Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse (2021): Solid Action But Plot and Characters Needed More Work

Without Remorse is a Tom Clancy book I haven’t read yet. Based on the premise and story here I might though, especially if it develops the characters in this better than the film. This is a film where the core performances and action are solid but the script and supporting characters needed more development to make the film good. This film is enjoyable though and I do recommend it as a rental.

The film was directed by Stefano Sollima and written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples.

The film follows John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) as he works to uncover a conspiracy of who is targetting him and his squad of former Navy SEALs.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action is great in this except for one sequence I’ll go into below. The tension is high and characters get hurt in fights. We also are given tight environments and situations are protagonists have to escape from. This and the squad in combat was solidly good through the film. It felt real and the action mostly mattered.

Secretary Clay – Guy Pearce plays the big bad who wants to united Americans against Russia by starting a war. He talks about how Americans are divided and that we haven’t been united since the Cold War. On paper this is good motivation but we never see this motive prior. He needed more development but was good because of Pearce’s performance.

Karen Greer – Karen Greer is John’s friend and squadmate who is looking out for him throughout the film. She has ambition but will always back him up in the end. Her helping John is what helps set the Russia mission in motion when he learns who killed his wife and unborn daughter. Jodie Turner-Smith does a great job and she’s the only memorable member of John’s squad.

John Kelly / John Clarke – Michael B. Jordan is fantastic as the ex-Navy SEAL out for revenge after a death squad kills his wife and unborn daughter. He plays the pain and rage so well as well as the focus and strength. You can see why he is leading the team and I was glad he succeeded and was able to save the rest of his squad in the mission in Russia.

The Cons:

The Rykov Reveal – Rykov says he and John are the same and that he is CIA but doesn’t elaborate. He only exists as a plot point to reveal the conspiracy when he killed John’s wife and unborn kid. He has all this setup as a villain and character and none of it is paid off in his motivations.

The Supporting Characters – Most of the characters in this are underdeveloped and flat. This applies to most of John’s squad as well as his wife and pastor. None of them get much development and the performances don’t elevate the material.

The Escape Sequence – The initial action against the snipers trying to start a war between Russia and the United States is good but when it is John against the Russian Police it goes on way too long and drags. In the end this lead to his escape feeling unbelievable and it took me out of the action.

This was an enjoyable rental that could have been more. There were interesting ideas here but the characters like Rykov, Secretary Clay and Ritter weren’t developed enough to make the film good. This film did illustrate how great Michael B. Jordan and Guy Pearce are as actors though as they did elevate this underdeveloped script to enjoyable. If you want a fun action movie this is worth a rent, just know these flaws going in.

Final Score: 7 / 10

“Carnival Row” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of Intersectionality, Colonialism and Trauma

“Carnival Row” is one of the best shows I have ever watched. Rarely have I seen stories that do fantasy stories outside the Medieval era go that deep and develop their world the way this show does. I wish “Bright” and the “Harry Potter Universe” had this level of self-awareness and willingness to tackle the problems of our world through the lens of fantasy. This show has a great world, characters, soundtrack and cast and without going into spoilers is a show I highly recommend.

The show was created by René Echevarria and Travis Beacham.

The story follows Inspector Philo (Orlando Bloom) investigating murders on Carnival Row as a pixie from his past from the war against the pact returns in Vignette (Cara Delevingne), as their histories rise to the surface plots unfold between humans and the fae in the Republic of Burgue.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world of Carnival Row is fascinating as you have fae on both sides being used by human empires of The Pact (an alliance between Quivira and Cibola)and the Republic of Burgue for control of the fae land of Anuon). The Anuon land and Burgue lose leading to a retreat and fae refugees moving to Burgue for refuge against the pact. This is the core conflict explored though we hear of more nations that were also affected by the ongoing war between the Pact and Burgue. The world is an urban fantasy, steampunk neo-noir and all those aspects enrich this already lore filled rich world.

The Mystery – The main mystery Philo is following is why a mysterious beast that is neither fae nor human is killing both. As he learns the truth behind those murdered he comes to face the truth of who he is and his own past. It is really well done.

The Soundtrack – Nathan Barr crated an amazing soundtrack that gave me major “Westworld” vibes. It is haunting and it plays beautifully into the noir feel and the many interwoven histories of the characters. I shall have to check out his other work.

The Characters – The characters are what drive this show and there are so many who are compelling. I can’t wait to see where the stories go in season 2.

Agreus and Imogen – One of the B plots is that of Imogen Spurnrose and the faun Agreus Astrayon. The arc goes from Imogen only helping him enter high Burgue society to save their family funds to falling in love with him. Agreus ends up helping her accept that she is an outsider and embracing it and he risks everything for their relationship as together they leave after her racist brother tries to kill Agreus after finding out. This was a compelling plot and I hope they work out and aid the fae in Burgue. Tamzin Merchant and David Gyasi are both great.

Dahlia – Dahlia is the ruthless leader of the Black Raven, an all Pixie organization that deals in drugs and smuggling. Vignette joins them after Ezra nearly rapes her and is nearly killed by Dahlia because of her past with Philo, until she kills the police informant. She is a fascinating character and I’m curious how the Black Raven will fight against the greater oppression that the new Burgue regime brings about.

Portia – Portia is Philo’s landlady and somewhat lover who lost her husband during the war. Much of her arc is asking Philo to open, which she likes at first when he does but is unable to accept him as a half-fae until days after when he’s been arrested because of what she told the officers. She clearly regrets her actions and maybe even loved him but we never learn for sure as her attempt to save him involved him denying his being half-fae. I hope she becomes a fae ally next season. She is a great character.

Darius – Darius is a fellow soldier of Philo’s was bitten by a Marrok (wolf-man) during the war and only wasn’t executed after being found out due to Philo. He knew about Philo’s history and respected him too as being Marrok he could smell both his human and fae. I really liked their relationship as both only had each other after the war.

Haruspex – Alice Krige is always amazing and I loved her as Lady Piety’s Haruspex. She proves to Philo the existence of the Darkasher (being made from dead bodies) who is killing those connected to Philo and helps him take on Lady Piety when she reveals her to be the culprit when she is stuck between life and death before passing on. I’m curious if her prophecies are true or not as so far they are a part of the world but their weight is not fully realized.

Tourmaline – Karla Crome plays vignette’s pixie best friend and former lover. She was a former famous poet and scholar before the Capitol High Bresail fell to the Pact, making her a refugee and later a prostitute on Carnival Row. She continues to look after vignette and gives her refuge. She also kind of becomes friends with Philo and I bet we’ll see her involved with the Black Raven in the fight against the Burgue. I hope her or Vignette take over it.

Absalom – Absalom Breakspear is the Chancellor of the Burgue and his party is the one not trying to make things worse for the fae. His party isn’t helping them either which is sad given his first love was a fae and he is Philo’s father. A fact that costs him his life when Lady Piety wants her son Jonah to be the only one the prophecy applies to to rule. Absalom is flawed leader who could not predict Sophie Longerbane or Lady Piety in the end and it cost him his life and the peace when Lady Piety finishes killing him to find Philo. Jared Harris is amazing in the role and I loved his talk with Philo about Aisling, Philo’s mother.

Lady Piety – Indira Varma plays the magically gifted Lady Piety. Her motivation is her son Jonah and the prophecy she believes he is to fulfill to be more powerful than his father. She had him and Sophe Longerbane with Lord Longerbane but the reason why is never explained. I loved her drive though. Her obsession and darkasher made her a great villain. She could only see the world she wanted to make and nothing more.

Vignette – Cara Delevingne is amazing and I can’t wait to see more of her as Vignette in season 2. Vignette is a romantic and lover of books and protects the Pixie library at a holy sight. It is in the war against the pact she and Philo fall in love and she learns of his half-fae blood. She gives him the charm of her heart and has to wrestle with that after she learns he lied and didn’t die. Her arc is finding power in being a Pixie again as she joins the Black Raven. She experiences the worst of humans first hand with the near rape by Ezra and later Burgue putting the Pixie Holy Library in a museum to say nothing of all the refugees Pact humans murdered who she couldn’t save. This being honest with herself helps Philo do the same and when he finally is honest about being half-fae they are together under the new awful anti-fae regime in Burgue.

Philo – Philo’s arc is one of self-acceptance and he hurts a lot of people to get there as he refuses to open up until Vignette has confronted him over his lies. He loses Vignette and Portia and only gains those relationships when he is finally honest though he leaves Portia to be fully honest in his love for Vignette. So much of his life is hiding and denial which only hurts himself and others. This is the best I’ve seen Orlando Bloom. He is amazing in this and captures Philo’s trauma, pain and complexity so well. I can’t wait to see him and Vignette take the fight to Burgue next season as he has finally embraced being half-fae.

The Plot Revealed – In the end we learned Sophie Longerbane set the plot in motion by blackmailing Lady Piety, leading to Piety trying to kill Philo believing that he threatens her son’s rise to power in the prophecy. Sophie wins too as she is set to marry Jonah (who we learn is her secret brother) as their regime oppresses all the fae, walling off Carnival Row until the faun extremists can be found. This is going to be the new status quo as Jonah and Sophie only care for power and neither mourn their father’s deaths. Sophie believes only in creating chaos in order to gain power and I’m curious to see where her plots will go.

A Study on Radicalization – We see Absalom’s former servant radicalized when he is on the street and has nothing and he is introduced to faun religious text that gives an outlet for revenge and rage. We also see politicians feedings the radicalization and racism in rallies and blaming the fae for humanity’s woes. You see the cycles feed into themselves leading to violence and those multiple ways to radicalization.

Instersectionality in Burgue – At the top we have humans and those who have lived in Burgue for generations. Within this you have the powerful families and human immigrants as lower in power. Lowest you have the fae who can’t even vote or marry humans though like Agreus can still buy property in any location if they have money. Their children in turn our outcast from both but some like Philo can pass if their wings or fae aspects were removed or changed at birth. The show explores this powerfully.

Colonialism and it’s Consequences – The war against the pact cost everyone in the loss of life and livelihoods but those who lost the most were the fae as their holy places were destroyed or put in museums and even in how they helped the colonial powers were never treated as equals.

Power and Passing – Passing is a major theme as we see Philo can but Agreus with all his money cannot. They illustrate how power works too as Philo has full rights as long as he passes while Agreus’s power is only in is money and the law can ignore that at any time it wants, which is why he has to leave Burgue to be with Imogen.

The Cons:

Lady Piety and Lord Longerbane – How and why they hooked up is never explained. We only know Longerbane was courting her but we never see her show an interest in him, only Absalom. This could have been an easy fix too. Just give them a scene together.

How Does Ezra Have Any Resources at the End? – He was going broke and only just got a ship funded and he’s going to Imogen and Agreus. He’s an idiot and going to go broke as he has is his insecurity and obsession. Can’t wait to see him fail. How does he have enough resources for his quest though? He doesn’t even know where Imogen and Agreus are going.

This show is amazing and I can’t wait to learn more about the other fae and see their fight against Burgue oppression. This season has a whole story but still leaves so much open to explore for future seasons and I can’t wait to see where it goes. This show is a favorite and a great example of how to do fantasy, politics, noir and steampunk.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 1, Episode 8 – “Reunion” – Adapting to Crosshair

“Reunion” is a great action episode that brings back one of my favorite characters from the Clone Wars era. This episode does a good job of taking the tension and keeping it and the action rising through the episode. So, this is an episode worth checking out.

The episode was directed by Steward Lee and written by Christian Tyler.

The Empire arrives on Bracca lead by Crosshair as Clone Force 99 attempt their escape.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Kaminoans – We get more of the Kaminoans this episode as the Minister is shown to be the one who has been hiring the Bounty Hunters to get Omega back. Nala clearly isn’t good with this though and I’m curious to see her story playout. I suspect she will probably be killed when she helps Omega escape again.

Crosshair and the Empire – This episode does a great job with the Imperial threat as Crosshair corners Clone Force 99 twice and only loses due to Clone Force 99 using the weapons from the ship to destroy the ship, putting all of them at risk. I was worried we’d see him beat easily but Crosshair is a dangerous foe and showed why he’s the primary threat to Clone Force 99.

Clone Force 99 – Clone Force 99 works as a great unit this episode as we see Tech and Echo use their skills to bring the ship to life and Wrecker and Hunter use their explosive skills to get them out of danger twice. It is only when they are apart that Cad Bane takes out Hunter and kidnaps Omega for Kamino.

Cad Bane – One of my favorite characters from the Clone Wars era is back! Cad Bane is the gentleman bounty hunter and we see how dangerous he is taking out the Imperial Clones and defeating and nearly killing Hunter. He is also so much smarter than Fennec Shand and captures Omega and defeats Hunter quickly.

The Cons:

Cliffhanger Ending – Crosshair is chasing Clone Force 99 and they need to find Omega when they don’t even know who Cad Bane is or what his ship looks like. The Cliffhanger is annoying but hopefully next episode will feel more whole as a story.

This is one of the est episodes this season and I can’t wait to see more of Cad Bane as well as more of Crosshair in action. This is episode is a good example of how to do rising tension and action and made full use of all the skills of the members of Clone Force 99.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“Jupiter’s Legacy” Season 1 – A Story With Promise but I Understand Why it was Canceled

Out of all the shows based off comic books that have come out recently, “Jupiter’s Legacy” is by far the worst I have seen. This is a show that had promise and the story in the past really worked as it has an almost “Carnivale” meets “Lost” feel to it. The problem was in the present and weakly written characters who had actors unable to elevate the performances. Suffice to say, I don’t recommend this show.

The showrunner as Steven S. DeKnight and the series is based on the comic of the same name by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely.

The show follows the superhero family of the Sampsons as we learn how they got their powers and uncover a plot to destroy the Union of Justice.

The Pros:

The Story in the Past – The past is compelling as we follow Sheldon Sampson who begins having strange visions after his Steelowner father kills himself after the Great Depresssion Era crash. From here we see him recruit people from is vision to travel to a mysterious island. All of this is awesome in how haunting it is and how Sheldon grows into the role of leader. I liked the past scenes and when they focused on the different people like his friend George or brother Walter he recruits.

The Island – The island is constantly testing the 6 who would later form the Union of Justice as we see them face their trauma and hate of one another and come to trust. It is a great story and the island gives great environments from haunting snow filled forests, cliffs and the mountains themselves. All this leads to aliens gifting the 6 with powers that also spreads superpowers around the world.

George Hutchence / Skyfox – Matt Lanter is the best actor on this show and plays the flirt and trusting friend to Sheldon really well. He goes villain but we never see it and his son is trying to get him back. In this way he is saved as we only see his past and is past is a complex character who believes in his friend who might be mad. He made such an impact on the world his son is searching for him in the present after he went missing.

Walter Sampson / Brainwave – Walter is the baddy behind it all. It is kind of obvious as he talks about using his power to change the world but Ben Daniels still makes him a empathetic character. He’s got nuance until his full badness is revealed. He is still most interesting in the past as the man trying to save his father’s company and always clashing with George and Sheldon.

Okay:

Fitz and Petra Small / The Flares – Fitz worked for Sheldon’s company and later joins him in the quest for the island. He is the inventor and calls out Sheldon’s arrogance and blind spots on the Code. His daughter Petra is the same way. They really both deserved more exploration as we get glimpses of their lives but not enough of their worlds.

Sheldon and Grace-Kennedy Sampson / The Utopian and Lady Liberty – Our main leads are interesting in concept but poorly executed in writing. The performances keep things okay but they function to clash with their kids and Sheldon is there to be the distant dad with high expectations with Grace as the once idealist feeling isolated. They needed better writing then they got. The only notable scene for Sheldon in the present is him getting therapy from a supervillain he put away. Beyond that he doesn’t change and is easily manipulated by his brother Walter.

The Cons:

So the Supervillains Honored the Code Prior? – It is mentioned so many times that the world is getting worse and supervillians are killing. My only question of this was where was the proof they weren’t always doing this? Brandon killing Darkstar’s clone was a big deal but it was never established or shown why. Again weak writing. This worked in the comic “Kingdom Come” but Netflix couldn’t pull off that in this show.

The Special Effects and Super Hero Costumes – This show has moments where it looks really cheap. Like early CW DC shows cheap. The later CW DC shows I’d say look better than this. How could they fail this bad? The super hero costumes don’t help either and look cheap as well with bad wigs and age make-up.

Slow Motion Sequences – These are worst in the last 2 episodes but come up earlier. Who thought slowing down screaming and shaking your head was a good idea for dramatic effect? It just looks silly and it took me out of the action. I don’t know why they made this choice to show drama when all it did was achieve the opposite.

Chloe and Brandon Sampson – The Sampson kids are static and bland. Brandon is sad and mopes all season after killing Darkstar’s clone and Chloe is drunk and doing drugs almost every scene she appears in. These aren’t interesting characters and they take up most of the time on the show.

If you want a good version of generational superhero conflict, read “Kingdom Come.” You won’t find good drama here except in the flashbacks, which are worth seeing on their own. I hope the other Millar World show works because as promising as some of the ideas in this show were, I can see why it was canceled.

Final Score: 6 / 10 For the story in the past. Would be much lower without it.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 1, Episode 7 – “Battle Scars” – The Danger of the Chip

“Battle Scars” is a good episode that could have been great if it had gone deeper on what has been going on with a returned character, and what it means for Clone Force 99. I liked what this episode did though as far as the core conflict that is explored through our characters and their relationship to one another. So, this does get a recommend even though I wasn’t a fan of the cliffhanger ending.

The episode was directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Jennifer Corbett.

After an unexpected friend shows up, Clone Force 99 travels to a decommissioned medical facility to try to remove their inhibitor chips but face unexpected threats.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cid – Cid continues to be a fun character on this show. In this she basically has the Clones in debt to her since they are spending more than they are making and this in turn ups the stakes. Cid is still an overall unknown so I wonder if at some point she’ll turn them in. I hope she doesn’t. I like her as a third faction not loyal to the Empire or fully in rebellion against them either.

Bracca and the Venator-class Star Destroyer – The tone of this episode is great at feeling haunting as Bracca is a starship graveyard I first saw in “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.” The planet and ship are haunting and it used well with a monster to fight and later Wrecker when the chip turns him.

Hunter – Hunter is very much trying to just look after his squad and go his own way. Rex offers for him and Clone Force 99 to join him but they turn it down and it makes sense. Hunter is at home taking care of his squad and joining the rebellion would put them at greater risk when they are already being hunted. This sets Hunter apart from Rex, which I liked. They are driven by different connections.

Wrecker and Omega – Wrecker is the one clone who is humanized a lot this episode, which makes the tragedy hit harder. He and Omega always get candy after a mission and while on Bracca his chip activates and he hurts his squad and almost kills her. She forgives him, knowing it was the chip but it is a rough scene. Wrecker is a like slasher villain when his chip activates and it takes Rex being present to knock him out and remove the chip.

Captain Rex – It is great to see Rex again and see him helping his fellow clones. He doesn’t give much on what he is doing but he is clearly helping the early rebellion and wants Clone Force 99 to help too. In the end a mission with the rebellion calls him away from Bracca.

The Cons:

Rex’s Lack of Shared Information – Rex doesn’t talk about Cut and if he had or has a chip, he doesn’t mention if any Jedi lived or anything of what he’s been doing. Him sharing on any one of these things could have boosted the episode in quality.

The Scrappers – We are warned about the scavengers at the beginning of the episode but Hunter and Rex talk out in the open. It didn’t make any sense and just setup the Empire is coming in the cliffhanger ending.

I’m not a fan of cliffhanger endings and this one felt rushed as nothing was done to hide they were on the ship from the scrappers. Still a good episode due to the Wrecker, Omega, Rex and Hunter story. I hope we see Rex again as we got barely any information on his life post Clone Wars.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good.

Crimson Peak (2015): A Solid Gothic Horror That Could Have Been More

Crimson Peak (2015) - IMDb

“Crimson Peak” is a film that is solidly good that doesn’t make the best use of the characters and plot. It is still worth checking out for the core story and visuals alone but I can’t help feeling that this story could have been so much more if it had just explored some of the ideas it posed further.

The film was directed by Guillermo del Toro who co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Robbins.

The story follows heiresss Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who is haunted by ghosts who is drawn to the mysterious Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston) whose family holds dark secrets she discovers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – One of the strongest aspects of this film are the visuals and Dan Laustsen did an amazing job here of making bright colors haunting and adding colors to contrast in scenes. Be it snow falling through a destroyed home or dark passages with moments of color this world feels real and alive.

The Setting – The setting is 1887 and embraces the Gothic feel extremely well. Everyone in this story outside of Edith has a level of detachment and harshness to them and it adds to the horror tone that is introduced at the beginning and stays through the film.

Carter Cushing – Jim Beaver is fantastic as Carter Cushing, Edith’s self-made wealthy father who we lives by what he can control. We see this in trying to hook up his daughter with Dr. McMichael, a man he trusts and knows and how he gives the Sharp’s money but only under conditions. Sadly this need for control is used for his murder as he is in the washroom alone when Lucille kills him.

Lucille Sharp – Jessica Chastain is great as the primary tragic villain. Her and her brother were abused by their parents and in the end she protected them by killing their mother. During this time they also creepily became a romantic pair. Through the story Lucille is the one who drives the plan for them to get money and find heiresses to fund their dying home and Thomas’s invention that pulls up the clay for them to sell. She is driven by the need to control like Carter and when Thomas falls in love with Edith she kills him and is only stopped when she sees Thomas’s ghost who arrives to protect Edith for a final time.

Thomas Sharp – Tom Hiddleston is amazing as the tragic villain with a change of heart. Before he meets Edith his is going right along with all of the Lucille’s plans and is a major player in them given his drive to recover the family fortune their father lost. There is a meta-aspect to the character too as the story Edith is writing becomes reflective of the choices Thomas makes as far as his falling in love unexpectedly and his choice to become a person who saves rather then kills. Hiddleston and Chastain are the strongest actors in this and Hiddleston’s performance expresses the tragedy and twistedness of their story brilliantly.

The Tragedy of the Ghosts – Ghosts in this film are drawn to what they lost and it is in this tragedy that Edith uncovers as the victims of Thomas and Lucille reach out to her and guide her to the evidence of what was done to them. This is powerfully done and was the strongest part of the script. I wish we could have got to know more of their stories.

Okay:

Edith Cushing and Dr. McMichael – Our two heroes are sadly pretty bland and fail to elevate the basic script. Mia Wasikowska only expresses fear or curiosity and because of this I never got her falling in love with Thomas Sharp as entirely believable and Hunnan’s Dr. McMichael didn’t seem attached enough to Edith or her father to be a driving factor either. They both were okay in the role and not a con but they failed to be a positive too.

The Cons:

Use of Time – There are moments in this story that the home of the Sharp’s feels out of time and with the ghosts and recordings I wish we could have seen and heard more of that. This is a story that feels like it could have been going on for centuries given how the house is falling apart and how vampiric Thomas and Lucille look and act. For this reason I wish time had been better expressed. We never learn if they are immortals or if their horrible plan has only just begun.

The Beginning / The Logic of the Ghosts – Edith’s mother warns her about Crimson Peak, which seems to imply the ghosts are potentially out of time, but it only happens once. No other ghosts seem to have premonitions of the future in the same way. This is where, given how much focus is on the ghosts a little more explanation would have helped the film.

This is a solidly good film that I’d recommend. The aesthetics, ghosts and some great performances make the film worth it. Guillermo del Toro was clearly in his element even if this is not one of his best.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

In the Heights (2021): Improving an Already Amazing Musical

“In the Heights” is one of my favorite musicals of all time and this film improves upon it in almost every way. It took what worked like the characters and music and developed them more and with it is now currently my favorite film of the year. Suffice to say, if you love musicals you will love this film.

The film was directed by John Chu and written by Quiara Alegría Hudes who originally wrote the musical work Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The story follows Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and his friends and their lives on Washington Heights leading up to the block about to lose power.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The music is amazing in the original Broadway show but these singers are even better. I can’t wait to listen to it again. Lin-Manuel Miranda is an amazing composer.

The Nail Salon Trio – Some of the minor characters we get more time with are the nail salon trio work with one of the main cast Vanessa and are the ones who get all the gossip. They are wonderful with my favorite being Stephanie Beatriz from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” as Carla.

Kevin Rosario – Jimmy Smits is great as Nina’s father who is running the taxi service and putting Nina through college. He’s caring and is a single dad in this, being a widower unlike the musical which brings his relationship to Nina into focus, which strengthens the script.

Benny and Nina – Benny and Nina are the childhood friends turned lovers who in the musical clashed alot more with her dad and Benny was a bit of a jerk. Not in this though. Here they explore the expectations they have on themselves and that others put on them. This exploration strengthens their love as Nina chooses to return to college. Leslie Grace and Corey Hawkins are fantastic.

Sunny – Sunny is the heart of the film as he’s a dreamer seeking residency in the United States whose adopted family is Usnavi, Nina and Abuela. In the end Abuela’s lottery ticket gives him that chance for a green card.

Usnavi – Anthony Ramos is the best Usnavi. He has charisma, internal conflict, awkwardness and empathy. He is the narrator of the film and musical and because of this the narrative is through mostly his eyes. We see his conflict of wanting to stay in Washington Heights or return to the Dominican Republic. In the end Vanessa with his friends help him choose to stay.

Vanessa – Vanessa like Usnavi is trying to get out. She wants to be a fashion designer but has trouble seeing her own worth. Usnavi helps her find her confidence in the dream. She is my favorite character in the film and Melissa Barrera owned the role.

Stage to Film and the art of Adaptation – John Chu took advantage of the use of film and musical theatre to give us stunning visual dance sequences and the inner dreams of characters. I loved it. This is how you adapt a musical. Make the most of the medium of film and the fantasy of the stage. Also the Broadway cameos from Christopher Jackson and Patrick Page were pretty wonderful.

Okay:

Abuela – Abuela was the center of the musical where here she is a part. An important part but not center. She is still an amazing character but we don’t get to know her as well as the musical.

I can’t recommend this film enough. This is my favorite film this year and John Chu has set the standard for how to best adapt a musical to screen. I can’t wait to see the next projects they Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes and John Chu do next.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

“Trese” Season 1 – Of Family, Blood and the Dream of Peace

“Trese” is a really good series that makes me want to check out the comic. This season feels whole but is open enough for more stories. I definitely recommend to anyone who loves supernatural action and mysteries like me. The world and story pull from those in the Philippines, which is where the creators are from and is all the stronger as it pulls from the folklore from the Phillipines.

The series was created by Budgette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo and based off the comic of the same name they made.

The story follows Alexandra Trese who seeks to uphold the accords with the supernatural world her father set down.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Supernatural Factions – The supernatural factions and the accords Anton Trese made with them was one of the best aspects of the show. The factions aren’t human so wants are different leading to interesting deals. Anton and Alexandra were amazing for how they kept the peace and I loved learning about the different supernatural factions. We got those of the Earth and Underworld and always more at play.

The Mysteries – Each episode gives Alexandra Trese a mystery to solve that ties back to her past or reveals more about a faction. They had a “Ghost in the Shell” feel I appreciated.

The Kambal – The Kambal are twins born of The God of War and a human and are Alexandra’s brothers and guardians. I liked them and wish we’d seen more of their lives when Alexandra isn’t around.

Nuno – Nuno is Alexandra’s informant and named for his species. He hears the whispers as he travels the sewers and is a lot of fun. He lives for chocolate.

The Treses – The Trese family drives the drama of the series and they are each compelling.

Miranda – Alexandra’s mom was a mystic who knew the prophecy but didn’t expect her kids to be the ones to bring it about. She is the one to first tell Alexandra about her sister being in the dagger and also the first to be killed when the God of War is working to destroy the accords. She is a great character.

Anton – Alexandra’s father is the man fighting the end of the world prophecy even as his kids are the one to bring it about. He never gives up hope and we see how driven he is to protect her, even breaking the accords and putting Alexandra’s sister in a dagger. He is her guide and his accords are the main conflict driving force in the show.

Alexandra – Alexandra is amazing. She is a driven hero who never loses her vulnerability. We also see her loss of her parents from her perspective and how the Kambal become family. her arc is rejecting her destiny to bring about the apocalypse. In the end she returns to the tree where she faced her trials with her sister in the knife to prevent the God of War’s victory.

The Cons:

The Mayor and God of War – The villains suck. The God of War just wants to remake the world again via Alexandra. The Mayor is just a megalomaniac and not as interesting as the Supernatural factions. The villains were the weakest part of the series and if they’d been at least interesting the show would have been perfect.

I hope this show has a season 2 as the story is complete but open enough to explore the accords, characters and factions further. I thought this show was great and can’t wait to see what stories the creators do next.

Final Score: 9 /10

“Invincible” Season 1 – A Good Adaptation and Beginning to the Series

New Poster for the Show! : Invincible

“Invincible” season 1 is a really good start for a series. I think it was smart to do 8 episodes and have them be around 40 minutes as the world is fleshed out more than the first Omnibus of the comics. We get character moments that were never there and character development because of it. I’m speaking as someone who thought the comics are good and can’t wait to finish them too. I just think that Robert Kirkman improved upon his prior work and I highly recommend checking out this show as I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Robert Kirkman created the show and worked on the comics with Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley.

The story follows Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) when he develops superpowers and begins to take on the responsibility that comes with it. At the same time the Earth is put into crisis after an attack on the Guardians of the Globe.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – Robert Kirkman clearly drew a lot of inspiration from DC but he still made his own great universe. You see it in how the original Guardians of the Globe each have their DC counterpart (A speedster, an immortal woman, an immortal man, a Martian, an Atlantean, etc.) but develops it’s own feel. The Global Defense Agency is fascinating in how they’ll go to any ends to protect Earth and their leader Cecil exeplifies that and the new Guardians of the Globe have their coming together as a team moment and we get some fun enemies too from aliens to mafia bosses.

The Civilian Stories – The civilian stories were one of the stronger parts of this story. In episode 1 we meet a security guard at the White House who is traveling to Britain with his step-son and by the end his step-son sees him as a father and we learn Olga’s (The wife of Red Rush) distrust of government and a few other stories scattered through the season. They lend reality to the world and show who Mark is fighting for.

The Guardians of the Globe – The Guardians of the Globe (Versions 1 and 2) are both great. The first version we get the Justice League professionals (Martian Man, Green Ghost, War Woman, The Immortal, Red Rush, Darkwing and Aquarus) that are humanized in their relationships outside of costume and whose death is one you feel and the group of misfits of Version 2 led by Robot (Dupli-Kate, Rex Splode, Monster Girl, Shrinking Rae and Black Samson as the other members). This group has a lot of conflict among themselves but comes together over the course of the series and fins themselves worthy of the Mantel.

Cecil – Cecil is a character who is the agent that no one really trusts fully as we clearly see him using everyone around him to protect Earth. He will work with monsters to do so (a guy who is making robot zombies for one) and we see what drives that when his initial failsafes against Omni-man all fail. He’s an interesting character and I’m curious to learn more about his backstory and how he at one point became friends with Omni-Man.

Damien Darkblood – Clancy Brown is fantastic as this demon detective who discovers that Omni-Man killed the Guardians of the Globe. He is the one who leaves the clues for Debbie Grayson to follow and I hope we see him again as everything he is doing is to redeem his soul from hell. The premise of the character is so cool and I’d watch a show just about him.

The Mauler Twins – Keith Michael Richardson is once again awesome characters. This time he’s hyper-strong and hyper-intelligent beings known as the Mauler Twins. Whenever one of them dies they just clone another so there is always two of them. Their motivation seems to be respect as they kick things off attacking the White House before the Guardians of the Globe capture them. They are later freed by Robot who he wants them to make a new body for him and they are true to their world before they are captured once more at the end.

Allen the Alien – Seth Rogan plays my favorite character in this in Allen the Alien. This is a character who goes to worlds around the galaxy to test their defenders for strength. He is the one who tells Mark about the Coalition of Planets and they later become friends after Mark says he was coming to the wrong planet. He later comes to warn mark about the Viltrum on Earth (Omni-Man) but Mark updates him on events. I really liked their friendship and Allen is such an enjoyable character.

Samantha Eve Wilkins / Atom Eve – Gillian Jacobs does a fantastic job as Atom Eve and her arc involves finding an identity outside of superheroing after Rex Splode cheats on her with Dupli-Kate. This leads to her realizing how abusive her father is and leaving as we see her fixing natural disasters and droughts around the world and is finally happy. Her friendship with Mark happens during this time and she clearly has feelings for him as they met in costume first when fighting the Flaxan invasion. I can’t wait to see where her story goes as besides Mark she is the best superhero.

The Grayons – The Graysons and their relationships to one another are the strongest drama of the show. There is so much here that is explored and I’ll be exploring each member of the Grayson family.

Debbie Grayson – Sandra Oh is wonderful as Debbie Grayson and I like how important she is to the story. She is the one who we learn helped Nolan find his humanity in the first place and she is there to remind Mark of the same thing. She brings them both down to Earth and it is devastating as she discovers that Nolan murdered the Guardians of the Globe. She is a great character and I can’t wait to see where her story goes.

Nolan Grayson / Omni-Man – J.K. Simmons owns this role. In this we get a character sent to Earth to conquer it but instead fell in love and ignored what he was sent to do until his son Mark developed powers. After that we see him embrace the fascist ideology of control he grew up under and kill the original Guardians of the Globe and later tries to break Mark into a monster like he was broken. Luckily he doesn’t succeed as he remembers Mark’s childhood and we see the reality he does love his son and wife even if he denies it all for the mission which in the end he rejects when he flies from Earth crying after Mark admitted that even if the long life of a Viltrumite, he’d always have his dad.

Mark Grayson / Invincible – Steven Yeun does a great job as Mark Grayson / Invincible. This is really his arc and story as we see him get trained by his dad once he develops his powers and eventually opens up to his friends about his secret identity. This arc of truth is devastating to him as well as in the end his father almost kills him because he won’t help him and Viltrum conquer Earth. He loses most of the fights we see him in at the end of episodes but this one was the hardest and he only one by reminding his dad that even with all of this abuse and hurt he still loved him and would have him as a father. He recounts all this to Allen (the best character on the show) and I can’t wait to see where his story goes as he learns from Allen that no Viltrumite has ever abandoned their post until Nolan did. So Mark knows there is still love and good in him. He is willing to risk everything to protect even if he’ll be defeated and this is something his dad when going full Viltrum fascist, could not break.

Strength in Adaptation – In this season we saw stories I never read in the first Omnibus of Invincible. Robert Kirkman’s writing has improved as I thought that first Ominbus was good but this makes Amber an actual character and fleshes out character motivations more as as well giving us the chance to learn about the original Guardians of the Globe.

Okay:

Open Side Plots – I put these as okay as they do have potential and I’m including one of the cons in this too. We have an invasion from mars set to occur, Dr. Seismic as a golem army and Battle Beast is out and about starting more fights and Titan bringing together more enemies we’ve seen (a dragon for one thing). We will probably see how these end and I hope that they are done well. The most interesting arc is still going to be the Mark and Nolan story as we are probably going to see more of that when Nolan finally apologizes and reaches out to Mark for help before the Viltrum Empire comes to find him. The Flaxans will also be returning as Omni-Man destroying their world has not stopped their quest to conquer Earth.

The Cons:

The Titan Arc – Mahersha Ali is great as Titan his story is just wasted. In the end he teams up with Mark to overthrow the mafia boss Machine Head but after it doesn’t go anywhere. I expected to see a change in the community of where he lived or Mark to trust people less but we don’t really see that either. This arc felt as wasted as the bad romance plot. Titan is still an interesting character though so I hope we see him used well in season 2.

Mark’s Relationships / Amber and William – These relationships exist purely to react to Mark and his becoming a superhero. This is a shame as there is a lot that could be done with them especially given Amber’s activism but their romance just doesn’t work. They break-up and get back together over the course of the series. In the first volume of the Omnibus she isn’t even a character so at least she is this time around…but like the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” films she like Mary Jane and William like Harry Osborn exist only for Mark’s development and don’t really have arcs of their own.

This was a really good show and a solid beginning to the series. It adapted the comic really well and I can’t wait to see how these arcs payoff as well what things they might choose to change. If you are looking for a good show this is one I highly recommend. The core family dynamic of the Graysons is the strongest parts but the heroes and random side characters have some fascinating stories too. Not only do you have an amazing voice cast but the writer from the comics, Kirkman is the creator so is getting to tell the story he always wanted to do and as a much more older and improved writer now. I can’t wait to see where this story goes.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

“The Boys” Season 2 – A Powerful Exploration of Radicalization, Nationalism and Characters in a Story That Feels Complete

The Boys (2019) - News - IMDb

“The Boys” season 2 isn’t as strong as season 1 but continues to illustrate why it is one of the best superhero shows out there and one of my favorite shows. The writing continues to explore themes that matter through compelling characters and amazing action in a world that illustrates the problems with our own world. Erik Kripke really created an amazing show and I look forward to revisiting the comics by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson to see where the inspiration came from.

The story starts with The Boys in hiding as Annie January / Starlight (Erin Moriarty) and Hughie (Jack Quaid) enact a plan to bring down Vought and reveal Compound V to the world as they deal with the fallout from last season.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world of “The Boys” continues to be compelling. We see how powerful Vought is once more and how adaptable they are to any new threat or situation. We see more of how corporations, religions and politicians use superheroes in this world and the world is given greater historical context both in relationship to Vought and to our characters. In this way it takes what season 1 built and explores ideas and concepts further.

The Action – This is a show that knows how to use it’s limited CGI so it uses it well. The action in this is always visceral and you feel the punches, just like in season 1. We also get to see some unexpected matchups and Black Noir, who feels like a mixture of Deadpool and Batman in action in the opening and throughout the series. You feel how powerful the superheroes are and because of it just how much is needed to take them down.

The Characters – The characters and their relationships are the strongest part of this show and I’ll explore some of those stories I found the most compelling below.

Black Noir – Black Noir is nearly unstoppable in this. We see him only beaten once because Butcher knows about Becca and Homelander’s son and Edgar calls him off and he is only defeated by a candy bar with nuts in it because Queen Maeve knows about his nut allergy. He fights like Deadpool meets Batman and is methodical in his takedowns. It was really cool to see him in action. I’m curious to see how he will be used in the future as he was comatose as the end of this season after the attack.

Reggie Franklin / A-Train – A-Train this season involves doing all he can to keep his place on the Seven as we learn about his coming from poverty and how that motivates to hold onto his position all the harder. We see him work with Starlight and the Boys after he learns about Stormfront’s Nazi origins and in turn outmaneuvers Deep being brought into the Seven when the Church of the Collective rewards him for taking action to takedown Stormfront. Jessie T. Usher is great in the role.

Kimiko and Kenji – One of the core relationships early on in the season is that between Kimiko and her brother Kenji. We learn about their trauma being indoctrinated by the Shining Light Liberation Army and how they always had each other’s back. Kenji isn’t able to get past his indoctrination though and this adds tragedy all the more to their relationship as Kimiko is powerless against that belief. Sadly Stormfront kills him in the end and this becomes Kimiko’s motivation for the rest of the season as she seeks revenge and faces her sorrow and trauma.

Kimiko and Frenchie – Kimiko and Frenchie have a relationship that involves a lot of growth. We see the guilt that drives them both as they both see themselves as failing to save people and it leads to Kimiko escaping into it with violence and Frenchie with drugs. It isn’t until after they both face their trauma that they are finally able to open up and fully be together as Kimiko teaches Frenchie the sign language her and her brother had made to communicate with one another. Karen Fukuhara and Tomer Capon do a great job in their roles.

Hughie and Starlight – Hughie and Starlight are really the hope of the show as both of them inspire members of their team to courage and action. Starlight is right in the end and A-Train sees it and Maeve also comes to back her and save her when Stormfront’s Nazi origins are revealed. They have a cut relationship too as each of them is trying to hold onto hope while being afraid and over their head. For a lot of the season there is a question if they’ll break up but they do come together in the end and save each other multiple times over the course of the season. Erin Moriarty and Jack Quaid are fantastic.

Marvin T. Milk / Mother’s Milk – All the members of The Boys are great but I’d say the heart of the team isn’t Hughie, it is Mother’s Milk. In this season we learn his dad was a lawyer who had fought Vought and in the end was murdered for it. This has driven his own crusade against them and we see how that has defined him. He is the one who helps a woman come forward about the racist murder Liberty from the 1970s who killed her brother and that Stormfront is the same person. He is there to give perspective to Hughie and Starlight too as he has been an operative for a long time while having a family so he gives context to the life they are currently in. Laz Alonso is wonderful in the role I loved how he played off the members of the team and how he was Butcher’s Second-in-Command.

Klara Risinger / Liberty / Stormfront – Aya Cash is amazing as the villain Stormfront. In this we see how great of a villain she is as she manipulates the media against immigrants (using the super terrorists as the “dog whistle” which also only exist because Homelander got Compound V out into the world) and how she isolates and manipulates Homelander until they are on similar if not the same page ideologically. Seeing her taken down after all the damage we hear about her doing and see her do first hand is rewarding. I especially liked Queen Maeve, Kimiko and Starlight taking her out given all she’d done to them. In the end she is probably alive but half-mad after she was toasted by Becca’s son with his heat vision. I do think we’ll see her again though as probably a Vought Cyborg of some kind.

Maggie Shaw / Queen Maeve – Queen Maeve has a solid arc in this. Whether it is her owning up to letting Homelander murder an entire airplane (using to blackmail him that if he hurts anyone she’ll release it) to her opening up to her girlfriend Elena about how controlling and toxic Homelander is. At one point Homelander outs her too so he can use that to control her as well, this is really what leads to her facing him after Elena leaves her. I’m curious to see where her story goes now as this season was her becoming a hero against Homelander and Stormfront.

Stan Edgar – Giancarlo Esposito continues to own every villain he plays and he once again does here. We learn near the end he obviously knows about Stormfront’s racist ideology given her being a Nazi but he puts up with it for the bottom line of money as he sees that as the only real power that matters. He is clever and uses Hughie and Starlight’s reveal of Compound V to keep Vought from facing any consequences and he continues to outmaneuver everyone up until the end, though even that has a catch. He almost got a government contract to sell Compound V to the government to give to police and first responders but after Stormfront is defeated the deal falls through…though he still has the Seven and a now mad Stormfront that will probably be used as a future weapon.

Victoria Neuman – Claudia Doumit was great in “Timeless” and she continues that here as she plays a congresswoman who is seeking to hold Vought and Supes accountable. In the end we learn she is the one who is a Supe as well as we see her explode the head of the Church of the Collective and in turn learn that she was the one who killed the Supes at the Vought hearing. What her bottom line is remains to be seen but I expect we’ll see her continue to rise in power given how she is one of the biggest winners this season.

John / Homelander – Antony Starr is one of the best actors on the show and he is carrying a lot. This is an actor who can capture the insecurities and moments of empathy of the terrifying monster that is Homelander. In this we see Homelander lose all power he once had almost function as more of a figure head. I got a feeling this is going to lead to him snapping and maybe taking over the government given his mantra seems to be that he can “Do what he wants.” What happened to Stormfront was the final straw for him mentally I think and the fact that it was his son who chose Butcher over him further feeds that narcissistic insecurity and need to be loved that is his drive. There is also an element of tragedy to this villain too as we learn he was a normal kid until age 6 and the doctor who raised him decided to abuse him. I would not be surprised if he ends up being the primary villain next season as he makes as last desperate play for power.

Billy Butcher – Karl Urban is amazing in everything he is in and he owns this role. Billy Butcher is also given a great arc in this as we learn about his brother Lenny who is a lot like Hughie and helped keep Billy’s violent outbursts in check, that came about from abuse by their dad. In the end Billy chooses not to be defined by it as we see him grow beyond his hate of Supes in both his respect for Starlight and acceptance of Becca and Homelander’s son and promising to look after their son. Butcher has one of the strongest arcs this season and I’m really curious where they are going to take him next.

The Toxic Cycles of Revenge and Self-Destruction and Abuse – One of the arcs in the show is how toxic revenge can be and that if you don’t get out of it it will destroy you. We see this in Butcher’s father, in Kimiko before she walks away from it all, in Lamplighter and him killing himself in the end as well as a few other characters too. So many characters in the show are defined by the abuse they suffered from those who should have protected them and that is where the cycles of self-destruction first started them.

Cults and Radicalization – We got a few cults that are explored in this. We have the one that kidnapped Kimiko and Kenji as part of child soldiers for the Shining Light Liberation Army. They kill their parents but over time and abuse within them Kenji became a brainwashed soldier in their cause as he saw them as the only family he could depend on. The Church of the Collective takes advantage of this too by taking Supes with trauma or blackmail and using it to make them their tool for power, money and influence.

Dog Whistles and Radicalization – Stormfront is a great example of how actual Nazis use “dog whistle” language to radicalize people against others. Whether it is labeling immigrants as “super terrorists” or framing immigration as an invasion it is language we see in Nationalist and fascist movements around the globe. We also see Stormfront using memes and the dark web to recruit as well beyond just the constant stream of speeches and rallies from the television. This a constant thread through United States history and in our last Administration that was in power.

Homelander and Fascism – Homelander was always a person who believed superheroes were superior and that he was better than anyone so it was easy for Stormfront to isolate him and take all of this to the next step. He ends up using her language targeting immigrants and we have known since last season how little he cares for people or anyone other than himself and she feeds those toxic aspects as we see him begin to believe the hype she is selling him that he should lead a superhero army full of the “right” people, basically a white supremacist Nazi army. Homelander never questions this and it really illustrates how fascist and racist ideology feeds off the insecure as it feeds their egos.

The Cons:

Pacing – The pacing really slows down in the middle, which is a shame as the first 3 and last 2 episodes that really flow. Episode 4 is great but after that it spends a lot of time setting the scene but not really driving the plot forward as great as before.

Kimiko’s Bounty Hunter Arc – After Stormfront kills Kenji, Kimiko begins working for Frenchie’s friend Cherie as a bounty hunter. Frenchie says this is bad and the murder isn’t solving anything but there isn’t a next stop. One day she just stops doing it and it is never addressed.

The Church of the Collective – The Church of the Collective is clearly meant to show Scientology and the mix of corporate and religious power in how connected they can be. This itself isn’t bad but the leader isn’t explored beyond being one of the manipulators and the Church never grows beyond being a spoof. It didn’t feel fully realized as an organization in the end.

This season wasn’t as strong as last season as far as pacing and some issues but it is still a season I’d highly recommend. This is a show that could have ended here as all the characters separate, Vought is not going to mass produce Compound V, Homelander can’t hurt anyone, Stormfront is defeated and Hughie finds his confidence for the first time in the series and goes to work for Victoria Neuman. The arcs feel complete and we see how our heroes defeated their rage and hate and the bullies were neutralized. They do clearly have more stories to tell, Victoria Neuman’s endgame is still a question and I can’t wait to see where the story takes our characters next.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10