is not rated Certified Fresh, which is some relief to me, writing this ballad of a sadly underwhelmed audience-member. Audiences across the world seem to be greatly enjoying The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, but it’s rather hard to figure out whether that excitement comes from hardcore Dark Crystal fans or mainstream Netflix-watchers. I’m going to guess the former, because this show seemed, at least to me, to have very little mainstream appeal. Let’s discuss.

Firstly, puppets. Puppets can be wonderful fun, and, if done right, with charm and humor, they can even be fun to watch onscreen: countless Muppet movies (great Muppet movies, at that) and the huge success of Sesame Street prove that. But unfortunately, charm and humor are two noticeable absences in the Dark Crystal franchise, which is both grim and serious, and incredibly macabre – even nightmarish, but we’ll get to that. Where Jim Henson’s other movies had fun and dance, musical numbers, cameos from human actors and a general atmosphere of carefree recklessness, his original Dark Crystal was an attempt to pivot away from that image. It deserves praise for the fact that it was one of the first big fantasy epics, and its creation was a huge undertaking. However, when it released in 1982, it was not the massive success that Henson had hoped for, receiving a mixed response from both critics and audiences. Those who did fall in love with it, however, never fell out of love, and so the new Netflix prequel has a small, but loyal niche fanbase that it wants to attract. As for me, I have never loved the original movie: I hated it, in fact. The puppets, with their strange, glassy eyes and grotesque rogues gallery of bird-like Skeksis, all living on what was supposed to be a barren alien planet – not my thing.

That’s probably at least partly why this new series just wasn’t for me. The puppets haven’t changed in the decades since the original movie was released. I am not an expert on puppet technology, but as far as I can tell, an effort has been made to use the same sort of techniques as Jim Henson did all those years ago: over-zealous loyalty to a project is not unheard of, and can be understandable, if said project doesn’t really require major changes for modern audiences to enjoy it. Dark Crystal, however, is outdated, and makes no effort to change that: the story is still a huge, intricate mess of mythology, religion, philosophy and fantasy cliches; the puppets are still obviously puppets, and their glassy-eyed stares remain their signature feature.

I intend no disrespect to the series’ puppeteers, who do an excellent job: their work is incredible, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. I also have huge respect for the amazing voice cast: many of the actors are quite good in their roles, though there are more than a few who only show up once or twice and have barely any dialogue: Alicia Vikander, Natalie Dormer, Hannah John-Kamen and Mark Strong are some of the latter – of the former, we have Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Donna Kimball and Lena Headey to thank, for making this show ever so slightly more entertaining than it would otherwise have been. I’ll spare some praise for Sigourney Weaver, who gets to narrate the opening of the first episode.

As for the characters these hugely-talented actors and actresses are voicing, well…watching their individual stories isn’t always quite as interesting as playing Who’s Who with the voice cast, but there are a few I can think of: Mother Aughra (Donna Kimball), the benevolent but cranky guardian of Thra, is especially fun to watch, and the puppeteers gave her enough quirky little traits, from facial movements to her distinctive style of dancing, that make her seem like an actual character, rather than some of the thin, underdeveloped cardboard cutouts that pass for protagonists in this series. Tavra, Seladon and Brea, the three sundered daughters of the All-Maudra (Helena Bonham-Carter), are also especially interesting, and the way that their stories diverge and reunite is imaginative. But of these, only Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a main character: for the most part, we’re stuck watching Rian (Taron Egerton) either walking from place to place, or stopping to share his memories with literally everybody he meets (after the third or fourth of these long, redundant, dream-sharing encounters, I was ready to turn off the show). Deet the Grotten (Nathalie Emmanuel) is somewhat more interesting, but her story takes a bizarre and unexplained twist in the last few episodes. As for Maudra Fara, she’s actually quite likable, which is somewhat conflicting, considering that she speaks with the villainous voice of Lena Headey, who portrayed the evil Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones.

Talking of villains, it’s time to discuss those which dwell in Thra, and present the main threat to our Gelfling heroes. The Skeksis, repugnant vulture-people from another world, who have subjugated the Gelfling people and enslaved the Crystal of Truth to their will. I want to take a moment to point out that, somehow, the Gelflings, who are shown to have vaguely-human aesthetics and personalities, are completely oblivious to the fact that gigantic, hulking anthropomorphic vultures living in a claw-shaped Gothic castle might be evil. The Skeksis are absolutely revolting and repulsive, with zero redeemable qualities, and no actual personalities to speak of – so why, then, do we spend about fifty percent of the show’s screentime watching them squabble pointlessly, in a boring parody of Game of Thrones‘ layered dynastic rivalry and wars for the throne. There are so many pointless scenes of Skeksis eating, I thought I might lose my mind: if not my appetite. This is a personal preference, but I cannot stand two types of villain: (a) the CGI-construct with no personality who yells “Kill them all!” and dumb stuff like that (Azog from The Hobbit fits the bill), and (b) pompous, swaggering, disgusting buffoons (such as the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit). The Skeksis combine the worst elements of both of these villain cliches, and take them to the next level. Only The Hunter even came close to being an intimidating antagonist, but his supporting character-status was undeserved and infuriating.

All this is truly saddening, because the Skeksis could have been excellent. If I had been the showrunner, I would have probably changed their appearance, first of all: wouldn’t resplendent peacock-feathers or gaudy, glorious plumage have done the trick of showing Skeksi greed and avarice just as well as bald, wrinkly faces and harsh, raspy evil laughter? This is a prequel, for Thra’s sake – they could have done anything with the Skeksis! The possibilities were endless. There were themes and shades of some of the great fantasy villains at work here, but none ever reached full potential: the Skeksi fear of death and their desperate attempts to evade it, for example, resembled the actions of Tolkien’s Numenoreans, clinging to life at all costs, warring on the earth and the gods in the faint hope of winning immortality.

It’s not the only Tolkien theme glimpsed in Age of Resistance: in the very first episode, while a Skeksi narrates about the inevitability of evil and how the strong will always conquer the weak, we watch a montage which proves otherwise, showing various Gelfling heroes starting out on their individual quests for justice and truth, in a reverse of Sam Gamgee’s “stories that really matter” speech at the end of Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers (which is also on Netflix, now, by the way). The series has very Tolkienesque ecological messaging, and the Gelflings, bound up with the fate of Thra, are nothing if not a hybrid between Tolkien’s hobbits and elves. But sadly, these themes get buried under so many fantasy plot points (magic sword! prophecies! mystic arts!) that it’s hard to find them at first.

All in all, the series is far too long. I flew through the first three episodes, even if they were rather weak, and the fourth through sixth episodes were actually quite good: seven through ten, however, drag the story out far too long. The eventual finale lands with a resounding thud: a more disappointing climax, I could not envision. That might be because the series tries too hard to make you want to go watch Dark Crystal after it’s finished, which is something I do not want to do, and don’t ever want to do again. So many things are left unanswered, and the final showdown between Gelflings and Skeksis is so underwhelming – was it because full-out puppet war is rather hard to manage? Did the budget not allow for it? I don’t know: all I can say for certain is that I was hugely disappointed.

It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to like it. The trailers showed off stunning visual beauty, Gelfling heroics, and epic warfare: unfortunately, in the actual series, these things are few and far between. If you’re a puppet nerd, a hardcore sword-and-sorcery fan, or a Henson completionist, I urge you to watch this series, since you might enjoy it far more than I did. But all that I’m left with is the feeling that I wasted time on this series, when I could have been…oh, I don’t know, watching The Two Towers instead. It’s all the same stuff, but it doesn’t have creepy vulture-puppets.

Series Rating: 5/10

“Falling Inn Love” Movie Review!

Cute and classy, Netflix’s new late-summer love story, Falling Inn Love, is decent enough fare for an end-of-August afternoon, but might not do much to satisfy audiences craving bold new content with unexpected plot twists or subverted expectations. This really is the sort of movie that should be watched on a couch, preferably while wearing pajamas, when there’s nothing else to do. That’s not an insult, just a reference for when and how you should go into this film in order to get the desired effect. It’s sleepy comfort-food for the soul.

The romance at the heart of the film is charming enough, and relies on the Opposites-Attract formula. Gabriela (Christina Milian) is a stressed out architect from San Francisco who’s bored with the corporate hamster-wheel of her busy life: finding no comfort in either yoga sessions or her over-eager boyfriend, she flies out to New Zealand after she wins a charming little bed-and-breakfast inn in a contest. Once there (literally, as soon as she arrives), she runs into Jake (Adam Demos), the town’s most eligible bachelor/contractor, who decides to help her renovate and remodel the place. That’s basically it. Both stars are likable, but Milian more so: perhaps because Demos’ charming Kiwi handyman takes on the Moody Brooding Leading Man™ persona about halfway through, which then leads to some severe misuse of the Misunderstanding™ trope, followed by some of that good old “I Can’t Fall In Love Because [Insert Past Tragedy]”™ cliche. I won’t spoil too much, but the story basically devolves into a series of well-worn story beats a little more than halfway through.

As for the scenic backdrop of New Zealand and its culture, which wows Gabriela, well…it’s barely ever seen. In a small-budget film like this, that’s not really surprising, but it does make one wonder why the script focuses so heavily on Gabriela’s constant surprise at the Kiwi way of life, when almost everything we see in the rural locale of Beechwood can be found in any American town. I say almost because there are a few Maori phrases in the cast’s vocabulary, as well as a few Maori extras and supporting characters. But really, this film could be set anywhere and it wouldn’t make much difference.

So, if you don’t plan on going anywhere for an hour and a half, why not relax on the sofa, grab some snacks, and give Falling Inn Love a chance? It’s cute, it’ll pass the time, and it doesn’t require too much thought. But in a world where rom-coms are becoming increasingly more thought-provoking (looking at you, Last Christmas), it just might not be enough.

Movie Rating: 6/10

“Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” Final Trailer!

The Darkening is upon us in the final trailer for Netflix’s Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, the prequel series to Jim Henson’s cult-classic Dark Crystal. Personally, I never knew we needed a prequel to that film. But then again, I also never knew I would actually be interested in that prequel.

This series looks…good. It still looks kind of terrifying and weird, because it still relies on puppets – and these aren’t the types of puppets you see on Sesame Street: they’re slightly more realistic, in a weird, distorted sort of way, and some of them are huge lurking vulture-creatures called Skeksis, who want to control the magical world of Thra. None of them are particularly adorable or endearing, which could end up being a turn-off for some people. I’m trying not to get freaked out by them, though, because the story looks insanely epic. There’s amazing visuals, an incredible voice-cast, and a compelling message of hope, inspiration, and courage. At least, I think the message is one of hope – I can’t really remember anything from Dark Crystal except that there were lots of vulture Skeksis, so I’m going to assume that the resistance in Age Of Resistance possibly doesn’t eradicate them entirely? Honestly, I don’t know, so I’ll be going into this series pretty much blind. And yes, I will be watching it, no matter how frightening it is.

I was already sold when Lena Headey joined the cast, but this trailer has done a lot to cement my hopes for the show: this trailer is everything I needed it to be – the stakes are high, the thrills are intense, the range of emotion coming from these puppets is disturbing. I feel invested in the arcs of our protagonists, Deet, Rian and Brea…even  if I don’t know which is which yet. Maybe it’s the stirring music, or the beautiful narration about the fragility of hope, which “catches the light, splitting the darkness, revealing your destiny”. Maybe it’s just because I still feel shell-shocked and I’m not even realizing that I’m seriously considering watching an entire series about creepy puppet-people.

While I sort out my emotional trauma, I’ll pose the question to you: are you planning to watch Age Of Resistance when it debuts on August 30th? Are you scared of the Gelflings and the Skeksis? Are you totally comfortable with the idea of watching scary Muppets fight to the death for the freedom of their alien world, and if so, do you think you should seek help?

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Jupiter Ascending” Rant Review!

I debated for a long time whether to title this “Jupiter Ascending Review” or “Two Hours Of My Life Wasted On Space Monopoly”. That should tell you something about what this movie is like.

"Jupiter Ascending" Rant Review! 5
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I only decided to watch Jupiter Ascending, a movie I had never previously seen, because Netflix was promoting it on their social media as a “wacky space opera” that needed to be seen to be believed. The only thing I knew about it was that it starred Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne, someone who I have loved in previous movies like The Theory Of Everything and the Fantastic Beasts franchise. I now feel like I am well within my rights to sue Mr. Redmayne for emotional damages caused by this particular film, which is less like a “space opera” than it is like ” Wagner’s entire Der Ring des Nibelungen but with spaceships”.

This movie is long. So long, in fact, that I had to physically force myself to keep watching at multiple points, but I made it: well, technically there were three or four unnaturally long action-sequences that I had to fast-forward through, and I can’t even say that I’m ashamed. Action-sequences are supposed to be exhilarating and fun – but for some reason, these ones were bizarrely quiet (like Redmayne, but we’ll get to him), and also incredibly dull. There are lots of films out there that get bombarded for having good fight-scenes but a boring, convoluted plot: Jupiter Ascending doesn’t even have halfway-decent fight-scenes, and its plot is structured similarly to a labyrinth. I have to wonder how anyone actually convinced themselves this movie was a good idea – that this movie was even an okay idea. In my opinion, it doesn’t even count as a bad idea: abysmal is nearer the mark. And while I don’t like ranting, I have to make an exception in this case: mostly because I’m going to use this as evidence for when I sue Netflix, Eddie Redmayne, the Wachowskis, and everybody else even remotely involved in this film’s conceptualization, production, release and distribution.

Where do we begin? Can I even try to make sense of the…hmm, it’s not a plot – what’s the word I’m looking for? It’ll come back to me. Anyway, the thing-that-isn’t-a-plot begins with a young Russian woman named Jupiter Jones (the fact that she’s Russian has no impact whatsoever on absolutely anything, but you would at least expect it to influence her name: yeah, no), played by Mila Kunis, who, to give her credit, tries her level best to act with all resources available to her, including, but not limited to: an oversize blanket, a hand-gun, toilet-brush, space-iPad, cloud of CGI bees, wedding-ring dispenser, and eyeliner. Unfortunately for her, everybody else in this film is also trying to act with their eyeliner – and everybody, including Kunis, is failing. Jupiter Jones just so happens to be obsessed with astrology (wouldn’t have guessed it from the name or anything), and her entire motivation throughout the film is…to buy a telescope. She has no interest in playing the Game of Thrones with Eddie Redmayne, and she’s only temporarily intrigued by the laws and customs of Jupiter (for whatever reason), but getting home to her telescope is her primary goal. And, look, I’m not here to judge you (I’m judging you), but who in their right mind actually approved this script? While trying to make money to buy this telescope, Jones gets kidnapped by aliens disguised as fertility clinic doctors (I’m not making this up), before being suddenly rescued by a werewolf/human/alien/angel hybrid bounty hunter with flying boots named Caine Wise. And basically it’s Channing Tatum with eyeliner, pointy ears, a ridiculous chin-beard, and wings (or, rather, horrific scars where his wings used to be, before he was thrown out of heaven or whatever for biting somebody: I’m not joking). Then they blow up most of Chicago, but somehow it gets rebuilt within a day. And that’s it. That’s the plot of this movie.

Don’t make me continue. Please don’t make me.

After being rescued by Channing Tatum and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jupiter Jones is whisked off to a farm in the middle of nowhere, where she meets Sean Bean – sorry, Stinger”, who happens to be a human/alien/honeybee hybrid bounty hunter. You read that correctly, he’s part honeybee. And yes, his name is Stinger. It gets worse from there. Stinger has a lot of helpful exposition to share with Jupiter Jones, and thankfully she has all the questions in the world, including ones that we really didn’t need answered, like “who killed the dinosaurs?” – (it was aliens, by the way). Stinger then tells her everything there is to know about Caine, except for the crucial stuff like; why is he a werewolf? Why did he have wings? Why does he own flying boots? Why did Channing Tatum willingly do this to his career? And when Jupiter learns that she can control bees, Stinger immediately realizes that means she’s the one true queen of the earth, because…because…(don’t make me literally write these words)…bee-cause bees are genetically disposed to recognize royalty, and because bees don’t lie. Remember, somebody actually wrote this script. Jones is then taken captive by a different gang of bounty hunters working for Lord Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), until it turns out that some of them are actually working for Lady Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton) – if only I knew or cared who either of those people were, I might actually be somewhat interested in this plot twist. Unfortunately, the movie then decides to try and force me to care by carrying our bee-dazzlingly boring protagonist off to an alien planet where Kalique decides to give another long expository speech about how Jupiter Jones is actually the reincarnation of her murdered mother, before losing Jones in another boring, eerily quiet action-sequence that features Channing Tatum once again swooping in (literally) to save the damsel in distress. Good thing the Wachowskis decided to use that overdone trope a few hundred more times in this movie! Because not only does Jones need to be rescued from Kalique (flying boots do the trick there), but she then needs to be rescued from Lord Titus Abrasax (handy-dandy spaceship battle and incredibly slow-moving wedding ceremony saves the day), and finally from Lord Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne’s incompetence combined with Channing Tatum’s flying boots get Jones out of this one), as various planets and civilizations crumble around her. Thankfully, I couldn’t care less about any of them. Spoiler Alert!, Jupiter Jones eventually ends up with her werewolf alien boyfriend; Eddie Redmayne falls to his death; thousands of innocent human beings are saved by one magical pair of flying shoes, proving that practical footwear is the answer to all of life’s problems; Sean Bean don’t die and the bees don’t lie. Oh, and did I mention that deep inside the planet Jupiter there’s a giant factory where flying lizards transform human souls into a nectar which keeps rich and famous intergalactic bureaucrats eternally youthful? But that, for some reason, the hair-and-makeup team didn’t get the memo and decided to make Eddie Redmayne look like he was sixty?

That’s the plot. That’s Jupiter Ascending. Sadly, it doesn’t end there: this movie relies heavily on some of the most pathetic dialogue ever written, so much so that it deserves a special shoutout for lines like:

“I CREATE LIFE! And I destroy it…” – Lord Balem Abrasax (delivered in a high-pitched scream followed by gravelly whispering, in what I suspect was meant to be an artistic decision).

“I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs.” – Jupiter Jones (delivered while trying to convince her gravity-defying werewolf buddy that he and she are meant to be together: Tatum’s glassy-eyed silence in response is possibly the only time this film tried to make its characters’ dialogue logical: by not having them speak).

“Does any part of you want to bite me?” – Jupiter Jones (not taking no for an answer, Jones hounds (haha, a canine joke) the werewolf and again tries to make this relationship seem even remotely interesting. I have to hope and pray that this line is only in the movie because someone left the cameras rolling while Kunis was making fun of the script, but didn’t cut it out of the finished product because unfortunately it could easily be misconstrued as intentional: then again, this is the same film that informed me that bees don’t lie, so I don’t know what to bee-lieve anymore).

Now that I’ve shared those gems with you, it’s obviously time to talk about performances, or what little remains of them once you dig through all the exposition, Random Dialogue About Bees, and several layers of hurricane surrounding the planet Jupiter (don’t worry, Channing Tatum does). Eddie Redmayne could have been the highlight of this movie, the one thing preventing it from totally collapsing into a murk of space-ooze. He could have been the sole remaining survivor of this catastrophe, the one member of this cast who could hold his head up high after making this film and point to his performance as the one thing that kept Jupiter Ascending from descending into the never-ending bleakness of the void.

Thank goodness he didn’t do any of that. Instead, we get to see the Academy Award-winner gliding around in a shimmery space-bathrobe before Jeff Goldblum made them cool, alternately screaming at the top of his lungs, whispering so softly you can barely hear him, or drawing breath. The fact that he was still breathing was quite possibly one of the most interesting things about his performance, because I, for one, don’t know if I would have had the strength and perseverance necessary for that role. Alongside Redmayne is screen legend Sean Bean, desperately clinging to his dignity for as long as humanly possible, until he finally just gives up, betrays the good guys for unexplained reasons, develops a moral compass out of nowhere, redeems himself, and…doesn’t even die. The Wachowskis got Sean Bean for their movie and did not kill him: what kinds of filmmakers are they?

"Jupiter Ascending" Rant Review! 6
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I’d rather not talk about Kunis and Tatum, if it’s all the same to you. I’d rather just stop now.

So what can I say for this film that isn’t negative? It’s wacky, that’s undeniable, and it doesn’t let you forget it once during its incredibly long runtime. But its wackiness isn’t good: it’s the sort of scratching-the-bottom-of-the-barrel that leads to extended sequences spent watching Jupiter Jones walk back and forth between desks at the space DMV, or gives aspiring talent like Gugu Mbatha-Raw a bad name by forcing her to wear giant prosthetic ears. It’s boring, once you’ve seen all that space has to offer, and even Jupiter realizes that halfway into the movie: she couldn’t wait to return to earth, and nor could I. Sadly, there isn’t a place in the universe where I can be far enough away from Jupiter Jones and the flying werewolf angel, because they’re permanently scarred into my brain now. If you want more scathing satirical analysis of this film’s many faults, I will refer you here and here – I don’t even particularly like CinemaSins, so me recommending them says a lot about how bad this movie is.

But if Jupiter Ascending taught me anything, it’s this:

Bees don’t lie, but Netflix does.

Movie Rating: 1/10