The Umbrella Academy Welcomes 6 New Recruits!

The Umbrella Academy is expanding its scope and the size of its ensemble cast heading into the beloved Netflix series’ third season. In a surprise announcement that fans have been waiting on for several months, Netflix revealed the identities of the six mysterious new characters we glimpsed in the second season’s cliffhanger finale, as well as the actors who will take on these roles. And yes, one of them is in fact a literal glowing cube.

The Umbrella Academy
The Sparrow Academy | umbrellaacademy.fandom.com

These six new characters (plus a returning star) will make up The Sparrow Academy, the alternate-reality nemesis to The Umbrella Academy that we’ve followed through the series’ first two seasons. While The Umbrella Academy fell apart due to infighting and trauma, The Sparrow Academy is still fully operational and nearly perfect in every way: a highly-elite family unit headed by the same tyrannical father figure whose abusive parenting methods caused The Umbrella Academy to break apart. The Umbrella Academy unintentionally brought them into existence in season two, meddling with the timeline enough that Reginald Hargreeves, their eccentric alien adoptive dad, chose not to adopt them when he was supposed to…but instead selected seven other children to become his superhero bodyguards and accomplish his ultimate goal (which is still shrouded in mystery); children he apparently perceived as being more extraordinary than his earlier, failed, experiments.

One of these children is Ben (played by Justin H. Min), the one member of The Umbrella Academy whom Reginald Hargreeves didn’t meet in the 1960’s and thus didn’t have any reason to strike off his list. But The Sparrow Academy’s Ben is nothing like his past self: Deadline describes him as “a Machiavellian tactician…Vicious, pragmatic, and hyper-vigilant”. Ben is second-in-command to The Sparrow Academy’s leader, Marcus, and is “determined to gain his status as the leader at all costs”. That parallels the power dynamic between The Umbrella Academy’s leader, Luther, and second-in-command, Diego; but I have a feeling Ben will go to much greater lengths to establish himself as this Academy’s commander than Diego ever did, and will likely be season three’s primary antagonist. My wild guess: he’ll probably be Reginald’s favorite child right up until the point someone tells ol’ Reggy that Ben is actually another straggler from The Umbrella Academy, at which point Reginald will reject him and send him down a path to villainy.

Marcus, The Sparrow Academy’s leader, will be played by Justin Cornwell – who just recently appeared in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, where he flaunted his vocal talents performing “This Day”. There’s no word on whether he’ll do any singing in this role, but Deadline describes him as “Honest, virtuous, and demanding”, noting that his innate leadership qualities help him keep the family together. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of The Umbrella Academy’s leader, Luther, under whose administration the Academy fell apart completely. Marcus is presumably also superpowered, but the only hint about his powers is that he’s a “colossus” (again, like Luther), and that he’s “Graceful but lethal” (unlike Luther).

Number three, our Allison parallel, is a character named Fei, played by Britne Oldford of Hunters. The description of her is pretty vague: she “sees the world in a special way”, which could be a reference to whatever her powers are. A portrait in duality, she “comes across as a misanthrope” yet secretly yearns for companionship. She’s “the smartest person in the room”, but hinted to be vengeful. She’s also the least like her Umbrella Academy counterpart, perhaps intentionally.

Alphonso, The Sparrow Academy’s fourth team-member, played by Jake Epstein from Designated Survivor and Suits, seems a lot like Diego on the surface: a battle-hardened crime-fighter covered in scars, who verbally berates his enemies. But like The Umbrella Academy’s number four, Klaus, he compensates for his years of trauma with humor. Klaus also compensates with drugs and excessive partying, whereas Alphonso’s addiction appears to be food: there’s a single, strangely specific reference to him loving “a good pizza and a six-pack of beer” more than anything else in the world. Maybe Alphonso’s superpower somehow relates to eating, or maybe he just really loves pizza and beer in the same way Hazel loved donuts back in season one. Maybe this is totally insignificant. Either way, the fandom has already decided that, like Klaus, Alphonso should also be LGBTQ+ and preferably coupled with headcanon bisexual Diego (assuming the two aren’t related, which is always a possibility with this show).

The Umbrella Academy
The Sparrow Academy | deadline.com

Number five, the counterpart to…Number Five, is a mysterious young woman named Sloane. Genesis Rodriguez, star of Big Hero 6, She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, and The Fugitive, is attached to play Sloane, making her arguably the series’ biggest new cast-member and suggesting that Sloane has an important role to play. The character is described as “a romantic and a dreamer who feels a higher cosmic calling” that leaves her divided between her “obligations to her family” and her desire “to see the world and experience a life beyond her upbringing”. This air of youthful innocence and naivete would serve as an effective counterbalance to Five, who is already world-weary and grizzled by the age of sixteen. But what is a cosmic calling, and how do divine powers fit into The Umbrella Academy’s universe?

Cazzie David, whose better known for her work as a writer and magazine contributor than as an actress, will play a character named Jayme – the team’s number six, filling the role that Ben would usually fill if he weren’t this Academy’s number two. Jayme is a hoodie-wearing loner with a “fear-inducing snarl”. Like The Umbrella Academy’s Ben, her strongest connection is with her team’s number four, Alphonso, described as “her only friend”.

And finally, we have an unexpected newcomer to the Hollywood scene! Existential Dread Inducing Psykronium Cube will play Christopher the Cube, a floating, sentient, “telekinetic cube of unknown origins”, who uses he/him pronouns and has multiple powers, including the power to lower the temperature in a room to subzero, ignite “paralyzing fear” in the hearts of his enemies, and see into the future. Despite being an incredibly dangerous cube, the Sparrows treat him “like any other sibling”…making him the clear parallel to Vanya Hargreeves, whose biggest characteristic is that she’s constantly pushed away, shunned, and betrayed by her family because of her destructive powers. Expect these two to share scenes, and for them to share a connection somehow.

The Umbrella Academy
Christopher The Cube | Twitter | @IGN

In fact, expect all these characters to share connections with their counterparts that will slowly be revealed. Although I assume we’ll see the two Academies go to war with each other in season three, I strongly feel we’ll also be treated to some much-needed downtime first – with the two families intermingling and having their loyalties tested as they make new friends and new enemies.

So what do you think? Which Sparrow Academy member are you most excited to see in action? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” Review!

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost four months since the world suddenly, shockingly lost Chadwick Boseman to cancer. Despite most of us having never known or met the man personally (and I will forever regret I never had the chance), I and millions of others around the globe were left devastated by Boseman’s death, which cut short an extraordinary career and a life lived honestly by a humble, kind-hearted, man. It’s natural to think of “what would have been”: the films he would have gone on to make, the awards he would most surely have won, and so on. But Boseman’s posthumous filmography, which includes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and numerous episdoes of the animated What If…? series for Marvel, reflects not only Boseman’s versatility as an actor, but his determination to create a lasting legacy for himself that would span vastly different mediums and genres; a legacy that stands on its own.

Ma Rainey
Levee and Ma Rainey | theguardian.com

And that’s what makes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so incredibly painful to watch, as the film now feels almost too cruel for illuminating the setbacks that Black creatives have always suffered due to the efforts by mediocre white people to hijack their art and culture, not because it’s wrong to depict this by any means (quite the opposite)…but because it’s Chadwick Boseman’s character, underdog horn player Levee, who is actively being cheated out of his legacy in the film by a system that rewards theft and punishes integrity. But while some may find the pain still too raw to revisit (and as always, I encourage you to decide for yourself if that’s the case), I believe that the film makes one thing clear unintentionally: that even Chadwick Boseman’s sheer ability to carve out the beautiful, incredible legacy he has is something that cannot be taken for granted, although by rights it should – because for centuries, and right up until this present day, Black art, talent, and culture has been appropriated by white folks. And it’s up to white folks and allies of the Black community to call out that appropriation, and help to protect and preserve the legacies of Black creatives.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is entirely focused on this concept of trying to build a legacy, and the harsh toll it exacts on the Black creatives who have to fight every single day to protect their work. Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis, who herself famously called upon Hollywood to stop calling her the “Black Meryl Streep” unless they were going to start paying her accordingly) is seen as a difficult and unreasonable diva by her white manager and producer, but that’s because – as she explains in a brilliant monologue to her trombonist, Cutler (Colman Domingo) – she can’t afford to be fair and reasonable, because she knows that as soon as she lends her voice to the record album her production studio is creating, they’ll have no further use for her. She has to demand better, or she won’t be treated any better; whether that means requiring that she be served a Coca-Cola (in a prolonged sequence that, let me tell you, really made me want a Coca-Cola), or insisting that her nephew, who stutters, be featured on her biggest song, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, even though it takes six tries and six vinyl records to get it right.

Davis commands attention from the moment she appears onscreen, decked out in feathery finery, and literally glistening under lighting that is somehow both deeply uncomplimentary and strangely flattering to her mesmerizing stage persona. Maxayn Lewis provides Rainey’s rich, soulful, singing voice on almost all the songs in the film, but the rest is an intoxicating blend of Davis’ physical presence, her costuming department, and the particularly noteworthy efforts of her hairstyling and makeup team, whom I predict will be the Oscar frontrunners in their category. The final result of all their contributions is a bundle of joyous, irreverent charisma – a proud Black woman owning herself, her body, and her sexuality.

Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey | detroitnews.com

Her sexuality is a particularly interesting topic because the real-life Ma Rainey is strongly believed to have been a queer woman. And although the character of her girlfriend in the film, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige), is entirely fictional, there’s evidence to suggest that Rainey did have a romantic relationship with one of her contemporaries, blues singer Bessie Smith. Depicting Ma Rainey authentically is important for several reasons, not least of all because we’ve seen very few stories of real-life Black LGBTQ+ historical figures depicted onscreen: and even fewer in a context where their sexuality is not the defining feature of their character. Ma Rainey is queer and a great singer and a savvy businesswoman…she’s allowed to be multi-faceted, and I love that.

Boseman’s Levee, meanwhile, spends a considerable amount of time trying to seduce Ma Rainey’s girlfriend away from her, much to her annoyance. A cocky, easy-going young playboy making his own music and gradually distancing himself from his older, wiser, bandmates, Levee is an antagonist to Rainey’s ambitions, but one gifted with warmth, charisma, and humanity: all talents innate to Chadwick Boseman, and which the actor easily imbues into his character…particularly in one beautifully written monologue sequence that I imagine must be taken word-for-word from the August Wilson play upon which Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based (like the recurring motif of Levee’s yellow shoes and the closed door in the recording studio that Levee repeatedly tries to break down, both of which came off as obviously theatrical devices to me). My biggest gripe with stage-to-screen adaptations tends to be dialogue, which can feel gratingly unnatural in movies: but while I wouldn’t say Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom doesn’t sometimes have that problem, I do think the actors – particularly Davis, Boseman, and Domingo – make it work in all the scenes that count.

The one aspect of the film that has drawn criticism, however, is the one crucial scene it adds to the screenplay: drastically changing the overall tone of the story – rather like the inverse of The Boys In The Band, which added a single, hopeful scene to the film adaptation’s ending to address criticism of the original play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom adds one scene that, without context, is completely mundane and uninteresting…but with context, is haunting, deeply disturbing, and a bleak reminder of how far we haven’t come since the 1920’s, and how much further we still have to go. Without getting into spoilers, I will say this much: it directly addresses the topic of cultural appropriation, and forces you to re-evaluate the entire film from that perspective. The original play did touch on this subject too, from what I understand, but not in this manner. I get why this scene was added – it’s not merely shocking, but also extremely important to the film’s central theme.

Ma Rainey
Levee | seattletimes.com

Cultural appropriation, an extension of white supremacy and imperialism, is the ultimate act of theft: the grand robbery of an entire art-form, or fashion, or tradition, or way of life, in most cases carried out by white folks who either think they’re being funny by contributing to harmful stereotypes, or are actively stealing an idea because they’ve decided they like it so much that they want to market it as something socially-acceptable for white people to buy/wear/whatever, and don’t understand or care how their actions keep the violent spirit of colonialism alive in the modern day. The latter is the more insidious of the two, and has been deeply engrained in the music and entertainment industries for over a century. How many great legacies were set in stone by Black creatives, only to be overwritten and overshadowed by white people stealing their ideas? We’ll probably never know. But I hope that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for many, will be the wakeup-call they need to the terrible effects of cultural appropriation, and the need to address it now, as we head into the roaring 2020’s.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” Review!

It’s appropriate that the most purely, unironically wonderful movie of this gloomy year goes hand-in-hand with “the most wonderful time of the year”, the holiday season. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is adorned with all the  embellishments of the most nostalgic classics, but this lighthearted yet surprisingly impactful steampunk Christmas epic has a potent, forward-looking magic that is entirely its own. To say it’s epic is no joke either: the story is action-packed, punctuated by dazzling musical interludes, and spanning five generations of one incredibly inventive family.

Jingle Jangle
Jingle Jangle | variety.com

That this magical, multi-generational family happens to be Black and specifically comprised mostly of Black women is not merely a more accurate and inclusive reflection of the world we live in, but is also deeply important to the film’s hopeful message. Although I will leave the matter of whether or not Jingle Jangle is good representation to Black film critics and viewers, I will say that the film’s joyful, diverse, steampunk world left me feeling so inspired and empowered that I truly hope it will do the same for Black audiences of all ages, who haven’t seen themselves represented anywhere near enough in mainstream media: neither in holiday movies, nor in steampunk – which, to be honest, has never been translated particularly well to a live-action medium until now. And whereas a majority of steampunk gets justly criticized for what often feels like an inability by the genre to break free of the same-old Euro-centric, imperialist tropes, Jingle Jangle brings with it an entirely fresh and unique “Afro-Victorian” aesthetic: something that is layered into the styling for the hair, make-up, and costume design, as well as some of the film’s most inspired musical selections – most notably a remix of Ghanaian artist Bisa Kdei’s Afrobeat hit “Asew”, which plays over a lively snowball fight.

With Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend producing, it’s no wonder that Jingle Jangle has the lineup of standout vocal talents and songwriters that it does – including Legend himself, who contributed his talents personally to what is, unsurprisingly, the film’s best song: “Make It Work”, an epic duet between stars Forest Whitaker and Anika Noni Rose. Thanks to compelling dance choreography by The Greatest Showman‘s Ashley Wallen and David E. Talbert’s eye-catching direction, none of these musical numbers fall flat, though a few are simply too short: with Ricky Martin in particular being given very little time or material to work with, and the aforementioned Rose (the iconic voice behind Tiana, Disney’s first Black princess) only getting one opportunity to flaunt her vocal strengths – so deep into the film’s runtime I was scared she wouldn’t get to sing at all.

Jingle Jangle
Jessica Jangle | ew.com

Rose’s Jessica Jangle, however, has a fairly small role; and it’s understandable – though regrettable – that she doesn’t have more to do. The majority of the film focuses on the dynamic between her father, Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker), and her own daughter, Journey (promising newcomer Madalen Mills, whose equipped with an incredible voice). Jeronicus, once the most imaginative toy-maker and inventor in all the land, is now a cranky old man living above a pawnbroker’s shop, while Journey is, of course, the bright and sparky young soul who must help him save himself and the last of his long-lost inventions, a robot named Buddy that flies and talks and runs on belief (“believepunk” doesn’t sound quite as catchy as steampunk, though), something that Jeronicus has been sorely lacking as him and his business have fallen into disrepair over the years.

The supporting cast are all excellent, but the one standout whom I simply have to mention is Lisa Davina Phillip, who plays the mail-carrier Ms. Johnston. Fun, flirtatious, and constantly accompanied by a trio of random backup dancers who pop up out of nowhere like sidekicks in an animated movie, Johnston is one of the most delightful comedic relief characters I’ve seen in a while, and I hope that Phillip, whose filmography is still relatively small, gets much more work off this outstandingly good role. Her expressive facial acting and comedic timing even overshadow the film’s campy bad guy.

Keegan-Michael Key plays this character, a hopelessly unimaginative inventor by the name of Gustafson who is somehow under the sway of a narcissistic toy matador named Don Juan (voiced by Ricky Martin), who plots his escape from Jeronicus Jangle’s emporium early on in the film after overhearing his maker’s plan to mass-produce him for the enjoyment of children worldwide. With bland writing, unclear motivations, and a string of jokes that simply aren’t funny, Gustafson and Don Juan are the weak links in this movie. The plot misses a golden opportunity with their characters, too: if Gustafson’s plan is to become fabulously wealthy by stealing all of Jeronicus’ inventions, and Don Juan’s only fear is of being mass-produced and sold, wouldn’t that create a potential conflict of interest between the two? Especially since Gustafson doesn’t actually have any reason to obey the tin toy’s orders (since he is, you know, a toy and all)? Apparently not, since this glaringly obvious solution to all of Gustafson’s problems is taken off the table by Don Juan having apparently “forced” Gustafson to destroy the blueprint for his design offscreen…and again I ask, how can a toy force a human to do anything?

Jingle Jangle
Gustafson | denofgeek.com

Jingle Jangle‘s costume designer Michael Wilkinson can only do so much for Gustafson’s half-baked character, but his talent is on display everywhere else in the film, in the elegant array of costumes created from a clever mixture of European and African-inspired patterns and styles. Hairstylist Sharon Martin, meanwhile, was assigned the task of recreating Black Victorian hairstyles based on rare photographs from the era: her designs in particular come across as both authentic and beautiful, a tribute to the enduring power and artistry of Black hairstyling.

In a year as exhausting as this one has been, fun and lighthearted films like Jingle Jangle are especially necessary for the respite they offer from day-to-day fears and worries. This is doubly significant given how often Hollywood continues to depict Black characters onscreen only as they exist in relation to traumatic subjects such as slavery and racism, subjects that Hollywood usually exploits for easy Oscar-bait: to see Black heroes and heroines starring in a cheerful holiday musical adventure movie that exists simply to be fun is groundbreaking because of how simple it seems. But that simple magic is what I find to be Jingle Jangle’s strongest asset, and the secret ingredient in this delightful story that will keep audiences coming back for many Christmases to come.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Dolly Parton’s Christmas On The Square” Review!

2020 needed a savior of one kind or another, and we could do a lot worse than Dolly Parton singing Biblical messages of love and charity while dressed up in rhinestone-encrusted white cowboy boots and giant, glittery, golden angel wings, that’s all I’m saying. The legendary country singer’s new Netflix holiday movie Christmas On The Square might be just a bit too blindingly bright and sparkly for some, and perhaps it’s a little too fervently energetic for others, and for a lot of people it might be much too bizarre…but maybe all you’ve got to do is open your heart to Dolly (she’s very persuasive), and let the metaphorical Christmas lamplighter light up your holiday spirit and guide you out of the dark pit of despair. I don’t know. It sounds a lot more convincing when Dolly Parton is whispering it in that sing-song voice of hers.

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton as “Angel” | glamour.com

Christmas On The Square is an unabashedly weird movie, and the Christmas lamplighter is probably the least absurd of several dozen comically fantastical plot twists, characters, and story beats. Thankfully it won’t take you long to decide if it’s a new holiday classic for you and your family, or something better enjoyed over an alcoholic eggnog: within the first ten to fifteen minutes, you’ll have already been introduced to Angel (Dolly Parton herself, disguised as a homeless woman begging for “change”: I see what you did there, Dolly), you’ll have already witnessed the first of the film’s many frantic musical numbers, and you’ll have met the film’s villain/protagonist Regina (Christine Baranski, having the most fun out of anybody), a ruthless money-making machine whose current mission is to evict the inhabitants of her Midwestern hometown on Christmas Eve so a massive shopping mall can take its place. If that sounds suspiciously similar to the plot of A Christmas Carol, well…yes, it is essentially the same story. But perhaps not so much an adaptation of the original Charles Dickens novel as the more recent (and let’s be honest, far more enjoyable) Muppets Christmas Carol, which is also a quirky musical – although I must confess that the Muppets film has better songs than this one, and is far and away the better movie in general.

Dolly Parton
Christine Baranski and Jeanine Mason | variety.com

It’s not even that Parton’s songs for Christmas On The Square are bad, or badly-written, though they’re certainly nothing close to what she’s capable of at her best. It’s just that…she’s so rarely the one actually getting to sing them. And this isn’t some kind of “I Will Always Love You” situation, where she hands an already great song to a powerful vocalist who makes the song ten times better. Christmas On The Square has a surprisingly weak lineup of vocal talent beside Parton, Baranski, and Jenifer Lewis (who has just one song all to her own: “Queen Of Mean”, the most lyrically playful of the film’s musical numbers), and it gives most of its potentially awesome songs to Josh Segarra’s character, Pastor Christian. Segarra is a halfway-decent singer with the slightly grating rustic charm you’d expect from his goody-goody character, but his voice isn’t strong enough to carry songs like “Try”, which in particular demands to be either more powerful and show-stopping, or more quiet and intimate, than the middle-of-the-road performance we’re blessed with instead. And the film clearly had the means to go in either direction: one of the film’s most interesting singers, a choir member and supporting character played by Matthew Johnson, threatens to overshadow Segarra’s rendition of the song with his own soulful background vocals – while Dolly Parton herself gets to softly recite a single verse over the rushed end-credits. Segarra is better suited to songs like “You”, an overly earnest romantic duet between him and Mary Lane Haskell.

Earnestness is not something that typically poses a problem in holiday movies, where one expects – and indeed hopes – for the messaging to be sweet and simple. And it’s not even necessarily a problem here. But the strange thing about Christmas On The Square is how rapidly it pivots from “sweet and simple holiday musical” to “family-friendly soap-opera complete with emergency hospital visits, teen pregnancy, and complicated family-drama”, and then back again. And that’s not even factoring in the random, campy, semi-absurdist interludes focused on the Angels and their hijinks. The tonal inconsistencies feel unintentional and jarring rather than comedic, and it goes on like this until the end of the movie, which includes a truly bizarre third-act plot twist. Remember Last Christmas (which, incidentally, came out last Christmas), that George Michael-inspired musical about a woman falling in love with the ghost of the heart donor who saved her life the previous year? Yeah…think that kind of twist, but without the necessary comedic angle.

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton | netflix.com

The movie’s secret weapon, however, is Dolly Parton – and it employs her at every opportune moment, just as a scene begins to lag or a musical number starts meandering. Some would say the movie relies on her a little too heavily at points, and sure, it probably does. But Parton’s aura is so strong and so all-encompassing (and most of the rest of the cast so boring and wooden), that it’s impossible to dismiss that as a fault. Personally, I think she could have done this whole thing as a one-woman show, and it would have been even better – and probably no weirder than it already is.

Besides, Dolly Parton poured a significant chunk of change into funding the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine while many wealthy celebrities were still under the impression we wanted to hear them incoherently singing from their palatial estates: I think she deserves to steal the spotlight in this weird, clunky, passion project that, without her, would probably be a forgettable mess. At least Christmas On The Square‘s tonal inconsistencies produced something strangely enjoyable, unlike those of a certain early-pandemic celebrity sing-along I could mention.

Movie Rating: 5.5/10

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Trailer Hypes Up The Epic Dark Fantasy!

It’s been a long time since we got any news from the set of Shadow And Bone, one of the myriad of upcoming fantasy series’ in Netflix’s seemingly endless catalogue. The cast looked pretty good when they were revealed last year, and filming wrapped just prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, luckily, but in the months since then all we’ve really seen (or rather heard) was a snippet of the series’ melancholy, ominous score – which was admittedly quite beautiful. But now, to accompany the news that Shadow And Bone has been set for a fast-approaching April 2021 release date, Netflix has generously dropped a new teaser trailer.

Shadow And Bone
Six Of Crows | grimdarkmagazine.com

A mere forty seconds long, the teaser doesn’t provide any actual footage (and only a single line of dialogue), but instead sets up the series’ general atmosphere: dark, wintry, and mystical. Shadow And Bone will combine storylines from Leigh Bardugo’s two separate book series’ set in the Grishaverse world: the Grisha trilogy, which follows Alina Starkov as she becomes the prophesized Sun-Summoner and battles The Darkling for control of her homeland; and its more popular successor, the Six Of Crows duology, which takes place many years after the original trilogy and explores life in the criminal underworld of the city of Ketterdam, where a thief named Kaz Brekker and his gang of social outcasts stage a daring heist to win a fortune. The books are very good, and I highly recommend reading them, but suffice it to say that the Grishaverse is kind of like a gritty Narnia with overtones of The Witcher. It stands out from the crowd of young adult fantasy stories thanks to its mature themes and elegant writing style. I’m pretty typical/boring in that I prefer Six Of Crows to the Grisha trilogy, but I have a feeling Netflix might finally make me care about the characters of Alina Starkov and The Darkling (nothing they can do will ever get me to spare an ounce of interest in Alina’s love interest, Mal, one of the most detestable and annoying characters I’ve ever read).

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | bookstr.com

The first season of the Netflix adaptation will tackle the events of the first Grisha trilogy book – itself titled Shadow And Bone – and, it seems, the backstories of most of the main characters in Six Of Crows. Whether or not these two story threads will interweave organically or not is still a mystery: in the books, there isn’t much crossover between the two until Six Of Crows‘ sequel, but that may change for the series. It’s possible we’ll follow two storylines unfolding in a non-linear fashion – but The Witcher just did that, and got criticized for confusing viewers. I suspect there’s a chance, then, that the events of the two series’ will occur simultaneously for the Netflix show’s purposes…despite the plot-holes that could case, if done sloppily. The clearest link between the two, which I hope Shadow And Bone will exploit, is the character of Nina, who (in the books) is a crucial member of Kaz Brekker’s gang, but hails from Alina Starkov’s home country of Ravka, where she was a young but powerful Grisha mage before being abducted.

Anyway. Elements from both series’ are incorporated into the imagery used in the teaser – from a crow (the emblem of Brekker’s gang) soaring past, to the white Morozova’s Stag whose intricate, frosted, antlers command attention before being transformed (via CGI wizardry) into a ball of radiant, fluid, sunlight clasped between two silhouetted hands. In the books, the mythical Stag’s antlers are similarly used to amplify Alina’s magic powers, which manifest as the ability to conjure and control light. I especially love how Alina’s hands fold against her chest, snuffing out the light as darkness encroaches around her. Before the title card is illuminated by one of her outbursts of magic, we hear from Alina’s nemesis and love interest, The Darkling himself, whose power to manipulate shadows pits the two against each other throughout the book series: in his gentle yet firm voice, he tells her that “You and I are going to change the world”. Fans have long been hyped to see Ben Barnes as The Darkling – it would have been nice to get a first look at his costume.

Shadow And Bone
Shadow And Bone cast | deadline.com

And of course, the whole visual masterpiece is complimented by the aforementioned theme, composed by Joseph Trapanese and well-suited to a dark fantasy epic like this. Although there’s not much to go on yet, the vibe I’m getting from the show is really good so far. And Netflix’s track-record when it comes to creating addictive content is pretty spotless: I unironically loved The Witcher, and I believe Shadow And Bone will probably be another bingeworthy hit for the streaming service.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“The Umbrella Academy” Renewed For Season 3!

SPOILERS FOR THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY AHEAD!

Netflix’s business strategy when it comes to streaming series’ has become infamous for a reason: it’s well-documented how the the service favors first seasons, which draw in lots of new subscribers at once, rather than big, multi-season commitments, which (at least according to Netflix) tend to see dwindling returns over time. Entire fandoms have had to wait in anxious impatience for multi-season orders and renewals, every show’s necessary next step towards enduring success. It doesn’t always happen, and that’s why we end up with fan campaigns to save The OA, or Anne With An E, or Sense8 (the latter of which got a very hasty movie finale tying up everything as best as it possibly could under the circumstances). In a cruel twist of fate, these fan campaigns often last longer than the shows themselves. Thankfully, we won’t have to plead with Netflix to save The Umbrella Academythe series has officially been renewed for a third season consisting of ten more hour-long episodes, and will resume filming in February of next year.

The Umbrella Academy
denofgeek.com

You don’t even have to worry about a catch, because as of yet there isn’t one. Unlike Netflix’s Lost In Space, which will end with its third season, The Umbrella Academy is poised to continue far into the future. It’s encouraging for those of us who love this series and can’t wait to see what happens next, but there’s no doubt this announcement still feels bittersweet considering all the other great shows that Netflix has canceled after just one or two seasons, particularly this year as they’ve had to prioritize more than ever before (I didn’t even get to finish watching Away before they canceled it, and now I don’t know if I actually want to, if it’s some sort of permanently unresolved cliffhanger that’s in store for me).

Anyway, now that I’ve depressed you and myself by bringing up bad memories of shows that ended too soon, let’s celebrate The Umbrella Academy‘s renewal! As one would expect, all the main, superpowered cast will return: Elliot Page as the violinist of the apocalypse, Vanya; Aidan Gallagher as time-traveling super-genius, Five; Robert Sheehan as the necromancer turned cult leader, Klaus; Emmy Raver-Lampman as the lethal gossip, Allison; David Castañeda as the team’s knife-thrower and apparent telekinetic, Diego; and Tom Hopper as the most controversial character in the fandom, Luther. In the closing moments of the season two finale, they had all just escaped from the alternate 1963 in which they nearly started World War III, and had landed in a new, alternate version of the year 2019, their original start date – one which seems to have come about as a direct result of their accidental meddling in the 60’s. In this new timeline, the Umbrella Academy never existed, but its founder, Reginald Hargreeves, did set up a new organization called the Sparrow Academy, which has a new line-up and shadowy new motives – Colm Feore, who plays Reginald, will reprise his role as the Academy’s homicidal father figure.

The Umbrella Academy
Lila and The Handler | radiotimes.com

Ritu Arya is confirmed to be returning as Lila, the Handler’s semi-villainous daughter, who was revealed to be another superpowered being in the season two finale, though her power is literally being able to steal the powers of her opponents. The last we saw of her, she was escaping to some completely different timeline with the help of a briefcase, after being betrayed and temporarily murdered by her mother in a shoot-out. And yes, I’m aware of how confusing that last sentence probably is to anybody who hasn’t watched the show.

Justin H. Min will also return; but not as Ben, the lovable, socially awkward ghost he played throughout most of seasons one and two. Near the end of season two, Ben sacrificed himself to save his sister Vanya, and finally entered the light at the end of the tunnel, something he had been putting off for years. But while it was heartbreaking and we all cried, it wasn’t the end of Min’s time on the show…because Ben is back, with a twist. The Sparrow Academy set up in this new, alternate 2019 features a very different version of Ben as its leader and most high-ranking student – and the suspicion is that this Ben, with his goth haircut and menacing attitude, probably isn’t quite as nice as the old Ben. He’ll most likely be trying to kill his time-displaced siblings throughout season three, with the help of the primordial, tentacled monster that dwells in his chest cavity (which functions as a portal to the netherworld, in case you were wondering about the logistics of how everything works in a show that stars talking monkeys, shapeshifting aliens, and sentient green cubes). On the flip-side, at least this means Justin H. Min gets more screentime, and actually gets to interact with all the other characters!

The Umbrella Academy
Ben (the new one) | comicbook.com

It’s still too early for me to make any further predictions about season three, though there are plenty of theories out there. As of right now, I just have a very disorganized wish-list of things I want to see in the show’s near future, which includes things like Vanya leading the Umbrella Academy into battle as a team (or just, like, being respected by the rest of her family and treated as an equal, and not getting beaten up, suffocated, or imprisoned), or Diego coming out as bisexual (one of the more popular fan campaigns in the wake of season two, and The Umbrella Academy listened to fan demand for lesbian Vanya after season one, so don’t write this off), or Luther dying (heroically on the Moon, of course, to tie up his character arc). Just, you know, stuff. No grandiose, over-arching theories about how everything fits into place, or at least not yet.

But what about you? What do you hope to see happen in season three of The Umbrella Academy? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Blood Of Zeus” Is Fun – But Deeply Flawed.

As someone who has been an avid fan of Greek mythology ever since I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology as a kid, I was admittedly a little wary of starting Netflix’s newest anime series, Blood Of Zeus: the series tells a wholly new story unlike anything from the myths themselves, but embellishes it with all the trappings we know from the Greek legendarium. I’m not much of a stickler for accuracy when it comes to adapting the ancient myths, but I find it…vaguely frustrating whenever adaptations mess up and try to Hollywood-ize a mythology that is already so incredibly exciting and engaging that it has survived in the public consciousness for millennia. Blood Of Zeus is at least trying to create something more in line with the tone of the ancient myths, although it too falters more often than it succeeds. In the end, I regard the series as fun, deeply flawed entertainment that just takes a little too long to get to the really good stuff…but once it gets there, dangerously close to the season finale, it gets so good, so briefly, that you’ll be hooked and probably left hoping for a second season.

Blood of Zeus
digitalspy.com

The first few episodes of the series, unfortunately, are so slow-paced that you might be tempted to opt out long before you reach that point – and I wouldn’t blame you. There are extensive interludes between the action and drama that are filled to the brim with exposition and meandering flashback sequences. We have to flesh out our hero’s backstory, you see, and then we have to do the same for our main villain. It’s only after Zeus (Jason O’Mara) personally enters the fray and our protagonist Heron (Derek Phillips) finally assembles his rag-tag team of heroes – somewhat spontaneously, to be honest – that things start to heat up, with a visit to the heavenly haunts of Mount Olympus, a mystical encounter with the three Fates, and a journey through a section of the Labyrinth all packed into about a single genuinely thrilling hour.

What these three events have in common is their roots in ancient Greek myth – and Blood Of Zeus is at its best when it’s putting a cool, dark twist on the Greek legends and not trying to stray too far from the extremely solid source material. Whenever it begins to move in any other direction or tries to build up its own deep lore, it feels jarringly dissimilar to the rest of the series and a bit generic. Heron, the illegitimate son of Zeus, is only one of several major characters who don’t really have much in the way of a personality or motivation (partly due to all of the interesting and exciting bits of his backstory only pertaining to his infancy, leaving adult Heron with…not a whole lot). Alexia (Jessica Henwick), the series’ female lead and an Amazon warrior, has a lot of screentime but seems the most disconnected from the other characters and even the story itself: she’ll run past every now and again on the trail of some demon, but the show never really tries to do anything with her. As is all too common these days, the comic relief characters are the only ones that feel developed and likable – smuggler Evios (Chris Diamantopoulos) and wrestler Kofi (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) have fun, easygoing banter and maybe a spark of chemistry? Perhaps I was just reading too much into their relationship. You’ll have to forgive me, though; Greek mythology is among the gayest in the world, and I was a little confused about why that wasn’t being accurately represented onscreen (we’ll talk about the actual bisexual representation in the show soon, don’t worry).

Blood of Zeus
Hera | readysteadycut.com

The Gods are more fleshed out than their human co-stars, luckily. Zeus’s dynamic with his wife Hera (Claudia Christian) is lifted almost straight from the myths of old, though the portrayal of Hera and the demonstration of her famous anger is one of the series’ greatest (yet least surprising) missteps. Unfortunately, men have almost always written Hera the same exact way, from ancient Greek times to today: she’s the unreasonable, unhinged mad woman who relentlessly terrifies and tortures her husband’s many lovers. Blood Of Zeus makes no attempt to shake up the narrative – in fact, it doubles down on this centuries-old stereotype and takes Hera to the next level, elevating her to a mentally unstable tyrant whose ultimate goal is to tear down Olympus stone by stone. Meanwhile Zeus is portrayed as loving, sympathetic and caring; but only towards a single mortal woman. Leaving aside the fact that mythological Zeus never had fewer than a hundred mistresses simultaneously and the thought of him settling on just one is laughable from that standpoint, it’s honestly just cringeworthy to see how the script puts Zeus on a pedestal while having him gaslight his wife. At a time when feminist retellings of Greeks myths (like Madeline Miller’s Circe) have never been more popular, the decision to write Hera this way betrays a lack of imagination from the writers, but also a staggering amount of ignorance to the fact that the “mad woman” trope is harmful and degrading, whether its being used to give Jon Snow a reason to turn on Daenerys Targaryen, or for the X-Men to turn on Jean Grey,  or for Zeus to turn on Hera. If you’re going to rewrite the myth to make Zeus some high and mighty good guy with a heart of gold, you can also write a version where Hera is a sympathetic character for once, or at least not being vilified for reacting to her husband’s misdeeds.

The one good thing that Blood Of Zeus does with Hera’s character is make her physically powerful. In the myths, such as in The Iliad, her influence is mostly felt behind the scenes: unlike Athena or Artemis, she hardly ever goes down to the battlefield personally. In this series, however, she can levitate both herself and whatever else happens to be in the vicinity – usually large, sharp objects or boulders. She also has an entire army of crow minions: a strange choice, considering that crows aren’t sacred to Hera, but probably a bit more practical than the alternative – an army of peacocks. All these things help to make her extremely impressive and formidable during action scenes. It’s just a shame that the script forces her to use her powers for evil the whole time.

Speaking of powers, let’s talk about Hermes (Matthew Mercer), who somehow stands out from the crowded ensemble cast as my favorite of the Greek Gods. Despite being maybe a little bit overexposed in the myths themselves – he shows up in more myths than any of the other Olympians – these days he’s mostly remembered for his iconic caduceus, if he’s remembered at all. Blood Of Zeus presents him as a pretty awesome, rainbow-cloaked speedster who also gets to regularly fulfil his duties as the psychopompos: essentially the usher of the dead, who leads souls to the Underworld, including most of the casualties inflicted by the brutal warfare throughout the series. It’s a great way to highlight an overlooked aspect of his character, and makes me wish the same courtesy had been extended to literally any other Olympian.

Out of the remaining Gods, Apollo (Adam Croasdell) is the only other one with a good deal of screentime and his own subplot. He’s also the only identifiably LGBTQ+ character in the entire series, or at least that’s the implication we’re supposed to take away from a single scene of him sleeping in the embrace of both a man and a woman. Considering that we’re dealing with the Greek gods here, I found this kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it representation to be slightly disappointing. Zeus, Poseidon, and Dionysus all had at least one male lover each. Hercules had male lovers (something Disney definitely left out of their movie). As much as I unabashedly adore Apollo, why is he the only LGBTQ+ representation we got from Blood Of Zeus? I don’t mind changing the myths, but changing them to be less gay? WHY?

Blood of Zeus
Greek Gods | nj.com

You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned any of the other goddesses besides Hera yet, and that’s because…they’re not there. The series almost entirely erases the great women of Greek mythology: the Amazons are only represented by a single character, whose ultimate purpose in the story turns out to be shockingly minor; Athena, the goddess of warfare herself, is reduced to a background character with no dialogue, while Ares fills her role as war god for only the umpteenth time in Hollywood history; Aphrodite, Artemis, and Demeter are extras only used to fill out crowd scenes. And if that wasn’t enough, the show has a serious issue when it comes to fridging the few female characters it does have; murdering them to motivate the male characters.

Blood Of Zeus is still fun and largely enjoyable for its final three episodes, or otherwise this would just be a rant review. The animation style is beautiful, although there’s nowhere near enough character differentiation for a cast this large, and the action scenes are visually stunning: every major character has some kind of specific ability that enables them to keep up with all the gods and monsters, whether that’s agility or wits or super strength. The fights are often brutally violent, and the series makes sure never to give anyone too much plot armor – even the Gods can be wounded, mutilated or killed, which helps to make every battle suspenseful: even if you know a character won’t necessarily die, there’s nothing to say they won’t lose a limb. Especially because the villains aren’t all bark and no bite: both Hera and the main antagonist Seraphim (Elias Toufexis) kill people, frequently. Seraphim, a merciless demon war lord with a cool set of facial scars, is in fact only interesting whenever he’s killing people – because whenever he’s not, he’s usually brooding instead, and that’s always a recipe for Boring Villain Syndrome™. He’s an original character, in case you hadn’t guessed. He also walks or flies around accompanied by a whole bunch of original characters: a scurrying, uniform demon horde that might as well just be the wights of Game Of Thrones (a series with which Blood Of Zeus has too many similarities for its own good).

The funny thing is that, for the most part, my problems with Blood Of Zeus don’t really arise from any sense of indignation or outrage about all the changes made to the myths: in a mythology that evolved as rapidly as that of the Greeks, there’s not really any set “canon” to adhere to anyway. I love retellings, especially when they re-examine a well-known story from a completely new perspective or from a different angle – for instance, Mary Renault did this incredibly well in her books about the hero Theseus. So mostly I’m just amused and confused that any scriptwriter could look at a mythology as rich and utterly bizarre as this one, and decide that what it really needs is a whole bunch of new, made-up stuff like zombie demons. When that new, made-up stuff is entertaining in its own right, fine. But the writing for Blood Of Zeus simply isn’t strong enough to make any of the new stuff work, and so it’s the ancient Greeks who have the last laugh.

Blood of Zeus
Heron | denofgeek.com

All that being said, the series is still a lot of fun! Seeing even small bits and pieces of the myths brought to life is an experience that leaves a mark, and makes me want more: yes, even more of this particular show. And let me tell you in as non-spoilery terms as possible that the finale of Blood Of Zeus lay good, strong groundwork for another season – one that honestly sounds a lot more interesting than the first. But even if it isn’t, even if this show simply is not my cup of tea, I hope that it will at least pave the way for other dark adaptations of Greek mythology that I (and anybody else wounded to the core by this show’s lack of Athena) might enjoy. There’s a lot more to the Greek mythos than just Hercules, and I hope Blood Of Zeus – not to mention the upcoming Percy Jackson series – gets that message through to Hollywood once and for all.

Series Rating: 5/10

Netflix Developing An “Assassin’s Creed” Franchise!

As the end of the year – and the release of another installment in Ubisoft’s massively successful Assassin’s Creed video game series – draws nearer, Netflix is cashing in on the game franchise’s enduring popularity/profitability, having just announced a partnership with the Ubisoft game studio that will allow them to develop their own Assassin’s Creed universe on the streaming service, kicking off with a live-action series that is already in pre-production. Although a previous attempt to bring the excitement of the video game to the big screen proved to be pretty lackluster, Netflix doesn’t appear to be trying to develop any films based on the games: their attention is focused on creating series, both live-action and animated.

Assassin's Creed
gamesradar.com

As of right now, we know very little about the series that is planned to kickstart the Assassin’s Creed TV franchise – two Ubisoft executives, Jason Altman and Danielle Kreinik, will serve as executive producers on the series, but Netflix is currently looking for a showrunner to bring this whole thing together, and we don’t know if they’ve got a writing team assembled behind the scenes just yet. It’s also unclear whether the series will adapt one of the game franchise’s eleven total installments, or combine elements from several, or act as something entirely new and different.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise’s overarching story revolves around a war between the order of the Assassins and the Knights Templar, a war spanning millennia: throughout the ages, these two opposing factions take various different forms (for instance, in Ptolemaic Egypt, they were the Hidden Ones and The Order Of The Ancients, respectively), but their goals are almost always the same – the Knights Templar seek to oppress free will and control the human race by force, through the use of magical artifacts, while the Assassins believe in free will and challenge them secretly. The game series has focused on a number of interesting historical periods, from the American Revolution and the Third Crusade to Peloponnesian War-era Greece, and over the years has gained a reputation for being one of the few video game franchises that actually takes time to research each era and achieve some level of historical accuracy.

Assassin's Creed
gameinformer.com

This has recently caused a great deal of conflict in the fandom, with the newest Assassin’s Creed game (set in the Viking world) promising (historically accurate!) women warriors and same-sex romances – something that has prompted a certain subgroup of gamers to loudly object about what they mistakenly and ignorantly perceive as “the SJW agenda”. Never mind that women fought alongside Viking men or that Vikings were marginally more accepting of same-sex relationships than many of their contemporaries; apparently inarguable historical fact is “SJW” now. Anyway, I hope and pray that the Netflix series will follow in the footsteps of the most recent games and include more diverse protagonists, even if they are adapting the earlier games in the series.

The different historical settings will certainly give the series a unique selling point with which to differentiate itself from a steadily growing crowd of video game adaptations: but I worry it could be very expensive to do as many as in the games right up front, so my guess is that the first season of the series won’t jump to too many time periods, but will probably settle on one from the earlier games that most Assassin’s Creed fans are familiar with and enjoy, such as the Holy Land or Renaissance Italy. I’ve seen it suggested that each season of the series might jump to a new time period, like the games, which would definitely be exciting: but that does raise the question of whether they would follow the in-universe chronology of the plot, or the release order of the games themselves? If it’s the latter, then my favorite character, Kassandra Misthios of Odyssey, won’t be popping up for a long while. But who knows? At the moment we really don’t know anything at all about what Netflix and Ubisoft are planning to accomplish with this partnership, or how they’re going to go about this.

Assassin's Creed
digitalspy.com

So what do you think? Which historical setting do you hope Netflix settles upon for this first series, and which Assassin’s Creed characters do you hope to see? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Rebecca” 2020 Review!

I went into the 2020 adaptation of Daphne de Maurier’s classic crime thriller Rebecca prepared to at least try and like it. This was partly because I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock’s famous adaptation, and…well, I have to admit I see why Hitchcock himself later attempted to distance himself from the film, feeling it wasn’t one of his best works. It’s actually quite good right up until the third act, where I feel it just becomes rather boring. So when I started hearing that this new Netflix adaptation makes some big changes to the ending of the story, I was curious and cautiously optimistic.

Rebecca
Lily James and Armie Hammer | cnn.com

Little did I know that the ending to 2020’s Rebecca isn’t just the worst part of the film, but also manages to make a mockery out of Daphne de Maurier’s story. So, without getting into spoilers, my advice to all of you is that, if you are also mistakenly led to believe that this film has some exciting new twist at the ending, don’t fall for it. Back out now. Save yourself two hours of your time and escape from Rebecca while you still can – because I assure you that as much as the characters in the movie might be trying desperately to convince you that it’s all terribly exciting to be caught up in her web of intrigue and betrayal, it’s really not.

The biggest problem with this new version of the classic story, which follows a nameless female protagonist (played by Lily James, usually a pure delight no matter how bland the role) as she tries to outmaneuver the phantoms of her mysterious husband’s ex-wife’s phantom, is that it simply can’t pick a single, consistent tone. Clearly it thinks it’s every bit as intellectual and engaging as its source material, a suspenseful novelette written in 1938, but at the same time it really just wants to be a modern, pulpy, “don’t-think-too-hard-about-this” kind of retelling, and the clash between those two wildly different ideas (both of which would probably be perfectly valid, separately) leads to a discombobulated hybrid that never feels able to stay on track for very long. I personally think it would be absolutely fine to go a little pulpier, a little campier even, and just transfer the whole story into a modern day setting and go from there, as long as de Maurier’s message was preserved (another thing 2020’s Rebecca failed to do). At least it would be a choice. But I feel like someone behind the scenes must have decided that they couldn’t possibly do that because it would rob the film of any “credibility” or “respectability” – two things which the screenwriters have tried to forcibly inject into the film’s dull, unsubtle script…to no avail, because at every turn they undermine their own best efforts with a string of anachronistic and jarring casting choices, mannerisms, styling decisions, story beats, and even song choices (modern indie music, in case you were wondering), none of which seem to have been designed with Academy Awards voters in mind.

Rebecca
Lily James and Armie Hammer | thefilmstage.com

And because the film can’t figure out its target audience, everyone loses. Sometimes it looks like it’s trying to aim for a demographic who love sensual, sensational, addictive page-turners, and it’s at these points where it unfortunately feels like it should be most comfortable – I say “unfortunately” not because this demographic is inferior to any other (in fact, Rebecca, at the time of its publication, was widely considered as pulp fiction for the masses), but because Rebecca simply can’t give this demographic what they want without alienating everyone who loves the original story because of what it has to say about romance, relationships and gender roles – things that are, for the most part, utterly foreign to the romance genre. Rebecca (the novel, that is) isn’t a typical romance, and that’s the problem. De Maurier herself called it “a study in jealousy”. But when the screenwriters of 2020’s Rebecca were faced with the task of adapting it, they chose to adapt it as one would a typical romance…and so their creation, a ghastly chimaera if ever I saw one, dies on impact. None of the storytelling choices made in the novel even feel suitable for the kind of story that this creative team are telling.

A good example of this is the namelessness of our protagonist: as in past iterations of the story, our heroine goes through the entire story, start to finish, without a name, only going by the title “the second Mrs. de Winter”, as a cruel, cynical reference to how she is unable to carve out any semblance of identity when compared to her predecessor, the incomparable Rebecca – but this version rarely if ever feels engaging enough on a psychological level to warrant keeping this bold decision by de Maurier (who was drawing on her own unhappy relationship with her husband and his ex-wife for inspiration). Then again, it rarely feels engaging, period.

This isn’t just because the script is badly-written: unfortunately, a large part of the blame falls on Lily James and especially Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter (a character intended to be very charismatic and mysterious), neither of whom can muster much passion, fear, excitement or…well, any emotion, really. Not once in two hours does Armie Hammer manage to look even remotely interested in the supposedly very compelling and personal story unraveling at high speed all around him: mostly all he does is stand around and widen his eyes periodically to demonstrate anger or overwhelming emotion. Also, he sleepwalks…once, for some reason, because that’s a thing that apparently needed to happen.

That strange scene is only one in a series of back-to-back instances in which Lily James is repeatedly hammered (no pun intended) over the head with increasingly loud and unsubtle references to Rebecca. When she’s not being berated and physically attacked by Maxim’s elderly mother, who starts clawing at her after finding out that her dear daughter in law Rebecca is dead, she’s instead being passed handkerchiefs, hair brushes and various small household articles all monogrammed with Rebecca’s enormous initial. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when it occurs in every scene for most of the second act, it’s hard to become hooked on the element of suspense. Jane Goldman’s script isn’t designed to cleverly lure you along on any sort of harrowing journey: it’s just a series of one character after another doing everything but breaking down the fourth wall to remind us about Rebecca. Hitchock’s script, in comparison, takes its time, spreading out these more obvious scenes and punctuating them with quieter, subtler moments that feel significant without needing to literally spell out why they’re significant. There’s even a (very random) scene with an entire swarm of birds that come dangerously close to forming the shape of a giant R in the sky.

Rebecca
Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily James | bostonhassle.com

The film’s greatest crime is what it does to Mrs. Danvers (Kristen Scott Thomas), an iconic character in literary and cinematic history. Thomas would probably be a good Mrs. Danvers in another writer and director’s hands, but her story – particularly its conclusion – are bungled this time around; a sad downgrade from Judith Anderson’s spellbinding performance in Hitchcock’s film. One gets the sense that Thomas wanted desperately to go full camp and lean far more heavily on the novel and original film’s famous queer subtext (the delicate finger caress that she and James exchange when Thomas hands her a fallen glove is the most sexually charged scene in a movie that mistakenly assumes Armie Hammer is its most attractive cast member), but was prevented from doing so by a script that seems suspiciously hell-bent on trying to strip away said subtext…and of course, insists on making Thomas act all dour and serious. When a movie made in 2020 and apparently trying to be progressive feels more uptight and conservative than a film made in 1940 under the surveillance of the Hayes Code, you’re doing something wrong. Maxim himself, also suggested by some book readers to be queer-coded and played by Laurence Olivier in the Hitchcock film, is straight through and through: not a big deal, but another instance where the writers could have done something interesting and chose not to.

Several other side characters receive the same treatment, and nobody apart from Thomas makes any lasting impression: not even Ann Dowd, who makes the least of what should have been her glorified cameo in the film – no thanks to the script, which has taken the funny, flirtatious character of Edythe Van Hopper and turned her into a grotesque, leering abuser who seems personally invested in trying to make her lady’s companion miserable: whether that’s by gaslighting her while the girl cries, locked inside her bedroom, or by amusing her equally wicked friends with stories of her awkward antics.

Rebecca
The superior version of Rebecca | telegraph.co.uk

Is there anything that redeems this Rebecca? I suppose the locations are very beautiful (though Manderley isn’t quite as lavish as one would want), and the costumes are all appropriately fashionable by modern standards. I have a bit of a hard time believing that our protagonist, who is meant to be shy and reserved, would be running around in big, baggy trousers in the late 1930’s, at a time when such a thing would still be considered eyebrow-raising if no longer totally scandalous, but it is what it is. It’s just more proof that director Ben Wheatley and Jane Goldman should not have been making a period piece, when it’s clear that wasn’t what they wanted to do.

Despite all this, I still hope that someone will someday make a better retelling of Rebecca, one that perhaps actually attempts to achieve something worthwhile and gay, and which maybe manages to finally capture throughout the haunting beauty promised by the novel’s famous opening, in which our heroine, ever the restless dreamer, revisits the ruined Manderley in her sleep…because this version’s attempts at tonal consistency are likely to haunt my nightmares.

Rating: 2/10

“The Trial Of The Chicago 7” Review!

Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is certainly going to be a strong contender, and probably even a frontrunner, in the race for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony, but it’s right now, as 2020 finally nears its end and as the U.S. Presidential election creeps closer, that the whole world should be watching this film and learning or relearning the incredible story of the Chicago 7: not just the men themselves, each one a fascinating character in their own right, but the larger cultural and political significance of their trial – a trial where American governmental and legal institutions not only failed to protect the rights of protestors, but actively sought to suppress them. Although the Chicago 7 were arrested for protesting the Vietnam War, their struggle is both relevant and relatable in the modern day – in 2020 especially, as protests across the nation in the wake of an unarmed Black man’s death in June led to a violent response from our government and law enforcement.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
Sacha Baron Cohen & Jeremy Strong | vanityfair.com

So who were the Chicago 7, and why was their trial such a landmark moment in this nation’s history? The historical context is always important to know, and the history behind this particular case is truly fascinating. The film opens mere days before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, 1968, as several different activist groups intent on protesting the selection of the party’s nominee, Hubert Humphrey, converged on the city from all around the country: and then, after a montage introducing each of our seven main players, we jump ahead by five months – the trial is already about to begin, and Richard Nixon’s administration personally wants each and every one of them behind bars for the maximum sentence. Whether you know what happened in Chicago or not during the convention, it’s enthralling either way as Aaron Sorkin’s story slowly begins to uncover, through the help of flashbacks, what really went down as the protesters marched through the city and ran into the heavily armed Chicago Police. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news this year already knows what went down, even if they don’t know the exact details of this particular incident.

Throughout the chaos and violence, Aaron Sorkin’s story keeps us focused on the humanity of the Chicago 7, and contrasts that with the horrific lack of empathy from the police. Again, the discussion of “empathy vs apathy” is significant to our modern climate, and Sorkin’s film closes with a beautiful – and factually inaccurate – display of human empathy at its most inspiring and powerful. It’s never lost on Sorkin that this was the trial of real men, not just lofty ideals and philosophies. And almost every main actor in the ensemble cast plays their part to its fullest, breathing life into these little-known but incredible historical figures.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II | thewrap.com

Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne are very much leading co-stars, in my opinion, but it’s Baron Cohen who makes the strongest impression as the tall, lanky Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman and makes a good case for why he should finally be recognized as an actor equally gifted in both comedy and drama (since apparently his starring role in The Spy wasn’t enough evidence for some of you). A Best Actor nomination had better be incoming for Baron Cohen: even despite the fact that the film cuts out some, arguably most, of Hoffman’s most eccentric real-life antics in court, Baron Cohen makes him the wittiest, most vivid character in the film – and the story’s beating heart and stand-in for most of the counterculture movement of the late 60’s.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, meanwhile, excels as the more stoic, solemn Bobby Seale, a member of the Black Panthers who was arrested alongside the other defendants but whose case was later severed from the others’. Seale’s mistreatment in the courtroom – including a horrifying incident in which Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) orders that he be bound and gagged, to the point where Seale is unable to breathe – is all taken from real life and shines a light on how the law itself is weaponized against the Black community just as much as the militaristic might of law enforcement. By that time in the film, you’ll already be well aware that the trial of the Chicago 7 was not a fair one, but the treatment of Bobby Seale adds violent racism and white supremacy to the mix as well. The Black Panthers, including their leader Fred Hampton (briefly but powerfully portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), don’t have a very large role in the film overall but their appearances do help to underscore the fact that any conversation about cultural and political revolution needs to include Black voices, no matter what era it occurs in – and of course, it’s an especially important message to get across since the cultural and political revolution happening in this country nowadays is largely being fueled by Black activists and their allies.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
Eddie Redmayne | cinemablend.com

In this film, however, Eddie Redmayne’s version of the real-life Tom Hayden comes across as something of an opponent to such progressive messaging throughout most of the film. His character seems largely crafted to provide a foil for Sacha Baron Cohen’s – a stiff, uptight, idealist trying to distance himself and his group, the Students for a Democratic Society, from the counterculture movement of the Yippies. But it appears that Sorkin is also using his character to represent a number of liberal subdivisions in political activism that claim to be “for change” until that actually requires listening to the voices of underrepresented minorities or demanding comprehensive structural change within our government, from the ground up. Hayden is like so many activists who try to make their movements more “appealing” or “attractive” to the mainstream by presenting a mostly white facade to the media, at the cost of the marginalized communities they claim to be fighting for; and then he is like one of those people who seem to believe that winning a single election is all that has to be done to fix problems such as racism, but aren’t prepared to advocate for designing a new system of government that would ensure we actually see some substantial change and progress. It’s all a little bit unfair to the real-life Tom Hayden, who actually fell more in line with counterculture philosophy than the film would have you believe. Anyway, Redmayne’s performance is perfectly decent: it leans toward being a bit wooden, but his attempts to maintain a passable American accent are entertaining at least.

As for the other defendants, they have their moments. Jeremy Strong is maybe trying a bit too hard with his borderline caricature of Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch is doing his best with what little screentime David Dellinger has been given, and Alex Sharp, Noah Robbins and Daniel Flaherty are…well, they’re there. But the other real standout on this side of the courtroom is Mark Rylance as the defense lawyer William Kuntzler, somehow confidently rocking a combover, who rallies the group during their darkest moments, adds some very natural humor to his interactions with his clients, particularly the Yippies, and holds his own against the indomitable, immovable presence of Julius Hoffman.

On the other side, well…I have fewer positive things to say about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of prosecutor Richard Schultz, who has been written as a semi-sympathetic character who’s maybe conflicted, maybe not…who knows? He gets one moment near the end of the film where he’s allowed to look all heroic and redeemed in the audience’s eyes, despite the fact that he is still very clearly fighting on behalf of the Nixon administration to put men in jail for their thoughts. But regardless of whether or not you feel that Schultz is really a good guy or not, I think we can all agree that Judge Julius Hoffman is (and was) just straight-up hateful, ignorant and repulsive.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
netflix.com

That being said, Frank Langella works wonders with the role, which allows him to transform into a character almost as wildly eccentric as Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman – and in fact, it’s with the other Hoffman that he shares his most memorable scenes in the film (and yes, the fact that they coincidentally share a last name is the subject of much argument between the two; just as it was in real-life). Julius Hoffman is a grotesque display of why preserving the status quo, even in this day and age, isn’t good enough: because the status quo is one that was made by white men for white men, and will always work to benefit white men. The fact that Julius Hoffman is actually less outlandishly awful in the movie than he was in real life is mind-boggling and sad.

(While we’re on the subject, I feel like I have to touch on the fact that Sorkin’s film actually leaves out a great deal of the trial proceedings, including some celebrity appearances that would have made for some incredibly funny interludes between the more serious parts of the story: for instance, in reality, poet Allen Ginsburg was called in as a witness (he appears in the film, very briefly, as a protester) and proceeded to chant at the judge; singer Judy Collins appeared to discuss the counterculture movement and began to sing, before being shut down; and singer Arlo Guthrie appeared and apparently entranced Julius Hoffman with a lengthy plot synopsis of Alice’s Restaurant – he too was silenced after he began to sing. I’m not sure whether Sorkin felt these events would be too fantastical for audiences to believe, or whether he just didn’t have time to include them, but I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. At the very least, Judy Collins would have been a remarkable female presence in a film dominated by an almost all-male cast).

In so many ways, despite its occasional flaws, Aaron Sorkin has made not only an excellent courtroom drama but a film which defines the prevailing spirit of 2020, at least in the United States of America – and it couldn’t have been released at a more critical moment, although it would be an instant classic in any era: all year long, we’ve witnessed in real-time as our American government has crumbled under the weight of an administration that has failed its people; as bigoted individuals sheltered by a law enforcement system corrupt to its core have targeted and murdered American citizens because of the color of their skin; as the vote, seemingly the most powerful and politically correct method by which a person can voice their opinion, is being threatened by institutions that would seek to render us voiceless and thus powerless. But The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is a much-needed demonstration of the power of protest: the raw, inspiring power that we have when we raise our voices in harmony, and demand change. The film takes place in 1969, but it’s a story we can all relate to in 2020 because we’re still fighting that same injustice, because we will always fight it as long as it exists.

Let the record show that we made our voices heard.

Rating: 9.5/10

“The Witcher” Season 2 – First Look At Yennefer Imprisoned!

I was counting on you, Yen.

Out of all the main cast of The Witcher, no one changed outfits more frequently throughout season one than Yennefer of Vengerburg, the farm girl who transformed into a regal Mage and then spent decades losing herself to a life of opulence and luxury anywhere she pleased in The Continent. Her magic and her exquisite fashion sense combined meant that virtually every time she would reappear after one of her long, mysterious absences, she would have an entirely new wardrobe. And, as a Mage, she had absolutely no qualms about one such dress – a long silver and black number decorated with fringes and tassels – into battle at Sodden Hill, on that fateful night when she wrecked the Nilfgaardian Army with purging flames. It was the last time we saw her in season one, because when the smoke cleared she was nowhere to be found: in-universe, most everyone seems to think she’s dead, having used up all her magic to save Sodden. But new first look images reveal that’s not the case: Yennefer survived, she was imprisoned, and all while still wearing the same dress.

The Witcher
Yennefer | Twitter @witchernetflix

Depending on how you look at it, you could say it’s either slightly anticlimactic from a marketing standpoint or slightly worrying from an in-universe standpoint because you know Yennefer’s in a bad way when she doesn’t even have time to make a quick costume change. No significant upgrade or eye-catching new look seems to be in store for the mighty Mage, unlike the rest of her Witcher castmates. The first of the two new images shows the wounded Mage walking, almost as if in a trance, through the burning forests around Sodden Hill. It’s unclear where she’s headed, but my guess is that she’s trying to find Geralt. Both Geralt and Ciri received visions of the burning battlefield where Yennefer was last seen just after her disappearance, suggesting that the three are “linked by destiny”, as the saying goes…it stands to reason then that Yennefer might have received visions of where Geralt and Ciri are, as well. Her face is bloodied and streaked with ash and grime, and she’s still dressed in filthy, tattered clothes (although she has covered herself with a heavy black cape), but at least she’s alive. Even though we saw many other Mages begin to bleed profusely or even die after expending every last drop of their reserve of chaos magic, Yennefer has somehow been able to survive the traumatic incident mostly unscathed. Mostly, that is, because the second image finds her in an entirely new predicament.

The Witcher
Yennefer | ign.com

Someone has taken Yennefer captive. We know it must be soon after her misadventure at Sodden Hill, because she’s still wearing the same dress, but her captors have added a new accessory to her look: a dimeritium shackle, which in The Witcher universe is used to restrain the flow of chaos magic and is thus often the only thing capable of containing a powerful Mage. In The Witcher video games, it is mentioned that, in extraordinary cases, Mages have been able to break free of dimeritium bonds, although Yennefer will have to take a little time to recover some of her chaos before she can manage anything that spectacular. She’s gripping her shackled hand as if it’s giving her great pain, which in turn is giving me great pain because I can’t stand seeing anybody hurt our precious Yen.

So who has her imprisoned? Well, Netflix hasn’t said anything officially, but Redanian Intelligence does believe they know the answer, and it’s a minor spoiler for events that probably happen in the first or second episode of the show. If you want to go in completely unprepared, I’ll leave you with this hint: it ties back into other things we’ve been talking about recently, and promises us further exploration of The Witcher‘s world-building. It also means we’ll get to see some very interesting interactions between Yennefer and an important character we still don’t know much about.

The Witcher
Yennefer in season one | elitedaily.com

Unfortunately for us, these two latest images reveal very little else about Yennefer’s plight, and so we’re left having to play guesswork. My biggest relief is that this means Yennefer will definitely have her own subplot occurring parallel to the Geralt/Ciri arc. Netflix isn’t trying to keep her fate a big mystery, which I like, because I want to be able to spend more time with this amazing character. As many of you know, Anya Chalotra’s excellent performance as Yennefer was one of the things that kept me hooked on The Witcher, and I am extremely excited to see how her character develops in season two. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any more images from The Witcher tomorrow (where is Jaskier, Netflix?!), so now we have to settle down and wait for…whatever’s next, I suppose. A poster? A little snippet of footage to get us all hyped? The Witcher is currently filming, and is still predicted to release sometime in 2021.

So what do you think? How do you feel about Yennefer’s same old look, and what are your thoughts on the reasoning for her imprisonment? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Witcher” Season 2 – First Look At Ciri Training At Kaer Morhen!

No, Geralt of Rivia’s fresh new look and upgraded suit of armor wasn’t a fluke: the entire cast of The Witcher has been absolutely thriving, as evidenced by our first look at Geralt’s apprentice/child of surprise, Ciri, in the new outfit she’ll be wearing in season two of the hit Netflix fantasy series. The Witcher‘s season one finale left off with Ciri and Geralt finally reunited after being linked to each other by a mysterious bond of destiny long before Ciri’s birth, and now we can see where Ciri’s destiny has led her: to the isolated castle of Kaer Morhen, domain of Vesemir and his small brotherhood of monster-hunting Witchers. Here, as in the books and video games, Ciri will train to become the first female Witcher in history while learning about her own magical powers.

The Witcher
Ciri | forbes.com

And that’s, of course, why the new images of Ciri revealed today on Netflix’s social media accounts show the usurped Princess of Cintra looking particularly stoic and grim while donning a practical suit of lightweight leather armor, wielding a small wooden practice sword, and tying her hair back into a braid because long hair whipping in your face and obstructing your vision probably isn’t a great idea in the heat of battle (*glances meaningfully at Geralt*). Unfortunately, since only a side-view of her costume is available to us, it’s impossible to see if any cool detailing or ornamentation has been worked into the front of Ciri’s new armor. My first thought was that this is unlikely, considering that the Witchers of Kaer Morhen seem like a relatively simplistic lot, but then again, Geralt did come out of there with a whole set of abs sculpted into his armor, so anything’s possible, I guess?

What’s immediately clear is that this particular outfit, at least, is only loosely inspired by the video game version of Ciri, and even that’s a stretch. In The Witcher games, Ciri’s look has become iconic: the choppy silver hair, the loose, long-sleeved white shirt and assortment of extremely large belts…many fans of the games have been hoping to see some version of this adapted to live-action, but it looks like they’ll have to wait a while longer. The Netflix version of Ciri’s Witcher outfit appears to be more armor than travel wear, and it would be rather bizarre for her to be wearing thin shirts in the middle of winter while snow is falling. The behind-the-scenes photos revealed recently did show Ciri wearing what could have been an outfit more directly inspired by the games, but this seems to be that same outfit (the long, gray-green sleeves are identical), and these high-quality images confirm that this is not going to be much like The Witcher video game version of the character.

The Witcher
Video game Ciri (right) | pcgamer.com

Instead we can be certain that this season, like the first, will draw most heavily from the original books by Andrzej Sapkowski. With the books as our guide, we can predict that Ciri will be trained by Vesemir, despite suffering from recurring nightmares, hallucinations, and visions of impending death. She’ll encounter the Mage Triss Merigold (who had a small role in season one), and the kind-hearted sorceress will also aid in her training, teaching her the Elder Speech (the language of most magic users in The Witcher universe). Throughout season one of The Witcher, Ciri would randomly cause outbursts of chaotic and destructive magic whenever she felt threatened, usually triggered by her screams, and I thoroughly believe that the show will delve into the explanation for that a little bit more in season two: in the books, Ciri’s incredible power derives from her being a “Source”, a person born with untapped resources of magic due to their Elven heritage. The first official synopsis for season two, released yesterday, mentioned that it’s Geralt’s responsibility to protect Ciri from her own power, and it also intriguingly referenced wars between elves and humans in the world outside Kaer Morhen’s walls. In season one, there were a couple of Elven characters and a handful of times that we actually got to observe their ways, but season two might do a better job of exploring the Elven societies that exist within this universe, and how Ciri fits into their delicate political situation.

Another important event in Ciri’s character arc is her first meeting with the Mage Yennefer of Vengerburg. In the show, Ciri hasn’t met Yennefer yet (although she has had some sort of vision of her: her last line in season one was literally “Who’s Yennefer?”), and Geralt currently believes the Mage to be dead following her disappearance at the Battle of Sodden Hill, which suggests to me that bringing Ciri and Yennefer together will be a main plot-point in season two. Personally, I’m hoping that they meet sometime before the season two finale, but it’s probable that, no matter when or how it happens, it will be a life-changing event for both characters: Yennefer has always wanted a child, and in the books she becomes like a mother figure to Ciri, while also acting as her mentor and traveling with her across the Continent. Ciri, for her part, never really had a chance to know her own mother, and so Yennefer will begin to fill a void in Ciri’s life. As much as I’m excited to see how Geralt and Ciri interact, I’m even more curious to see what kind of dynamic will exist between the two women. The Witcher has done a great job fleshing out its female characters and making them complex and interesting, and I expect that to continue as more women join the mix and begin to form more compelling relationships.

The Witcher
Ciri’s sword | Twitter @witchernetflix

Thankfully, we won’t have long to wait before we see what Yennefer herself has been doing ever since she vanished in a burst of fire and smoke at Sodden Hill, because more first look images are coming tomorrow, and will probably reveal the Mage in all her glory. The question of what exactly happened to her has weighed heavily on the minds of all The Witcher‘s fans ever since the season one finale: but the likelihood, in my opinion, is that Yennefer was able to weakly manifest a portal and make her escape while everyone was distracted by the flames she summoned to obliterate the Nilfgaardian army. But why? And where did she go? These are the questions I hope to have answered sooner rather than later.

So what do you think? How do you feel about Ciri’s new look? And which character from The Witcher are you most excited to see return in season two? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!