“Enola Holmes” Puts A 21st Century Twist On Sherlock Holmes!

Sherlock Holmes is a name recognizable to virtually anyone, thanks to his longevity in both literature and countless film and TV appearances: so it’s understandable that many audiences will approach Netflix’s Enola Holmes (based on the popular book series of the same name) with the assumption that it’s just going to be a fun yet forgettable Sherlock Holmes spinoff. But give it a chance, and I think you may become so obsessed with the film’s intelligent, free-spirited heroine that you might just find yourself wishing for a bit more of her story to be told onscreen. It’s not that Sherlock (Henry Cavill) himself isn’t a major player in Enola Holmes, it’s just that…well, two can play the same game equally well, and Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown, also the film’s executive producer) is more than capable of matching wits with the great detective.

Enola Holmes
radiotimes.com

The film hooks you in early, setting the stage for the overarching mystery almost immediately and carrying our heroine on a fast-paced adventure through the English countryside all the way down to London’s bustling streets, giving us respites and occasional breaks along the way but never once derailing the main plot, as many mysteries are apt to do with a multitude of red herrings. Enola Holmes and her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter, marvelous as always and playing a boldly feminist character similar to her role in Suffragete) live in a somewhat dilapidated manor, where Enola spends her days honing her intellectual and physical skills – everything from reading entire libraries worth of fine literature to mastering the art of jujitsu – in an idyllic safe haven, far removed from the cruel outside world. In Enola and Eudoria’s home, everything is a fun, clever puzzle: in fact, Enola’s own name, backwards, spells out the word Alone – though Enola wryly notes that she might be looking too much into that, as her older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) don’t share that little quirk. But most of the time we spend with Enola and Eudoria in their tranquil, carefree life is via flashbacks interspersed throughout the film at appropriate moments – because, from almost the moment the film opens, Eudoria is missing, and it is her sudden disappearance (on her daughter’s birthday, no less) that springboards the young Enola into the real world, armed with all the knowledge she has obtained from her homeschooling.

What makes Enola Holmes so darn likable, however, isn’t just that she can come up with a daring escape plan in a matter of seconds or take down an armed opponent while wearing the cumbersome fashion of her time period; it’s that she’s distinctly human – she’s nothing like her brother Sherlock, who has a reputation for being cold and emotionless (even in our world; so much so that the Arthur Conan Doyle tried to sue the makers of this film because their Sherlock portrayal was too emotional – and also because this version respects women too much, which, um…we’re not even going to go near that little tidbit of information). Because Enola breaks the fourth wall so frequently and with such humor and self-awareness (at one point even directly asking us, the audience, for ideas during a tricky moment), and because she’s free to make mistakes and slip up every now and again, it’s hard not to root for her – even, and perhaps especially, when her agendas don’t quite line up with Sherlock’s. It’s a testament to the strength of Enola’s character that I found myself actively wishing Sherlock would move aside and let his younger sister take the lead.

Enola Holmes
Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes | comicbook.com

It should be stated, however, that Sherlock Holmes’ portrayal here is very nearly as charismatic and compelling as Enola’s. Henry Cavill has quite possibly carved out another niche for himself in yet another franchise, one that I hope he intends to expand upon, if Enola Holmes gets a well-deserved sequel: his Sherlock is instantly familiar and yet so very different from what we’ve seen before – is that because, as has been mentioned, he has emotions and, indeed, respects women in this iteration of the character? Well, I think it might have something to do with that, actually. Cavill’s Sherlock tries hard to maintain his neutrality and facade of cold indifference, but it’s teased throughout the film that he has a certain vulnerability and warmth – something he’s really only ever able to reveal around his sister. Siblings supporting, respecting, and inspiring each other? You know I’m always here for that trope.

On the flip-side you have Enola and Sherlock’s other brother, the mustachioed Mycroft. He never quite twirls said mustache, but he’s the type of character who would if the opportunity arose: he’s deliciously despicable, the type of scummy, sneering elitist whose only motive is to make sure that the world stays firmly as it is. Eudoria’s wild spirit and Enola’s rebellious attitude are direct affronts to him, and he does everything in his power to try and dampen our heroine’s courage with attempts to “civilize” her and transform her into society’s image of a polite young lady of the Victorian era. Though there are several villains in the film, he’s the one who never fails to trip up Enola Holmes by playing on her insecurities and feelings of self-doubt – he’s the living embodiment of everything wrong and corrupt with the status quo, and the fact that he is so laughable and yet so seemingly omnipresent only goes to underline that point. Another key plot-point in the film is a reform bill that is set to go to a vote before the House of Lords – it’s only ever referred to as Reform, and that’s in part because the specifics are unimportant. It represents progress and the overturning of a commonly accepted system of government, and Mycroft Holmes, who expresses his disapproval for the very notion early on, is everything that stands in between us and achieving such radical Reform time and time again. We are still fighting Mycroft Holmes and his infuriating stance of neutrality in 2020: he is everyone screaming “All Lives Matter” in response to the notion that Black lives take precedence at a moment in time where they are the ones being singled out by police brutality and other forms of violence. In a world full of Mycrofts, be a Eudoria or an Enola.

Or be a Lord Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), who is one of the most surprising characters in the film. I say surprising because the trailer for this film made it seem to me that he was going to be utterly unbearable, with a bad case of “arrogant rich boy”. Quite the opposite: Tewksbury is a free spirit himself, and while, as an upper-class white male, he might personally benefit from the status quo, he nonetheless wants to change it and actively tries to do so. He’s also a mushroom forager and amateur botanist, which is absolutely charming and differentiates him from a long line of previous onscreen royals who spend their days casually maiming nature and wildlife rather than preserving or cultivating it – although, rather surprisingly, his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and flowers is simple a character trait; it has no relevance to the plot, which, considering that the mystery largely revolves around the language of flowers, seems like a missed opportunity.

Enola Holmes
cinemablend.com

Now I suppose I really ought to talk about the mystery itself since…well, Enola Holmes is a mystery. Thankfully, it’s a pretty good one: the trail of clues is maybe a bit too difficult to follow at points, and I might have enjoyed more in-depth scenes of clue-hunting that didn’t require so much backtracking (via flashbacks) to an event that we, the audience, didn’t actually see in real-time, but that’s a fairly minor complaint – it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie. To counterpoint this complaint with a positive, one of my favorite things about the mystery is that it gets intense, and dark: the film’s villain (no spoilers!) is out to kill, and the fight scenes don’t hold back – Enola is a very convincing action heroine, whose wits and strength are well-balanced. And she makes for a very effective detective, not least of all because her breaking the fourth wall allows her to walk us through her process organically, rather than having to drop loads of clunky exposition, or, like the classic Sherlock, piece everything together silently in her head.

Her instant charm makes her the perfect candidate to lead her own franchise on Netflix, if you ask my opinion (you didn’t, but I offered it anyway because I’m shameless). The film leaves off with plenty of story still to explore…in a sequel, I hope? If Enola Holmes blossoms into a hit for the streaming service, I would love to see the fierce young detective continue to solve cases all around England – with or without the help of her older brother. Sherlock’s name recognition is still potent, and shouldn’t be discounted entirely, but I think – no, I know – that Enola Holmes is her own character, and she can manage just fine alone.

Rating: 8.5/10

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“The Kane Chronicles” Are Coming To Netflix!

Author Rick Riordan has quickly become a hot commodity in Hollywood, a status I’m sure he never thought he’d achieve after the complete and utter embarrassment that was the feature film adaptation of his Percy Jackson And The Olympians series in 2010. Following the recent announcement that Percy Jackson will find a better home on the Disney+ streaming service (where it will be adapted as a series with the potential for multiple seasons if when the first one does well), Riordan has managed to complete a deal with Netflix that will allow the streaming giant to develop feature films out of all three books in his fabulous – but criminally underrated – Kane Chronicles series.

Kane Chronicles
riordan.fandom.com

The Kane Chronicles were Riordan’s second foray into the world of urban fantasy, as he deftly wove Ancient Egyptian mythology into a modern setting, pitting a team of diverse protagonists led by Carter and Sadie Kane against the Egyptian serpent Apophis, a seemingly indestructible force of pure evil capable of swallowing the sun and ending life as we know it. The series has received less attention than Percy Jackson’s exploits in the universe of Greek and Roman mythology, but is no less well-written, funny, or surprisingly educational. Carter and Sadie, biracial twins descended from a long lineage of Egyptian magicians, travel across the world battling gods and monsters from the mythos, learning spells, and uncovering secrets about their powers. The Kane Chronicles are perfectly suited to a film adaptation: and Netflix definitely has the money to make the Egyptian setting come to life with appropriate grandeur and spectacle.

It will be important to make sure that Netflix doesn’t attempt to whitewash either Carter or Sadie Kane, or any of their extended family. Rick Riordan himself got into a quarrel with several of his publishers in European countries after cover art for the books featured both protagonists as white, prompting the author to clarify that Carter is canonically a “dark brown” African-American young man, while Sadie is lighter skinned. Netflix has similarly faced accusations of whitewashing over the years, as have most film and television studios, but Rick Riordan’s involvement in the project gives me hope that he’ll keep a close eye on these and other important issues. That being said, the extent to which he is directly involved is still unclear: Riordan’s official announcement on his social media was only a few seconds long, too brief to provide many crucial details, and his website provides only a little more, noting that he started corresponding to Netflix in October.

One thing is clear, however. While in the books it’s at first implied and then later confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Kane Chronicles and the Percy Jackson series exist in the same universe, that won’t be possible here because…well, Netflix and Disney+ are separate, competing streaming services. This definitely won’t impact either series (in the Percy Jackson series, Egyptian gods are never referenced as far as I can remember, and in The Kane Chronicles there are a few scattered hints about something happening in Manhattan, but nothing actually substantial in the main books themselves: Carter Kane and Percy Jackson would only first meet up in a short story written by Riordan, which was followed by two more crossovers), but it does mean that any hopes of one vast, Percy Jackson Cinematic Universe under the Disney+ banner are impossible. Goodbye, PJCU…we hardly knew ya. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is sure to disappoint a bunch of fans.

Kane Chronicles
tumblr.com

Assuming both series’ are handled respectfully and Riordan is able to work closely with the producers and creative teams, we should see two separate adaptations of his work that both offer a much better vision of his extensive world and worldbuilding than the 2010 Percy Jackson movie could ever have accomplished. I have high hopes. While I’m nervous about how Netflix will adapt The Kane Chronicles, I can’t deny I’m wildly excited to see characters like the Egyptian gods and goddesses (Bast, the cat goddess and Kane family guardian, was always my favorite) finally brought to life with all the heart and humor that Riordan always intended. It’s a good time to be alive, if you’re at all a fan of Riordan’s mythos.

So what do you think? Did you read The Kane Chronicles, and if so, who are you most excited to see make the jump from page to screen? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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A She-Ra Movie Needs To Happen – Here’s Why.

SPOILERS FOR SHE-RA SEASON 5 AHEAD!

She-Ra
She-Ra | latimes.com

The animated She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power series on Netflix ended a few months ago, bringing five seasons to a close with one epic, super emotional finale. It was, in my opinion, a great conclusion: the fifth season raised the stakes higher than I would have ever thought possible, but still kept audiences firmly rooted in the emotional core of the whole series – the suspenseful will-they-won’t-they romance between heroine Adora (better known by her alias She-Ra) and the antiheroine Catra, which eventually ended with the two characters confessing their love for each other while the world came crumbling down around them. The power of that love was enough to activate the Heart of Etheria and in turn save the entire planet from being decimated by Horde Prime’s alien hordes; and so at last Adora, Catra, and their squad of friends and allies got to enjoy what seemed to be a mostly happy ending for everybody involved (well, except Horde Prime).

But it didn’t take long before the She-Ra fandom rallied behind a new hashtag on Twitter, #SheRaMovie, which has consistently become a top trend on social media for the past several weeks. And while some might dismiss it as dissatisfied fans hungry for more content, the truth is that there are many good reasons for why a She-Ra movie could and should happen: not only because it’s a smart business move to tap into such a large and clearly motivated audience, but because (a) there’s never been a better time for fan-driven campaigns and LGBTQ+ representation in animation, and (b) there are plenty more stories left to tell in the She-Ra universe.

She-Ra
Scorpia & Catra | syfy.com

Fan-driven campaigns have often been seen as foolish or vain endeavors: there have been times where they’ve succeeded in changing the minds of studio executives (Sonic the Hedgehog’s redesign, for instance), but 2020 has really made the sky the limit in terms of what a fan-driven campaign can achieve, and that’s all thanks to Zack Snyder’s never-before-seen cut of Justice League. Fans asked for it for years, and insisted that it would be better than the disastrous box-office flop that actually got released in theaters back in 2017; they trended #ReleaseTheSnyderCut whenever they could; and most importantly, they never gave up. They kept the movement going, they got support from the film’s cast and crew, they made the simple hashtag become a household phrase – and this year, they were rewarded for their efforts with the news that Warner Brothers will indeed soon release Zack Snyder’s Justice League. #SheRaMovie is in part inspired by the success of that movement, and as long as fans continue to make it trend regularly and continue to receive support from insiders (She-Ra showrunner Noelle Stevenson never fails to express her admiration for the fan campaign, which in turn motivates the fans to keep up their efforts), they will attract attention from the higher-ups at Dreamworks Animation and Netflix, and could soon share in the happiness that Snyder Cut supporters are feeling.

The need to see more strong LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment media is likely going to be another important factor in greenlighting a She-Ra movie. She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power was one of several animated shows and films this year that made a place in the narrative for well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters (and Noelle Stevenson’s wife Molly Ostertag is in fact responsible for writing several episodes of another of those shows, Disney Channel’s The Owl House, which features Disney’s first bisexual lead character) which earned the series plenty of well-deserved praise, including from my blog. With so much progress happening so quickly, my question for Dreamworks is…why stop now? When you have an established LGBTQ+ friendly franchise like She-Ra already perfectly positioned to continue leading the charge for diversity in animation, why not utilize that advantage?

She-Ra
Adora & Catra | tor.com

And moving away from the business perspective for a minute, let’s take a look at in-universe reasons for why a She-Ra movie should happen: obviously, the movie needs to have a reason to exist. But luckily, She-Ra ends with plenty of set-up for an eventual spinoff – in fact, the very last scene features the entire main cast of characters already planning to embark on a new adventure to share their planet’s abundant magic with the rest of the galaxy. A spinoff movie could partly follow that plotline, which would take us to new locations and introduce us to new characters. Besides that, there are still several questions left unanswered after the finale, particularly questions about the First Ones and their forgotten technology, the origins of Horde Prime and of She-Ra herself, the universe outside Despondos, and the character of Madame Razz, who, despite not having and not needing a large role in season five, could be a major player in a She-Ra movie if her mysterious backstory ever gets explored in-depth.

Most of the characters have room to grow post-season five, no matter what else happens. Adora and Catra finally got together, but now both young women need to keep working to maintain the bond of trust and understanding they established after basically rebooting their entire relationship. They’re starting over from scratch, which makes their dynamic all the more fascinating. Glimmer, still Queen of Bright Moon, is going to have to return there eventually and rule alongside her best friend/boyfriend Bow and her recently-returned father, Micah, who was King before he went missing (I love some political intrigue). Scorpia and Perfuma will be rebuilding the Fright Zone side-by-side. Mermista and Seahawk should be commanding their own pirate fleet by now. Entrapta will be trying to convince her friends to trust Hordak, which won’t be easy considering he (checks notes) plundered and pillaged all of Etheria, robbed Scorpia of her birthright and brainwashed her into thinking she never had one, destroyed Mermista’s entire kingdom, kidnapped Adora and Catra as babies, employed Shadow Weaver to emotionally abuse his soldiers, personally tortured Catra, started a decades-long war with the Princess Alliance, paved the way for Horde Prime’s takeover, and never apologized for any of it. And the shape-shifter Double Trouble will be living their best life on a theater stage, even though we still don’t know what happened to their last disguise, the prophetic Prince Peekablue – in fact, finding him could be another potential subplot.

She-Ra
flickeringmyth.com

My ideal She-Ra movie would tackle all of these storylines, but, since the ending of season five perfectly sets up a space-based adventure, that’s where I’d want the film to start out, with Adora, Catra, Glimmer, Bow, Entrapta and Hordak (and Wrong Hordak, just for fun) either just setting off on a quest across the stars or returning from one. Most of the film, however, could still be set on Etheria. As for the conflict, with Horde Prime and Shadow Weaver both dead and Hordak a good guy now, who’s left to challenge She-Ra? Easy: the First Ones. The technologically-advanced, semi-mythological figures who created She-Ra and programmed Etheria to be their own superweapon may have been defeated during Horde Prime’s war of conquest, but it’s not implausible that some survived – and if some did, they’d want nothing more than to finally deactivate She-Ra, their experiment gone wrong. And they probably wouldn’t be too keen on the notion of Etheria spreading its magical resources across the galaxy, come to think of it. While Adora and Horde Prime had a fairly impersonal conflict, it would be hard to get more personal than a fight between Adora and the First Ones, who literally designed her super-sized avatar (well, Adora fighting Catra would be more personal, technically, but we’ve been there, done that).

To conclude, my message to all of you is to keep pushing for a movie because it could very well happen – but only if Dreamworks and Netflix both see that the demand is there. Don’t let a week go by where the hashtag doesn’t trend. Don’t stop calling for better, stronger LGBTQ+ representation in all media, but especially in animation where it’s currently on a roll. If you’re active in the She-Ra fandom, you know all this already, but it’s important to reiterate. Let’s make this movie happen!

How do you feel about a She-Ra movie? Do you think it’s smart from a business perspective, and do you think it’s wise to continue the story? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 – SPOILERS!

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY SEASONS 1 & 2 AHEAD!

By the end of the weekend, almost everyone who intends to watch the second season of The Umbrella Academy will have binged all ten hours on Netflix: but for those of us who simply couldn’t wait and/or spread out our viewing across multiple days and who are now probably wishing they could travel into a future where season three is already out, here’s what I hope will be a comprehensive and detailed breakdown of every major twist and turn in season two of the mega-popular superhero series – with a special focus on those developments which will probably impact the series’ third season (if it’s renewed, but I think it’s a given that it will be). Not everything was left crystal clear after the season finale’s closing credits, and a bunch of burning questions were left unanswered. Characters were once again scattered across time and space…and some had even died. There’s a lot to go over, so settle in.

The Umbrella Academy
indiewire.com

Let’s start from the beginning. There’s a massive spoiler in the first couple of minutes. Soon after Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) teleports his family out of an apocalypse in 2019 (a.k.a. everything that went down in the season one finale), he finds himself trapped in another one in 1963 – this time a nuclear apocalypse caused by the Soviet Union invading the United States and littering the country with atom bombs. Not only that, but the rest of his family have all been scattered throughout the early 1960’s; though each one arrived at the exact same location, in a back alley in downtown Dallas. Texas. Before Five can be obliterated in the cataclysm, he is rescued by Hazel (Cameron Britton), the sweet, lovable assassin sent by the Commission to kill Five in season one. Hazel, now an old man, takes Five back in time just ten days and instructs him to find the other members of the Umbrella Academy and unite them against the forces of evil. In the exceedingly brief time that Hazel is onscreen, he has time to inform Five that he lived out a full and happy life with his girlfriend Agnes before she succumbed to cancer – and almost immediately after that, Hazel himself gets violently murdered by the Commission’s newest agents, a trio of white-haired, Swedish gunmen. It’s a shocking one-two gutpunch that instantly raises the stakes for the rest of the season and reminds us that no one, not even the fan favorites, are invulnerable to a cruel writer’s whims.

Although it forms the crux of the second season’s plot, the nuclear apocalypse that Hazel warned about is actually dealt with prior to the finale. To nobody’s surprise, the key to the whole mess is once again Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page), who starts out the season suffering from amnesia after being hit by a car: since she’s unable to remember anything about her world-destroying superpowers or the harm that her siblings did to her, it seems for a hot minute like she might just get to be happy and carefree – but of course, it just wouldn’t be The Umbrella Academy unless Vanya was having every ounce of joy ripped away from her at all times. Before the end of the season, she relearns everything about herself and unleashes her powers on a group of cops, leading to her being arrested and placed in the FBI’s custody. Due to the horrible misfortune of having a Russian name, Vanya is suspected of being a KGB spy placed in Dallas to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. She gets tortured, but proves to be too strong for the FBI to contain – with her mind straining under pressure and her emotional state already fragile, it doesn’t take long before her sonic powers incinerate her guards and she starts blowing up buildings.

The Umbrella Academy
Ben | collider.com

But this time, thankfully, Luther (Tom Hopper) isn’t around to make matters worse by trying to run headfirst at her, yelling. This time it’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Diego (David Castañeda), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), and Klaus’ ghostly traveling companion and deceased Umbrella Academy member Ben (Justin H. Min) who are there to try and save their sister and the world – and they actually do a good job. Diego, Allison and Klaus, to be fair, all get knocked out, but it’s Ben, taking a corporeal form with Klaus’ help, who manages to walk effortlessly through Vanya’s shield of shockwaves and possess her: a talent that Ben only began to learn about earlier in the season after accidentally (and later intentionally) doing it to Klaus. Ben is able to possess Vanya’s body long enough to bring her back, but it comes at a high cost.

Ben is a ghost, but it turns out that he’s also not officially dead yet, having never entered the literal “light at the end of the tunnel”. This explains why he’s still able to take a physical form and sometimes even interact with other characters. Klaus is led to believe that the reason for this is because of something he told Ben years earlier, at the latter’s funeral, but Ben reveals to Vanya while inside her head that it was never that: it was because Ben was too scared to leave his family behind entirely. But by entering Vanya’s head and possessing her body, Ben uses up all his energy, sacrificing himself to save her. He and Vanya have a touching final conversation before Ben drifts away, with Vanya hugging him so that he won’t have to die alone.

But despite how climactic all that may sound, that’s actually not the finale. President Kennedy still gets shot, and the government still puts out bounties for the arrest of Vanya and the rest of the Hargreeves family, but the Umbrella Academy has bigger problems to worry about. Vanya realizes through visions that she needs to return to the farm outside of Dallas where she had been living with her lover, a woman named Sissy (Marin Ireland), and Sissy’s son, Harlan, who accidentally received a portion of Vanya’s powers and has become a swirling tornado of unstoppable energy. In what I feel might just be the most emotional scene in the entire series, Vanya at first starts driving off toward Sissy’s farm alone, but is stopped when Klaus suddenly jumps into the passenger’s seat. He is followed by Allison and Diego, and, soon after, Five, who tells Vanya that she owes him one now. Even Luther clambers into the trunk. The family, finally united, heads to the farm to take on the new threat.

But when they get there, they don’t just find Harlan and his mom stuck in the barn while snow and lightning whips around them. They are also greeted by none other than The Handler (Kate Walsh), who had returned earlier in the season (she didn’t actually die when Hazel shot her in the season one finale: a steel plate installed in her skull saved her from his bullet). Now in charge of the Commission and intent on slaughtering the Umbrella Academy, The Handler brings with her an entire army of the Commission’s time-traveling assassins – every last one, in fact. Also alongside her is her adoptive daughter, the mysterious woman named Lila (Ritu Arya), whose short, tempestuous romance with Diego (before he knew she was a Commission agent) ended with Lila promising to murder him, if only to please her mother. The Handler’s army sweeps across Sissy’s farm, but it’s Vanya who actually averts a catastrophe this time by using her powers to fly over the battlefield and send a massive shockwave hurtling back towards The Handler. All of the Commission army are killed in the blast, but The Handler and Lila somehow survive, thanks to a force-field bubble around them. A force-field bubble which looks identical to Vanya’s own powers.

The Umbrella Academy
Lila | readysteadycut.com

As the Umbrella Academy watches in horror, Lila herself takes to the air, absorbing Vanya’s powers and sending them straight back at her. Vanya tumbles from the sky, crashing into the side of Sissy’s barn. But Lila isn’t done yet – she hunts down every member of the team (well, except for Klaus and Diego), and proceeds to mimic their own powers: she sends Luther hurtling through a brick wall with super strength; she persuades Allison to stop breathing (Allison is only rescued by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from Luther); she even fights Five, blinking in and out of portals and nearly defeating him – but Five stops her in her tracks by revealing a terrible truth: The Handler never loved her. She’s always been using Lila. In fact, she gave the order to kill Lila’s parents so she could pretend to swoop in and rescue the orphaned child. Why? Because Lila’s powers of imitation prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is one of the other thirty-eight superpowered children born on the 1st of October, 1989, and The Handler has been manipulating that power for Lila’s entire life.

But here’s the real shocker. Just as Lila begins to realize that Five is telling the truth, as her eyes well up with tears of emotion, as the rest of the Umbrella Academy joins her and offers to take her in as family – The Handler enters with a machine gun and mows down the entire Academy. Only Five survives the initial attack, and is able to watch, dumbfounded, as The Handler goes on to murder Lila before herself being murdered by the last of the three Swedes, who rightfully blames her for the death of his brothers. Just before the Swede can shoot Five dead, Five remembers something he learned from his father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), earlier in the season when they sat down for a light supper – that time travel can be a matter of seconds rather than years or decades. Five is thus able to rewind time to the moment right before The Handler entered, and snatches her weapon. A lot of things happen very quickly: Lila angrily confronts her mother, asking for the truth, but The Handler is shot by the Swede before she can respond. Lila, enraged, grabs her mother’s time-traveling briefcase and escapes. After a tense staring contest, the Swede and Five both put down their guns and the Swede leaves.

Despite how much death and destruction there is, the final battle ends on a happy note, with Vanya rescuing Harlan and Sissy, and The Commission, now in chaos, electing sweet, innocent Herb (Ken Hall) to run the organization. Herb, who became a close friend of Diego’s during the latter half of the season, shows up to inform the Umbrella Academy of the good news and seems to indicate that The Commission will even be an ally of the Academy’s going forward. I expect The Commission to still play a large part in the storyline, but I wonder whether they’ll ever again return to villainous practices, or whether Herb’s leadership will improve the place exponentially.

The Umbrella Academy
Allison | denofgeek.com

With the battle over and 1963 saved, it’s time for The Umbrella Academy to pack up and return to their own timeline. We watch as each member of the team says their goodbyes to the people they met and became close to in the 60’s – Allison is spared having to do so in person, but she leaves an emotional farewell letter for her husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood). I hope Allison and Raymond will be able to see each other again at some point. Their marriage was fraught with trust issues, but both characters were willing to do everything in their power to make it work, and they weren’t siblings, which was a big step up from season one Allison.

Thankfully, Allison’s relationship with her brother Luther is pretty much over by the end of the season, though there are still hints that it could continue into season three. Luther still yearns for her and is clearly upset that she got married to someone else, and his mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is a bit too enthusiastic, if you ask me. But where one incestuous relationship on this series ends, another one begins. Diego and Lila’s romance is suddenly very disturbing in hindsight, and even Diego realizes that – though that doesn’t stop him from confessing his love to her just a few minutes after learning that she is, in fact, somehow related to him. That’s one of the major problems with having a show that focuses so heavily on family: romantic options are limited.

However, that’s not a valid excuse, because somehow Vanya was able to do the unthinkable and form a close, romantic bond with a person outside the Hargreeves family unit. Her slow burn relationship with Sissy is the second season’s beating heart – she gets to finally enjoy the company of someone who actually loves her for who she is and isn’t just trying to play on her emotions and weaponize her powers, and that love (as well as the responsibility of having to care for Sissy’s autistic son in an era before the condition was fully understood) proves vital for her character development. Unfortunately, the couple go through some hard times, with everyone around them trying to pull them apart, send them to pastors for spiritual guidance, or imprison them. They end up mutually parting ways at the end of the season, despite how hard Vanya begs for Sissy to accompany her into the future. Sissy tells Vanya that if she ever finds a safe way back to her, that she’ll be waiting – which gives me hope we’ll see her again. We’ll definitely see her son again, since it’s shown that he still has a little bit of Vanya’s powers left in him.

The Umbrella Academy
Sissy & Vanya | theadvocate.com

Klaus is also able to reunite with the love of his life, a man named Dave (Calem MacDonald) he met via time travel in season one, though his attempt to stop Dave from enlisting in the army (an action which will later result in Dave’s death in the Vietnam War) only results in Dave doing so even sooner. Near the end of the finale, we see Dave boarding a military bus, but looking back over his shoulder – is he regretting his decision? Could we possibly see him again? If we do, I hope it will be with the actor from season one: Dave in season two seems to be in his late teens, which would make any actual romance between him and Klaus slightly uncomfortable.

Speaking of Klaus, the free-loving, groovy cult he leaves behind ends up recruiting an unexpected new member in the finale – the third Swede, who sighs deeply before boarding their flowery double-decker bus and riding off into the sunset.

But the Umbrella Academy themselves aren’t going to be able to ride off into the sunset just yet – after giving Klaus a moment to steal one of Sissy’s cowboy hats, the entire team teleports again, this time as a group and to the future. The date of their arrival is April 2nd, 2019: the day after the original apocalypse. The Academy mansion is still standing, the world is not destroyed, and it almost looks like everything is alright. But it’s not. Because somehow, Five seems to have made another mistake in his calculations: they’ve landed in a different timeline entirely. One in which Reginald Hargreeves himself is still alive, and is the headmaster of a new, Sparrow Academy with its own team of superheroes. And this team’s Number One is a scarred, floppy-haired alternate version of Ben Hargreeves.

The impression I’m under is that this timeline is some sort of parallel universe. Something that the Umbrella Academy did in 1963 must have caused Reginald to start a very different kind of Academy: by the looks of it, an ultra successful one that hasn’t been divided by infighting over their years of service. I’m already prepared to hate them all, and their smug, entitled attitudes. But there’s another interesting thing about the possibility of an alternate timeline – in this timeline, who else is still alive? Could we see Eudora Patch, Diego’s former girlfriend, return? Is Allison’s daughter Claire even alive? Does Harold Jenkins still bear a hatred for this version of the Academy? And most importantly, are our six protagonists going to meet themselves in this timeline?

The Umbrella Academy
Vanya | gadgets.ndtv.com

Then there’s the question of who Reginald is. Late in the season, it’s revealed that Reginald is an alien (something that was already suspected) when he pulls off his face and reveals his true, reptilian form. Unfortunately, we only get a little glimpse of this, so we’ll have to wait until season three to find out what he really looks like beneath his human disguise. Whatever he is and wherever he’s from, I assume it has something to do with his secret operations on the Moon – throughout season two, he’s busy working with the real-life Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), who seems to have been a scientist specializing in animal behavior and Reginald’s girlfriend before she was the Umbrella Academy’s robotic mom. Pogo, the humanoid chimpanzee who acted as Reginald’s right hand man in season one, is also revealed to have been Grace and Reginald’s pet project: for some reason, the couple were training him to fly rockets to, you guessed it, the Moon. Something is going on up there, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think Luther may have been right all along: the Moon and the history of the Umbrella Academy are intrinsically linked.

But don’t expect the moon to cause another apocalypse in season three. Showrunner Steve Blackman has already revealed that he plans to move away from end-of-the-world storylines in the third season, which makes me suspect that the Umbrella Academy will have to face off against a more physical enemy – the Sparrow Academy.

In this confrontation, I fully expect Vanya Hargreeves to take the lead. Although Luther is still technically the Umbrella Academy’s leader, he has become a lot less arrogant and defensive about his position over the course of season two, whereas Vanya has grown from being shy and diminutive to being a confident, capable heroine. As the team’s most powerful member and the character voted most likely to rip Reginald Hargreeves limb from limb, it makes sense to establish her as the opposition to him and his rival Academy.

So what did you think of The Umbrella Academy season two, and what do you expect will happen next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 Review!

The first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was, no questions asked, an exhilarating and entertaining ten hours of twists, turns and time travel. But the second season, which picks up mere moments after the season one finale and finds the seven members of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family split up throughout the 1960’s, takes the series to a whole new high: The Umbrella Academy elevates all the best elements of the first season, arriving at a delicate yet necessary balance between goofy, comic-booky fun and epic, emotional drama, while simultaneously working to revise or improve parts of the story that were heavily criticized, such as pacing issues and certain problematic character beats (ahem, romanticized incest).

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus, Allison and Vanya | denofgeek.com

When the season opened (turns out, the clip released by Netflix a few days ago and advertised as the first scene isn’t quite the first), I enjoyed a raw moment of catharsis because it felt so wonderful to be back, spending more time with these characters – each and every one of whom, with the obvious exception of Luther (Tom Hopper), is truly delightful. They’re each so unique, so independent, and so beautifully messed up. Their family dynamic is what makes the series click. And they thrive both on their own and as a team – which stands in contrast to season one, where many of their individual subplots felt meandering or aimless compared to the few and far between team-up moments. In season two, each member of the Umbrella Academy is going after their destiny with purpose and determination, making them each more compelling and significantly more dangerous, as their agendas clash repeatedly.

Once again kicking off the events of the season, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) is, in my opinion, the most fascinating of our seven antiheroes: having successfully teleported the Umbrella Academy out of reach of the apocalypse at the end of season one, Five quickly realizes, with a little help from Hazel (Cameron Britton), that the end of the world is going to follow the Academy wherever or whenever they go. This time, it’s not Vanya Hargreeves with the white violin in the theater – it’s an impending Soviet invasion sparked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Much like in season one, Five takes the initiative – hunting for clues across the timeline, doing his best to find his family and unite them, and colliding violently with the bureaucratic Commission – but this time around, he seems more personally invested in the fate of the world, and we watch as his frigid facade begins to crack under pressure and he has to resort to more uncharacteristic methods: for instance, hand-to-hand combat. We finally get to see the once-legendary killer in action, and his fight scenes (and there are several!) are well worth the wait.

The Umbrella Academy
Five | geektyrant.com

Second to Five but not far behind him is Vanya (Ellen Page), who has had a massive character overhaul since the season one finale. It’s hard to say too much without risking spoilers, but Vanya isn’t quite the same person she was when she blew up the moon and destroyed the world with her supersonic abilities. In fact, she’s actually kind of…happier? If I had to criticize, I’d even say she’s a bit too calm about everything that happened. That being said, while her portrayal in this season starts out a bit weak, by the finale she’s fully come into her own and is rocking a new personality and some cool new powers that I definitely can’t talk about. What’s not a spoiler is that Ellen Page gets to dance again this season, and Vanya actually has moves! Still a little awkward, but a definite improvement from the…disjointed shoulder shuffle.

Speaking of dancing, we have to go off-topic for a moment and talk about the soundtrack. I have my suspicions that it won’t be as instantly iconic as season one’s, which gave the series a reputation for setting all sorts of scenes to absolutely random yet brilliant songs, but there’s still a lot of hits. A lot. I want to highlight Daniela Andrade’s “Crazy” and Boney M.’s “Sunny”, which plays over an unforgettable Klaus (Robert Sheehan) scene.

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus | variety.com

Back on topic, just like that. Klaus and his ghostly companion Ben (Justin H. Min) arrive in the decade before any of their siblings and have the most time to ease seamlessly into the 60’s. Klaus, predictably, gets entangled with a cult and somehow becomes their leader and nonsensical prophet, a duty with many perks which he later regrets as the cult starts following him obsessively around Dallas. But the zaniest Umbrella Academy member isn’t just there for comedic relief and drug-fueled, psychedelic hijinks; he also nails every dramatic character beat he gets. Ben does too, but all of Ben’s best scenes count as spoilers.

Then there’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), whose relationship with Vanya was arguably the thematic core of season one. She’s just as much in the spotlight here, leading an entire Black community into the civil rights campaign alongside her new husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood), who is thankfully not her brother – no matter how many times Allison might claim that she and Luther aren’t “technically” related, I’m with Klaus on this one: once you have to use the word “technically”, there’s already a problem. But Allison’s biggest issue isn’t her brother anymore: it’s her superpower, which she has to refrain from using, even when it would be so easy to use it to get whatever she wants, from free clothes to equality to vengeance.

Surprisingly, I have to say Luther was my next favorite, but that says more about how little I liked Diego (David Castañeda) this season than it does about any radical improvements from the Umbrella Academy’s emotionally stunted strongman. If there is one highlight in the character’s portrayal, it’s that he’s mostly comedic relief now. And I’m happy to report that the series doesn’t try to excuse or apologize for the fact that he subjected his own sister to permanently damaging physical, mental and emotional abuse: he gets called out several times for his part in causing the apocalypse. I think I may have just enjoyed seeing him get constantly beaten down, walked all over and blatantly ignored whenever he tried to roll out the usual spiel about being the Number One and the leader of the family. Is that mean? I love to hate him: that’s better than just hating him, right?

As for Diego, well, the truly unattractive new hairstyle isn’t the only problem with his character. One of my favorites from season one, he slowly but inevitably sank to the bottom of my list over the course of season two, thanks to being the only character still saddled with a self-inflicted hero complex. What makes Diego tolerable is that whenever he’s onscreen, he’s usually accompanied by his love interest, the enigmatic Lila (Ritu Arya), a fellow patient at the mental hospital where he’s been imprisoned. Lila’s role is crucial to the season and the series going forward, but again those pesky spoilers get in the way of us talking about any of that.

The Umbrella Academy
Ben and Klaus | syfy.com

Amongst the rest of the supporting cast, the standouts are Marin Ireland as Sissy – a charming Texan farmwoman who has dreams of making a great escape from her married life – and Colm Feore, who reprises the role of Sir Reginald Hargreeves: but as a younger, even more nefarious version of the character. Viewers won’t learn everything about his history from this season, but they will get some tantalizing glimpses of who he really is, and what his plans for the Umbrella Academy were all along.

This season might seem to initially lack a strong presence from the villains, since the guy from the trailers with the fishbowl head is only in a couple of scenes and the trio of Swedes are mostly annoying obstacles rather than fully developed characters (though if you didn’t enjoy the Swedish rendition of Adele’s “Hello” on the soundtrack, I don’t know what to say to you), but that changes once another character comes on the scene. And the villains show up in full force for the finale, so don’t worry.

The Umbrella Academy
Vanya | cosmopolitan.com

The Umbrella Academy season two leaves off with a definite hook for a third season – and since I imagine that this season will be eaten up by audiences, I think we’re going to get that third season as soon as possible. This started out as one of those series’ that I liked but felt a little embarrassed for liking so much: now, I don’t have any hesitation about saying that The Umbrella Academy is a masterpiece. It’s got the cool visuals and the thrilling action you want from a superhero story, but it’s got a lot more than that: it’s got heart, soul, and wit in equal measures, all tied up in one perfect package. That package also comes with a killer soundtrack, meme-worthy humor (Klaus’ parable of the scorpion and the frog being my favorite example), and a whole lot of weirdness – what’s not to love?

Series Rating: 9.5/10

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 First Scene!

Can’t wait for Friday, and the release of the second season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy? Well, you’re a little bit in luck: because, as part of a string of tantalizing tidbits and content delivered over the course of the week leading up to the premiere, Netflix has dropped the first scene of the first episode onto the internet – it’s just three minutes long, no longer than an average trailer (for the sake of simplicity, I’ve decided to rate it as I would a trailer), but there’s plenty here to enjoy. We see a violent new alternate timeline and a 1960’s apocalypse, all seven members of the Umbrella Academy team working together, and the return of fan-favorite Hazel as an old man – and we hear Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” used as the opening song on what is sure to be just as brilliant and varied a soundtrack as season one’s.

The scene opens mere moments after Number Five teleported the entire Umbrella Academy backwards through time at the end of season one, in order to save them from the apocalypse caused by rogue Academy member Vanya Hargreeves, whose supersonic powers accidentally caused the destruction of both the moon and the earth. Now, even though Vanya appears to no longer be a massive threat, the apocalypse is still just as imminent a danger. This scene follows Five as he drops out of a portal and navigates through the war-torn streets of Dallas, Texas, quickly coming to the realization that his time travel shenanigans have created an alternate timeline where the Soviet Union invades the United States after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Umbrella Academy
ign.com

But even though that’s clearly a massive problem that needs to be addressed urgently, there’s still some good to come out of it. Five stumbles upon the other members of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family, fighting, for the first time, as a unit – each one utilizing their powers inventively and uniquely to try and prevent the Soviet incursion. The camera expertly spins from one family member to another at a brisk pace: first we see Vanya, who apparently can now levitate, using her supersonic abilities for good – literally tearing apart missiles. We move on to Klaus, who appears to be in complete control of his necromancy and is busy resurrecting dead soldiers. Luther, the team’s muscle, comes flying out of the sky like the Hulk and shields Klaus from a bazooka shot with his bare back. Meanwhile Ben, still a ghost but very clearly corporeal, is grabbing Soviet soldiers with his monstrous tentacles and strangling them. Down on the ground, Allison strides confidently through the battlefield in a stylish black cape: her powers of persuasion allow her to casually blow peoples’ brains out without ever having to fire a shot. And finally we watch as Diego and his throwing knives bring death from above, as the agile vigilante leaps from a crashed police car and twirls elegantly through midair.

It’s extraordinary, to put it lightly, and it feels exactly like what Five wanted to happen at the end of season one: a unified team of superpowered individuals fighting evil and saving the world. But unfortunately, it’s at this moment that Hazel, the reformed Commission assassin from season one, suddenly reappears, stepping out of a portal and asking Five to join him. Five, understandably, is both reluctant and confused, until Hazel points to the sky – and to the Soviet bombers about to fly overhead and drop their load of nukes on Dallas. Even though Five clearly has no idea what’s going on, he knows enough not to stay around in this alternate timeline: he takes Hazel’s hand, and the two disappear. It’s worth noting that Hazel is, for some reason, an old man now: did he live out an entire lifetime with his girlfriend Agnes in another timeline before returning to the past to avert the end? Everything is moving too quickly to say for sure!

Umbrella Academy
variety.com

And then, because this show enjoys hurting us, we get to watch as the other members of the Umbrella Academy are obliterated within seconds by a wave of nuclear fire that sweeps through Dallas before forming a lovely, umbrella-shaped tower of smoky cloud. They’re not really dead, of course: because, technically, none of this has happened yet. I assume the entire season will deal with Five trying to round up the Umbrella Academy team and unite them to prevent this grim scenario: whether he’ll have any success is up for debate. What’s not in question is that the end is coming, and for some reason it all revolves around President Kennedy’s death.

This is a fantastic entry to the second season: the story is already compelling, the action looks incredible (the special effects, especially, are cinematic), and the music choice is excellent. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here, and how everything will come together, and I hope that the rest of the season is just as good as this scene.

Rating: 9.5/10

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“The Witcher” Is Getting A Prequel! Yes, Already!

Dust off your old suit of armor (I hope you still have yours, and it hasn’t been worn down by your muscles, like Henry Cavill’s), sharpen your ancient broadsword, and toss a coin to your Witcher, because it’s time to return to The Continent. Netflix has just announced today that, while they’ve been waiting for filming to resume on season two of The Witcher series, early work has begun on a prequel spinoff series, titled Blood Origin, which will explore the life and times of the very first Witcher, over a thousand years before Geralt of Rivia. You may think it’s a bit early for spinoffs (and particularly prequels) when the franchise is still so young, but technically this won’t be the first – an animated film was also announced several months ago, which will follow the Witcher Vesemir and be titled Nightmare Of The Wolf (who else is loving these ridiculously over-the-top names?).

The Witcher
imdb.com

Blood Origin will be six episodes long, a short amount of time to pack in so much worldbuilding and deep lore from the Witcher books. Thankfully, writers Lauren Hissrich and Declan de Barra will be joined by the author of the original Witcher books, Andrzej Sapkowski, who will serve as a creative consultant on the series. Together, they will tackle the story of how the Witchers came into being, and how humans and monsters first clashed during the aftermath of the Conjunction of the Spheres.

Let’s go over the basics real quick, because even I didn’t know much about this period of Witcher history before researching for this post. In Sapkowski’s universe, there are several dimensions, or Spheres – each inhabited by different types of people: the Continent, the world in which The Witcher takes place, was originally only home to Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes. During the event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres, dimensions collided violently, scattering people across the universe and in worlds where they were afterwards trapped when the gateways between dimensions closed. The first humans, and a number of gruesome monsters, were left behind on the Continent – and with them came the magical force known as “chaos”, which Witcher fans will recognize as the power that fuels mages like Yennefer.

The Witcher
imdb.com

Blood Origin is supposed to take place a few hundred years after this event: monsters have overrun the Continent and are busy ripping people to shreds on a daily basis; the Elves are caught up in the middle of all the bloodshed; and the Mages, those few gifted individuals able to channel the power of chaos, are working on a solution to the problem – a solution which will manifest itself in the very first Witchers: a unique breed of superhuman killing machines designed to hunt monsters into extinction and liberate humankind. We don’t actually know the identity of the first person to survive the grueling process one has to undergo in order to become a Witcher, so the show will be working with a blank slate. In fact, we know startlingly little about this entire chapter in the chronology: the names of the two Mages who designed the Witchers, Cosimo Malaspina and Alzur, are some of the only details available from the books and video games.

The Witcher
digitalspy.com

But in the long run, that might be for the best. With so much uncharted territory to explore, there will be plenty of room to build new storylines and invent new characters – some of this material could then be brought over into the main series (yes, they’re separated by a thousand years, but it’s fantasy: immortality and indestructibility are always valid excuses), tying the two together, perhaps even allowing us to draw parallels between the first Witcher and one of the last. Either that, or it will just be a really interesting and expensive bit of backstory for the world, and I love some backstory. I also really enjoyed The Witcher, so I’m excited that there’s even more content on its way. We don’t have a release date for Blood Origin yet, but it’s probably going to hit Netflix sometime around late 2022 or early 2023.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Blood Origin? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“Cursed” Review! Arthurian Legend Gets The Netflix Treatment.

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords may be no basis for a system of government, but it is a pretty decent hook for a Netflix series. Cursed, the streaming service’s epic new Lady Of The Lake retelling, definitely mangles the Arthurian source material (and takes an extremely long time to get to the whole Lady Of The Lake bit), and even as a standalone it suffers from a number of problems, but it still tells a crafty little story about wizards, witches and Vikings (you heard me correctly), all wrapped up in the standard Netflix package.

Cursed
ign.com

That standard package can sometimes be very standard (characters falling hopelessly in love with each other after approximately fifteen seconds! How original!), but the show does go through several highs and lows in terms of quality – with some of its highs being extraordinary (the entire climax to episode four) and some of its lows being abysmal (pretty much every attempt at heterosexual romance). The series takes a little while to get going: the first two episodes, unfortunately, are the weakest, as we follow our reluctant protagonist Nimue (Katherine Langford) on the first steps of her journey, but episode three is good and episode four is great. After that, the quality takes another dip, but the series regains its footing in time for the finale.

Our heroine Nimue begins her epic quest as a Fae villager living comfortably far away from the merciless brutality of the Catholic Church’s servants, the Red Paladins, whose mission it is to wipe out magic across England (it’s best to just accept that they live in England, despite the wonky geography and the constant references to a nearby “desert kingdom”). Nimue is soon entrusted with a powerful sword which grants her increased power, strength, and, as time goes on, an unceasing blood-lust. Langford’s performance as the cursed young woman is a strong one, though she clearly falters in romantic scenes when partnered with her love interest, the handsome young Arthur (Devon Terrell). That’s entirely fair – the romance is boring and conventional, and the dialogue meant to build chemistry and passion is unoriginal. Langford’s greatest strength is when she’s in the thick of battle, wielding Excalibur (sorry, the Sword Of Power) alongside her Fae magic.

Cursed
Merlin | inverse.com

But the thing that makes Nimue’s arc most interesting is that she’s not technically supposed to be wielding the sword. In fact, the words “Take this to Merlin” echo through her head over and over again. The Merlin in question is none other than Merlin the Magician (Gustaf Skårsgard), the legendary sorcerer of Arthurian legend who is deeply entangled in all the myths surrounding the English king’s rise to power. Here, he is even more intimately entwined in Nimue’s story. Skårsgard does a good enough job conveying the ancient wizard’s inner turmoil and pain, but he brings significantly less fun to the role – and the character of Merlin, who in this version stumbles around drunk half the time and uses his wits to escape any number of situations, needs that quirky dash of humor. The lack of it is surprising, and makes Merlin far less engaging than he might have been.

The supporting cast surrounding these three main characters is vast and filled with highlights – Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin), a sorceress in the making, treads a fine line between good and evil while various demonic entities try to make her their pawn; Pim (Lily Newmark), is a cheery, wide-eyed Fae who makes the impulsive decision to join a pack of Vikings; Sister Iris (Emily Coates), a frighteningly intense young nun, is set up to be this show’s answer to Game Of Thrones‘ Arya Stark – only Iris is more like a mix between Little Red Riding Hood and The Terminator. And Peter Mullan fully transforms into the series’ villain, Father Carden, the friendly, smiling leader of the Red Paladins’ genocidal crusade. Carden’s Paladins make perfectly decent villains: but while they have no problems burning or crucifying innocents and pillaging the defenseless, they aren’t a well organized military force and thus their battles are often on the weak side. But that’s where the Vikings come in.

Cursed
Father Carden | thehollywoodnews.com

The Vikings are everywhere in this series. All the time we spend on the longships of The Red Spear (Bella Dayne) with Pim might seem pointless at first (though I stopped feeling that way once we were treated to a hilarious montage of Pim, who was enlisted as the crew’s healer, trying desperately to keep up with the raiders’ never ending brutal injuries), but it is integral to the events of the finale, which sees multiple Viking clans clash in epic warfare: and, based on the secret identity of one specific Viking character, it will prove to be integral to the events of future seasons of Cursed, if there are any. All that being said, it’s hard to stop from laughing when King Cumber (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) arrives about halfway through the season with a ridiculously mangy platinum blond wig that appears to have been loosely glued to the top of his head. If you thought Henry Cavill’s wig in The Witcher was bad, then you’re going to be horrified by Cursed, which has plenty such awkward hairpieces.

Besides occasionally looking awful, the hair, costumes and makeup utilized on this show don’t even try for any semblance of historical accuracy. For instance, the court of the distasteful Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) is a complete mix-and-match of styles, ranging from late Medieval to Victorian, with some background characters appearing to have stepped out of the 16th or 17th Centuries. I was tempted to say that Cursed is reminiscent of an Assassin’s Creed interpretation of history, but I actually think the video game series does a far better job of achieving authenticity – though the Trinity Guard, an elite sect of gold-masked Catholic warriors wielding maces and whips under the command of a solemn, vaguely reptilian abbot, feels like it would be very much at home in the game. As does The Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman), a nimble assassin and another of the series’ roster of antagonists – but his journey takes some very interesting twists and could be relevant to the LGBTQ+ community in ways which I don’t wish to spoil here.

Cursed
Lady Lunete | wehaveahulk.co.uk

Cursed is well worth the long ride (and it’s a long ride indeed) for its strong lead performance, the beautiful aesthetic – insert shoutout to those absolutely lovely animated scene transitions here – the surprisingly good cinematography, and the political intrigue: one of my favorite fantasy tropes, very well executed here, with a particular emphasis on how powerful women often had to work their influence from behind the throne. Two wildly different women – the quiet, calculating Lady Lunete (Polly Walker) and the sadistic berserker Eydis (Sofia Oxenham) – both have to operate in this fashion.

The diversity is another good reason to settle in for the ten-episode ride: though some audiences will inevitably become enraged by the mere presence of people of color – and women of color, especially – in 4th or 5th Century England, I think that’s a stupid complaint because people of color have been living in England since Roman times, well before Arthur’s reign. If anything, that’s one of the few things that Cursed actually gets right when it comes to historical accuracy. Maybe instead of getting offended by black people and LGBTQ+ characters, you should direct your attention toward the swarms of Vikings coming down from Norway about two hundred years early? Just a thought.

If you’re at all interested in fantasy, you’re at least going to have a fun time with Cursed. It’s shamelessly entertaining when it wants to be (i.e. when it doesn’t get bogged down in love triangle tropes), and there’s nothing wrong with just watching something because it’s fun, and has some thrills and scares and big cliffhangers. If you’re hoping it’s the next Witcher, I’d encourage you to lower your expectations just a little bit – just a little bit, mind you. It’s not so far behind its more high-profile Netflix competitor in terms of quality that it could never catch up in future seasons (and I’m going to hazard a guess based on the finale that future seasons are planned because otherwise I’m suing Netflix), but it still needs to find its own voice amongst the crowd.

Series Rating: 6.5/10

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 Trailer!

Last time we saw the seven misfit super(anti)heroes who make up the Umbrella Academy, they had narrowly escaped the fiery cataclysm that resulted when several chunks of moon shrapnel crashed into the Earth, obliterating the planet and wiping out the rest of the human race. Now they’re back, having traveled through time and space to Dallas in 1963, where (surprise, surprise) they’re once again facing an imminent apocalypse, this time somehow linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But to make matters even worse, the entire team has been split up.

The first trailer for the upcoming second season gives us a good rundown of what’s going on and where our protagonists have ended up: necromancer and drug addict Klaus (Robert Sheehan), unsurprisingly, has landed himself in a psychedelic cult; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has become a lawyer specializing in civil rights, and I can already envision plenty of scenarios in which she uses her mind-control powers to win cases; Luther (Tom Hopper), the team’s muscle-bound strongman, is working as a boxer; Diego (David Castañeda), the guy with all the knives, is stuck in a mental hospital with a new character who appears to be his love interest; Vanya (Ellen Page), the seemingly harmless violinist who caused the apocalypse with her ability to control sound waves, appears to be looking for normalcy in rural Texas, because that makes sense; Ben (Justin Min), the ghost of a former Umbrella Academy member, appears to have broken free from Klaus and is now just sort of chilling; and Five (Aidan Gallagher), time-traveling teenage know-it-all that he is, is trying to round them up all in order to hopefully prevent yet another end of the world scenario.

The trailer promises that the dysfunctional family will be burdened with just as much emotional baggage as they were in the first season – that might seem like an unusual selling-point, but it’s one of the key elements that made the show so wildly popular in the first place. However, there’s another secret weapon that The Umbrella Academy has, and that’s its roster of bizarre yet terrifying villains – and thankfully season two is already setting up a number of those: Swedish vacuum-cleaner salesmen who double as ninja assassins and a Commission bureaucrat with a fishbowl for a head? Count me in! We also get a brief glimpse of season one’s reluctant killer Hazel (Cameron Britton), now reformed and significantly older, helping Five on his mission, which is pretty sweet.

Umbrella Academy
radiotimes.com

Once again, the CGI budget for the Netflix series looks incredible, and it seems like we’ll be treated to a bunch of epic action scenes utilizing each of the Hargreeves siblings’ superpowers in clever ways. Intentionally or not, however, the focus seems to have shifted away from the characters with special effects-heavy powers like Klaus and Vanya, and more towards Allison and Diego, both of whom, while undeniably very dangerous and effective, don’t require a whole bunch of CGI for every fight sequence. In fact, it’s now become a running joke that Allison tries to use her powers as little as possible. But we’ll see: I have no doubt that, despite not being featured very prominently in the trailer, Vanya will still be accidentally wreaking havoc everywhere she goes.

And of course, even as the family drama moves into new territory, the Hargreeves’ can’t ever escape from the looming shadow of their abusive father-figure, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, who appears at the end of the trailer as a somewhat younger gentleman. From the context of the scene, it appears that the Umbrella Academy will have to seek him out for help, possibly (hopefully) so he can finally give them some answers about where they came from, why they have powers, and why he was so obsessed with the moon.

So what do you think of the first Umbrella Academy trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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“Eurovision Song Contest” Review!

Confession time: I’m a sucker for dumb wholesome movies with musical numbers, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga fits the bill perfectly. Is it by any stretch of the imagination a good movie, technically? Nope. Is it, on the other hand, a really stupid comedy filled with outlandish humor, ridiculous scenarios and catchy songs? Yes, and it’s so unapologetically the latter that I can’t in all honesty fault it for not being the former. Sometimes, you have to just accept something bad and love it despite that fact – and there you go, I’ve summed up the entire plot of Eurovision Song Contest for you.

Eurovision
brooklynvegan.com

Now, here’s another confession for you: I am American, but I actually knew what Eurovision was long before watching this movie, and it surprises me that so many are only just now being introduced to the zany glory that is the real-life Eurovision Song Contest. Started after World War II with the intention of uniting the European countries through song and dance, the contest is still going strong to this day (well, actually, not this year, thanks to coronavirus), and now even hosts countries that technically aren’t part of Europe, (looking at you, Australia), all of which come together to try and outdo each other with a series of successively weirder and weirder performances. Some people will poke fun at the contest: it’s an acquired taste, and I understand that. I just think some people don’t admire or respect the contest’s noble purpose. But yeah, anyway, I love Eurovision. I also love a number of obscure musical artists from all over Europe, some of whom have performed at Eurovision, some of whom, unfortunately, haven’t gotten the chance – yet. This film, thankfully, manages to temporarily satisfy my unceasing desire for more weird European music: though let me be clear, it barely does so.

My biggest complaint with the film has to be that there’s simply not enough musical numbers- especially not ones which exemplify the absolute insanity of Eurovision. There’s “Volcano Man”, the upbeat song about a dormant volcanic spirit looking for love which puts the Icelandic duo known as Fire Saga on the map and sets the tone for the rest of the movie; “Double Trouble”, which is fun, but is also undeniably helped out by the fact that Will Ferrell is rolling around in a giant hamster-wheel during one performance of the song; a mostly uninteresting highlight reel of the other contestants, including Demi Lovato’s “Mirror”; and my two personal favorites – the Song-Along sequence, which involves about a dozen performers passing different songs around the room and each singing a verse, which might sound awkward but is actually extremely fun to watch; and of course the big surprise song in the finale where the film’s real star Rachel McAdams gets to truly shine, with a big assist from Swedish pop-star Molly Sandén’s vocals (Sandén, by the way, has an excellent career apart from this film, and I’m a big fan of her: that information is, strictly speaking, unnecessary, but I just thought you should know).

Eurovision
collider.com

When I say that Rachel McAdams is the real star of the movie, I absolutely mean it. McAdams’ character, mild-mannered pagan Sigrit Ericksdottir, carries the film through some of its worst rough patches in the bloated second act, and her desperate attempts to try and appease the Elves of ancient Icelandic folklore are, dare I say it, very relatable (this movie is exposing a lot about me). And while she’s not actually the one singing, she still brings all the onstage charisma and dramatic flair one would expect from a real Eurovision performer.

Will Ferrell, on the other hand, is doing his best: but he’s not particularly funny here. He also doesn’t ever really shine when he’s onstage alongside McAdams, as his singing voice isn’t particularly impressive. He has most of the big emotional beats in the story, which all fall a little flat due to being extremely predictable. His character, Lars Erickssong, is at his best when he’s dressed like a heavy metal Viking and dancing in the frigid wilderness: the more conventional parts of his story arc – trying to win respect from his father, who for some reason is Pierce Brosnan; pushing away Sigrit’s romantic advances because he’s focused on winning; making promises to himself to never be laughed at again, and so on – all seem out of place in a movie that should be over the top at all times.

The other performances in the film have good and bad elements: perhaps the most notable is a glorified cameo from TV personality Graham Norton, who provides cruel and merciless narration of Fire Saga’s various onstage disasters. The lineup of other singers includes Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyantly dressed Eastern European with murky motivations, who does at least get to deliver one of the best lines in the entire movie – though it’s in his very last scene, so you’ll have to wait awhile; Demi Lovato as Katiana, another Icelander, who has a very small role in the beginning of the movie and then keeps showing up for reasons that are never explained; and a long list of past Eurovision winners and contestants who show up for brief cameos, including Israel’s Netta, Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, French YouTuber Bilal Hassani, and John Lundvik of Sweden. Mikael Persbrandt, who appeared as the shape-shifter Beorn in The Hobbit, has a small but pivotal role as a member of the Icelandic government whose key-chain doubles as a garrote – because why not?

Eurovision
showtimes.com

Unfortunately, all of this talent would probably have been better utilized in a slightly better film – Eurovision Song Contest, is, I must admit, far too long for a movie of so little plot. If every minute of available screen time had been packed full of music, I might have understood why it needed to be just over two hours long: but we spend a lot of time focusing on Lars’ boring emotional baggage, Sigrit being unsuccessfully wooed by Lemtov, Lars being unsuccessfully seduced by a Greek singer, and, worst of all, wandering around Eurovision host city Edinburgh without a single sight of the River Leith – and yes, that’s obviously a legitimate criticism of this film.

But what can I say? I enjoyed most of the time I spent watching Eurovision Song Contest, and I don’t regret it. That being said, you have to remember I have a clear bias: I just really like Eurovision, so this was always going to be my cup of tea. I’m a little unhappy that this movie might not be good enough to inspire viewers to check out the real thing, but at least Iceland now has a movie that honors their rich, vibrant, underappreciated musical culture.

Movie Rating: 5.9/10

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“The Politician” Season 2 Review!

As I noted several weeks ago in my review of Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, I never reviewed The Politician, one of his other, most recent, soapy melodramas laden with intrigue, conflict and meandering filler episodes – in fact, the review I was planning to write for the first season (which debuted on Netflix last year) still sits in my drafts, not even half-finished. So have I come around to the series in the intervening months and hopped on the bandwagon for this new, second season of the show? Well, no.

If anything, the problems that kept me from feeling motivated to write a review of season one have only gotten worse in season two: but that’s, I suspect, why I’m finally talking about it. Because The Politician is very loud – obnoxiously so, at times – about how deep and multi-faceted it seems to think it is, but once you remove all the glossy embellishments and fancy trappings, this story is as shallow as its central character, and I think it’s time I said something about it.

The Politician
Dede Standish, Payton Hobart and Hadassah Gold | whatculture.com

In both seasons, each episode opens with a tantalizingly disturbing montage of the titular politician, ruthlessly ambitious entitled white college student Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), as he is constructed from scratch, his body pieced together, polished and painted like a mannequin’s. And each time I see it, I wonder if the episode I’m about to watch is finally going to be the one that follows through on the promise of that intro: diving deep into this character’s clearly troubled existence and exploring who he really is behind all the hollow campaign promises and performative publicity stunts – but we never go there, or at least not far enough that it counts. Payton merely continues on a straight line towards the White House, and before long the story forgets about his moments of internal drama and moves on to the next scandalous bombshell. After all, who would want to sit through an intricate character study detailing the fragility of a politician’s mental and emotional state when we could just watch Dede Standish (Judith Light) and Hadassah Gold (Better Midler) debate what’s the best way to reveal to the public that Standish is in a committed three-way relationship with two men?

Unfortunately, I’m not confident enough in this show’s storytelling abilities to assume that The Politician‘s version of an intricate character study would actually be more interesting than the scandalous details of Standish’s unorthodox love life. Light and Midler outshine Ben Platt in every way, with powerhouse performances that make me wish this show was all about them and their deliciously wicked smear campaign. Light plays Standish as a charismatic, charmingly devious state senator who has her eye on the Vice Presidency (I’m a bit confused as to why a state senator is even in the running for VP, and especially so far before a Presidential election cycle, but it’s fine, I guess). Midler’s character is a White House Press Secretary in the making: fiery, cunning, and ready and willing to use any situation to her political advantage (and again, strangely well-known and respected in political circles despite only being the personal assistant of a state senator). Only in the very last episode of the season does Platt finally stand alongside them as their equal, and that’s only because he gets to sing in that episode: for a hot minute, I was deeply concerned we would go through this entire season without Platt getting to make any use of his vocal talents – in the end, I felt having him sing two songs one after the other at a New York City nightclub was maybe a little forced, but the show was working with a small number of episodes, and one of those was spent on the requisite “day-in-the-life-of-an-average-voter” scenario, so I can’t blame them for having to force it to make it work.

The Politician
Hadassah Gold | ew.com

One thing I didn’t quite understand was why so much of the story is packed into the first half of the season, leaving the later episodes feeling somewhat empty and underdeveloped – in particular, there’s one massive time-jump that completely skips what should be a crucial period in Payton’s life: did coronavirus get in the way, and prevent some much-needed additional filming? Was the decision to cut things short made halfway through filming? Because there are a whole bunch of story threads, such as the sleazy junior senator from Texas with a comatose wife or Andrew (Ryan J. Haddad) and his unhealthy obsession with Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), or McAfee‘s (Laura Dreyfuss) entire character arc, that are built up in the first half of the season – and then just…go away, or are suddenly resolved without warning.

Several of the supporting characters also shuffle around aimlessly on the sidelines for most of the story, pledging their undying loyalty to Payton before predictably stabbing him in the back; then repeating the cycle several times over. Astrid (Lucy Boynton), one of the major players in the first season, has virtually nothing to do throughout seven episodes except stare moodily at Payton, and engage in a boring love triangle with him and his love interest Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), with whom Payton intends to build a political dynasty rivaling the Kennedys or Roosevelts. Despite being enemies most of the time, Astrid and Alice are basically interchangeable, both imbued with the same dead-to-the-world attitude. It’s funny for specific moments (I’d mention one of Alice’s line deliveries in particular, but it’s a spoiler), but boring and downright grating after a while.

The Politician
newnownext.com

Another casualty of the second season is LGBTQ+ representation, something that was prominent in the first. It’s oddly revealed that River (David Corenswet), a character who committed suicide early in season one and lives on as the physical embodiment of Payton’s conscience, was never actually gay or bisexual – he just wanted to be intimate with everyone. It’s hard to tell if Payton himself is even being written as LGBTQ+ anymore, either: he still sees River frequently in visions, but he seems indifferent to him, and it’s even hinted that he didn’t really feel any strong physical attraction to him when he was alive. There are a number of other characters on the show who are still on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including McAfee (shown to have a number of ex-girlfriends) and Skye (Rahne Jones, who for some reason is the only Black woman in the main cast), but their roles are minor and their sexual orientations only briefly touched upon. For a series that is, once again, obnoxiously loud about how progressive and forward-thinking it is, it seems strange to walk back the revelation that the leading man could possibly be LGBTQ+, especially in a way which seems to sacrifice so much of the chemistry that Platt and Corenswet shared in their brief time onscreen together.

One more thing that disappoints me but doesn’t necessarily surprise me about the show: despite being titled The Politician, this series doesn’t really focus too heavily on the political scene – two seasons in, and we haven’t even seen the inside of the state senate chamber in Albany, much less the White House, presumably Payton’s final destination if he doesn’t finally destroy his own career before then. The politics seem engineered as an excuse for eye-catching intrigue, tabloid-headline gossip and shocking scandal, and it’s clear to me that this show might have benefited from being written from the perspective of one of Payton Hobart’s P.R. team. Payton never has any political advisors with him, his only debate performance is focused on obtaining clever soundbites, and his campaign is based around fostering an unstoppable millennial movement rather than actually offering any substantial solutions to the climate change problem that rather abruptly becomes his only real talking point. He’s all spectacle and no substance – and while that may have worked when he was running for school president back in Santa Monica, it begins to feel eerily Trump-like once you put him in an actual election.

The Politician
empireonline.com

And again, that might have worked if the show made any attempt at exploring him as a character and/or examining how that approach to politics is harmful: in fact, it could have been extremely relevant to our modern political climate, allowing us a look into what forces shape the megalomaniacs and dictators of tomorrow. But the show doesn’t make that attempt, and so we’re left with a character who walks like a progressive, idealistic liberal, talks like a progressive, idealistic liberal, and may or may not be a progressive, idealistic liberal behind all the mental blocks and barriers he puts up to hide himself from the world. Until the show finds the courage to start breaking down those barriers, we may never know the truth.

Series Rating: 5/10

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“The Old Guard” Trailer Review!

In the first trailer for her upcoming, action-packed Netflix thriller The Old Guard, Charlize Theron brings her star power, intensive martial arts skills obtained from a career of similar projects, and her talents as a producer – and the result looks fresh, innovative and exciting.

Already, comparisons are being made to Chris Hemsworth’s recent thriller Extraction, which debuted on the streaming platform to a record-high view count. The Old Guard would be lucky to enjoy even half of that film’s success, but I’m personally hopeful – and confident – that Theron’s take on a Netflix thriller, working with a more experienced director, will be miles ahead of Extraction in terms of quality: and whereas the former film drew criticisms for what many perceived as a glorified white savior narrative and stereotypical portrayals of Southeast Asian people and culture, The Old Guard doesn’t appear to have any such problems just yet – the cast is authentically diverse, and the film highlights several different cultures from all around the world.

How could it not? The plot of the film revolves around a group of five soldiers from various historical time periods who are unable to die naturally or be killed. Led by Charlize Theron in her new role as battle-axe wielding warrior Andromache of Scythia (who now goes by “Andy” in the modern world), the team also includes Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin‘s Jafar, as a Medieval Muslim warrior who appears to have fallen in love with his former opponent, a Crusader played by Luca Marinelli. Matthia Schoenaerts rounds out the group as a Napoleonic soldier. But the team’s newest recruit, a U.S. Marine named Nile Freeman, is the character who sets the plot in motion, as the audience surrogate with whom we first encounter this strange, close-knit group of battle-hardened immortals. Freeman is played by KiKi Layne, who is moving quickly towards mainstream stardom – and hopefully, after a couple more roles like these, toward the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where she is my first choice to play the mutant goddess Ororo Munroe.

The Old Guard
vanityfair.com

But the Old Guard doesn’t just have to look out for the newest member of their team – now, they also find themselves hunted by the powers-that-be, who want to weaponize their rare ability and use it to create entire armies of immortal soldiers. Chiwetel Ejiofor, here playing a CIA operative with a passion for history, leads the villains from the sidelines, but hopefully he has a chance to get in on the action as well. Still, one gets a sense of brooding menace from several scenes in the trailer – particularly one in which Andy, after realizing she was accidentally caught in a passerby’s selfie, has to swipe the person’s phone and delete the photo. As she explains to Nile, the technological advancements of the modern world make it harder than ever for the Old Guard to remain a secret: and the longer Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character knows about her, the longer he poses a threat not only to their existence, but to the fate of the world itself.

As one would expect, there’s a ton of action: much of it utilizing weaponry one doesn’t typically see in a thriller, including the aforementioned battle-axe, and Kenzari’s character’s scimitar. For me, being somewhat of a military history buff, this looks like my kind of movie: guns, grenades and even bazookas can get repetitive after a while, but an ancient Greek warrior swinging a battle-axe? That never gets old.

So what do you think? Are you intrigued by the film’s premise, or are you just here for one particular member of the Old Guard team? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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