Get Ready For Shadow And Bone With Only 6 Days Left To Go!

A lot of people are going to be rushing to Netflix next Friday to binge-watch the entire first season of Shadow And Bone as soon as it drops, but only a portion of that audience will have a chance to read or even page-skim through the entirety of the series’ literary source-material in the six days we have left before the hotly-anticipated premiere. But that’s okay, because I’m here to give you the rundown of everything you need to know about the world of Leigh Bardugo’s twin series’ of fantasy novels, the Shadow And Bone trilogy and the Six Of Crows duology, and the premise of the Netflix show, which will draw inspiration from the first books of both series’.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | tvinsider.com

The expansive world of Bardugo’s novels, dubbed the “Grishaverse” by fans and author alike, is largely similar to the Europe and West Asia of our own, but for the most part grounded in the aesthetics, societal norms, and steam and gas-powered technology, of the late 1800’s. Some might call this steampunk, but Bardugo coined the more unique term “Tzarpunk” to describe the setting of her debut novel, Shadow And Bone, and its direct sequels, which take place in the northerly region of Ravka – unmistakably influenced by Russia under the final Tzars, from the opulent lifestyle of the country’s royalty all the way down to the brutal oppression of the working class. If history is doomed to repeat itself even in fantasy, then Ravka is in for a communist revolution any day now.

But while Ravka is a straight-up monarchy, the true power lies in the hands of the Grisha – an elite, militarized order of humans gifted with the ability to manipulate or alter matter. And although the Grisha describe their “magic” as being scientific in nature (and a bunch of them are employed only for their ability to de-age Ravka’s upper class), the misconception that they’re a coven of evil witches persists among the general population, and they are widely hated and feared. Nonetheless, they make up a small but deadly faction of Ravka’s army, and they get to live in a palace near the capital.

The Grisha are also quartered off into numerous subdivisions, something I hope the Netflix adaptation explores in-depth – because J.K. Rowling ruined Hogwarts Houses for a lot of people, so we need a new method of separating personality types by way of pop culture references…and “Heartrender” sounds a lot cooler than Hufflepuff anyway, I’m just saying. But there’s one person in a category of her own, and that’s Alina Starkov, Shadow And Bone‘s protagonist. The only Sun-Summoner in the world, Starkov has the ability to control light – a power-set that might seem of limited use until you remember that Ravka is split down the middle by a literal ink-stain on the map, a wall of darkness named the Shadow-Fold.

Blocking most trade between Ravka’s coast and its more densely-populated interior, the Shadow-Fold can only be traversed by tiny skiffs that must pass through the wall and avoid encountering the horrific winged demons that roam in the darkness, known as Volcra. Shadow And Bone kicks off with Alina Starkov, still just a humble mapmaker conscripted into Ravka’s non-Grisha army, joining one of these routine trips through the Fold: and when she discovers that she’s a sentient nightlight that could potentially eradicate the Shadow-Fold entirely, well, things happen. This post is free of any major spoilers about the books, so I’ll refrain from saying what those “things” are, but come on, the show’s only six days away, people! Be patient!

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey, Kaz Brekker, and Inej Ghafa | popculture.com

Just a few years after the events of Shadow And Bone and its sequels, Six Of Crows picks up the story in a vastly different corner of the Grishaverse, in the bustling, grimy, canal-laced port-city of Ketterdam, separated from Ravka by many miles and an entire ocean. Modeled off of Amsterdam at the peak of Dutch imperialism in the 1600’s but with a bit of Bardugo’s signature Tzarpunk mixed in, Ketterdam is home to several street-gangs which fight for control over the flow of imports and exports through the city’s docks, trade-districts, and markets.

When Six Of Crows opens, the gang known as the Dregs (who operate out of the infamous Crow Club) are already a feared and respected force in Ketterdam’s criminal underworld, thanks to the strategizing skills of their highest-ranking member, Kaz Brekker. To account for the time-gap between Bardugo’s two series’, the first season of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone won’t be adapting Six Of Crows, but will instead follow the founding members of the gang prior to the events of their book – or at least, so Netflix says. A recent trailer (my breakdown linked below, but watch out for spoilers!) revealed that Netflix is basically just using the plot of Six Of Crows but weaving it into the events of Shadow And Bone in a bold and risky move that I hope pays off.

In the books, the strongest link between the two series’ is the character of Nina Zenik, a Grisha from Ravka who gets taken captive by her nation’s unfriendly neighbors to the north, the Fjerdans – specifically by a group of Fjerdan religious zealots named the drüskelle, who despise the Grisha. Nina’s interactions with them lead to her eventually finding refuge in Ketterdam and joining the Dregs, and her knowledge of Fjerda helps the gang when they take on their most dangerous mission ever as a team – to break into a heavily-fortified Fjerdan palace and abduct a valuable prisoner. A waffle-loving bisexual style icon, Nina unfortunately seems to only play a small part in Shadow And Bone‘s first season.

Shadow And Bone
Kaz Brekker | cbr.com

Sure, there’s a couple of world-building details I’ve left out, but that’s essentially all you need to know about the Grishaverse before watching Netflix’s Shadow And Bone. I mean, technically, you shouldn’t even need to know anything because a good adaptation allows even the most casual viewer to ease into the story, but hey – if I can exploit the fact that very few adaptations remember that golden rule, I will absolutely continue to do so because I have fun writing these breakdowns, and they drive traffic to my blog (*prides himself on his Kaz Brekker-like business savvy and exits, pursued by disgruntled readers*).

“Jupiter’s Legacy” 1st Trailer Is…Embarrassingly Bad

I want to believe Jupiter’s Legacy is just a victim of extremely poor marketing. Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time Netflix has unwittingly self-sabotaged their own original content with marketing that ranges from nonexistent, to deeply misguided, to “what were you even thinking?”. But if you’re going to toss around big words like “visionary” in the trailer for your upcoming superhero series, I’m sorry, but I expect it to look a little bit more compelling and/or visually interesting than an angsty CW ripoff of The Boys, The Snyder Cut, and…The Incredibles.

Jupiter's Legacy
Jupiter’s Legacy | syfy.com

The thing is: we’ve seen superheroes get deconstructed now hundreds of times, in those and other titles, often very well and very successfully. It’s not exactly a radical concept anymore, nor was it even that radical when the first Jupiter’s Legacy comics were published back in 2013. The Boys and The Umbrella Academy were just a few of the comics that had already appeared on the scene at that point, breaking new ground for the medium.

And The Boys in particular, both as a comic and an Amazon Prime series, has already shown us a world where superheroes are only heroic in front of the cameras, weaponizing their power to commit unspeakable atrocities whenever they’re not being filmed, protected from any form of justice by both the capitalist organization that funds their missions and their own violent disregard for laws or moral codes. Jupiter’s Legacy is…trying to be on that level, but from the looks of this trailer, the social commentary from the comics this series is based on is missing almost entirely; and as a result there’s no clear hook.

Jupiter's Legacy
The Union | superherohype.com

The superheroes in this world lack the savagery or intensity of the Vought Seven. Their powers mostly consist of the same generic combination of enhanced strength and flight, with bad CGI and boring fight-scene cinematography collaborating to ensure those overused powers don’t have any chance of coming across as fresh or exciting. Their costumes look like imitations of the Vought Seven’s sleek bodysuits and armor, but in heinous pastel color-schemes: giving some of the heroes the appearance of sentient Easter eggs, particularly those wearing long white wigs. They have a troubled family dynamic, but that’s been done to death at this point, from Pixar’s Incredibles to Netflix’s very own Umbrella Academy.

Based solely on this trailer, the one thing that really seems to set Jupiter’s Legacy‘s heroes apart is that they’re very old characters, who received their powers during a journey to a mysterious island in the early 20th Century. The golden-hued flashbacks to this era tease a concept and a genre that looks infinitely more interesting than whatever’s supposed to be going on in the modern day scenes, where the team of heroes known as the Union must reassemble to save the world from “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Darkseid!” (whose actual name is Blackstar, in case you were wondering).

Jupiter's Legacy
Jupiter’s Legacy | nerdist.com

The Jupiter’s Legacy comics, from what I can tell, are supposed to be quite good: exploring themes of generational division through the eyes of the children of superheroes struggling to uphold the burden of their family history. But that idea has been done before in comics and onscreen using superheroes (I repeat, Umbrella Academy), so you really have to work to sell that kind of storyline at this point – and instead the marketing is going for hollow phrases like “visionary” while clogging the screen with simply “more of the same”. Sadly, there’s not a thing in this trailer that doesn’t look like it was pulled from better source material.

Sorry, Josh Duhamel. Henry Cavill from The Witcher season one make-up test called: he wants his horrendous wig back.

Trailer Rating: 4/10

“Shadow And Bone” 2nd Trailer!

SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AND SIX OF CROWS AHEAD!

In all my coverage of Netflix’s upcoming Shadow And Bone adaptation, my one consistent concern has been how the series is going to juggle the various components of its sprawling story. While its title is borrowed from the fairly straightforward first book in the Grisha trilogy, Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling YA fantasy series, the Netflix adaptation is also drawing on material from Bardugo’s later (and, in my opinion, superior) Six Of Crows duology, set in the same fantasy world but in a different region, at a different time. To better link the two, Netflix is compressing the timeline and creating original storylines for the Six Of Crows characters that will bring them into contact with Grisha trilogy characters they never met in the books.

Shadow And Bone
Shadow And Bone | polygon.com

The task seems daunting. The Grisha trilogy takes place in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka, where an orphaned girl named Alina Starkov discovers that she’s the Sun-Summoner, a magical being capable of creating light – and thus powerful enough to save Ravka from the terrible Shadow Fold, an ocean of pure shadow that cuts an ugly rift through the country. The Six Of Crows duology, set years later in the Amsterdam-inspired city of Ketterdam, follows a ragtag band of criminals, nicknamed the Crows, who unite to kidnap a mage and score a hefty reward. Tonally, the two stories share little in common…and while a handful of characters overlap, they are both very much their own thing.

But the second full trailer for Netflix’s Shadow And Bone reveals the series’ solution to that problem…which, as far as solutions go, seems to me like one that comes with massive risks and the potential to completely derail the storyline of the books as time goes on. The Crows will simply unite to kidnap Alina Starkov herself.

We’ve known for a while now that we weren’t gonna get a literal adaptation of Six Of Crows in this first season of Shadow And Bone. The series is still focused on Alina and the events of her books. The Crows were always going to be playing secondary roles in this season, with the promise that their roles would be upgraded in season two, when their story could actually take off. But with this new development, I don’t understand the point in doing the actual Six Of Crows storyline anymore, even in season two…because they’re already basically using it as a season one subplot, heightening the stakes dramatically while recentering it around Alina.

I’d actually be very surprised if the story from Six Of Crows were to be adapted at this point, because I think I can begin to guess what Shadow And Bone is doing…and why, while I think it’s a gamble even Jesper Fahey would shy away from, it might just pay off.

Shadow And Bone
Mal and Alina (Malina) | syfy.com

Just as it feels like the Crows’ individual arcs are being reworked to fit into Alina’s story in season one, I believe the opposite might be true of season two…which, rather than following the events of Six Of Crows, may actually lift more heavily from the book’s sequel (and my favorite of Bardugo’s Grishaverse stories), Crooked Kingdom. In that book, the Crows return to Ketterdam with their kidnapped prize, only to be betrayed by their client and embroiled in a war of subterfuge and deceit in the city’s criminal underworld. If that’s the case, it’s unfair we wouldn’t see a more accurate adaptation of these stories – but it’s already unfair that Shadow And Bone still includes Mal, one of the worst love interests in literary history.

There’s evidence for this theory in the trailer. The Crows still receive their offer from a mustachioed older gentleman who appears to be Jan Van Eck, their backstabbing client from the books. Mal tells Alina at one point that he’ll find his way back to her if they’re ever separated, implying strongly that they will be (I see no issue with that, gotta be honest). And while the Crows don’t have much screentime in the trailer, it looks like they make it to Ravka: we see Inej Ghafa evading a jet of fire that could only have been cast by a Grisha magician, and moments later she appears to be in the Shadow-Fold itself, looking dashing while throwing knives at an unseen enemy – perhaps a Volcra demon?

We also know that Alina’s backstory in the series has been changed to make her biracial and half Shu Han (an East Asian-inspired region bordering Ravka), a change reflected in the decision to cast an actress of Chinese descent in the role. The showrunners have cited multiple reasons for this change, one of which being that it lends depth to her arc. But it could also make her taking over the role of Kuwei Yul-Bo – the Crows’ kidnapping victim, and the only prominent Shu Han character in the books – more plausible.

Obviously, the Crows kidnapping Alina and bringing her back to Ketterdam would have massive consequences…but if I’m being honest, I think Alina’s character would benefit a lot from the change. The Grisha trilogy gets kind of boring when it devolves into love-triangulations in book two, so it would be refreshing to see Alina separated from both her love interests for a minute and placed in a completely new scenario, before possibly returning to Ravka by way of the seafaring Prince Nikolai, who appears in the second books of both series’. And I won’t deny that the thought of her interacting with the Crows excites me greatly.

Shadow And Bone
Alina and Baghra | themarysue.com

The only question is how the Crows would benefit from this change, from having Alina and the Darkling (and Mal, I guess) constantly barging in on their storylines – and, as someone with a Crows bias, that’s the question that gives me pause and makes me wonder if it’s actually worth it. I also would like to know why the Crows still only have three members, and why Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar don’t even seem to have real storylines in this season (Nina does at least have a cut hat).

Shadow And Bone still looks very promising and well-produced, however, and I’m excited to see if anything can make me interested in the events of the Grisha trilogy. I’m not totally sold on Six Of Crows being used as a subplot in Alina Starkov’s story, but if it means Crooked Kingdom (or some version of that story) might be the focus of season two, you better believe I’m gonna grin and bear it.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Trailer Needs More Crows

SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AHEAD!

I like the Six Of Crows duology more than the original Grisha trilogy. I know, I know, real original, right? But as someone who infinitely prefers reading an action-packed heist adventure with a diverse crew of antiheroes to wading through endless chapters of Alina and Mal bickering over literally everything, I’m going to stick with my boring Grishaverse opinion. And thus, it’s no surprise that the first trailer for Netflix’s adaptation of Shadow And Bone didn’t really pique my interest fully, because…there’s a lot of Alina, and a lot of Mal, and while I believe actors Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux are probably going to put in the work to try and make their characters engaging and relatable…I’m still not convinced that’s possible yet.

Shadow And Bone
Alina And The Darkling | deadline.com

To give credit where credit is due, the Grisha trilogy (the first of multiple series’ by Leigh Bardugo set in the Grishaverse, where magic runs rampant in a gritty late 19th-Century-inspired fantasy world) does incorporate one of my all-time favorite tropes: palace intrigue and political scheming. And the first season of Shadow And Bone, which will adapt the first book in the bestselling trilogy alongside some wholly original stories featuring the Six Of Crows cast, seems to feature just as much palace intrigue as the books – if not more. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the book, Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li in the Netflix adaptation) starts out a humble orphaned mapmaker before discovering her magical ability to conjure sunlight: a gift that comes in handy when your kingdom is split in half by a demon-infested ocean of inky, uncharted darkness, hindering trade and leaving those trapped behind “The Shadow Fold” struggling. Alina gets recruited into the Grisha, a small army of sorcerers who operate at the upper echelons of high society, all while maneuvering political and religious crises, and a love-triangle involving her best friend Mal and her Grisha partner: the infamous Darkling.

The love-triangle is fairly unpopular in the fandom, with both of Alina’s potential love-interests being widely hated-on for various reasons (the Darkling is a backstabbing tyrant, Mal is…Mal), and it doesn’t feature too heavily in the first trailer for Shadow And Bone, which wisely focuses attention on the series’ spectacular CGI budget and action sequences, some of which seem to be infused with a dose of horror. The catalyst for Shadow And Bone‘s events, Alina’s attempted crossing of the Shadow Fold and the reveal of her powers, is getting a perfect page-to-screen adaptation, by the looks of it – the dreadful silence inside the Fold, the rush of wings as volcra demons amass in the darkness, the suspense, and then the reveal of one monster about to bite a man’s head off from behind: good stuff. Don’t be fooled by the books’ YA rating: the Grisha trilogy and particularly the Six Of Crows duology get really dark (and not just because the Darkling can literally conjure up shadows).

Shadow And Bone
Six (well, three) Of Crows | syfy.com

Unfortunately, the trailer just barely squeezes in individual shots of the three main Six Of Crows characters who will be introduced in season one, implying that they and their subplots will not be a primary focus until season two at least. That saddens me greatly, because I already think I’m going to love them: Freddy Carter has won me over with his portrayal of crime lord Kaz Brekker, just from the intensity of his glare and the confidence with which he swings his cane; Kit Young looks radiant and fun as chaotic bisexual sharpshooter Jesper Fahey; and Amita Suman as assassin Inej Ghafa appears to be taking the lethal energy she displayed in her first-look image, and applying it brilliantly to her physical acting. Of the three Crows, she stands out the most – ironically, since her whole storyline revolves around being undetectable. I want her to have epic fight sequences, Netflix! Don’t force me to sit through hours of “Malina” content when I could be watching Inej brutally knife people!

With the series’ in-universe timeline still a confusing mystery and plot details for the Crows’ subplot a secret, I still don’t understand how the two vastly different storylines will intertwine organically – though the showrunners insist there’s a connection. But with the characters of Nina and Mathias still completely absent from the conversation (except for an embarrassingly bad first-look image that conveyed nothing whatsoever of their characters’ rich and unique backstories or personalities), and Wylan Van Eck not appearing in season one, don’t expect any tease of the actual Six Of Crows plot until the season finale, at least.

I feel like Shadow And Bone fans will collectively raise their eyebrows at me if I don’t talk about the Darkling at all, especially given that he’s the series’ main selling-point, but honestly – what is there to say? He’s got fantastic hair, the kind of luscious mane that practically requires a soft breeze to be rippling through it at all times. But Ben Barnes, despite looking and sounding the part, isn’t really radiating the kind of palpable seductive charisma I had anticipated from arguably the only truly iconic character in the Grisha trilogy. I’m willing to believe this is the fault of Netflix’s marketing, though, as it seems reluctant to reveal the Darkling as the series’ main villain.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling And Alina | tvinsider.com

So while the rest of you are busy digging your trenches in the endless Darklina vs Malina shipping war, I’ll be over here minding my own business (I always preferred Alina’s dynamic with Nikolai anyway, and he won’t be in season one), and happily stanning my Six (well, three, for right now) of Crows.

Trailer Rating: 6.5/10

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Look Images Highlight Fan-Favorites

The crown jewel in Netflix’s treasure-chest of fantasy properties is undeniably The Witcher. Even in its temporary absence, they’ve filled the fantasy void with…well, news of other Witcher spinoffs, for the most part. But as much as we all love the grimdark franchise and want to keep tossing our coins to Geralt of Rivia, let’s be real for a moment: Shadow And Bone is right there. Just a few months out from release, and Netflix has barely even begun marketing the upcoming fantasy series based on Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling novels and starring Ben Barnes. An aesthetically-pleasing but light-on-substance teaser trailer debuted in December, and accumulated over a million views on YouTube: proving there’s an audience for this series. So where’s the promo, Netflix?

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey, Inej Ghafa, and Kaz Brekker | sea.ign.com

On its way, I guess. Today’s drop of first-look images (shared exclusively with Entertainment Weekly) and character posters (which I won’t talk about as much in this post, because although they feature better costumes overall than the images, they don’t shed much light about plot details) certainly gives the impression that Netflix is going to bless us with a real trailer in the coming days or weeks, and not wait until a month before the series premiere to start their marketing campaign, as has been customary for them with their more niche originals. Shadow And Bone has the potential to appeal to many demographics, including fantasy fans still waiting for all those Witcher spinoffs and prequels to materialize, and I’m glad the streaming service recognizes that.

The big question about the series – which the new images and accompanying interview with EW do not adequately answer, in my opinion – is how much of a balancing act it will be, as Netflix tries to intertwine two of Bardugo’s Grishaverse stories into one cohesive whole. On the one hand, we have the saga of Alina Starkov and The Darkling, which plays out in Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy (the first installment of which is also titled Shadow And Bone). It’s trope-filled, but still enjoyable, and The Darkling’s controversial popularity should make any and all discourse about the series…lively, to say the least. On the other hand, there’s the more uniquely compelling Six Of Crows duology, which takes place several decades after the events of the Grisha Trilogy and follows a group of young criminals plotting and carrying out an epic heist. With the two stories distanced by time and space, and sharing very few elements besides Grisha magicians, there’s no word yet on how they’ll be narratively or thematically connected…though showrunner Eric Heisserer teased a “very exciting” link.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | yahoo.com

I was under the impression that, while Alina’s story would be the overwhelming focus of season one, we would also be introduced to the various future members of the Six Of Crows gang during their formative years, and only see them properly team up in the finale: since it seems that the main events of Six Of Crows won’t be covered until Shadow And Bone‘s second season at the earliest. But one of the new images (the best of the bunch, to be honest) reveals Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, and Jesper Fahey already working as a trio…so who knows how this will all work out. I suppose they’ll have a completely original subplot in this season, which both alarms and intrigues me.

Out of all the Crows, only Inej Ghafa gets her own character-specific image – promising a larger role for the fascinating anti-heroine, and a breakout performance from Nepalese actress Amita Suman. Just based on Suman’s quiet confidence and lethal poise, it looks like Inej, one of my favorite characters in the Grishaverse, is receiving the kind of faithful page-to-screen adaptation that fans of other book series’ would kill for – and speaking of killing, Inej comes armed with at least 14 knives, and gymnastic agility. Dubbed “The Wraith”, she’s perfect at moving undetected through the grungy streets of Ketterdam, hunting Kaz Brekker’s enemies with terrifying efficiency.

Shadow And Bone
Inej Ghafa | thegeekiary.com

Alongside Suman’s Inej, I’m afraid Freddy Carter’s Kaz Brekker doesn’t stand out nearly as much as he should. That could be attributed to his dark and dull attire, and the fact that neither his sleek black gloves nor weaponized cane are visible in the image, but it’s an underwhelming first look at such a commanding and stylish character from the books (Kaz’s poster does slightly better in this regard, but still doesn’t quite capture the antihero’s essence, in my opinion). I have a similar nitpick with Kit Young’s Jesper Fahey, whom I would have liked to see introduced in a more characteristically colorful outfit and haphazardly wielding his twin pistols. And don’t even get me started on Nina Zenik, whose barely visible behind her boyfriend Matthias Helvar, bundled up in a nondescript shawl.

Even Mal, Alina’s on-and-off love interest and one of the most widely hated characters in the Grishaverse fandom, has a more stylistically and visually interesting first-look image than Nina. There is no universe, real or fictional, in which that should be possible (but actor Archie Renaux nonetheless deserves credit for pulling it off).

Jessie Mei Li looks like a great Alina, and hopefully brings enough charisma to the role to make the character interesting. But I’m afraid she’ll be both literally and figuratively overshadowed by The Darkling, her nemesis, occasional love interest, and the series’ big bad, at least for now. Ben Barnes’ Darkling has the palpable seductive qualities one would would expect from a man who can manipulate shadows, and he’s the series’ star power – like Henry Cavill’s Geralt in The Witcher, Barnes will be front and center in all of Shadow And Bone‘s marketing, whenever that gets off the ground: possibly to the detriment of his less well-known costars.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling | ew.com

So what do you think of the new images for Shadow And Bone? If you’re a Grishaverse reader as well as potential viewer, which character are you most excited to see in live-action? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Jodie Turner-Smith Will Lead “The Witcher: Blood Origin”

Although I initially had my reservations about Netflix’s fast-paced attempts to expand a single season of The Witcher into a multi-medium franchise with prequels and spinoffs before the second season had even started filming (in fact, it still hasn’t wrapped), I have since changed my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because The Witcher has proven to be my go-to rewatchable comfort show during quarantine, and I’ve plunged deeper into the grimdark fantasy’s extensive lore (both book-canon and video game-canon, mind you) with each successive rewatch. I appreciate the series more now than ever before, and I’m itching to return to The Continent and explore more of its monster-infested forests, bogs, and mountains.

The Witcher
Jodie Turner-Smith | finance.yahoo.com

Secondly, because Jodie Turner-Smith joining The Witcher‘s prequel spinoff in a lead role is the kind of casting that immediately sets this prequel, titled Blood Origin, apart from a crowd of fantasy stories that will soon flood every streaming service imaginable. Turner-Smith’s filmography is still relatively sparse, but her breakout role in 2019’s Queen & Slim is finally paying off – with Turner-Smith having just recently landed the role of Tudor queen Anne Boleyn in a psychological drama based on her life and execution, and now joining Netflix’s Blood Origin in a lead role that has the potential to elevate her to a whole new level of success.

From the brief description we’ve been given by Deadline, Turner-Smith’s role already sounds intriguing – she will play a character named Éile, “an elite warrior blessed with the voice of a goddess, who has left her clan and position as Queen’s guardian to follow her heart as a nomadic musician.” But “A grand reckoning on the continent will force her to return to the way of the blade in her quest for vengeance and redemption”. What Deadline doesn’t note is that The Illuminerdi broke exclusive details about the casting call for Éile’s character back in November, which additionally confirm that she comes “from a Clan of Elves that use knives as their primary weapon”. At the time, Netflix was interested in actresses with a history of dance and stunt work, suggesting that Jodie Turner-Smith’s part will be strongly action-oriented.

The Witcher
Fringilla Vigo | looper.com

Black heroines in the fantasy genre are rare, but Black action heroines (in any genre) are rarer still. The Witcher has thus far mostly excelled at portraying complex women with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, from endearingly brutish queens like Calinthe to politically-savvy sorceresses like Yennefer. The exceptions to the rule, unfortunately, were characters like Eithné and Fringilla Vigo, both Black women, and both suffering from cardboard-thin characterizations. Fringilla in particular deserved better writing. Her pivotal part in the season finale should have been thrilling, but ultimately disappointed because she wasn’t morally complex enough to sympathize with, nor evil enough to actually hate. With Éile having to balance being a heaven-sent singer and a knife-wielding warrior, I imagine her character will be far more compelling.

Blood Origin will follow her journey during or shortly after The Conjunction Of The Spheres, an era of chaos in The Continent’s prehistory, when worlds and dimensions collided violently, scattering their inhabitants far and wide. With Humans and Elves forced to live in close proximity with an assortment of abhorrent monsters and bloodthirsty demons, powerful sorcerers began construction on the first Witchers – elite mutant assassins capable of hunting and killing the great beasts roaming in the wilderness. Blood Origin was originally believed to follow the first Witcher’s journey (and rumors swirled that he would be played by Jason Momoa), but I hope for Jodie Turner-Smith’s sake that she’s either the actual protagonist, or at least doesn’t get overshadowed in her role.

The Witcher
The Witcher | pcgamer.com

But what do you think of Jodie Turner-Smith’s casting? And tell me, honestly, how many times have you rewatched The Witcher during quarantine? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

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!