“Loki” 2nd Trailer Leans Into The Absurd Side Of Marvel

WandaVision was the gust of fresh air that blew open the doors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s untapped reserves of sheer absurdity, and for that I think we will always be thankful. But WandaVision‘s weirdness was very specifically engineered to produce a sense of dread in the viewer, an understanding that something had to be terribly wrong – because worlds like the one Wanda had created for herself couldn’t possibly exist in the (mostly) grounded MCU. Loki, on the other hand, reassures those of us who loved WandaVision that the MCU actually is just…weird. Permanently.

"Loki" 2nd Trailer Leans Into The Absurd Side Of Marvel 1
Loki | polygon.com

I’ve compared the upcoming Loki series’ concept and styling to the works of British fantasy author Terry Pratchett before, and the second trailer (released today quite out of the blue: classic God of Mischief move) only makes that comparison more apt – as well as making a convincing argument for everyone involved in the production of this series going on to develop an adaptation of any one of Pratchett’s novels after this is done. There’s also shades of Dr. Who, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – basically, every zany, high-concept, British sci-fi/fantasy ever made rolled up into one.

The new trailer for Loki treats us to one deliciously abstract visual after another, beginning with a charming elevator noise as a magical glowing door appears in the wall of what looks like a horrendously ugly 1980’s subway-station with brown, orange, and mustard-yellow tiling; soon revealing a man in a German stahlhelm, holding the Tesseract in one hand, and gripping the Norse deity’s arm with the other. I mean, seriously, just read that sentence and tell me it doesn’t sound like the opening to a Dirk Gently mystery.

The atrocious color palette is echoed throughout all the lobbies, waiting rooms, offices, and elevators of the Time Variance Authority, or TVA for short, in whose headquarters Loki has unwillingly ended up. As in the Marvel Comics, it appears the TVA work from behind-the-scenes to monitor the flow of time, making sure everything runs like clockwork and working to ensure that alternate timelines are cut off before they in turn sprout innumerable other timelines – each an entire universe of possibilities. Like Wanda walking out onto the empty soundstage of her life and finding stage-lights and auditorium seating, we’re seeing for the first time the nuts and bolts of the MCU.

From their seemingly infinite office space (which I’m fairly certain is tucked away in its own dimension, not limited by the confines of our earth), the TVA dispatches heavily-armed soldiers (including one prominently played by Lovecraft Country‘s Wunmi Mosaku) across the Multiverse to locate anyone caught moving across timelines, and drag them back for trial…where they will presumably face Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Judge Renslayer. This character’s first name hasn’t been revealed, but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be Ravonna, since Princess Ravonna Renslayer is a notable comics character who shares a long romantic history with Kang the Conqueror, a time-traveling Marvel villain who’s already been confirmed to appear in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, played by Jonathan Majors of Da 5 Bloods and Lovecraft Country.

Loki
Judge Renslayer | marvel.com

The TVA’s agenda is still not entirely clear, so it’s possible – I’d say probable – that they have an ulterior motive for keeping Loki alive and enlisting him into their army of timeline-hunters, beyond just needing his “unique Loki perspective”, as Owen Wilson’s Mobius puts it. They, or at least some of their top agents like Renslayer, might be working with Kang to conquer all the timelines simultaneously, and Loki’s knack for causing mischief might work in their favor. Kang could even be the hooded figure we see battling TVA hunters in the agency’s hallways and utilizing their glowing portal technology – though, with alternate universes in play here, that could just as well be Lady Loki, or Old Loki, or another of the God’s many variants.

But while that mystery is sure to be compelling, the thing that has me most excited for the series is the thought of traveling back in time through the history of our earth, and of all the Nine Realms yet to be explored – and all the versions of them that exist throughout the Multiverse. Loki has already been seen playing the part of notorious real-life hijacker D.B. Cooper in the 1970’s, but now we get a clearer glimpse of other locations he’ll travel to, including a Medieval festival (where we later see a TVA hunter wielding a jousting lance); a Roman street that’s probably in Pompeii based on the wall of ash and smoke bearing down on the grinning God; a Roxxcart supermarket; a ruined New York City; an otherworldly mining facility; and two diametrically-opposed castles, one bathed in golden light and the other dark, laced with cracks as if made of glass.

Another awesome reveal is the return of Loki’s magic powers, an aspect of his character that’s been sidelined in his last few movie appearances in favor of his twin daggers. Those beautiful weapons still show up in the trailer, but it’s nice to see him wielding magical green energy-blasts as well, particularly given how badly the Russo Brothers used him in Infinity War; not even allowing him to pull a signature magic-trick on Thanos before having his neck broken. It’s still one of the most embarrassing character betrayals in the MCU, if you ask me.

Loki
The God Of Mischief | nme.com

But the crucial difference is that this Loki is Avengers-era Loki, at the height of his game, riding a massive confidence boost from escaping the Avengers on Earth, and still significantly more villainous than heroic. And the writers have clearly gotten into the character’s headspace from that period, because the chaotic mess of Shakespearean angst that we all fell in love with is finally back, and I can’t wait to see where (and when) his story goes from here.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 2 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier got off to a bit of a slow start last week, drawing in a huge audience for Disney+ but generating fairly minimal buzz online – with the exception of some admittedly very thought-provoking niche discussions about whether Tony Stark should have paid the Avengers, and what Bucky’s reference to “tiger photos” said about his sexuality, if anything. Just MCU stan twitter at its finest.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | superherohype.com

Generally, though, there was some concern among fans that The Falcon And The Winter Soldier wouldn’t turn out to be a big conversation-starter like its predecessor, WandaVision, which consistently had even casual audiences going wild with theories – a crucial element of the series’ popularity that backfired in fans’ dumbstruck little faces towards the end. That concern has hopefully been assuaged today. Coming off a premiere I described as soft and fluffy fanfic (albeit a very good one), The Falcon And The Winter Soldier ratchets up the tension, the drama, and the stakes, for all our characters – even John-punchable-face-Walker (Wyatt Russell).

In some way, this is the closest thing to a Walker-centric episode…and hopefully the last time we’ll be asked to dive so deeply into the character’s psyche. During an extended opening sequence that had me terrified the whole episode was going to focus on his backstory, we learn that Walker is a golden boy in the U.S. military, the recipient of three Medals of Honor, and a really bad actor (to be clear, that’s Walker: not Russell, who’s doing a very good job), who’s apparently only trying to do the right thing by stepping into Captain America’s shoes. But as his marching band intro music plays over the Marvel title cards, it’s impossible to take him seriously.

Deep down, even Walker must realize or suspect that he’s a pawn: a tacky, suitably camera-friendly piece of sentient military propaganda designed by the U.S. Government to project a frighteningly familiar image of jingoistic nationalism to the rest of the world, while tales of his heroic exploits distract the media from the government’s more sinister operations elsewhere…in short, he’s the kind of manufactured, consumer-tested Build-A-Bigot that the modern GOP wishes they had, and have been trying to construct for years now (looking at you, Dan Crenshaw)…and he is everything Steve Rogers knew he couldn’t be in The First Avenger, when he too was trotted out as morale-boosting entertainment for the troops.

But while Walker leans into the commercialization of his character, posing with Cap’s shield and marketing action figures of himself, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), the rightful heir to the legacy, has to get back to work fighting the mysterious Flag-Smashers: who serve a valid purpose in the story, but don’t feel very organically implemented, having just suddenly become the antagonists because Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez) has made them out to be. The Flag-Smashers don’t appear to be very well-organized villains, perhaps because they’re not all that villainous: their leader, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), is implied to actually be helping people by smuggling medicine to refugee camps around Central and Eastern Europe.

In return, she and other Flag-Smashers are welcomed into the homes of civilians, calling back to a conversation Sam had last episode about the “tremendous amount of goodwill” that keeps superheroes functioning despite not being paid for their services to humanity. That being said, the Flag-Smashers are still heavily-armed and accompanied by an elite bodyguard of enhanced Super Soldiers, including Morgenthau herself. To deal with the heightened threat, Sam calls in Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who’s conveniently answering texts now. A result of his therapy working, or a plot device? We shall never know.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | comicbook.com

We all knew, however, that I wasn’t going to be able to make it through this review without geeking out over the heroes’ reunion – where the conversation quickly turns to “The Big Three”, Sam’s term for aliens, androids, and wizards; the Avengers’ most common enemies. In the back-and-forth, Bucky mockingly namedrops Gandalf, before smugly revealing that he read The Hobbit when it first came out, in 1937 – a miraculous feat given that the first American edition of the book wasn’t published until 1938, which means Bucky didn’t just pick this up on a whim: he literally would have had to order it all the way from England, because he’s just that much of a Tolkien nerd. By a lucky coincidence, yesterday was also Tolkien Reading Day!

The random yet endearing exchange continues the fluffy fanfic vibes I picked up from the premiere episode…and speaking of fanfic, are we gonna talk about the new SamBucky content, or what? Yes, yes, we are. And not just the banter, but the inherent sexual tension of them being forced to roll on top of each other during an action scene, or engage in a “soul-gazing exercise” at the orders of Bucky’s therapist (played by Amy Aquino, who is phenomenal). For me, it’s the way all the heteronormative “bromance” jokes and sight gags accidentally just make the situation more gay.

The episode packs a lot into its back half, including a pretty long action sequence with the Flag-Smashers in rural Germany, which moves from an abandoned warehouse to a highway fight on the tops of two moving MAC trucks like a violent Euro Trucks Simulator mod (complete with random, seemingly driverless car that gets wrecked in the ensuing chaos while trying to pass). Things quickly go wrong: Falcon’s wings are somewhat limited on the narrow stretch of road, and Karli Morgenthau smashes his drone Redwing over her knee, while Bucky’s vibranium arm can’t save him from being dragged under a truck. And that’s when John Walker intervenes to “save” the duo, popping up in the first of many surprise appearances.

This is followed by what feels like an even longer sequence of Sam and Bucky being forced to ride back to the airport with Walker’s team after their humiliating defeat; a cringeworthy opportunity to see how fame has gotten to Walker’s head in a very short time. In the face of mediocrity, Sam keeps his cool, while Bucky loses his temper quickly and insults Walker, before jumping out of the vehicle when Walker’s companion, Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett), reveals his ridiculous code name, Battlestar. Sam, as a Black man, is forced by circumstances to remain civil – because the one time he gets angry and raises his voice, later in the episode, he’s immediately surrounded by cops who threaten him.

On that sad note, it’s time to talk about Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), who makes his long-awaited MCU debut surprisingly early. Revealed as a former enemy of Bucky’s from the Korean War era, Bradley it turns out is still alive after six decades lying low in Baltimore: having been experimented on using the longevity-inducing Super Soldier Serum, or some variant of it. In the comics, Bradley’s origin story dates back to World War II, when white doctors used and abused his body to test out their own versions of the Serum, giving him enhanced abilities and a lifetime of trauma. I’ve always believed this reveal would be most significant if Bradley predated Steve Rogers’ miraculous transformation, but there’s no indication that’s the case yet.

Bradley’s introduction sheds light on the MCU’s dark past, while the introduction of his teenaged grandson Eli (Elijah Richardson) illuminates its hopeful future. Eli might seem like a background character in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, but comics readers will recognize him as a member of the Young Avengers. He may even be the first Young Avenger to enter the MCU in his final form, given the recast of Cassie Lang and the fact that Wiccan and Speed will presumably also be recast when they age up to teenagers. In the comics, his powers come from a blood transfusion from his enhanced grandfather.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Isaiah Bradley | yahoo.com

The history of the Serum is quickly emerging as the through-line of the series’ plot: running parallel to, and beautifully intersecting with, the emotional through-line of Sam and Bucky (and even John Walker) learning what went into the making of Captain America, and what it takes to live up to his legacy. But with only vague hints from Bradley as to his origins, and with Walker revealing – and confirming through his action scenes – that he doesn’t have a drop of Serum in his veins, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier are forced to turn to someone else for help…someone who knows the Serum’s history intimately, and was presumed to have killed all the Super-Soldiers manufactured by HYDRA in Bucky’s image: Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), who is exactly the type of thwarted sociopath that creepily plays chess with himself while brooding in prison.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“Carol” Review! Is It A Christmas Movie Or Not?

Is 2015’s Carol a Christmas movie, in the proper sense of the phrase? Some would argue it is simply by virtue of being set in the last few weeks of December (and because one of the most memorable scenes in the movie revolves around the subject of Christmas presents), but in my opinion, it’s even a bit deeper than that.

Carol
Carol Aird | cinemablographer.com

Carol utilizes Christmas for more than just pretty set dressing. The overwhelming noise and chaotic hustle of the holiday season provides the perfect backdrop to the quiet, intimate, love story at the film’s core. The crowds of confused and hurried shoppers rushing to find gifts is an unmistakable parallel to the confusion of any whirlwind romance, but particularly one shared by two women in an unaccepting era – when even the terminology for sexual orientation was still unclear and mostly derogatory. And Christmas brings with it a whole slew of constraints and restrictions on the time our heroines can spend together without being watched. But…whenever the romance finally has a moment to breathe, everything goes quiet. The noise dies down until it’s little more than a murmur in the background; Carter Burwell’s Oscar-nominated score gently reinforces the building passion; and the spirit of Christmas is discovered in simple things like snowfall on a terrace at night, a Christmas tree purchased on the spur of the moment, or an abrupt winter getaway out west.

Based on The Price Of Salt (a semi-autobiographical novel first published in 1952 by Patricia Highsmith under a pseudonym and later republished in 1990 as Carol under her real name), Carol remains a milestone in LGBTQ+ representation in film: the movie that launched a thousand awards-friendly atmospheric period dramas about introspective white lesbians. The story is small-scale on the surface – a series of electric interactions between two women that quickly becomes a fling, and then a romance – but the stakes couldn’t be higher for either character: Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is at risk of losing custody of her daughter if her sexuality is discovered, while Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is already engaged to a man for whom she has no feelings. The chemistry between the two actresses is the primary reason for why the movie works as well as it does, and for why it feels so genuine and impactful.

Carol
Therese Belivet and Carol Aird | artforum.com

Carol, the mysterious, multi-faceted woman around whom the story revolves, is the older and wiser of the two; but while her years have given her a flippant attitude towards life and a steady, self-assured command over herself, her surroundings, and her sexuality, they haven’t quieted her desire to finally live freely. Blanchett owns the role like a revelation wrapped up in an epiphany and a sensuous mink coat. And what’s brilliant about Blanchett’s performance (here and elsewhere) is that she never feels the need to overdo anything. Every one of her movements, mannerisms, facial expressions, winks, and subtle half-smiles is loaded with purpose – but so casually conveyed that Blanchett never comes off as fishing for Oscars. Oftentimes, the philosophical dialogue spouted in dramas can come off as inorganic and bizarrely forced, but Blanchett’s line-readings, delivered in that famously deep register that she might as well trademark, are equal halves relatable and enchanting.

The strength of Mara’s performance is in how clearly and vividly she expresses her love for Carol. While the extent of Carol’s feelings toward Therese Belivet are necessarily mysterious and unclear until the very end of the film (and Blanchett easily sells that aura of mystery, where you never know if something she’s said has a double entendre or a hidden meaning), the entire story hinges on Therese’s immediate attraction to Carol. It sounds quite simple – Cate Blanchett is a magnetic personality, after all – but Mara succeeds at convincing us that Therese’s devotion goes deeper than a surface-level. And although the film can’t take us into Therese’s head like the novel, it gets as close as it possibly can. Director Todd Haynes stages each romantic scene as if from Therese’s point of view, as she absorbs every tiny detail about her lover. That subtly allows us to also learn about Therese’s own self-doubt, which prevents her from recognizing her own worth until much later in the film, when the tables are turned.

Alongside powerhouse talents like Blanchett and Mara, it’s hard for anyone else in the movie to carve out much space for themselves. Sarah Paulson comes closest, playing Blanchett’s former lover Abby. Paulson, herself one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood (and whose wife, Holland Taylor, was one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood), has a key supporting role, holding her own opposite Blanchett as the latter’s foil. Also, her ability to slay in brown plaid is admirable, and I would totally watch the Carol prequel Paulson wants to make.

Behind the scenes, pretty much everybody deserves some measure of praise, because the film is a technical masterpiece: but I would especially point out Carter Burwell, whose score beautifully compliments the action; costume designer Sandy Powell, the mastermind behind Carol’s assortment of fur coats, headscarves, and sundresses; and cinematographer Edward Lachman, whose decision to shoot in grainy 16mm film is a large part of why the entire film feels so engrossing.

Carol
Carol Aird | bloomberg.com

But the key to Carol‘s success and popularity (and something which many of its predecessors and successors have forgotten or ignored) is its happy ending, something that stunned readers back in 1952 and viewers in 2015. Little has changed between those two dates, if a simple happy ending is still perceived as groundbreaking in stories (particularly romances) about LGBTQ+ characters, and too little has changed even in the five years since Carol came out. But onscreen representation matters: it has the power to uplift and to inspire. And that’s exactly what Carol‘s ending did for many viewers, by promising something better. Even if it’s not a traditional Christmas movie, it invokes the true spirit of the season far better than some.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” 1st Trailer Review!

A number of Marvel fans have been worried – understandably, to some extent – that the big budgets for the upcoming slate of Marvel Disney+ series won’t be enough to keep the shows from looking “too TV”, by which I assume they mean cheap and small-scale. The first trailer for WandaVision, which some viewers didn’t understand was intentionally aiming to replicate the low-budget practicality of classic sitcoms, only underscored those fears. But if nothing else, the first trailer for The Falcon And The Winter Soldier should be enough to convince even the most skeptical critic that these series will maintain a high level of quality, and cinematic visuals of which most movies would be lucky to boast.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes | variety.com

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier feels the most like a traditional Marvel action movie out of all the Disney+ series we’ve heard about so far, but that’s not a knock on the series by any means. Rather, it feels like a continuation of the very best Marvel movies, specifically the latter two installments in the Captain America trilogy – as it should, since it follows Cap’s sidekicks in the aftermath of his surprise retirement and decision to pass the torch (or, well, the shield) to his longtime friend Sam Wilson. The fight scenes are fast-paced, tightly-edited, and visceral; the tone is that of an atmospheric spy thriller, with some natural buddy cop humor; and the characters are heroes we’ve grown to love – Wilson’s Falcon and Bucky Barnes’ Winter Soldier.

From what we’ve heard, the main conflict of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier revolves around a plot to usurp Wilson, a Black man, as the rightful owner of the shield and the new Captain America, by replacing him with a jingoistic white southern guy named John Walker. However, the trailer is still hiding many details pertaining to that storyline, and instead devotes significant screentime to a completely new supervillain played by Solo actress Erin Kellyman – whom we see sporting a black mask marked with a red handprint, and leading a team of ruffians, believed to be the anarchist militia group known as Flag-Smasher. It’s possible Kellyman’s character is also using the name Flag-Smasher as her supervillain identity: in the comics, this character is male, and a frequent opponent of Captain America, who represents everything he most despises. John Walker, on the other hand, appears just once in the entire trailer: making his debut at a hometown football game, to thunderous applause.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
John Walker | superherohype.com

That being said, there’s no reason to fear that the series’ extremely political through-line has been watered down to avoid controversy: Falcon’s first line in the trailer addresses how the legacy of Captain America’s shield is “complicated”, an obvious reference to the storyline in the comics – which the show is believed to feature prominently – where an early and dangerous prototype of the Super Soldier serum was tested on Black men during World War II by racist doctors, mirroring the real-life horrors of the infamous Tuskegee “Study”, during which African-American men were subjected to syphilis and denied treatment even after it became available. Just as Loki is venturing into the realm of historical fiction, it seems The Falcon And The Winter Soldier will do the same, including important social commentary on issues of racism, white supremacy, and white privilege.

The trailer’s second biggest reveal has to be our first look at the island of Madripoor, a fictional nation located in the Indian Ocean and home to frequent battles between Marvel’s most notable heroes and villains in the comics. The Falcon And The Winter Soldier makes it looks very futuristic, a bit like Cyberpunk 2077‘s Night City, with a dark and mysterious criminal underworld supporting towering skyscrapers and hotels. Wilson and Barnes’ business in Madripoor is still unknown, but they appear to be undercover – probably hunting an enemy or looking to strike a deal with somebody shady. To fit in with Madripoor’s clubbing scene, it seems Wilson has a brand new outfit, including a bright red jacket with golden tracery that we’ve seen in set photos, but which looks even better under proper lighting. Bucky’s idea of a disguise is a basic haircut (which, to be fair, looks pretty decent now); at least Wilson has some style.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson | comingsoon.net

The action set-pieces are to die for (and I assume that, in a series as gritty as this one looks to be, lots of characters will die): we’ve got motorcycle chases, fights on top of trucks, brutal one-on-one duels, and plenty of high-flying stunts thanks to Falcon’s trusty pair of wings, which look more fast and flexible than ever before. To tell the truth, I’ve always thought Falcon’s wings looked cumbersome in past Marvel appearances – so whether he’s actually tinkered with the suit to produce better results, or if the CGI is just better, this is definitely an upgrade. Bucky’s vibranium arm, courtesy of Wakanda, is still…just an arm: I hope we get to see some of its other cool features at some point, because Wakandan tech is usually a lot more reliable.

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of stuff I think is still being kept from us, and this first look is just the tip of the iceberg. The Falcon And The Winter Soldier will premiere in March, leaving plenty of time for us to get another trailer, presumably while WandaVision is still airing.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“The Politician” Season 2 Review!

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

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

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

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

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

The Politician
Hadassah Gold | ew.com

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

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

The Politician
newnownext.com

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

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

The Politician
empireonline.com

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

Series Rating: 5/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series Rating: 9/10

“Black Widow” Final Trailer Review!

The final Black Widow movie trailer goes in a different direction than its two predecessors, focusing on the personal relationships between our protagonists, and the grim drama about to unfold as our team of antiheroes and misfits face off against the powers that be within the Russian government. There’s still plenty of cool, exciting action to be seen (Taskmaster especially keeps getting power upgrades in every new trailer), but director Cate Shortland was chosen for her work with intense, intimate dramas – and that’s exactly what she’s going to deliver.

Natasha Romanoff, our Black Widow, struggles with guilt from never having returned to Russia to help her family (they use familial terms to address each other, but it’s still unclear whether that means anything, considering Natasha supposedly never knew her biological family) escape from the clutches of the KGB Red Room training program that turned them all, including Natasha herself, into highly-skilled assassins. Natasha’s “sister” Yelena Belova and “mother” Melina Vostokoff were some of the lucky ones who weren’t entirely brainwashed to the point of becoming “Manipulated: fully conscious but no choices”, as Yelena describes the other Black Widows in the program.

But the other Black Widows, with their elegant, perfectly synchronized fighting techniques, aren’t even the most dangerous threat to Natasha and her team: Taskmaster, the head of the Red Room and a warrior armed with photographic reflexes that allow him to perfectly emulate any opponent’s techniques (in this trailer, we see him memorizing moves from Natasha’s iconic hallway fight scene in Iron Man 2 and using Black Panther’s signature Wakandan fighting style, which includes mock panther claws), he’s their biggest threat. Obviously, it’s hard to piece together where everything we see in the trailer happens in the context of the film, but it looks to me like he goes after each of Natasha’s team individually in the third act battle – and I guess we’ll just have to wait and see who survives his killing spree.

Unfortunately for Natasha’s family, this is the type of film where characters are expendable, no matter how lovable and sweet: which means it’s possible that any or all of the trio (excluding Natasha, since this film is a prequel and we know she lives) will be snuffed out in a blaze of glory during their attack on the Red Room. Personally, I’m guessing it will be Red Guardian, Natasha’s gruff, bear-like father figure – and I suspect that Yelena could die a fake-out death, only to be revealed as alive in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline. It would be sad to see any of them go, as they all look like fun characters, and their playful banter with Natasha about good posture is instantly endearing.

Black Widow
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As for Natasha herself, we may finally get a deep-dive into her troubled psyche. In this trailer, we see her fighting to retain her own identity while trying to live on the run and undercover, shedding one fake name only to adopt another, taking Melina’s advice never to “look into the past”. But here she is, faced with the conflict that will determine who she is and what she stands for: although this movie takes place in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, after we had already seen Natasha in several movies, this is the moment that will turn her into the hero who gave her all to help defeat Thanos. This is the moment she stops being one of the Red Room’s countless faceless Widows, and becomes the one and only Black Widow. “At some point we all have to choose between what the world wants you to be, and who you are,” Natasha declares at one point in the trailer: this movie is about her, making that fateful choice.

Are you excited to see the transformation of the Black Widow? What’s your favorite part in the trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8.7/10

“Locke & Key” Review!

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

"Locke & Key" Review! 2
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Without getting into spoilers, I’ll explain it like this: after a couple of really strong episodes, Locke & Key introduces an idea that immediately forces the adult characters – including the series’ most compelling character, recovering alcoholic and traumatized widow Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) – and the teen or young adult characters – specifically her children, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) – to pursue two very different paths. The adults are left with many of the hard-hitting emotional and dramatic moments, but the kids have to awkwardly carry the horror/fantasy plotline to its conclusion. This divide is…uncomfortable, to say the least, and it also makes both parties look bad: the adults seem naive and negligent for barely ever interfering in their kids’ lives; the kids come off as idiotic and downright mean for never going to the adults for help or advice. And again, this is all because of one plot-point that is never even properly explained: this particular plot-point also seems oddly kiddish in a series that tries to be more edgy, dark and mature than it probably needs to be.

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

"Locke & Key" Review! 3
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Like Dodge, the entire series gets an upgrade about halfway through – which is both a blessing and a curse, as it simultaneously raises the stakes for all the protagonists while also closing the door on the fun, spooky treasure-hunt adventure that made the first few episodes so unique. The central trio of Locke children splits up, with the two older kids pursuing the main plot with their rapidly expanding group of high-school friends and enemies, while Bode (the most interesting of the three by far) is left at home, shoved to the sidelines, and kept in the dark…despite being the one who initially found the keys and unleashed Dodge. This series has a hard time remembering who its main characters are, at times. The high school story is intermittently dull, with subplots related to clam chowder, charity fundraisers, poorly-developed love triangles and generic bullies. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the sudden, strange decision to make the story all about Tyler Locke, the most boring, familiar, and downright annoying of the main trio (he seems to have a smoking addiction in the first episode, yet turns on his mother for drinking later in the series: hypocritical much, Tyler?) and the one who seems to have the least interest in the plot.

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

"Locke & Key" Review! 4
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Unfortunately, the scenes involving magic often require…magic, a.k.a. a CGI budget that this show clearly does not have at its disposal. The fight scenes with monsters, ghouls and demons are often all too brief, and darkly-lit (probably for the best, as the notable exception to this rule, involving a zombie-type creature attacking someone in broad daylight, looks painfully fake), while keys like the Matchstick and Ghost Key are used sparingly. This wouldn’t even be a problem if the series didn’t try to make itself larger than it had to be – when you’re just running around a spooky mansion, you don’t really need a whole bunch of special effects: when you’re on the brink of unleashing primordial powers from beyond the edge of the world into your small coastal town, that’s something else entirely.

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

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

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

Series Rating: 5.9/10

“The Irishman” Review!

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

"The Irishman" Review! 5
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But he doesn’t have to – because The Irishman speaks for itself. It is a cinematic masterpiece (and it would be whether or not it played in theaters, because, no matter how vehemently Scorsese may disagree, cinema is defined simply as “the art or technique of making motion pictures”). It is, perhaps, less timely than other landmark films of 2019, but that’s because its message is timeless. Some films don’t need to be ripped-from-the-headlines commentaries on society in order to be relevant. And so, without intending to, Scorsese has crafted the darker, more atmospheric cousin to the modern superhero movie – an original movie that simply exists to entertain. The Irishman has plenty of messages (don’t distance yourself from the people you love, karma always catches up with you, killing people for a living is probably a bad idea), but none of them are groundbreaking; none of them are even that deep, or thought-provoking. I don’t think The Irishman is going to linger in peoples’ minds because of its themes, or its weighty analysis of the concepts of regret and remorse – it’s going to be memorable because it’s a fun movie to watch. A really fun movie.

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

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

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

"The Irishman" Review! 6
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All three men – Pacino to a lesser extent than De Niro and Pesci – do have to act around the iffy de-aging technology that attempts to smooth out their faces into weirdly plastic masks for the first half of the movie, and that’s a huge problem that the film’s lighting crew clearly struggled with: thankfully, so much of The Irishman takes place in shadowy Italian restaurants that it’s often too dark to see the de-aged faces – but even in a scene lit by bright daylight, the World War II flashback in which Sheeran is supposed to be in his early twenties, somehow the shadows of De Niro’s helmet manage to hide almost his entire face from the camera.

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

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

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

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

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

“Bombshell” Trailer Review!

Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie are on fire in the new trailer for Bombshell, which recounts the explosive birth of the MeToo movement out of the wreckage of FOX News founder Roger Ailes’s downfall. And for Kidman and Theron at least, Bombshell could land them some well-deserved Oscar nominations.

The film tackles a difficult subject, with Kidman taking on the role of Gretchen Carlson, the controversial FOX News host who first spoke out about Ailes’ history of sexual harassment – Carlson herself recently revealed that, due to the terms of her settlement with Ailes, she is unable to say much about the upcoming film; but that she thinks it’s “amazing” that projects such as this and the Showtime series The Loudest Voice are continuing the conversation that started in July of 2016 (it’s worth noting that women have been speaking up about these issues long before Carlson, but for whatever reason it was her revelation that sparked a sudden furor in society): but let’s not forget that Carlson has herself made sexist, transphobic, and blatantly racist remarks in the past – and even though she says she doesn’t watch FOX anymore, it’s hard to say whether those were her own opinions or Ailes’. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron is Megyn Kelly, an even more controversial character; Kelly, who came forward with allegations against Ailes not long after Carlson and got into a very public fight with then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump, is not a swell person either – during her time on FOX, she was a divisive and negative influence, and was forced to step down from her brief stint at NBC News after multiple incidents, such as defending racist Halloween costumes and encouraging body-shaming. So any attempt to portray either woman as heroines is inevitably going to court controversy – which may be why Bombshell has invented a third character, a third victim of Ailes’ unwanted advances, this one an entirely fictional young producer named Kayla Pospisil, played by Margot Robbie. While she’s not as prominent in the trailer, I feel certain the movie will make her out to be the emotional core of the complex story.

Regardless, the trailer is stirring and powerful, accompanied by a great song choice (Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”) and intentionally walking the line between biting satire and intense drama: there are unsubtle parodies of all of FOX’s most notorious hosts and contributors walking the hallways of this newsroom, including Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and, for whatever reason, Rudy Giuliani. And, of course, there’s Kate McKinnon to provide some of her classic wise-cracks – plus, there’s a brief appearance from D’arcy Carden of The Good Place, who is also a fantastic comedian.

So what do you think of the trailer? Is Bombshell going to be a hard sell with audiences and critics alike, or is it going to earn one of its three leads a Best Actress nomination – or a win? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Little Women” Trailer Review!

Visionary director Greta Gerwig is bringing the story of Little Women back to the big screen this Christmas, and it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. This is an adaptation of the story that turns the spotlight on 19th Century gender politics, and the four March sisters who learn how to navigate an oppressive society without sacrificing any of their freedom and passion for life. This is, according to Gerwig, a story drawn not only from Louisa May Alcott’s original novel, but from the author’s personal worldviews and other writings: it is a message about what defines true love, perseverance and resistance.

It leads to an unusual but exciting first trailer for the film, which seems both old-fashioned in its setting and peculiarly modern in its attitude; even radical at times. Saoirse Ronan, the film’s lead actress, portrays Jo March, the eldest of the four sisters and the writer of the group, who tries to publish a novel in which the lead character, a woman, doesn’t marry – something to which her publisher strongly objects; Emma Watson is Meg March, who, of course, does end up happily married, despite Jo’s insistence that she should follow her dream to become an actress – she’s seen as one of the weaker characters in the story by some modern critics, but Watson is clearly making her much more sympathetic; Florence Pugh is Amy, the self-absorbed “last hope” of the March family; and Eliza Scanlen is Beth, the family’s quietest, most soft-spoken member, who also receives the least screentime in the trailer. All four are forced to look at their lives in new ways, as they experience the turbulence of first love, marriage, motherhood, grief and the pain of growing up and out of their naive innocence.

Meryl Streep also makes an appearance as the short-tempered and domineering Aunt March, easily stealing her scenes in the trailer. We’re in for a definite treat here, with Streep bringing wit and charming elegance to the role of the elderly matron, whose callous exterior hides a gentle heart.

The main takeaway from this trailer is that this Little Women is awards-season gold: a close, intimate study of the era’s views on gender, and the slowly blossoming feminist movement, witnessed through the eyes of four independent and strong-willed heroines. I won’t spoil the story for anyone new to this, but I can assure you it’s perfect material for Christmas: it has heart, personality, and plenty of tearjerking moments, and there’s a strong emphasis on family.

And if you’re not into historical fiction, don’t fear: the first trailer for Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding’s holiday rom-com, Last Christmas, apparently drops tonight, so I’ll probably review that too.

Trailer Rating: 10/10