“Andor” Season 1 – An Amazing Show Exploring Revolutions

“Andor” is easily the best “Star Wars” story since “The Empire Strikes Back.” This is a story that gives complex characters, an ensemble cast and explores fascism and oppression and how rebellions are formed. The show is beautiful with lots of on location filming rather than using the Volume and the soundtrack is fantastic. If you are looking for a high stakes story with consequences this is a show that I highly recommend and I can’t wait to see where they take season 2 as they accomplished so much this season.

The series was created by Tony Gilroy.

Five years before the events of “Rogue One” Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) returns home to Ferrix as he finds himself hunted by the Pre-Mor Authority for killing two of their officers on Morlana One.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Nicholas Britell’s soundtrack has a “Blade Runner” feel to it which is perfect for this show that is full of espionage and spies as Imperial agents hunt rebels and rebels fight against the Empire. The music captures the tension of it all so well.

The Action – The action in this is amazing with rebels inflirtrating an Imperial Armory, a prison rebellion and a rebellion on Ferrix as well as some great action in space with Luthen Rael when he faces off against an Imperial Cruiser. This is some of the best action to come out of “Star Wars” and part of why it works it has consequence and the characters who are in the action you get to know.

The Threat of the Empire – This is the most threatening the Empire has felt in a long time in anything “Star Wars” related. It helps that they aren’t the first level of oppression either as Pre-Mo Authority and corporations are what they use first to oppress planets and not Imperial stormtroopers. It shows just how complex and dangerous the Imperial machine is and just how how much the rebellion is up against.

The Characters – The characters are great in this and dynamic. There are some I’ll be giving individual exploration of below but for ones I don’t mention below there are Brasso and Bix who are Cassian’s friends with Brasso being one of the first to start the rebellion on Ferrix and Bix being captured by Imperials and later freed by Cassian at the end when the Imperials are hunting him in the finale. There is also Cassian’s adoptive mother Maarva who’s funeral starts the rebellion on Ferrix and his adoptive father Clem who was killed by Imperials when they first arrived on Ferrix earlier in Andor’s life. We also get to know members of Vel’s rebel group who infiltrate the armory and the prisoners at Cassian’s table. This is a character rich drama and to go into all of them would turn this blog post into a book. There is also Syril Karn who is obsessed with catching Cassian for killing the two Pre-Mo Security agents and whose failure to capture him leads to him losing his job though he continues to help Dedra Meero and hasn’t given up his obsession with capturing Cassian. There is also Cinta Caz who is girlfriend to the rebel leader Vel Sartha and fully devoted to the rebel cause.

Dedra Meero – Dedra Meero is an Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) officer and one who sees the big picture of how the rebellion is stealing from the Empire and organizing. She is a huge threat and is up against the Imperial bureaucracy that doesn’t want to change. Denise Gough does a great job and she is a fantastic villain who I’m curious about where her story goes next given on her watch Ferrix rebelled and Cassian freed Bix from her.

B2EMO – B2EMO is Maarva’s droid who has a stutter. He is the sweetest and nervous droid who just wants to be around people. I’m glad he escapes Ferrix at the end as him sharing Maarva’s final speech at her funeral to the city is what sparks the rebellion on Ferrix.

Saw Gerrera – Forest Whitaker is amazing as Saw Gerrera and what we see here with him actually leading his group known as the Partisans is great as we see he doesn’t trust anyone but is all in in fighting the Empire. I hope Cassian can meet him at some point as I think it’d be a fascinating conversation.

Mon Mothma – Mon Mothma’s arc in this is trying to use her family fortune to fund the rebellion. She keeps running into trouble as the Empire is auditing her funds. She us cousin to one of the rebel leaders Vel Sartha. In this we see how trapped Mon Mothma feels and how her arranged marriage with her husband is toxic given he is at the very least an Imperial sympathizer. In this we see the lengths she is willing to go to support the rebellion and I’m curious if next season we will see when she has to leave the Imperial Senate and because a threat to the Empire beyond her protesting their atrocities on the senate floor.

Vel Sartha – Vel Sartha is a great character. She is the leader of the group that steals the Imperial payroll in a heist and is later an assassin for Luthen Rael and hunting Cassian. She is the one calling out Mon Mothma the most but is also her ally as she knows what Mon Mothma is going through. She was one of my favorite characters in this and Faye Marsay did a good job in the role.

Kino Loy – Andy Serkis is wonderful as Kino Loy. A prisoner on the Imperial Prison leading one of the Floors until he realizes thanks to Cassian that there is no escape so fully embraces leading the prison revolt against the Empire. His arc is powerful and I hope we potentially see him again. He went from cruel and all business to compassionate and a leader.

Cassian Andor – Much like Kino Loy, Cassian Andor starts out as a selfish thief and mercenary who slowly comes around to becoming a major fighter against the rebellion after he works with Vel’s group and his time in an Imperial prison where he helped lead the revolt and escape. In the end he frees his friend Bix and outsmarts Luthen to the point where he offers Luthen the chance to kill him or let him join the rebellion and of course Luthen lets him join. His character is so much more dynamic now and we learn he was a Kenari, a native on a planet whose people were destroyed by the Empire after an Imperial mining accident.

Luthen Rael – Stellan Skarsgard’s Luthen Rael is probably one of my favorite characters in “Star Wars” at this point. This is a guy who gave his entire life to fight the Empire so has no friends or connections but is using all his contacts and resources to fight the tyrannical regime. I hope we get more of his backstory next season as he is a collector of ancient artifacts so I’m curious what brought him into that line of work and when he started making contacts to form the rebellion against the Empire.

The Empire’s Destruction of Indigenous Peoples – A major thing that Empire’s and fascist regimes do is destroy indigenous communities. In “Andor” we see this in their genocide of the Kenari, their planned genocide of the Aldhani for an airbase and I suspect we’ll see the destruction of the people of Ferrix next season.

An Education in Revolution – The main arc of the show is the education of Cassian Andor to become an anti-fascist. He starts out as a selfish thief and mercenary and changes over the course of the show after experiencing the Empire’s oppression first hand and in the words of his adoptive mother in her funeral speech and from the manifesto written by the rebel Nemik. In it he learns that every act of resistance matters and pushes against oppression. It is powerful and I bet we will see this education furthered next season.

I highly recommend “Andor.” This is an amazing show is an ensemble character drama, a political thriller and more. I can’t wait to see what season 2 brings as Tony Gilroy clearly knows what he is doing. This is some of the best writing and direction to come out of “Star Wars” in a long time and I hope we see stories of this level of quality in the future. If you are a “Star Wars” fan you should definitely check this show out.

Final Score: 10 / 10

The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992): The Best Christmas Film and a Classic

A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite stories by Charles Dickens and this is by far the best adaptation I have watched of the story. This is a story that blends muppets and human actors so well and Michael Caine gives the performance as the best version of Ebenezer Scrooge put to screen. If you are a fan of the Muppets or the original story by Charles Dickens this is a version I highly recommend and is one of my favorite Christmas films.

The film was directed by Brian Henson and written by Jerry Juhl and adapted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

On Christmas Eve Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Rizzo tell the story of the cruel Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – Victorian England with Muppets is great. The Muppets are mixed in with the human characters so well and all the actors do a great job so all the interactions feel natural and the world feels lived in. It helps that the sets are so well done and direction brings the entire city to life.

The Soundtrack – Miles Goodman’s soundtrack has a lot of catchy songs. The best are probably “Scrooge,” “One More Sleep Till Christmas” and “It Feels Like Christmas.” Michael Caine has a good voice as do all the Muppet voice actors. This is such a fun soundtrack and it compliments the story so well.

The Ghosts – The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are handled so well. Past is good at showing Scrooge all his regrets and unlived life Present is the best with a Santa Claus like joy he brings to everyone around him and who is the most compassionate to Scrooge while the Grim Reaper like Future is blunt and haunting.

Gonzo / Charles Dickens and Rizzo – Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Rizzo are a great comedic duo in this with Gonzo loving all the adventure and not minding getting hurt with Rizzo is blunt and upfront about only being around for the food. They have the best comedic moments in the film.

Kermit / Bob Cratchit – Kermit as Bob Cratchit is the compassion in the story from the start and it is thanks to his advocacy that he and his co-workers get Christmas Day off. Through it all we see how he is a great father and he is a big inspiration for Scrooge’s change to becoming a good man.

Ebenezer Scrooge – Michael Caine is amazing as Scrooge. He captures his stinginess and cruelty so well as well as the regret from all the life he didn’t live and his choosing to change once he realizes how much everyone hates him and would celebrate his death. This is by far the best adaptation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The Cons:

Length of Some Songs – Some of the songs go on for a little long and I can see why the theatrical version of the film cut the song “When Love is Gone.” This isn’t too much of a problem but it is noticeable as most of the songs do a good job of keeping the flow of the film.

This is one of my favorite Christmas films and favorite films overall. Michael Caine’s performance is amazing and the Muppets bring the story to life so well. If you are a fan of the Muppets or A Christmas Carol I highly recommend checking out this film if you haven’t already.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A favorite film.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022) – A Satire of the Musician Biopic That is Enjoyable but Unfocused

“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is a story that arose out of a Funny or Die skit and in the weaker parts of the story it still feels like a skit, especially in the moments of cheap CGI and some of the places the plot goes in the second half of the film. This is still an entertaining film though and I like how it does satire the musician biopic. In those moments it is strongest and this is worth checking out if you are looking for an entertaining satire. Very little of this film follows “Weird Al’s” actual life so know that going in. This film is more of a vehicle to satire the musician biopic with “Weird Al” as the way to do so.

The film was directed by Eric Appel who co-wrote the film with “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Explores the life of “Weird Al” Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) and his rise to fame.

The Pros:

The Cameos – There are a lot of cameos in this. From Josh Groban, Jack Black, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patton Oswalt and countless others. A lot of them are clearly having fun in their small supporting roles as well. “Weird Al” Yankovic also appears as a music producer too who eventually takes on “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Madonna – Evan Rachel Wood is great as Madonna who is “Weird Al’s” first love who makes him a drunk and is using him to make her career more popular. He doesn’t realize this is the case until she wants to take over Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel though after “Weird Al” kills him. She clearly had a lot of fun in the role as the film’s main antagonist.

“Weird Al’s” Band – “Weird Al’s” 3 roommates end up becoming his band and are the good influence in his life outside of Dr. Demento. They are all partiers but their heart is in the right place and they are clearly passionate about the music. They are based off “Weird Al’s” actual band members.

Dr. Demento – Rainn Wilson does a wonderful job as Dr. Demento who is “Weird Al’s” first mentor and supporter in his music career. He is great as the mentor who is a bit of a clown but also whose heart is in the right place. I liked his relationship with “Weird Al” and in real life did help “Weird Al” become famous.

“Weird Al” Yankovic – Daniel Radcliffe is great as “Weird Al” as he captures how outcast this version of “Weird Al” feels and has to play the role of famous celebrity, drunkard and action hero. He does it all so well and makes the places where “Weird Al” is over the course of the film feel real.

Satirizing of the Musician Biopic Tropes – You have “Weird Al’s” rise in a day from a song played on the radio, his father disproving of music and being hard on him, him becoming super famous and become a drunk and later his death during an award show as well as a near death experience before a concert thrown in for good measure. All the aspects of the story that satire the music biopic work really well.

The Cons:

Lip Syncing – Whenever Radcliffe’s “Weird Al” sings they just dub over the real “Weird Al” singing and it just adds a level of falseness to the performance, which kind of comes with the nature of lip-syncing.

Cheap CGI – The CGI in this is really bad. At one point “Weird Al” is having an acid trip and the affects behind him are terrible and look like early 2000s graphics. This may have been purposeful but the cheapness took me out of the film.

An Unfocused Script – This is a script that needed another edit as “Weird Al’s” fake drunken phase and falling out with his band members only lasts for a moment before we get an action flick with “Weird Al” rescuing Madonna from Pablo Escobar. The ending also goes on a little too long before “Weird Al’s” fake assassination at an award’s show. Really the whole Palbo Escobar plot could have been replaced with something better. We also have Madonna who called the hit on “Weird Al” putting a rose on his grave and his zombie arm reaching out adding even more lack of focus to everything and causing the film to feel at times like an overlong SNL or Funny or Die skit.

This is a script that needed another edit to work as the second half is really unfocused when “Wierd Al” is in his drunken phase and suddenly an assassin in Colombia. Because of this the film could feel at times like an overlong Funny or Die skit in the weaker moments of the script, which was a shame as it was nearly a solid satire given all the beats it follows from films like “Rocketman,” “Walk the Line,” etc. Still if you are looking for an entertaining film this is one I recommend.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

Top 3 Favorite Sitcoms

When it comes to comedy in general I am pretty picky. This is very much the case when it comes to television comedies and sitcoms. I never got into either version of “The Office” as I found the characters often too cruel, especially Michael. I don’t like “Big Bang Theory” and never got into the classic sitcoms of the 90s. When it comes to comedy I like it to be intelligent and hopefully deep and for their to be character arcs. Often times those aren’t I think what bring people to comedies and sitcoms as it is the character samenenss that is a draw. For this reason I am only doing a Top 3 rather than a Top 5 Favorite Sitcoms. In my lists I’ll get into the pros and cons of each show and my favorite characters on each show. I’m curious what you are too.

Honorable mention to “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” which I enjoy but wasn’t a good enough show to make the Top 3.

So without further ado, here are my Top 3 Favorite Sitcoms.

3rd) Community

Created by Dan Harmon

The premise of a group of characters pulled together as being part of a study group at a Community College is compelling. Dan Harmon’s “Community” is a sitcom that had a really strong first 3 seasons and a clear drop off after more of the cast left like Danny Glover and when Harmon was gone for a season before returning for season 5. The show did get strength by exploring side characters like Dean Pelton and Jonathan Banks’s Buzz Hickey. This is a show that gets meta with alternate dimensions and self-references and has really strong episodes contrasted with really bad. The incorporating of different filming techniques is great too with a documentary style filmed episodes, action film episodes with the paintball episodes. My favorite episodes tend to be the ones where Abed is the focus in some way. The most annoying characters are Pierce Hawthorne and Ben Chang but even they are given some good character moments throughout the show. There isn’t a consistent quality across all 5 seasons but the show is still compelling and even the later seasons do have good episodes, even if the heights of the earlier seasons are never reached.

Favorite characters: Troy Barnes, Abed Nadir and Annie Edison.

2nd) Parks and Recreation

Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur

Greg Daniels and Michael Shur’s “Parks and Recreation” is a consistently good show. This is a show that takes the comedy of the work environment and adds a bunch of character personalities who clash in different and interesting ways. The characters also have arcs and change and grow over time. My favorite episodes are any Ron Swanson, April Ludgate or Andy Dwyer episodes as Ron is such a contrast to all of those around them and April and Andy go through a lot of growth while still keeping their interesting personalities. Leslie Knope also brings a great focus to the show as she usually has a clear goal in individual episodes and over season arcs. Her hyper focus leads to great chemistry with the rest of the cast. The only annoying character is Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford and he is a net negative for most of the episodes he’s in because of how sleezy his character is.

Favorite characters: April Ludgate, Ron Swanson and Andy Dwyer.

1st) The Good Place

Created by Michael Schur

Michael Schur returns to this list with the number 1 spot with “The Good Place.” “The Good Place” is a show that explores the meaning of life and philosophy and does so through interesting situations and characters. There aren’t any characters in this I find annoying and I think out of all the shows on this list, this one has the best arcs for both for the story overall and all the characters within the story. Like the other sitcoms this is a show with contrasting personalities and the main cast of Chidi Anagonye, Eleanor Shellstrop,Tahani Al-Jamil and Jason Mendoza are all distinctly flawed but grow and develop as people. Michael and Janet are also great too and play off the main cast really well. “The Good Place” being first place wasn’t even close given how deep and compelling the story is.

Favorite characters: Tahani Al-Jamil, Chidi Anagonye and Michael.

Curious to hear what your favorite sitcoms are too and the reasons why. I’m not much of a sitcom fan so I’m curious what draws you to them and which ones are your favorite.

Justice League Unlimited – Season 1, Episode 26 – “Epilogue” – The Legacy of Batman and Remembering Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy was one of the greatest Batman / Bruce Wayne’s there ever was. He voiced the character through “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” and “Batman Beyond.” In all of them he illustrated what made his Batman so memorable as he was intelligent, strategic and most importantly compassionate, even if he was bad at showing it to those closest to him. This review is to honor Kevin Conroy and the amazing man he was as this episode explores Batman and the legacy he created and left behind.

“Epilogue” was directed by Dan Riba with teleplay by Dwayne McDuffie and story by Dwayne McDuffie and Bruce Timm.

31 year old Terry McGinnis breaks into Amanda Waller’s home to learn the secrets of his past as he debates whether he should continue being Batman.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Bruce Timm’s animation is the best it has ever been in this with the colors making the fight sequences and characters stand out while still keeping the “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Batman Beyond” Noir feel. The animation keeps the tone of the peace from one of conflict and ending in peace.

The Action – There is a lot of good action in this, from the imagined sequence of the future Justice League Unlimited of Warhawk, Aquagirl and a Green Lantern fighting the Antiquity Collective of “Batman Beyond” rogues from Inque, Shriek and Stalker to the Justice League of Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Stargirl and Batman fighting the Royal Flush Gang to Terry McGinnis breaking into Amanda Waller’s house and facing off against the guards. The action is all smooth and the rogue and hero powers are well displayed.

The Justice Leagues – We see the future Justice League Unlimited and how core Terry McGinnis’s Batman is to there team (most of the rogues they face are his) and the Justice League of the past with Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Stargirl and Bruce Wayne’s Batman. It gives the episode a sense of history and gives an idea of all that has happened in 65 years and in the case of Terry’s imagination a fight that could easily happen in the present.

Amanda Waller – CCH Pounder Amanda Waller’s is iconic. In this she is a woman who is aware of her ruthless past and mistakes but has learned and grown as she has gone from Batman’s enemy to someone who respects him and thinks the world needs a Batman. She is the one gave Terry McGinnis the Bruce Wayne DNA via nano-machines but when she uses the Phantasm to kill Terry’s parents she refuses and in the end Amanda realizes she was wrong and that murder should never be a part of honoring Bruce Wayne and Batman. She is reflective in this and you can see how much she’s grown as she is the one who helps Terry make peace with Bruce and realize how much he cares for him when she tells a story of Bruce’s compassion and who he is.

Terry McGinnis – Terry McGinnis is conflicted this episode as he learns that he has Bruce Wayne’s DNA in him and is debating whether to give up being Batman as he wonders if his life was ever his choice. Luckily talking to Amanda Waller and learning the truth helps him learn it his choice and Bruce didn’t create him. It is a good arc as he realizes he wants to be part of the Batman legacy but also doesn’t have to become the loner Bruce Wayne became as he is ready to propose to his long time girlfriend Dana at the end as he feels confidence again in who he is as both Batman and as Terry.

The History and Legacy of Bruce Wayne / Batman – This episode is all about Bruce Wayne’s legacy as in the imagined fight with Bruce that Terry has we see the Batman Family costumes in the cave and his essential part of the Justice League and the fact that Amanda Waller trusted him enough to deal with the problem she created by abusing Ace who had created the latest Royal Flush Gang with her psychic powers and was dying. Batman’s compassion was on display and we see him spend Ace’s last moments with her so she isn’t facing death alone. It is a powerful scene and shows just how iconic Kevin Conroy’s compassionate Batman is. Compassion that we see later when he is talking to Terry and made soup for him. Even in his old age Bruce hasn’t lost his awareness and compassion that made his Bruce Wayne and Batman timeless.

This episode was all about legacy and choice and how Bruce Wayne and Batman illustrated that as in the end he helped Amanda Waller become a better person as well as Terry McGinnis as Terry grew into the role of Batman because of Bruce Wayne’s mentorship and in the end was able to not repeat Batman’s loneliness as he is building a life with Dana. This episode is perfect as it accomplishes it’s themes and Terry’s character arc so well as well as us getting to know Amanda Waller and Kevin Conroy’s amazing Bruce Wayne further. R.I.P. Kevin Conroy and thank you for the timeless character you made.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Soulstone Survivors – An Enjoyable Rogue-like That Needs Lore and More Mission Types

“Soulstone Survivors” is a simple but fun rogue-like game. You start out with a single hero and as you beat more maps and challenges unlock more characters, weapons and runes that you can use to improve your characters within the game. This game does provide a fun challenge if you like rogue-likes with the biggest disadvantage being enemy waves are the same in what appears and even though the Void Lord bosses appear in a different order, you are always fighting 1 of the 5 and eventually all 5 to win the match. This and the lack of lore are what keep it from being good, but I’d still recommend it as this game has a very strong base gameplay and the different characters are fun.

The game was published and developed by Game Smithing Limited.

Your hero must defeat enemies and Void Lords.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Gameplay – The base gameplay is fun and works. Your character starts out with a single type of attack and picks up more as they pick up gems from killed enemies and bosses. This leads to trying to find the best combination for taking down the larger and more difficult hordes of enemies as you progress through the Void Lords on the different maps.

Curses – Curses are a fun and unique challenge that also offer more rewards. Usually it is adding random dangers to the map or adding more enemy types or making the enemy types stronger. The curses go up to Tier 7 and each level is unlocked after you beat the map with all the curses of that level.

The Character Options – There are a lot of character options and it is easily one of the strongest draws of the game as each of them has a unique challenge to unlock them like 100% all the maps or defeating 50 or 100 Void Lords. You start out as the Barbarian and also unlock other ranged classes like the Sentinel or Pyromancer and other melee classes like the Spellsword or Paladin as examples. There are many others too but these are the ones you can unlock early on.

Improving the Characters – You level up all your base characters with gems but you can also improve characters with Runes you earn by reaching achievements and by creating a secondary weapon, which you can do when your character reaches level 10. You need different resources from the different maps so it creates a good incentive for returning to maps you have done before to make the secondary weapons for the characters that have them, which is also an achievement.

The Achievement System – You get achievements for leveling up characters, making weapons, completing maps, etc. It is good as it keeps you invested in the game and shows just how far you can go within the game as you level up your characters and defeat the different Tiers of curses on the 5 different maps.

The Cons:

Sameness of Enemies and Bosses – The enemy waves you fight are the same on all the maps as are the Void Lords. You fight the same enemies and same bosses no matter the environment and that is a shame as it would be cool if each map had unique enemies with spells that arose out of that environment and add a bit more unpredictability to the game.

Lack of Variety in Missions – Besides curses which make maps more challenging you are still just fighting on the same 5 maps against the same 5 Void Lords. This is a shame as there are no unique things to do on the maps. The curses just make things more challenging but don’t add more for you to do.

Lack of Lore – What are the Void Lords? What is a Paladin, Barbarian, etc in the context of this world? There isn’t any lore in this game when that would do a lot to enrich it. Right now it is a game full of archetypes when it could become original and in that process become good or great.

This is a fun game that with a bit more variety to missions, enemies and some added lore to the places you are fighting and your character would make the game good. I enjoy this game a lot and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of fantasy rogue-like games. I’m curious to see what these developers make next as they have the core gameplay down extremely well.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

“Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” Season 1 – The Tragic Life of a Cyberpunk

“Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is a great videogame adaptation. This show captures the world of Night City and “Cyberpunk 2077” so well and the life of a Cyberpunk and just how difficult it is for them in their fight against the Corporations and the limited choices they face. If you are a fan of the Cyberpunk genre I highly recommend this show as it has a compelling animation, action, characters and world. I listened to the Japanese dub.

The show was created by Rafal Jaki and Mike Pondsmith and animated by Studio Trigger and based off the videogame “Cyberpunk 2077” which was based off the Cyberpunk universe created by Mike Pondsmith.

After a Cyberpunk attack on the highway ends up leading to his mother’s death, David Martinez (Kenn) finds himself pulled into the world of the Cyberpunks and underground of Night City to survive.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Opening Song – Franz Ferdinand’s “This Fire” is a fantastic song. It brings the energy and punk feel of the world to life and captures the main character of David really well too in both what he does and the Corporations and systems he is up against.

The World – Cyberpunk worlds are depressing and Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk is no different but as this is a world with stakes for everyone in it. You have Araska and Militech as the large corporations who rule. Fixers hiring Cyberpunks, also called Edgerunners as mercenaries in their corporate espionage missions and we have a society where all the money is with the Corpos and the Cyberpunks money largely goes to their mechanization and survival for future missions for the Fixers. I would definitely play Pondsmith’s RPG someday based off how fascinating the world of the show and game are.

The Animation – This is the best work I’ve seen from Studio Trigger. The animation pops and is so colorful even with the darkness that overshadows so much of the environment of Night City. There are also very few still scenes so there is a lot of movement that lends to the great action in the show.

The Action – The action is great in this. There are a lot of creative fights with Cyberpunks and their built in tech. facing off against corporate soldiers and other Cyberpunks. The fights in this always have consequences too. A lot of characters die in this show and it usually comes out of the fights from missions or the cost of Night City on the psyche of the characters.

The Cyberpunks – This is the story of the Cyberpunks and the main crew we follow is Maine’s before his cyberpsychosis takes over and later David, when he takes over the team after Maine is killed. Supporting members are siblings Rebecca and Pilar, Dorio who is Maine’s girlfriend. Kiwi the main hacker and David is the driver and Lucy is the hacker and thief. Pilar is later killed by a person in cyberpsychosis, Lucy leaves, Falco becomes the new driver and Maine and Dorio die when Maine’s cyberpsychosis takes over. I’ll go into Maine, David and Lucy below as I think they are the most complex of the Cyberpunks we meet.

Maine – Maine is the one whose Sandevistan spine that David installed was meant for him from David’s mother. Knowing this he gives David a chance to prove himself on the job and becomes David’s surrogate Dad. He is a stand-up guy with even splits of the jobs which makes his cyberpsychosis taking over and leading to his death all the more tragic. He was a memorable character who knew how to lead.

David – David is the character who works to fulfill the dreams of others. He works as a Cyberpunk and become succussful to honor his mother and her death, he honors Maine by taking over the team and his last act is to save Lucy from Araska and Faraday and with his money fulfill her dream of leaving to the moon. He is a tragic character as he is filled with empathy, anger and regret and we see how he reflects on his own coming cyberpsychosis and life he’d chosen. But he still goes out fighting.

Lucy – Lucy was an orphan used by Araska to jump into the old net until her and the other orphans escaped and she was likely the only one to survive. She later joined Maine’s team via Kiwi and falls in love with David. Her arc is later after Maine’s cyberpsychosis and her jumping into the mind of an Araska executive to protect David from Araska using David to test their spine. It still happens and Faraday captures her but by helping David she is able to escape with Falco and returns to the moon with her memory of the first holo-date on the moon she shared with David.

The Tragedy of the Cyberpunks and Night City – In Night City if you rise the corporate ladder like Faraday the corporations will turn on you. If you are a Cyberpunk you’ll die on a mission from fighting the Corporations, other Cyberpunks or from going crazy from Cyberpsychosis. The only way to escape the tragedy of the life is to leave which is the path Lucy takes going to the moon. Night City is traps people in it’s systems of greed and exploitation that destroys them is a constant theme of the Cyberpunk genre and definitely of this show.

The Ending – The ending is bittersweet but good. Lucy finally gets to the moon with the money from the missions and her and Falco escape Adam Smasher due to David’s sacrifice. I’m glad she escaped and someone got a happy ending as she’d dreamed about the moon all her life and finally got that wish as her last scene is remembering when she showed David her holo recreation of living the moon.

The Cons:

Kiwi – Kiwi is the main hacker for Maine and later David’s team and later betrays David and Lucy for corporate immunity. She doesn’t trust anyone but we never learn why. She is one of the most underwritten characters, which is a shame as she is Lucy’s mentor and somewhat of David’s mentor as well at one point. In the end Faraday betrays her and she puts a tracker on his vehicle leading to his eventual death.

Faraday – Faraday has a cool look with 3 eyes on one side of his face but all he is is greed. There is no complication to his ambition and goals and he just wants to climb the corporate ladder. I wish Lucy and David had a better antagonist as he could have been compelling if he’d been giving any depth or complexity. All he does is betray people and talk about all the money he’ll earn rising the corporate ladder.

If you are interested in a fascinating Cyberpunk world I recommend checking out this one. The show was renewed for another season so I’m curious to see what group of Cyberpunks we’ll be following next as the story potential within this world is so rich. This was a story with so much tragedy that still ended with hope and I think there are a great variety of stories that can be created within this world.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Ran (1985): When Adaptation is Better Than the Source Material

“Ran” is better than King Lear. This film takes the original plot of the play but has so much more to say as Akira Kurosawa meditates on the horrors of war and gives many of the characters who were one-dimensional in the play, depth. Akira Kurosawa is one of my favorite directors and this is one of my favorite films. If you are a fan of the play King Lear or Kurosawa’s work I highly recommend checking out this film as not only is the story great but the cinematography and soundtrack elevate the already great elements of this film.

The film was directed by Akira Kurosawa who co-wrote the film with Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide and adapted from William Shakespeare’s King Lear.

The elderly leader of the Ichimonji clan Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) decides to divide his lands between his sons Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) making Taro the leader of the Ichimonji. He soon finds plots against him though as he accepts his new role.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this. The use of color that the different sons and clans wear makes battles clear and also adds a contrast to the desolate environments destroyed by current and past wars. Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda and Asakazu Nakai did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Toru Takemitsu’s score elevates the events of the film so well. With piercing flutes and meditative moments the soundtrack puts in the heads of the characters and the struggles they are facing. This is a soundtrack I would listen to again for writing.

The Politics of the Realm – The main politics of the film is layered and fascinating. You have rival kingdoms in Ayabe Seiji and Fujimaki Nobuhiro as well as the Kingdoms Lord Ichimonji conquered in the survivors of Lady Sue and her brother Tsurumaru from one kingdom and Lady Kaede of another. The history of the Kingdom is in the characters and their stories and they tell those stories as it motivates their actions.

The Characters – The characters are great in this. Some like Taro and Jiro who are the Goneril and Regan equivalent are still weak like in the play but are more compelling in this as they are given more motives than King Lear’s daughters had. The Kent equivalent of Tango is basically the same, the only difference is he shows himself to Hidetora rather than lie and he survives the film. I’ll go into detail on some of what I liked about the characters below and the added layers this film gave them from their adapted counterparts.

Taro and Jiro – Taro is motivated by how inadequate he feels in his father’s shadow and Lady Saede and his general Kurogane. Neither have honor and it is their inadequacy that motivates their actions. They are different enough to be distinct and better than Goneril and Regan.

Saburo – Saburo is essentially the same as Cordelia as they both always loved their father. The difference here is Saburo is a lot more openly disrespectful and blunt and that adds a nice contrast to the man we meet at the end who has nothing but kindness and forgiveness for his father, making his tragic death all the more poignant.

Lady Sue and Tsurumaru – Lady Sue is Jiro’s wife and a devoted Buddhist. She always treats Hidetora with kindness and she is her brother’s caregiver as Hidetora took out his eyes so he lives alone. Tsurumaru isn’t able to forgive Hidetora for all he’s done and his music causes Hidetora to leave his home. In the end Tsurumaru survives Jiro’s assassins versus Lady Sue who is sadly killed in Lady Kaede’s quest to bring down any connection to the Ichimonji clan.

General Kurogane – General Kurogane is an ambitious general who first motivates Jiro to take power as he sees Taro as someone who could be tricked easily. He is the one who kills Taro when their combined forces are fighting Lord Hidetora and his men at the Third Castle. He is the one who sees the danger in Lady Saede and uses her order to kill Lady Sue to call out how dangerous she is and his belief that she will bring down the Ichimonji clan. He is the one to kill her after she reveals that was her plot all along. Hisashi Igawa did a great job.

Kyoami – Kyoami is the Fool of the film and is the one who is always blunt and honest with Hidetora and can get away with it as the Fool. I’m glad that he survives the entire film too as we he mentions being Hidetora’s primary caregiver as he’s grown old and that has been rough. He almost leaves at one point too but comes back to care showing how much he cares for Hidetora and he is the one who helps Saburo and Hidetora finally reunite. The singer Peter was really good in this role.

Lady Kaede – Lady Kaede is the last of her clan and her entire motive is revenge against the Ichimonji for destroying her family. This is done really well too as we see her being upfront about her anger to both Taro and Jiro as Hidetora is going mad and because of this it makes sense she didn’t care for either of them. Her entire motive was to get revenge for her dead family and she succeeds as in the end all the Ichimonji’s are dead. She is key to Kurosawa’s theme of the dangers of war and the never-ending cycle of revenge. Mieko Harada did a fantastic job.

Lord Hidetora Ichimonji – Tatsuya Nakadai was great in the role as the elderly Lord who realizes his mistake in giving up power and has to face his regrets through the film. From his facing of Lady Kaede, Lady Sue and Tsurumaru to his eventual understanding and peace with this son Saburo. Like the original play it is still a tragedy as he dies after Saburo after gaining his sanity again when all he had before was Kyoami and Tango after the betrayal by his sons who kicked him out of their castles. This is easily one of the best adaptations of the character of King Lear.

The Meditation on the Cost of War – Lady Saede’s whole motive is to destroy the Ichimonji clan and she succeeds. Lady Sue and her brother and their only survivors and their entire life is a mourning with Lady Sue and her prayers and Tsurumaru and his music. We also see Lord Hidetora’s regret from all his actions from it and how the cycle of violence continues with the death of all his sons and the rival lords waiting to conquer Ichimonji territory.

The Cons:

Some Lack of Clarity Near Ending – So Jiro and all his men die but we don’t really see it happening. We just assume that they are defeated by Saburo’s allies. A little more time to show how the battle actually ended would have made the film perfect as the film was great at detail up to this point.

“Ran” is a near perfect film that elevates the original source material in almost every way. It has so much more to say about the world and characters and in doing so adds depth to this already interesting story. All this is of course helped along by the amazing cinematography and soundtrack. This is a favorite film and one I highly recommend you check out.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

King Lear (2008): Doesn’t Quite Reach Beyond the Stage

King Lear is a Shakespeare play that I haven’t read since High School, and as far as his tragedies go, it is good but is kept from being great in how some of the characters are written. These flaws, especially in the sisters who use King Lear is most obvious in this television film that has the same cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2007 performance. If you are a fan of Shakespeare and his tragedies like I am, you will find a lot to like here. This is a good adaptation, it just could have been more in how certain characters were written and adapted and the overall presentation.

The film was directed by Trevor Nunn and is William Shakespeare’s King Lear.

In preparation for the future in his old age, King Lear of Britain (Ian McKellan) divides his kingdom among his two daughters Goneril (Frances Barber) and Regan (Monica Dolan) and as plots are afoot around him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Court – The court in the film is presented in a magnificent way. We have great tables and meetings and everything feels grand in with the decisions being made. We also see the different political factions in play which eventually leads to war between Albany and Cornwall. Sadly the presentation of the scenes in the countryside aren’t as memorable showing the limitations of the set.

The Fool – Sylvester McCoy is fantastic as the fool and the only one who can speak honestly and bluntly to King Lear as King Lear is going mad. He is clearly King Lear’s only friend after the King exiles Kent and it is tragic when he dies as his presence illuminated scenes and was one of the few times you’d see King Lear smile. Sylvester McCoy brings a coyness and warmth to the Fool that is needed for how cold King Lear is earlier on as he is the only one can get the King to see.

Cordelia – Romola Garai plays Cordelia. The only honest daughter of King Lear who doesn’t flatter him for power and is disowned because of it. In the end she does reconcile with her father after King Lear realizes how his other daughters used him and see him as a fool. She is sadly killed by Edmund’s assassin though.

King Lear – Ian McKellan is amazing as King Lear. He plays a man who is losing his mind so well and the tragedy of it all as he realizes his mistakes in dividing his land against those only ruled by greed and the exiling of his friend Kent and loyal daughter Cordelia. His arc is learning of his mistakes and mourning all he’s lost as all his daughters end up dead and he himself finally dies mourning the lives lost and life he lived. McKellan brings weight to the performance and you feel him in all his struggles that he goes through.

The Cons:

Scale – You have kingdoms going to war but you never feel the scale of the battle. This is where the medium of television could have been used to a greater degree and the filming of battle scenes. Sadly we don’t get this though and it is largely just the aftermath we see. Because of this all the kingdoms feel small which hurts how large the narrative is trying to be.

Edmund and Edgar – The sons of the Earl of Gloucester are pretty one-dimensional as well. Edgar is naive before Edmund tries to usurp him and Edgar goes into hiding as a mad man before challenging and defeating his brother, leading to their eventual reconciliation. Edmund uses both Goneril and Regan and has feelings for neither and is just a sociopath until he somehow finds a conscience at the end of his life. Philip Winchester is memorable in the role of Edmund at least and he does bring charisma to his monologues.

Goneril and Regan – The two bad sisters who are lusting after Edmund are almost exactly the same in personality, look and temperament. There is nothing to separate them or make them unique and they are just one-dimensional villains. The only slight difference I can think is Goneril is more ruthless but that is it. Their motivations are never really explored in a meaningful way. Both performances were okay but not memorable.

The Ending – After King Lear’s death there isn’t an afterword or anything about who will now rule Britain. Given everything that just happened this struck me as an important detail that could have been easily added, even if it was just words after the scene goes black.

This was an enjoyable adaptation of King Lear that would have been strengthened in adding to the characters who are underwritten and having a better set for the scenes set outside in the countryside. Those changes would have made the story great as they would have made the world feel more real and helped develop the underdeveloped characters of the play.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10

“Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Season 1 – The Strengths and Weakness in Adaptation From an Outline

“Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” has been a controversial adaptation and within adaptation it has quite a few strengths and weaknesses. It excels in the look of the world and in certain characters but also fails in the missing details and flat characters. Overall I did enjoy it though and I say this as a fan of the The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. I also think Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy of films is one of my favorite film trilogies of all time. Amazon’s show so far is better than Jackson’s “Hobbit” films but isn’t nearly as good as his “Lord of the Rings” but unlike those this was adapted from works that J.R.R. Tolkien never published in life so there are a lot of details to fill in which leaves a lot of freedom within adaptation which sometimes works and doesn’t work. It is from this place that I’d recommend it if you go in knowing it is fan fiction of an outline of the work J.R.R. Tolkien himself never felt comfortable publishing and what exists in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings.

The series was created by J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay.

After the defeat of the Dark Lord Morgoth peace has come to Middle-earth as Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) seeks Sauron who as gone missing as strange events begin to unfold.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this show and captures the beauty of Middle-earth so well. It helps that so much is filmed in live environments rather than green screens and it does so much to enrich the story being told.

The Soundtrack – Howard Shore composed the soundtrack and Bear McCreary composed the soundtrack and both of them did an amazing job. The show has an epic feel of it that captures the legend of the characters and world as well as the different peoples like Elves, Dwarves, Humans, Harfoots and Orcs.

The Civilizations of Middle-earth – The civilizations of Middle-earth are one of the strongest parts of this show as we get to see how they work and the tension within them. It is within this tension that creates some of the compelling characters who drive the drama.

The Harfoots – The Harfoots are proto-Hobbits and are wanderers forever hiding from “Big folk.” They have carts that they turn into huts that blend into whatever environment they are in and follow knowledge that is passed down from a book. They are a group who ends up taking in The Stranger who fell from the stars and Nori is our primary point of view from them along with her friend Poppy.

The Númenóreans – The Númenóreans are where the good development of humanity as the Southlands are a bit underwritten and we don’t really see what their culture was under Sauron and after under the Elven Occupation that is ending. The Númenóreans on the other hand have tension between the faithful who believe in the Valar and the Elves and those who don’t. This is true to the notes of Tolkien and the history of Númenór so it was great seeing it brought to screen and I can’t wait to see how the tragedy of Númenór unfolds.

The Elves – The Elves in this are facing their “fading” and because of that must find a way to stop it as we see them lead by Gil-galad with Galadriel on a revenge quest searching for Sauron who has gone missing and Elrond working with Celebrimbor on a solution that Elrond discovers when he visits his friend Prince Durin and finds Mithril can help stop them from fading. Their story ends with the crafting of the 3 Eleven Rings which is the solution to keep their light alive.

The Dwarves – The Dwarven story is a political struggle between King Durin III who wants to keep his son Prince Durin IV from mining Mithril as we see a Balrog trapped beneath the depths. The Dwarves are fascinating and the Durin III and his wife Disa are two of the best characters in the show.

Some of the Characters – Some of the characters are flat but there are quite a few I thought were great or had solid arcs and they are who I will be exploring below.

Adar – Adar is an Uruk, an Elf kidnapped and twisted by Morgoth who believes he killed Sauron in order to stop the experiments on his children the Orcs. He is a compelling villain as his only goal is to look out for the Orcs and in the end succeeds when they use a key that Sauron left behind to transform the Southlands into Mordor. How the power struggle will go with Sauron alive is a plot I’m curious to see.

Elendil – Lloyd Owen does a good job as Elendil who in the end is courting the Queen Regent Míriel after their war to free the Southlands leads to a victory for Adar and his orcs. He is great as the father guiding his son Isildur and daughter Eärien. He is one of the faithful and is the first to believe in Galadriel but that later changes after Isildur goes missing after the battle against Adar turns into a loss.

Galadriel – Galadriel was annoying in this at first as she had no diplomacy skills and didn’t care about anything but revenge. Over the course of the series we see her develop greater wisdom though as she works to help the Southlands, though her keeping the secret of who Sauron is from Celebrimbor is only going to lead to sorrow given how Celebrimbor story ends.

Disa – Disa is Prince Durin IV’s wife and is the one who helps repair the friendship between him and Elrond after Elrond was gone from his life for so long. She is a great character and believes in Durin IV’s ambition and goodness as she is the one standing with him after his father his disowned him.

Halbrand / Sauron – Charlie Vickers is great as the conflicted exiled King of the Southlands Halbrand and later the true reveal as Sauron. This version of Sauron loves Galadriel and wants to be part of the light but is still an evil dictator as all he knows how to do is rule. He learned the art of ringmaking in this so I expect next season he’ll make The One Ring as well as how he further manipulates Númenór given they don’t know he is Sauron, only Elrond and Galadriel do.

Elrond – Robert Aramayo is one of the strongest actors in this and I love how noble his Elrond is as we see him keep his word to his friend Prince Durin IV while doing all he can to keep the Elves from “Fading.” His friendships guide the film and you can see why Gil-galad trusts him.

Prince Durin IV – Owain Arthur’s Prince Durin IV is my favorite character in the show. He is the one who clashes with Elrond at first for how long Elrond didn’t communicate or visit but is the best friend who even goes against his father King Durin III to try and save Elrond and the Elves. He is a great character who I can’t wait to see more of as he is no longer in line for the Dwarven Throne.

The Reveals – The reveal of Halbrand as Sauron and the Stranger as one of the Wizards are both well done and capture just how powerful each of them are as well as their next moves in the possible coming seasons.

The Cons:

Some Flat Characters – There are a few flat characters in this largely Isildur, Eärien and Celebrimbor, Pharazôn’s son and Isildur’s friends and most of the Southland characters. I hope they get more development as they are flat much like the Southland as a civilization.

Short Haired Elves – The Elves in this look like they are out of “The Witcher” as the short hair is distracting and just makes them look human. The only one who the short hair works on is Elrond given he is half-Elf.

Pacing – The show has pacing issues at the start as it has to establish a lot. The show can at times go too slow without establishing anything which is what I think the biggest issues of pacing is. There were characters who needed to be developed and the people of the Southlands needed it too but I felt we didn’t get that.

The Smallness of Battles – Númenór sends less than 1000 soldiers and all battles feel small. It is never established how many Orcs Adar has as we see a lot from a distance but never a lot all at once. It gives the battles a sense of smallness which ruins the stakes.

The 3 Wraiths – There are 3 Wraiths who believe the Stranger is Sauron. We never learn who they are and beyond them being Sauron worshippers there is nothing to them. They are part of the missing details that hurt the overall feel of the world.

Galadriel’s Ending Choice – Galadriel hiding Sauron’s identity from Elrond and Celebrimbor was so selfish and went against how selfless and wise she seemed to have become after Adar’s victory in creating Mordor. I hope this addressed as the lie is a major character assassination of a character I was finally starting to like as she had become more like the person she was in the books.

The Missing Details – The wraiths, the culture of the Southlands, the Sylvan Elves, etc. These are all details that were needed to really enrich the world and we didn’t get them and because of it it kept the show from being good.

I really enjoyed this show but I wouldn’t call it good as it failed in important details and certain characters in the ensemble cast. I still think it largely worked in the civilizations and core drama and characters though that made the show work. If any of this does sound appealing to you, I do recommend the show and I’m curious to see what future seasons bring.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10