“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.

“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

The Dig (2021): Great Acting but a Better Script was Needed

The Dig (2021) - IMDb

Making great historical dramas is difficult, especially when you are adapting from a novel which already is only giving you only a glimpse of history. That I think is part of why this film though it has great performances never reaches the level of being a great film. If you are looking for an enjoyable rental though, this is one still worth checking out.

The film was directed by Simon Stone written by Moira Buffini and based on the novel The Dig by John Preston.

In 1939, the story follows Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) when she hires the self-taught excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the burial mounds.

The Pros:

The Cinematography – This is a beautifully filmed film. The bright greens of he land and the colors within the estate give the film a picturesque feel. Mike Eley’s eye for beauty is one of the strongest aspects of this film and I don’t think there was a single ugly scene.

The Performances – This drama has a great cast. You have Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Lily James to name a few, and there are giving vulnerability and strength to the characters they inhabit. Sadly in the case of Mulligan and James their characters felt underwritten and what Mulligan’s character is going through isn’t fully appreciated in the context of the film.

Basil Brown – Basil Brown is the one character in this drama who feels fully realized. He’s a working class man who wants recognition for his work. This leads him to walking out on the original offer from Pretty initially and later we see how he and his wife feel left on the outskirts of the high society that they are connected to via his archeology work. This class based struggle is one of the stronger parts of the film because of the time Basil has crossing horns with the High Society groups and even his interactions with the Pretty household. I wish the other themes or characters had been as developed as Basil.

The Looming War – There is the threat of the looming war against Germany and World War 2 always on the horizon in the film, which gives us a bit of a ticking clock of excavation and what effects which characters are helping or leaving as the burial mound discovery occurs. This helped enrich the film and you could still feel this threat even with how cutoff the Pretty estate is from everything.

The Cons:

The Writing – The writing needed another run-through. Mulligan’s Pretty is dying but beyond a few scenes and one powerful scene between her son feeling powerless to help his mother this important drive she has never feels fully addressed. This also went with Lily James’s Peggy who cheats on her husband with one of the workers who joins the air force…he comes up once and it is established the marriage is loveless. So much more development was needed of these characters as the ideas aren’t bad in and of themselves but they don’t tie to any of the themes. We are at an archeological dig site and history and these characters aren’t written to be more connected to it.

Pacing – Tied into the writing is the issue of pacing. This film is strongest in Act 2 when the discovery during the excavation occurs. Part 1 and Basil joining the estate and Part 3 with the excavation complete are all really slow. Characters are doing things but none of the action feels purposeful. It brings down the story in the process.

If you are looking for a fun Netflix rental than I would say this is worth checking out. The film is beautiful and it does have great performances even with the pacing and writing issues it suffers from. This is a film you can have on the background and not miss much though because of those pacing and writing issues so if you want a fun escape you may as well check this one out.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Mank (2020): Reflecting on a Man and Era

Mank (2020) - IMDb

“Mank” is a film that does an amazing job capturing the aesthetic of an era without necessarily capturing the accurate beliefs of the people and story it is adapting. This does not make it a bad movie, but it is something you should know going in. The characters are being used to tell a story versus a biographical account of characters and events. Now, without going into SPOILERS this is a film worth checking out. I thought it as really good and I found the message it was trying to do worked.

The film was written by Jack Ficher, the late father of the director David Fincher.

The story follows Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he attempts to complete his screenplay for Orson Wells (Tom Burke).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Aesthetic – The aesthetic of this film is great. The film is shot in black and white and a type-writer is used to frame the flashbacks. The costumes and filming techniques are also fantastic too of putting you into the historical setting.

The Framing – The story is framed with Herman with flashbacks as he attempts to finish his script and we see the characters and events that inspired the script that would eventually become “Citizen Kane.” This worked really well and kept me interested as each scene reveals more about the characters and their motivations.

The Characters – The characters are what drive the story and the best are those most closely connected to Herman Mankiewicz. Each of them reveal something about who he is and his motivations and it makes for a fun narrative.

William Randolph Hearst – Mankiewicz’s drive and dismissal of others in wanting a bigger picture and ideal to come forward as well as his greed are represented in Hearst, played by the always amazing Charles Dance. Hearst and Mankiewicz appear to be friends through a lot of the film but we see how Hearst’s greed has turned him away and Herman becomes more fed up with the illusion as people around them are suffering but as the wealthy they are fine. This leads to him calling out Hearst in “Citizen Kane” and in a final dinner party at the end.

Marion Davies – Amanda Seyfried is fantastic as Marion! Marion is a character who go talk in depth about politics and things that matter with Mank but isn’t willing to push things. She loves Hearst and though she is sympathetic towards Mank and Sinclair it never becomes action. I did love their friendship though and the scenes she is in.

Orson Wells – We mostly hear Orson Wells on the phone but when he finally shows up to work out the details of the screenplay and ownership with Mank he loses his cool. In him we see this Hollywood outsider driven to make his own way and it makes him compelling and you can see the ego that comes along with that. Tom Burke did great.

Herman Mankiewicz / “Mank” – Gary Oldman truly inhabits whatever role he is in and it is no different here. In Herman Mankiewicz we get an intellectual, a drunk and a man wrestling with himself and his contradictions trying to tell a story that matters. He beautifully does it and I think he’ll probably be nominated for an Oscar for how well he gives nuance to this role.

A Call Against Greed – The main focus with “Citizen Kane” critiquing Hearst and Upton Sinclair’s election and literature coming up through the film is calling out greed and capitalism. The film does a good job with it too as it doesn’t feel like a hammer upon the narrative. It comes up in dialogue and in subtle actions and words of the characters. In a lesser writer’s hands this could have become a jumbled mess expressed.

The Cons:

Historical Revisionism – Herman Mankiewicz was conservative throughout his entire life and here they have him as more of an eventual socialist rooting for Upton Sinclair. This is the biggest change beyond moving events around in the crafting of the screenplay to work for the narrative. The story still works but this is an annoying feature in any film feature that pulls from history.

Unfocused at Times in Narrative – The jumping around with flashbacks does work mostly but there are times where we are just seeing the same thing again. “Mank” is drunk in the past and the present. When this happens nothing new is revealed and and in this it feels like the scenes could have been cut.

“Mank” is a really good film. I wish it had been a bit more focused at time and that it could have pulled more from history beyond the aesthetic to tell the story it does, but it works. Netflix did great work with this one and it is wonderful to see another David Fincher film, as he has a very distinct visual style and his stories usually always have a bigger point.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

“Dracula” Season 1 Retrospect – Solid Stories That Fail at the End

Dracula: Critics applaud 'energetic and fun' revival of vampire classic - BBC News

     Moffat and Gatiss have a pretty mixed record when it comes to ending shows. “Sherlock” went from one of my favorite shows to having one of the worst endings of any show I have watched. Moffat also was this way in how he handled Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor’s run and the show “Jekyll.” Thankfully this time though the show doesn’t stick to landing it is overall a stronger story than the ones I have mentioned above. It never reaches the greatest episodes of “Sherlock” or “Doctor Who” but it doesn’t have to and I’ll get into what works and doesn’t work within each individual episode. Overall I’d say if you are a fan of “Dracula” the first 2 episodes are at the very least worth checking out.

As stated above, this was a Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat project.

The premise is a modern adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic Novel told over the course of 3 episodes.

SPOILERS ahead

1 – The Rules of the Beast

“The Rules of the Beast” is easily the most straightforward adaptation of the Novel, with the biggest change being Van Helsing being a Nun, Sister Agatha Van Helsing. Her role is still the same though as the story starts with a undead looking Jonathan Harker who she is trying to learn about Dracula from in order to find his weaknesses. Things escalate when Dracula shows up and threatens the Nunnery and after the reveal of Jonathan’s fiancé Mina we see he has been made Dracula’s creature and tries to kill himself. He doesn’t succeed and it is the weakpoint in Van Helsing’s defenses as Harker invites Dracula in, in order to die. It is only through Van Helsing’s bravery that Mina is saved and the story ends with Dracula taking Van Helsing hostage.

There was a lot that worked about this episode as we Dracula become bats and wolves and seek a victory through fear. We also see when he was dying and how he twisted Jonathan into the near dead form he is as Jonathan’s strength is now his. This story overall worked and was nearly great, here is what didn’t work. The cinematography at Dracula’s castle and the Nunnery are also fantastic.

Jonathan had no free will in the end. In the end he stopped fighting and was willing to forsake all the innocents just so he could die. This didn’t fit the man we had met who was willing to die to protect Mina. The role of the brides didn’t make much sense either. We get hints at who they were before, but it is never explored which wasted a way the story could have gone in a different direction and added depth to characters who are usually just minions of Dracula.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10 Little more than solidly good. Enough of the story works, even with the cons.

2 – Blood Vessel

“Blood Vessel” involves Dracula traveling to England with Sister Agatha Van Helsing in tow. The story is framed as him telling her the setup of everyone on the vessel and their relationships. The mystery is good as the situation is almost like “Alien” as the crew must battle against this unknown supernatural terror, with the only one that can help them, locked up by the very thing they are fighting.

We meet a lot of fascinating characters on the ship and seeing how they deal with the terror as people end up dead and how prejudices interplay among them makes for some great drama. This was all largely solid as was the fear factor in regards to Dracula and how the ship is shot.

What doesn’t work is that it starts out really slow. This was an episode I had to go back to because many of the characters Dracula frames in the narrative initially just aren’t interesting. It is the already established members of the crew who really make the drama work and I wanted more of that. The fact that Sister Agatha isn’t an active factor for a while either also hurt the narrative as her interplay off Dracula in episode 1 was one of the strongest parts.

Final Score: 8 / 10 This was a solidly good horror story.

3 – The Dark Compass

In “The Dark Compass” we jump into the future where Dracula is captured by Dr. Zoe Van Helsing and her organization that was founded by Mina and Van Helsing’s relatives in honor of Jonathan Harker. Dracula soon gains his freedom though when his lawyer Renfield arrives on the scene.

Dracula in the modern day world is such a cool idea. He is seeing all this technology that is beyond his imagination and he has all the wealth that has been growing since he’s been gone. Fighting Dracula with science rather than religion is also a really cool idea too. Sadly these are the only compliments I can give it.

It is in modern day we meet our Lucy who is a party girl who Dracula decides to make his bride. They have a cool conversation about immortality but that is the only compliment I can give. Her ex Dr. Seward is a creep and stalker and is made out to be a hero and in the end Dracula decides he will die because it is the one thing he can’t defeat and I guess he loves Van Helsing? It is a mess and hurts the strong first 2 episodes.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10 The setup was great but Van Helsing and Dracula are the only real characters this episode and the premise of Dracula in modern day is completely wasted.

“Dracula” was an extremely flawed show and like Moffat and Gatiss’s other projects, it does not stick to landing. Overall it is stronger though because it never gets as bad as those, and since we only have one season they aren’t given the chance to make things worse. If you are a fan of “Dracula” I’d at least recommend the first 2 episodes but you can skip the third. I’d only recommend the third episode if you are completionist.

Final Score for the Show: 7.6 / 10

The Dragon Prince – Book Three: Sun – When the Past Meets the Present

The_Dragon_Prince.jpg (273×364)

      “The Dragon Prince” finally got good this Book! We get a serious exploration of characters, war and peace and are also given nuance in the choices that many of the characters make. I really hope the next four Books can keep this up as there is a lot this season sets up, even though some major arcs are also brought to a close. This Book is good and I definitely recommend checking it out. If the writing continues as good as it was in this Book I think the show may have finally found it’s voice.

The story picks up with Ezran becoming King as 3 of the other nations want to retaliate against Xadia for attacks on their leaders. During this Callum and Rayla make their way into Xadia to find her home and to reach the Dragon Queen.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Broken Sun King – The Book kicks off with us meeting Sol Regem the ancient Sun King who once ruled the Dragons and Xadia. After he was blinded in battle by one of the first humans to wield dark magic he lost his state as King and was left on the border as a reminder as the cost that Xadia had gone through. His hatred is so deep that the Dragon Prince Azymondias existing means nothing as he plans to kill Callum or kill them all. This sets the tone of the Book as we see characters driven by the trauma over war keeping the chance of peace from ever happening.

The Elves of Xadia – We get to see a lot of the Elves this Book and it is awesome. We meet the Moonshadow Elves and learn more about their culture as well as the culture of the Sunfire Elves and how driven they are by their belief in the light and we see how powerful they are as the force defending the border to Xadia. In each faction we get glimpses of their power structures and beliefs and we even get to meet a Skywing Elf named Nyx who is a really fun trickster and of course Aavaros the Startouched Elf. We truly get to experience Xadia.

Viren’s Power Grab – Viren’s power grab at the end of the last Book is successful. His dark magic caused so much chaos that 3 Nations came to make war on Xadia and in the end his allies in the court force Ezran to trade places as he begins his march with Aavaros upon the Elves and Dragons. We see him win multiple times through the episode as through Aavaros he corrupts the source of power belonging to the Sunfire Elves and destroy their city. It is only at the very end that he is stopped by Rayla and Callum but his story isn’t over as though his magically empowered army was defeated his daughter resurrects him.

The Defeat of the Storm Dragon King – Part of the Book involves Viren telling Aavaros about how the Storm Dragon King was defeated. It was really well done as we see him empower King Harrow’s hatred and help King Harrow defeat the Dragon King, turning him to stone. At this point Viren goes to destroy the Egg but changes his mind when Rayla’s mother convinces him that he should keep it alive because of the magic that empowers it. These scenes are all wonderfully done and I love how they develop this fascinating world.

Rayla’s Exile – In this Book we learn that after the failed killing of Ezran that the Moonshadow Elves believed that Rayla had abandoned them. Because of this when she comes home, no one can see her as she has become a ghost as punishment for her failure. It is really well done as we meet the husband of the leader of the assassins and see why he is believed dead but Rayla still gets a moment of peace with her mentor before leaving to reach the Dragon Queen. It is a powerful and touching scene and we see her face the trauma of exile in her sorrow and how she lashes out at Callum initially. The show gives what happens justice and I like that it wasn’t ignored.

Soren’s Change – Another major arc this Book is that of Soren. We see him join Team Callum after Viren gaslights him and says he never told him to “kill the princes.” This clear lie changes Soren and begins working against his father to the point that he is fighting Claudia and his Father in the last episode and is ready to give down his life for Ezran. His arc reminds me of Jamie Lannister as he starts out arrogant and selfish but changes into one of the more nuanced characters in the show. I knew he was going to change sides but I felt they wrote it well.

Aavaros and his History – Aavaros is the powerful Mage who taught humans dark magic and because of it was imprisoned in the mirror. We see his hatred for Xadia and his history with it too as before he kills the Sunfire Queen he whispers what happened to her grandmother. To him all beings are just tools for power so I’m curious to see what his endgame is and what defines his philosophy as there is still so much more that can be told. I really enjoy him a villain.

The Final Battle – The final battle is amazing. We have the remnants of the Sunfire Elves teamed up with Team Callum and in the end Ezran brings back dragon allies from a dragon they saved last Book and Soren stands as their defense. During this the Sun Empowered Humans are near elementals and practically invulnerable to fire and only die to swords and arrows after a lot of hits. There is a huge cost in this battle and it doesn’t shy away from how strong Aavaros is and how powerful Viren has become. In the end Viren is defeated but he nearly steals the Dragon Prince’s power before it happens and in the Claudia brings him back from the dead as we are left with the possibility of Aavaros being born into our world.

Rayla and Callum – Rayla and Callum work so well together this Book. Their friendship evolves naturally into a relationship and you see how Callum’s belief in her helps give her confidence and her defense of him allows him to explore his relationship to magic and learning new spells. They compliment one another as she is much more guarded than Callum but they open up about their traumas and the trust that has already been earned pays off in a really beautiful love story.

The Cons:

The Jokes – The jokes are still cringe and the weakest part of the show. I’d be good with them doing away with them completely. Everytime there are jokes the show goes from flowing really well to tryin way too hard. At this point this is where the weakest writing is.

The Cost of the Final Battle not Addressed – Ezran steps down as King because he wants to save lives, but in the final episode he is killing people who were changed into monsters against their will as he flies on a dragon. This felt hollow and as amazing as the last battle is the cost of what Viren did to the armies of 4 nations is never addressed. So many elves and humans died but the show chose to ignore that as the Dragon Queen woke up. A recognition of this would have made this Book great.

I love how this Book faces how some wounds from war never go away and from it that conflict may always be a possibility. We have Sol Regem blind and full of hate, we have Viren and his obsession to save humanity leading to him losing his humanity and all those who follow him who he changes into monsters. This Book has a real cost to it and character choices have consequences. This is the show fully realized and if the writing continues to improve this could easily become a favorite show. This Book was good and I recommend it.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10 This was a good Book that had the potential for greatness. All it needed was less jokes and addressing the amount of people who died in that final battle, given how important it was at the beginning of the Book.

The Dragon Prince – Book One: Moon – Fascinating World but Weak Characters

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      There are two things that lead me to wanting to check out “The Dragon Prince.” These two things were Aaron Ehasz (Head writer and co-producer behind “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) and the fact that it was a new fantasy show involving dragons, elves and humans. Fantasy political shows have always been a draw for me and with a writer with that caliber I wanted to give it a chance. I still plan to give it a chance but season 1 was only okay and I’ll go into the reasons why but for as promising as the premise of this show is most of the characters aren’t compelling currently and there is some real bad dialogue.

Aaron Ehasz created the show along with Justin Richmond.

The series follows a human discovering dark magic (magic that pulls it’s magic from sucking out life) and being forced to the other half of the continent of Xadia. Here the Dragon King enforced the peace at the border known as the Breach until humans killed him and his unborn child. The story picks up with Moonshadow Elves seeking retribution for these murders.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world of “The Dragon Prince” is really fascinating. You have multiple types of elves and human kingdoms as well as a neat magic system based in runes and of course the ongoing politics and war. Really the world was what kept the cons from this show being stronger as the world still remains compelling even after the writing and character missteps.

The Politics – The politics of humans wanting to live where they once did before combined with the nature of dark magic and the different elven factions and human factions (five kingdoms as of the time the show starts) is such an intriguing premise. The Moonshadow elves also partially succeed and do assassinate the King but the King is wholly to blame for that outcome, which I’ll get into later.

The Magic – The magic like Avatar is tied to elements but this time we have 6 elements which are (Sun, Moon, Earth, Sky, Ocean and Stars) with dark magic as the rogue element of these that pulls from life. How the magic is done in season 1 is by the drawing of runes or using artifacts which plays gives reality to the fantasy it is.

Viren – Viren is King Harrow’s adviser who is willing to switch bodies with him to save his life but after Harrow stupidly refuses decides he’ll takeover as he believes war and conquest are the only ways for humans to have security. He has moments of nuance but is mostly a snake who is evil for the sake of evil. The character is still fun though even if the writing makes him incompetent. He should have never sent his kids on the mission as they care about the princes and as long as they live he can’t takeover like he now wants to after Harrow’s death.

Callum – Jake DeSana (who voices Sokka in “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) is step-son to King Harrow and the main hero we follow as him learning the magics are a major plot point as well as him getting over his fear of elves. In the end he saves the egg of the Dragon Prince when he realizes the trapped storm he stole is what is needed to free him. He is one of the only two likable good guys thus far.

Rayla – The only other likable protagonist thus far Rayla. She is the Moonshadow assassin who fails to kills Prince Ezran and her arc is learning to trust humans (mirroring Callum’s learning to trust elves). It is handled well and I enjoy her clever dialogue and the little details like her fear of water and in season 1. Early in the season she makes a bond with bracelets with the rest of the assassin Moonshadow elves to kill King Harrow and Prince Ezran. After King Harrow is killed she keeps that secret but admits to the remaining bracelet existing because of her refusal to kill Prince Ezran. In the end the hatchling Dragon Prince releases the bond.

The Cons:

The Dialogue – Some of the dialogue and jokes are really cringey. You can see it trying to be “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and mostly failing. The best moments of dialogue are when characters aren’t joking. The dialogue really illustrates how amateur the writing feels. This is season 1, so I hope it improves. I’ve heard it does.

King Harrow’s Stupidity – The King has no sense of long term planning and just plans to die and let others die for him anyway in defending him. Given his part in the war and slaying the the Dragon King, him seeking peace would have had the strongest base. Instead he embraces his death leaving his step-son and son Ezran as orphans. Sadly he isn’t the only stupid character.

Most of the Supporting Cast – Most of the supporting cast is bland. Prince Ezran gets along with animals and nothing defines him beyond his pet Bait. This also applies to Viren’s kids who are awkward but not threatening so him using them as weapons to get the Dragon Prince Egg makes no sense. His son is an idiot and his daughter is more interested in the science of magic not power. This is a constant problem with many of the characters in the show. The show cares more about making them funny than making them threatening or having a bigger purpose beyond what we are told in the plot.

This show has promise. The world and Callum, Viren and Rayla are fun. I really want this show to succeed. A good, original fantasy universe is worth supporting. I really hope the next seasons get better though as this season only reached okay when it had the potential to be so much more. Here is to hoping it reaches the heights that exist in the premise.

Final Score: 6.4 / 10 Weak start but I plan to keep watching to see if it gets better. There is enough potential here for this show to eventually be good or even great.

Project Power (2020): Standard Drama With a Great Idea

Project Power - Wikipedia

     “Project Power” gives us a great idea and a solid cast but falls apart from the premise not being fully realized and one of the overused villain tropes that is executed horribly. If you are looking for a quick fun forgettable watch it is worth checking out on Netflix though. Enough is positive that I did find the film fun.

The film was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and written by Mattson Tomlin.

The story follows Art Reilly / The Major (Jamie Foxx) as he hunts for his kidnapped daughter. At the same time Robin (Dominique Fishback) is a dealer of Power (a drug that gives an unknown superpower for 5 minutes) on the streets of New Orleans who finds herself pulled into the bigger conspiracy. At the same time one of Robin’s cop clients Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is tracking the Major.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a temporary super power drug that is on a time limit is great for upping the stakes. The film sets down the stakes really early on too as you see destruction happening all over the city before the 6 year time jump when we are first introduced to the drug. Sadly the premise is never fully realized. It stays surface, which is still entertaining but it could have been more.

The Action – The action is really what carries this film and keeps it from being bad. We have a lot of tight action scenes with a character going super and because of it those without powers have to use strategy and tactics to defeat the temporary supers. This action stays brutal and flows through the entire film.

The Main Trio – I liked the main characters. Jamie Foxx’s Major is an anti-hero and you get his desperation as he tries to find his kidnapped daughter. His relationship with Robin as an adopted daughter is great too as she also is selling Power to help her mother who has diabetes and will need surgery. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is the most simple, he’s a cop who takes the drug to fight other supers and is a bit of a rogue element. In the end his empathy comes through as he listens to Major and he clearly sees Robin as family too. The dynamic that develops between these three is really what carries the film.

The Cons:

The Villain -The villain is an evil corporation again. Dr. Gardner developed Project Power and is selling it to gangs and cartels. There is talk about her trying to bring about the next evolution of humanity but it is only in the text. We never see her show that she cares about anything beyond money and power and the same function applies to her minions. Evil drug corporations are such an easy out at this point and like “The Old Guard” they handled completely bad here. I hope Netflix can give us a good original film with a compelling villain, cause so far I’m not impressed.

This was an enjoyable rental that could have been more. The trio is great and if they showed up in Netflix show in this universe or as a sequel, I’d probably watch it. The cast and the concept are really what carry this film and keep it from being bad. If you like the concept or any of the cast I would recommend you check it out.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Extraction (2020): Enjoyable Action That Had Potential to be More

popcornandreels on Twitter: "Chris Hemsworth featured on new ...

     “Extraction” was a film that had potential to be good and even great. There are a lot of things that work about this movie. The performances and action are both memorable and fantastic but it is held back by the cinematography, villain and lack of development of some of the minor characters. If you are looking for a fun escape for a bit during the pandemic and enjoy action films chances are you will enjoy this though.

The film was directed by Sam Hargrave and written by Joe Russo.

The story follows Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) as he works to extract Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) son of an imprisoned Indian Drug-lord out of Dhaka Bangladesh as he is hunted by different factions within the city.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action for this film is great. There are a lot of kinetic gun and fist fights and great use is made of close corner combats on the streets of Dhaka. We get fights between market vendors and cars and upon layers of apartment complexes. It is really well done with the final fight being a holdout over a bridge.

Betrayals – One of the strongest aspects of the film are betrayals. Ovi was only caught because his father was betrayed as he should have been protected wherever he went. Tyler Rake is betrayed by his old war buddy Gaspar, played by Dave Harbour who has given up on any higher ideals beyond survival. These betrayals add tension to the film as the city is under siege from the Bangladeshi drug lord Amir Asif who had initially kidnapped Ovi and is using all his power to get him back and keep Tyler trapped in the city.

Saju Rav – Saju Rav is Ovi’s father’s enforcer and gives easily one of the best performances and has one of the best arcs in the film. He is doing all he can to protect Ovi as his own family has been threatened by Ovi’s father and if he fails they’ll be killed. He and Tyler are evenly matched and as Tyler shares his own trauma you see how their stories of family motivating them mirror each other. Randeep Hooda does a fantastic job.

Tyler Rake – Hemsworth brings a lot of depth to what would could easily be a blank slate action hero. Thankfully this is not the case as he opens up to Ovi about the loss of his own child and when see why he is a broken character whose team hopes he can keep it together. It is this empathy that he shares that further humanizes him beyond the fact that when we are first introduced to him he is on a bridge badly injured and fighting for his life. Suffice to say, I look forward to “Thor: Love and Thunder” as Hemsworth continues to shine as an action star.

The Cons:

The Cinematography – The cinematography looks like a Michael Bay film and I hate that style of filming. What I mean by the entire film has a sickly yellow sunset sheen to the entire thing and everything feel just out of focus. If a film looks bad the other cons are brought out even further as presentation should catch your eye but in a way that complements the scene, not hurt it.

Lack of Development of the Indian Members of the Team – Khan is the really cool women in charge of the Indian special forces trying to get Ovi out of Bangladesh and besides her worrying about Tyler and going in to rescue him on the bridge I know nothing about her or her motivations. This applies to the rest of the team members too. If even the “Mission Impossible” Franchise can get this write there is no reason that they could have gotten development given we spent way more time with the villain and it did nothing for the script.

The Villain – The Villain Amir Asif is not threatening and not even complex. This is a character who is a controlling bastard with nothing more to him. He is eventually killed by Khan at the end and it felt like an afterthought, which is about how much development he got in this film.

Films that don’t reach good or great is pretty common among the Netflix originals but I’m grateful they are getting made. The potential in these stories give the directors, writers and Netflix the chance to learn and make something better. I wish this film had better taken advantage of where it takes place and developed Khan and her team as they had so much potential. I wish this film had been a collaboration with Bangladeshi or Indian cinema (having a Bangladeshi or Indian writer or director for instance). That I think would have solved the issue of the areas that are underdeveloped (the supporting cast) or not developed at all (the villain). Still, if you are looking for an enjoyable action film, this is a fun escape.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Da 5 Bloods (2020): The Intersectionality of Justice

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods Netflix Movie Gets Colorful New Poster ...

    Before I get into the review itself, I wanted to write about something that would educate and bring awareness to #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing oppression of African-Americans here in the United States. Reviewing “Star Trek” unless it was an episode that would be related would just feel hollow. What is going on right now is far more important and I come from privilege. Spike Lee has once again created it. This is a film that speaks to ongoing oppression on both the United States and global scale and brings it down to a personal level while tying it to the importance of why it matters and is tied to the now. Without giving away any spoilers, this is an amazing drama and Spike Lee has once again directed and co-wrote one of my favorite films. There are layers to this film that can’t be expressed and that I’ll be going into deeper.

The film was directed by Spike Lee who co-wrote the film along with Daniel Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Wilmott.

The story follows the survivors of of their squad from the Vietnam War, seeking buried treasure and facing their demons they left from the Vietnam War.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Presentation – Spike Lee does an amazing job of giving us a few different presentations of the narrative. We get flashbacks filmed like a documentary from Vietnam. We have modern interviews and still images and pictures. This gives a rough and real quality as the times we have it with a more modern cinematic quality is when we are with the Old Bloods. The different ways of filming presentation through the film give the film gravitas and history.

The Characters – The characters are who drive the narrative. We have the surviving Bloods (Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin) who each carry the wounds from the Vietnam and carry their PTSD in different ways that give them depth. We have their guide Vinh whose family are Viet Cong, you have Tiên who is Otis’s former lover who he had a child with and you have Paul’s son David as well as the members of LAMB who are trying to get rid of the landmines from the war.

The Bloods – The Blood are the characters who drive the narrative and they are all fantastic. You have Norman who is Young Blood, their leader who taught about Dr. King and Malcolm X and the history of the United States and the oppression of African-Americans in the United States. All the actors do an amazing job but Chadwick Boseman is absolutely fantastic as Norman. We have Melvin who has a family and can’t see beyond his family but sacrifices himself in the final fight to save Otis from a grenade. We have Eddie who was once wealthy but lost it all and has become an activist and member of the Black Lives Matter movement as he remembers that Norman was the one had taught them activism and history. He is sadly killed by a landmine after they’ve recovered the gold. We have Paul who has become selfish after the war. His wife died at childbirth and he could never bring himself to love his son. He’s also a Trump supporter and the closest thing he has to friends are the Bloods. He also blames himself for killing Norman as he did accidentally kill him from friendly fire during the war and was never able to forgive himself. His arc ends with his accepting his son and forgiving himself before he is killed. Paul’s son David also becomes a member of the Blood as he is the one who helped them find the gold and is the character who never stops loving his dad. There is also the one member of the original members of the Bloods who survives, Otis. Otis rekindles a relationship with the woman he left after the war and they had. It is really well done as we see Otis takes painkillers as a way of dealing with his pain and PTSD and is the kindest member of the group. Otis was my favorite member of the Bloods. Clarke Peters is fantastic in the role as are Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Jonathan Majors as the other members of the Bloods.

Vinh – Vinh is the guide for the Bloods and has family who were Viet Cong. He is a generation younger than the Bloods and shows them that the war is over and that it is okay to move on. It is his Uncles who pay for the Bloods drinks at the bar and Vinh plays peacemaker between The Bloods and a few other groups they run into. He is thankfully rewarded with some of the CIA gold at the end as he is the one who helps them get it out of Vietnam and the money he has is used to help his business. He was my favorite character in the film and Johnny Trí Nguyễn was great.

Tiên – Tiên is amazing. She is Otis’s former lover and used to be a prostitute during the war. She owns her own house and works with Desroche to help in international exchange. She went through so much as her half-black daughter was looked down upon by the people in Vietnam and the U.S. troops. She brings this all to Otis’s attention and only lets Otis have a relationship with them when Otis uses his money and time to stay. That he isn’t just going to run away again. It is a powerful story and Lê Y Lan is wonderful in the role.

The Intersectionality of Justice – A major theme of the film is the intersectionality of justice. We see this on the International scale with the United States and France’s relationship to Vietnam and how the Vietnam war came about. We see it in the Bloods. African-American soldiers who fought in a war for a country that didn’t even treat them as full human beings with equal rights and how today that still carries through in the prison industrial complex and the killing of African-Americans by cops who then face no consequences…as well as red lining and where resources and power lie. This exploration of resources and power is the basis of Intersectionality in the film and it is beautifully handled through the Vietnamese people we meet and the memories and relationships the Bloods have with the characters they meet.

Black Lives Matter and Connection to the Present – Black Lives Matter is also central to the film. Eddie plans to donate his share of the gold to the movement as he calls our characters back to the present and “the ongoing oppression of our people.” This is something that the surviving members of the Blood aren’t ready to face until after Eddie’s death by the landmine. Even with Norman’s teachings they still just want to live well and forget. This is where the call to action and the movement comes in and in turns calls on us to fight against injustice and speak. The same fight for equality, equity and justice from the 60’s isn’t over as the mistakes and oppression of the past continues. The film highlights this on multiple occasions and it is part of what lends the narrative so much power.

The Cons:

Pacing – There are a few scenes that could have been made shorter and in turn the pacing would have been improved. Paul’s rant in the jungle is the best example of this. It is his meeting Norman after he is bit by the snake that it starts to flow again. This is the greatest example of the pacing issue the film has but there were others too.

The Villain – The villain is a selfish Frenchman named Desroche. He is greedy and out for the gold that the Bloods are seeking. There was no dimension to him and I didn’t believe that he would have let them live if they’d handed over the gold. This was a shame as him being French added another dimension to Vietnam as a colonizer and his soldiers are all Vietnamese people he’s paying. This should have been explored.

This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. Not only does it answer the “So what?” of the present it also gives us complex characters who grow and change as they face their inner demons. I can’t wait to see what Spike Lee does next. I loved the depth and intersectionality that this film has and the performances are amazing by all members of the cast. I highly recommend and remembering the film’s call for justice.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year so far.

Here are some resources provided by Black Lives Matter to help restore justice.:

https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/