What I am Watching: The OA Season 2, Glass, Shazam

Hello readers – long time no write!

While I have been busy working on other projects, I have managed to make time to watch all of Season 9 of The Walking Dead and follow Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery.  And now that “Winter Is Here”, you can check out my reviews for the new season of Game of Thrones.

The link to my youtube page is at the end of this article.

There´s nothing quite like hunkering down to write, however. So here are three other things I have watched recently.

The OA: Season 2

The OA was my favorite show of the year it came out, 2016. Although the pilot episode was excruciatingly slow, it took a mind-bending hard left turn in its last fifteen minutes and then kept adding on to its bizarre plot which involved near-death experiences and mad science experiments. The finale was slightly disappointing, yet, I was still itching with anticipation for more story. It took a while, but a second season finally arrived in March of 2019.

Season 2 of The OA not only matched the show´s first year but it also exceeded it to a level I could never have imagined. It took near-death experiences and added some inter-dimensional travel, a haunted house, a missing-persons cop procedural, a talking octopus, and quite possibly even some very sentient trees (I won´t spoil anything further than that – just watch!).

Beware, though! If season one´s main issue was the plodding first episode, this season´s issue is a plodding first three episodes that while not bad, didn´t offer many clues as to what direction the story was going to go. If I was able to sit through Twin Peaks: The Return, though, (and this show has plenty of Lynch splattered all over it) I figured I could handle a little bit of molasses speed storytelling – I am glad I did.

From episode four onward (where we get to revisit the first season´s cast) the dispirate threads start to show their first signs of coherence – and the seeds that had been sprinkled along in the first three hours begin to germinate. Once those seeds begin to sprout – the flora is wild, exotic, and unpredictable. I found myself completely immersed in the concepts, visuals, and the characters, as they try to navigate through the murk towards some sort of clarity.

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The first season of The OA at times felt like a version of Stranger Things for older teens and adults (there is even a name-drop and joke about Stranger Things in an episode this season). While I liked that aspect of it, I think season two´s strongest point is how much more it matured and became its own creation. Sure, this takes away some “ease of viewing,” but if you are willing to take your time with the show and allow it to ease itself onto your senses, at its own pace, you may come away very happy.

In all, despite nearly nodding off a few times through the first episodes, I was very satisfied by the end. Now, I feel that little itch again as I await a possible third season – especially considering the absolute mind-fucking shenanigans of the much better finale episode we were gifted with this season.

Glass

I have only seen M. Night Shyamalan´s Unbreakable once, and it was in the theatre back in 2000, so my memory of it might fail me.  What I do recall is that, despite being an extremely slow and melancholy movie, I completely bought into its “real” take on superheroes and Bruce Willis´broddy interpretation of its lead character.

In many ways that movie was very far ahead of its time. It was a clear inspiration for the television show “Heroes” and the darker tone of a lot of comic book movies that followed. The only criticism I have of the movie is that I felt that the climax could not compete with the build up.

Enter, 2017s Split, a career-restart for director M. Night Shyamalan. I thought it was a decent movie despite some over-acting and curious plot holes. Its best moment was the end, where we found out that it was set in the same universe as Bruce Willis´ Unbreakable. The countdown was on for the movie sequel nobody knew they wanted that badly.

Glass takes place only a short period after the events in Split and sees Willis´ character, who has now fully accepted his superhero status and is called, “The Overseer,” try to find and stop McAvoy´s evil “Horde” from attacking and killing any more young girls. Thrown in the mix is Samuel L. Jackson´s, Glass, who wants to still prove to the world that superheroes are real, regardless of the stakes.

I did like the starting premise of the movie, but then M. Night tried to do something which I don´t believe he has much talent for – create a character study. We spend 80% of the movie´s run time with our three main characters locked away in a mental institution with a doctor who is trying to “prove to them” that their superhero abilities are nothing but a figment of their imagination and a psychological disorder.

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The glaring problem with this, other than the fact M. Night spent way too long on this plot thread, is that we, the audience, have already seen two movies which prove that exactly the opposite is true!!! While there are some lines of dialogue which are meant to throw us off (the bullets that hit you were old and so were the metal bars you bent) none of it is evidence strong enough to put real doubt into our minds as to the super-human abilities of our main protagonists. So then we are left with a motivation void. “Why exactly do I care that these characters are locked up in a mental hospital for an hour-and-a-half?”

To compound matters, the movie´s namesake barely speaks for much of the run time. When he does finally explain his “master-plan” all suspense or mystery is removed as we are made to wait for the inevitable fistfight (the second thereof) between Willis and McAvoy. And since this is a “realistic” take on superheroes, prepare for a choreographed street fight just above the level of skill and excitement of Rocky V.

What Glass needed more than anything was a good editor. The movie moves at a pace that tries to force us to believe that the material is deeper and more important than it truly is. It´s the sort of pace that worked for Unbreakable (although it teeters in parts) and even The Sixth Sense, but that works against the acting chops of its three very dynamic and explosive actors. McAvoy looks like he wants to break out of this movie more than the hospital ward (Split was neck-break speed pacing compared to this film) and Willis and Jackson wallow in a whole lot of “nothing to do here but stare at the camera” – what a waste of three great talents.

The movie does do its best to assure us that it knows what it is doing, but it does so in the worst possible way – Samuel Jackson has dialogue explaining the movie to us. Of course, M. Night adds a twist at the end but it was also tired and forced and doesn´t tell us anything we didn´t already know from the moment the title sequence came up.

I was very much looking forward to what this movie could have been but, sadly, as I watched Glass at home, I had to keep running my mouse over the computer screen to find out how many more minutes of torture were left before the closing credits. And yes, I wept a little when I swiped once and saw the there was still an hour left and all three of the main characters were still sitting talking to their shrink (well, all minus, Glass).

I do really like what M. Night tries to bring to the screen, but, for me, this was a clunker of a high order.

Shazam!

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DC has been course correcting every since Batman v Superman. They started by lightening up Suicide Squad (which felt jumbled but was not unwatchable) and made it official with the highly enjoyable Wonder Woman. At the end of last year, and the release of Aqua Man, DC proved that they could not only repeat the entertainment factor, but they could also even improve on it.

So now comes Shazam! a movie about the original Captain Marvel (the name change saga is long and boring). It was sold in the trailers as slightly comedic and goofy and had many fans, including myself, unsure as to what to expect. My verdict is that DC is full control of their course correction and it is paying off. Shazam! is easily their best movie to date.

What made Shazam! tick for me is that the DC-Studios is dropping the ultra-broody tone with which they began their cinematic universe. While I do like the darker, solitary style of DC-comics, this vibe doesn´t always translate well onto the big screen outside of Batman movies (and I actually liked the super depressing Man of Steel).

As a general rule, audiences want to be wowed – they want to laugh and swoon like they did when Superman first flew across the screen in the Donner classics. There can still be time for self-reflection in all this Hollywood magic, but we need our heroes to smile (except Batman, he should never smile – looking at you Justice League). As someone with zero superpowers, I would like to think that being gifted with a few superhuman abilities can´t be all existential hell all of the time.

Shazam! takes this baton and runs with it. While the movie certainly has its dark side (think Gremlins or Goonies level dark), it treats the audience to laughs, giggles, and wonderment. It understands that the main character is a kid stuck in an adult´s body (watch for a reference to Big! in this movie) and it doesn´t shy away from the hilarity and ridiculousness of this.

This is a movie that invites you to turn your brain off, but not in a brain-draining fashion, as it is both a cohesive and well-paced piece of work. The cast of kids is also brilliant and add even more flavor to an already spiced up script.

Most importantly, Dr. Shivana, the movie´s villain, is the best antagonist to come out of DC-Studios thus far. He is well realized, clearly motivated, and absolutely evil (as in we actually see him indiscriminately kill a lot of people).

DC-Studios still has a lot a long way to go to catch up to its rival Marvel in the live-action movie arena but whoever is taking charge of the course correction has been doing a great job so far. I recommend this movie for kids and adults alike – take the family and enjoy.

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What I am Watching: The Sopranos – finding new depth in a television classic

David Chase’s The Sopranos is heralded by many as the best television show ever produced – and I am not about to argue that. Unfortunately, during its original run, I missed huge chunks of the last few seasons due to not being able to afford HBO. (Younger people don’t know how easy they have with all the “alternative ways” of watching television.)

So, although I had watched all of season 6B,  I wanted to complete the series from start to finish. I also wanted to see how my over-35-year-old self would react to a series that I had originally watched in my late teens and early twenties.

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The biggest takeaway from re-watching The Sopranos is how current it still felt. Like a classic piece of literature, it hasn’t aged. The dialogue is crisp, the narrative just as imaginative, and the cinematography equally urgent and nuanced.

After I got over how good the show still looked, I began to appreciate the things I missed while watching it as a younger man. At that time, I had only thought of The Sopranos as a gangster show – Goodfellas or The Godfather for the small screen. And with those expectations, I sometimes didn’t quite “get” some of the episodes or thought that they were lackluster for not giving us a payoff (Virgin Mary apparitions, Russian in the woods, or last scene of the finale, anyone?).

Being a bit older (and supposedly more mature), mixed with a couple of breakdowns, panic attacks, and some uncertainty about the future helped me to understand that The Sopranos was never really supposed to be about the mob, but about a man trying to make sense of his life in a chaotic world.

When making sense of this world does not pan out, Tony Soprano and company try to manipulate that which they cannot understand or control to their benefit by using money, influence, or deadly force. To them, it often seems that they’ve managed to put things right, but we, the audience, see the truth: the characters are stuck on an endless loop. I know I can relate to that cyclical feeling.

Something else that stood out to me is that The Sopranos didn´t play on twisty plot lines to move their character or narrative forward. This is a great contrast to other classic shows such as Breaking Bad, The Wire or The Shield, where the labyrinth created by the lead characters was only half as fun to watch as trying to figure out how they would squirrel their way out of them. This also shows how much David Chase was influenced by Twin Peaks, which also lets its characters float about (seemingly forward) in the mystery of their universe and surroundings rather than be impulsed forward by it.

As I mentioned, the characters in The Sopranos were masters at manipulation. They couldn´t fall into labyrinthine narrative traps because in their minds they were always in command of their surroundings.  Although, episodes like The Pine Barrens, where Chris and Paulie lose track of a Russian that they are supposed to kill in the forests of New Jersey, hints at unmasking this farse. It is one of the few times in the series where the lead characters stop to consider what meaning their lives have in the grander scheme.

Chase never allows for a complete unmasking, though. He likes his characters to continue believing in the fantasy they have created for themselves. In fact, it is when a character does lose his or her grip on managing their reality that they meet a bitter end – even if losing their grip means a chance at a “better” life. Vito Spatafore’s “coming out” arc is the best example of this. The closer he gets to his true self, the closer we know his violent end is.

The universe, here, is not friendly.

Furthermore, those characters that are most adept at living in the reality they have built for themselves suffer a fate worse than death – constant mental turmoil. The Sopranos was a true nihilist nightmare with the dream sequences spattered about the series to prove it. 

This show was also about the crushing weight of the pressure to keep up appearances while being forced to look inward for answers. It showed us its hand from the start as the mamma-duck who had been making a residence in Tony’s pool flies off with her babies and later Tony collapses, seemingly lifeless, on the floor. Tony wanted that family bond with his own mother, but he could never achieve it. He tries to build that perfect illusion of togetherness with his own family but fails miserably at every step. Yet, he fights to maintain that appearance with all his might.

Tony was not the only one trying to appear fine while he wasn’t. This theme was also present in the show’s other main character, America. Tony’s choices paralleled the changes in the nation.

The first couple of seasons of The Sopranos reflect a pre-9/11 nation which culminated in a capitalist feast of Super-Sized food and McMansions. Life was, by all appearances, good and every Muslim was not yet a potential terrorist. With expendable income on hand and no real external demon to combat, for a split second, some Americans began to look inward. No wonder New Age philosophy had such a boom during that period. Likewise, Tony, in search for greater meaning, may not have started yoga classes or bought magic crystals, but he did see a psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi – more on her at the end of this article.

However, as we later learned in the recession years, many Americans were far from being financially stable (neither was Tony) and many that searched for answers did so superficially (as did Tony, for some time). Real hardship was too much for Americans and for the Soprano clan. Thankfully, after 9/11, everyone was handed a slew of external bogeymen to keep them occupied with something other than their own thoughts. The show mirrored this national mentality shift by switching from more introspective conflicts to more manufactured foes (post 9/11) for Tony and his crew.

In the end (i.e. subsequent seasons), however, Tony couldn’t run from his personal demons and Chase couldn’t run from his original themes, and the show’s focus returned to the failed attempts at the salvation of the heart and soul of every character. One wonder’s when America will come to that same conclusion.

In a way, The Sopranos is like the Seinfeld of dramas. It’s a show about nothing.

While the plot does move along, it is really inconsequential. After all, there are a hundred mob-movies out there with similar cliched story lines. What makes the show breathe are the character’s dealings with the “every day” (even if their “every day” is nothing like the average person’s) and trying to make it to the next “every day” with a semblance of purpose.

The Richies, Ralphs, and Phils of the world could have popped up on the show forever -and The Sopranos would have become that 20-season series we all wished had ended a decade earlier. But these antagonists only represent the moves on a chess-board-world that is more interested in the thought process behind those moves than the result of moves themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recommend a rewatch of this show while focusing on the smaller moments. Forget where the Russians headed off to – they were never meant to be caught. Forget who might have been snitching from the start – there will always be a snitch to screw up a mobster’s plans. Forget who might have shot or not shot Tony as the screen goes black – his story is not that one. Watch it and think of your life, your missteps, your regrets, the similar type of people that constantly migrate in and out of your world, and your belief that tomorrow will be better. But also watch it while pondering one of the show’s biggest themes – people don’t change and we are less the agents of the chaos around us than the unwilling participants of a universe gone mad.

Tony Soprano never had a chance to be more than what he was because what we saw on the screen was exactly what he was. This truth can either enlighten you to the point where you will feel free of life’s shackles, knowing you are only in control of how you react to things around you and that your reaction can bring you peace or torment – or, it can depress you no end as you realize you cannot cheat fate and that your life today may quite possibly be your life tomorrow regardless of how much you think you have improved yourself and your surroundings. David Chase doesn’t give us the answer (as well he shouldn’t) but he poses the question in heavy New Jersey accents throughout the series run.

Below is my quick rundown and ratings of the seasons. 5 star scale. Some spoilers below.

Season 1 (5 out of 5)

The first season of The Sopranos lays out all that the show would explore as it went deeper into its run (including the importance of dreams). The Pilot is quite possibly one of the most well-executed first episodes of any series. A lot of times people will say, “give the show some time and you will warm up to it”. I believe that if you don’t like The Sopranos from the first episode, you will know pretty much how you will feel about the rest of the series.

Season 2 (5 out of 5)

The second season continues where the first left off. The focus here is a bit more on the growth of Tony’s crime syndicate, but it also spends considerable time dealing with themes of guilt, low self-esteem, and uncertainty. Christopher’s character growth is really the stand out this season as he tries his best to be his own man and show his uncle, Tony, that he is worthy enough to play with the big boys. Big Pussy also has his best moments.

Season 3 (5 out 5)

Yes, I have given everything five stars up to now, but that´s because everything is that great up to now. Season 3 could have been a break-it season due to the death of Nancy Marchand who played Livia Soprano, Tony´s mom. She had been such a great antagonist for Tony in the two prior seasons that it was hard to imagine where they could go without her as a villain. Enter Janice, who had already made her mark in season 2 but becomes a full rounded annoyance to Tony in season 3. More than the FEDs and other mob families, it is Tony´s flesh and blood that truly burden him. This is also the season that features the subtle (not-so-subtle) philosophical, Pine Barrens, episode. Season 3 is The Sopranos at its absolute pop culture peak. We also get Carmela and Tony in therapy together.

Season 4 (4.5 out of 5)

This is a moody season that splits some fans and it did take me considerably longer to get through it. Whereas I usually watched either one or two episodes a night through to season three (sometimes more), I tended to skip a few days between episodes for season four without feeling like I was missing anything grand. This season is all about family drama (aren´t they all) but it comes to an explosively emotional finale which showcases James Gandolfini and Edie Falco (Camila, his wife) playing off each other in an intense quarrel to end all quarrels. Carmela really shines in this season as she continues to reach for that one thing she can´t have despite all the material luxury surrounding her: emotional support.

Season 5 (5 out of 5 plus some)

This is probably my second favourite season behind season one. There are so many stand out scenes and story beats. One, Adrianna and Tony are suspected of having an affair and her stint as an informant comes to a tragic end. Drea de Matteo played four seasons of ditsy girlfriend/wife to Christopher, but she shows the full range of her acting chops this season. Two, Janice gets into an altercation with another soccer mom (not the first time she has been violent – check season two) and proves why she is the show´s best comic relief and has a personality nearly big enough to match Tony’s. But most importantly, Tony has an episode straight out of Twin Peaks in “Test Dream” where his wild dream journeys take up the bulk of the story. This season is full of setups for the last two seasons of the show and rolls along with pretty strong momentum. The Sopranos managed to push the envelope for a television drama numerous times before season five, but here it solidified itself as the cream of the crop twice over.

Season 6A (4 out of 5)

I loved the first part of season six. Again, it deals a lot with the subconscious, especially after Tony´s near-death experience. It gives many of its protagonists a different vision of life or even a way out … a chance to change. But this is only a setup for Chase´s nihilist view that nothing changes and people are destined to play out their roles in life until the bitter end. Yet, it is in this darkness that the heart of The Sopranos lies, not in the mob drama, which makes this season very important. Tony wants to be a better man, he wants to control his fate, as do many of the show’s other characters (most notably, Vito, a mobster who is struggling with coming out of the closet and trying to lead a “straight life”). The first half of season six is slow but it is essential to understanding the core of the show.

Season 6B (5 out 5)

The first half of season six dealt with the inner struggles of its main characters on the road to figuring out who they really were or who they could imagine themselves being in another life. It all comes to naught and the mafia story line takes centre stage as the noose tightens around Tony and his enemies´necks. The shocker comes from the death of one of the series’ regulars, Christopher, who Tony realizes will always be the same man he has always been (that theme again).

The last episode does a good job of clearing up any tangled story lines (or at least the ones that mattered) and the last scene stands as one of the greatest (or most infuriating) bits of television history. Having binged the whole series, thus taking it all in almost like a very long movie, I think it made sense to end how it did, though. We aren´t really supposed to know what happens to Tony next, in a conscious sense, because the entire series focused so much on his subconscious. If Tony survives, he will continue living the cycle again, if he wants to break the cycle … well, the show is pretty explicit about the only way that can ever happen. Except for one character …….


Dr. Melfi.

I didn’t speak much on her during this review but she deserves to be mentioned here in more depth. Her conversations with Tony are the core of the show. She is his surrogate wife, mother, lover, (and perhaps even) only true friend. Yet, she is truly none of those things as she manages to draw the line between professional and personal relationship pretty clearly in the sand.

She, in a way, represent us, the audience, the only ones who aren’t completely fooled by Tony’s antics. She cares for him because she sees his troubled mind, but like us, she eventually comes to realize that there is no fixing some things or people. She becomes one of the only characters who is able to walk away on her own terms – and, in a sense, the true hero of the show. The one who defeats the fates.

So, that is that folks. My next mission in life is to finally get through all of The Wire. Yes, it’s true, I have never seen it all – and I had a horrible time trying to get through the first episode about a year ago. I am currently done season two and will give you my opinion – especially as it relates to its Greatest Show of All Time-status and in comparison to my favourite cop show, The Shield (just rewatched that too and will have a review up soon). Until then, have a good one.

 


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The “Not-So-Christmasy” Christmas Time Movie List To Help During The Holidays (2018 Edition)

Article originally published in my old (now defunct blog – forgot the password) in 2011 and an update from my 2016 list on this blog, which can be found here.

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For all of us who have nothing against Christmas but aren’t so much into the whole spirit of things (for whatever reason!) it can be pretty daunting to have to sit at a Christmas dinner, listen to a lot of Yuletide favorites, and gather together for the 100th showing of It’s a Wonderful Life (a great movie by the way!).

So what are we to do?

Well I’ve managed to skip the dinners but when the Christmasy feeling permeates through everything I hear and see, I have my own way of getting my shot of Christmas while staying true to my inner scrooge — I have my personal list of Holiday movies and specials that I watch.

Now, be aware that  my criteria for what constitutes as a Christmas movie is pretty loose. For example, if it has at least two or three shots with a Christmas tree – it’s a Christmas movie.

So for all of you mini-Grinches who want to say that at least you played a little part in the big party, here are ten of my Christmas viewing pleasures (in no particular order).

The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Tim Burton’s vision of Christmas is as weirdly wicked as any I’ve ever seen while still maintaining the spirit of the holiday.

Jack Skellington “The Pumpkin King” only wants to be part of the happiness that Christmas brings and so he decides to kidnap Santa Claus and deliver the joy for one night.  He soon learns that each one has their own role in life to play but that that doesn’t make one part lesser or greater than another.

The Nightmare Before Christmas boasts some beautiful stop-motion animation and music while weaving a fabulous tale. This is a great movie to watch with other adults or with kids.

Die Hard 2

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I originally wrote this article in 2011 and wasn’t aware that there was such a controversy over Die Hard being a Christmas movie. And while after many rewatches, I do believe it fits the category, for me, the real yuletide action-classic is Die Hard 2 – there is snow, Santa Claus, and a lot of live and artificial Christmas Trees, and a Dennis Franz holiday redemption arc .

In this movie, Bruce Willis returns to kick butt and make an hour and a half of your life pass by without much incident.  Had enough of Miracle on 34th Street (?) then pop this beauty in and have fun. Have a few beers and know that in life good guys may finish last but in Hollywood they always blow up the asshole terrorists to pieces with a smile.

A Muppet Christmas Carol

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I will watch anything with the muppets during the holidays only because their movies and specials usually have a family feel to it with a little cynical edge. But, the go-to classic for the season has to be A Muppet Christmas Carol.

It stars the legendary Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge and Kermit and the gang as the rest of the characters in Dickens famous redemption story. Of course, the muppet gang take Dickens’ work and turn it on its head, with the many sight and word gags, making it poignant but extremely entertaining and funny at the same time.

I prefer this version to both the book and the old 1950s movie version of the book that we had to watch in school. It also beats out singing along to Elvis’s Christmas Album by the fireplace.

Eyes Wide Shut

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Stanely Kubric’s last complete film is as perplexing as its title and pretty much divides people’s opinion who think it’s either a masterpiece or a load of crap. I saw it twice in the theatre when it came out and many times since, so yeah, I happen to love the film. Oh, and you guessed it, it’s set at Christmas time!

Due to the very divisive quality of the movie, I recommend this one for the more solitary Christmas curmudgeon.  Pop it in and figure out exactly what the hell is going on with Tom Cruise as he wanders the nights after a chilling confession from his wife, played by what was then his real-life wife, Nicole Kidman.

“It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas” especially when you crash a party where the guests have no problems killing you for the intrusion.

Best last lines ever?

“But I do love you and you know there is something very important that we need to do as soon as possible”

“What’s that?”

“Fuck.”

Ernest Saves Christmas

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Jim Varney’s, Ernest, was a cinema-god to a lot of 90s kids like myself. His Christmas movie is at the same level of stupefying idiocy as his other gems with the Ernest character and thus a favorite of mine for the holidays.

In this movie Ernest must help Santa find someone to pass the Santa torch onto, as is the tradition. Lunacy ensues, including a Santa jail-break and Ernest riding Santa’s sleigh out of an airport. This movie is a trip and the sort of brain-dead fun (with heart) that I enjoy very much.

Batman Returns

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This is probably my favorite holiday movie.

This follow up to Tim Burton’s first Batman, feature a Dark Knight who is extremely nasty, and even murderous with a smile, as he tries to keep Gotham safe for the holidays.

The movie also features a garish Penguin, a super sexed-up Catwoman, and children being viciously kidnapped. No wonder Warner Bros. thought it best to keep Burton away from Batman after this movie, I doubt it was the family-holiday feeling they were going for.

Batman Returns is a dark pop-masterpiece with a Danny Elfman score for the ages. It still stands up to the test of time and Christopher Nolan.  It’s also highly quotable:

Catwoman: It’s the so-called normal guys who always let you down. Sickos never scare me. At least they’re committed.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

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Before Jack Skellington tried to steal the Christmas spirit and bring it to his own people, the Martians tried the same in this 1964 stinker of a movie.

Curious as to why the Martian children are so obsessed with Earth television, a few Martians discover that they are drawn to the distraction because their life on Mars is too rigid. So, a few Martians decide to kidnap Santa Claus so he can bring a bit of fun to the young Martian’s daily routines. Two earth children mistakenly go along for the ride.

This is one of the most wonderfully bad movies of all time, so for extra entertainment value, watch it with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast.  I also recommend a few glasses of wine to help you along.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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I am not going to lie, I usually fall asleep halfway through this animated movie (the pacing and the music are very slow) but I still love it.

The Grinch, in the end was just a misunderstood soul. Which of us can’t relate on some level?

I like to watch this when I am feeling a little bit nasty about the commercialization of the holiday season. It helps me to remember that not everyone only thinks of the physical gifts, but the heart-gifts too.

South Park Christmas Episodes

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Anything involving South Park, Christmas, turds, killer Claus, Jesus, and the Devil is an instant classic.  I am sure episodes will be shown on whatever station carries South Park nowadays or they can be easily found online.

These episodes are here to remind us that Jesus death-battling Satan is what Christmas should always be about.

Keep the spirits light with a little acidic humour.  Just don’t watch these with anyone who doesn’t have a thick skin.

Gremlins

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While I do have more fun with Gremlins 2, the original is a holiday blast with a lot of twisted dark comedy.

If you don’t know the story, it’s about a boy who gets a pet for Christmas. It’s a little mogwai – a mystical creature who needs to stay away from bright lights, never be fed after midnight, and definitely not get wet!!!

When some water is spilled on the little mogwai, named Gizmo, five more mogwai pop out of his back. The problem is that these are a bit more aggressive and wreck havoc in the neighborhood. This is like The Trouble With Tribbles with a light-horror and black comedy twist.

Gremlins should be on everyone’s holiday list regardless of age.

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How The Walking Dead Became Great Again (No Spoilers)

*This is a non-spoiler look at Season Nine of The Walking Dead. That said, if you don´t know that something very big happened to Rick, stop reading now. 

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For two long seasons (four if you count bits of seasons 5 and 6), everyone’s favourite Zombie-show saw a steady decline in quality and ratings. I was one of the ones who stuck around simply because I am invested enough in these characters and curious as to how some comic book arcs will play out on screen. I was also one of the ones who complained and trashed the show a lot over the last two years.

Then we got the news. Angela Kang would be taking over the show (replacing Scott M. Gimple) and with her would come a new direction, a different tone, and even a “reset” time jump.

The Walking Dead was going for the old reboot. This strategy can make or break a show that is already floundering.

So what do I think of the “new and improved” version of cable’s number one series? I am happy to say that through the first eight episodes of season 9 of The Walking Dead, it looks like a show that could go on for another five seasons! It’s absolutely got new life.

So what has Kang and company brewed up to make this show great again? Here are five of my takeaways.

1. Tone it Down!!!

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Carol and Ezekiel having a chat. (c) AMC

The most noticeable change right from the first seconds of episode one is the colour scheme. The show has opted for a dimmer camera filter and the costuming is darker too. This paints a drearier and more serious canvas compared to the last few seasons.

The characters have also been brought down to earth and tweaked just enough to match this gloomier exterior. There are fewer smiles and scowls and more brood this season.

There is a sense of great loss and less hope. The survivors are intent on keeping what they have instead of grasping for what isn’t there. This is a mature cast who has been through a lot and it shows. The cartoon-action-hero style from seasons 7 and 8 has been replaced with reality (or as much reality as a zombie-show can offer).

Even Ezekiel and Negan, who were the two biggest “straight out of loony tunes” characters (with heavy competition from Simon and Jadis) have been grounded. Ezekiel feels more like an aged and mature leader and Negan (though stuck in a cell through most of this season) feels layered and more threatening than at any time in his two-season run.

2. Pacing!

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Daryl and his dog.  (c) AMC

Instead of waiting five episodes for a story or character arc to develop, we get from point A to point B in just one episode, and in a satisfying manner.

Remember how long it took Carol and Morgan to decide that being outcasts was not the way to go? Or how long it took for Rick and Company to decide that being Negan’s lapdog was not going to cut it? Or how long it took Oceanside to stop hiding out in the forest even though they were heavily armed and ready for battle?

In the first half of season 9, we have already had Rick’s story resolved, new survivors are vetted and taken in, and it took exactly one episode for Daryl to get his head back in the game and Carol´s boy, Henry, to realize he wasn’t cut out to be a “bad boy”.

This is the sort of pace that makes a show that is built on season-long arcs really entertaining.

16 episodes is a lot when we think of modern television’s truncated binge-watchable 10 to 12 episode style. But, it doesn’t have to feel long if the writers can manage to start and end episodes with resolutions to plot points and present clear themes. This season has excelled at this so far. Instead of leaving us with dangling plot lines at the 40-minute-mark, we have gotten bottled episodes which accentuate the longer arcs that are brewing in the background.

3. Scary Shit!!!

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Spider Zombie!!! (c) AMC

When spiders popped out of the head of a zombie in the season opener, I jumped for the first time in a long time while watching The Walking Dead. For many years, it seems the writers had forgotten that The Walking Dead is a zombie-show and for that reason alone it should be scary.

Yes, the idea that humans are the real Walking Dead (as Rick famously put it) and the true threat is cool and smart. That said, “It’s Still a Zombie Show!!!!” I want to feel the fear as our heroes escape inescapable circumstances with a horde of the undead surrounding them.

This season has remedied that.

From zombies on a bridge to zombies in an old house to zombies being led by The Whisperers, season 9 has brought the undead out from wherever they were hiding during All Out War and made them stars again.

And since we mentioned them, the brief intro we got to The Whisperers was more chilling and intense than anything it took a five-minute monologue from Negan to produce. The survivors escaping a horde of zombies through a graveyard on a foggy night only to find out there was more to these zombies than meets the eye was straight out of 70s and 80s horror and had my heart racing.

The Walking Dead seems to have remembered that while it has the task of showing our human character’s trials and tribulations, that can easily run into soap-opera-land and be very boring. When the show shamelessly recognizes that it´s a popcorn-thriller horror show at heart, it usually excels beyond measure.

4. Real Drama

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Kelly, a new character on the show.

The Walking Dead gave us two seasons where it spoon-fed us “drama”. We were supposed to be scared of The Saviors because every chance the writers got they told us how horrid they were. If it wasn’t Rick reiterating the point, it was Tara and the Oceanside people, or The Hilltop and Kingdom folk, or Negan and The Saviors themselves.

What’s that cardinal rule for film? “Show don’t tell”.

In season nine we have a time jump that shows our characters with different visuals and different attitudes. It is not fully explained to us why they are like this but our imaginations are made to work to figure it out.

The bad blood is seething through the screen thus creating a real dramatic effect that sticks with the viewer long after the episode ends.

The Walking Dead will never have premium-level television writing, but that doesn’t mean it has to be High School level in the dramatic department either. This is pulp fiction. Whenever the show accepts this, it flourishes. When it tries to take itself too seriously it flounders.

So far this season, the show has understood that its best drama comes from keeping it simple and straightforward, while not insulting the audience’s intelligence.

5. Trim the Fat

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Michonne has become the show´s new lead, and she carries it well.

Although some of the side characters on The Walking Dead are great to watch, the last two years spent too much time exploring their daily lives while staying away from our leads. A few of these episodes were okay, but many were frustratingly long and boring.

In seasons 7 and 8, I  wanted to know mostly about Rick’s group – they are the ones I had been following the longest, and the ones who started the entire mess with Negan – no amount of Shiva in The Kingdom could change that.

This season, so far, has opted to give us short bits in the Kingdom and Hilltop but has wisely kept its focus on Michonne and the survivors in Alexandria. They are the heart of the show regardless of who gets cut from the cast. Even with Rick no longer there, his heart and spirit live on in their struggles and victories.

The show will do well in not straying its focus too much from the core cast because it is through their lenses that this story has moved along so well both in the comics and in earlier seasons of the show.

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Riding the Yellow: São Paulo´s Bike Sharing Experiment

45186752_327988447754729_5925367049411887104_nA few months ago I began to notice unchained yellow bikes around the city of São Paulo. I was curious to find out more about them, and as good fortune would have it, one was left parked right outside my house. So, I went over to inspect it. “YELLOW” was written in big black letters on the frame and there was a small box-shaped locking mechanism on the back.

This was Yellow, a new bike ride-sharing company from Brazilian developers Ariel Lambrecht, Renato Freitas (founders of 99 Taxi) and Eduardo Musa (former Caloi CEO). They have recently added scooters for their users too.

To use the bike I had to download the free “Yellow App” from PlayStore (also available for Apple devices), which is what I did. Once you have that Yellow App installed, you simply open it and your phone’s GPS will find the nearest bike.

The app is very streamlined and easy to navigate. The basic scheme is this: riders are charged One Real for every fifteen minutes on the bike. One can either deposit money directly into the app via their credit card or at partner outlets.

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Unfortunately, that particular bike outside my house was scheduled for maintenance but a few weeks later I was able to catch one on Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s main strip.

My first impression of the bike was how heavy it was. This is because it is made from steel, which has less resale value and therefore deters theft.

Despite the weight, the bike was surprisingly easy to handle and rode smoothly. The breaks were also exceptionally good. This was most notable on downhills, where the heavy bike can pick up speed very fast. I was glad I could slow my roll with just the slightest touch of the handbrake.

The negative side is that Yellow bikes have no gears. For being heavy, they are borderline torturous on uphills – get ready to feel the ultimate burn. While I have improved my resistance on hills, I can still only do a few hundred meters before I have to get off the bike and walk it the rest of the way.

Despite the uphill struggle, I did put the bike to an initial test of endurance by biking home from Paulista. I live about 10 km from there and aside from a few hills close to my house, the trip was without incident.

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30 Reais charged if you park outside the designated area

Unfortunately, once I got home, I discovered that Yellow had a day and time limitation on it out in the suburbs of the city (Mon – Fri from 5 am to 10 am). Although this was understandable from an economic viewpoint (there are fewer riders where I live) it did put a damper on my plans for riding around on the weekends. Later, this partial restriction was turned into a full restriction on parking the bike outside designated areas. The fine for parking outside these regions is 30 Reais. The company has also started offering ride credit for people that take bikes from restricted areas back into designated riding areas.

With no bikes around my neighborhood, I usually only ride I have any English classes to teach on Saturday mornings. I go from the school to the metro closest to my house and take the bus the rest of the way. It´s about an 8 km journey that follows a bike path, so it´s safe and I can get a good workout in. Other times I use the bike path that starts in Pinheiros and ride to Ibirapuera Park. This is about 6 km which and is also safe and relaxing.

Something to keep in mind, as it has happened to me on a few occasions, is to make sure to end the trip on the Yellow App even if you have locked the bike back up. I have seen the Yellow App continue a trip long after I had parked the bike. Once, I got charged for a trip that had lasted two or three straight days. Fortunately, I complained via the Yellow App and had my money refunded. It´s a slight annoying glitch, that can bite you if are not paying attention.

Although I can´t bike as often as I would have liked around my neighborhood, I still think Yellow is a great user-friendly company. Plus, São Paulo is big enough that even with the limited operating area, the reach for the service is pretty wide. The company has also reassured its users that it plans to roll out more bikes and expand its operating area as soon as they can.

Yellow also serves as a sustainable initiative for a city that is extremely polluted. It´s great to see more people opting to bike for 1 to 2 km instead of jumping in a vehicle.

Last, São Paulo is a city that always feels as if it is trying to prove its “world class” status. There were certainly naysayers who believed Brazilians didn´t have the social awareness or zeal to care for shared bikes, but I have seen the exact opposite. The bikes are mostly well cared for and parked appropriately.

So, if you want to burn some calories, spend a little less cash, or even be a bit more eco-conscious, I highly recommend picking up a Yellow bike and going for a ride.

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What We Were Watching: October 2018 Edition

October has come and gone and it was a good time for both television and the big screen.

In our latest podcast, Jeremy and I chat about some of the things we enjoyed watching in the month of October. We invited Beverly, my original co-host, to give us some of her picks too.

We look at some current movies and TV, such as A Star is Born and Blackkklansman, and some older stuff too like The Belko Experiment and The Foreigner.

Click on the link below to listen to the full podcast. If you want a rundown of some of the movies we talked about, keep scrolling.

 

Here is the mini-rundown of our picks.

BEVERLY

Beverly watched a lot of B-movies, as she described them, in October.

Her three picks were The Great Wall of China, which was cheesy but fun.

The Belko Experiment, violent and gory.

and Tarzan, because she really loves the lead actor,  Alexander Skarsgård, from True Blood.

JEREMY

Jeremy stuck with some Netflix shows and a big Hollywood hit.

He recommends The Haunting of Hill House for the truly atmospheric scares and solid acting and writing.

He also suggests watching Daredevil Season Three as it continues the same quality as prior seasons in both storytellings in action sequences. Both shows are on Netflix.

A Star is Born is his final choice as it plays like a classic romantic movie and has Oscar-buzz written all over it.

PHIL

Phil enjoyed some older television shows that took radical new directions and a movie come-back by an old director.

He really enjoyed the new direction, acting, and tone of both the new seasons of Doctor Who and The Walking Dead. Both shows feel new again after many seasons on the air.

He also thought Blakkklasman by Spike Lee was the director´s return to form. It is a film about a serious case dealt with vintage Lee humor and wit.

 

Thanks for reading and make sure let us know what your October Picks were!!!

 

Until next time, where we will be ranking the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

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Ranking the Friday the 13th Movies: Phil and Jeremy go over all 12 films with a little help from our friend Justin.

downloadFriday the 13th is one of the highest grossing and most enduring series in the slasher horror genre. From its first film in 1980 to its last chapter in 2009, it has made over 840 million dollars at the box office (adjusted for inflation).

I had never sat through an entire movie in the series besides Freddy vs Jason and was eager to binge my way through all 12 films. Jeremy, on the other hand, is a shameless fanboy who even reads the comics based on the iconic Jason character.

We decide to go head to head and rank these films from worst to best with a little help from our friend, Justin from the Talking Films Facebook page. Justin stands in as a referee as he tells each of us why we are right or wrong about our film choices.

It´s not long before fireworks are sparked as some films which rank the lowest for some are in the top five for others. Justin has his work cut out for him.

Click on the YouTube link below to hear the extended podcast.

Also, if you missed our last podcast on the Halloween series than click on the link below and enjoy!!!

Here is a super condensed version of our rankings.

TWELVE

Jeremy

Friday the 13th (2009) – This is a formulaic movie with nothing new to offer. Jason is offbeat and too tall.

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Jason carries a victim off in the 2009 reboot of Friday the 13th

Phil

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) – No Jason and too much mysticism, detracted from the bread and butter of the series, which is pyscho-zombie killer on the prowl.

ELEVEN

Jeremy

Jason X (2002) – This is, essentially, “Jason In Space” with a cheesy terminator look and production design.

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Jason in Times Square in 1989´s Jason Takes Manhattan

Phil

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) – Boring characters make this movie a drag. Also, Jason spends more than half of the movie on a cruise ship and not in Manhattan.

TEN

Jeremy

Friday The 13th: A New Beginning (1985) – A Jason movie without Jason is not a Jason movie.

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“Jason” breaks through a door in Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning

Phil

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) – Jason vs Carrie is not that great, but it has some awesome kills and introduces us to Kane Hodder as the greatest Jason of them all.

NINE

Jeremy

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) – This movie is unique for having Jason on a boat instead of camp. It does have some funny cultural moments like kicking down a boombox that´s playing loud rap music and the shot of Jason in Times Square. But the characters are too one dimensional and come off as caricatures.

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Jason gets a makeover in Jason X

Phil

Jason X (2002) – This movie was ridiculous and super campy, but it seemed to be in on the joke, so I laughed along with it. It has some cool kills and is pretty fast-paced. So, it never felt tortuously bad.

EIGHT

Jeremy

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) – Baghead Jason is too much like the killer in The Town that Dreaded Sundown in this film. There is also too much suspension of disbelief when it comes to the timeline. There are some nice cat and mouse chases, though.

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Baghead Jason goes on a killing rampage in Friday the 13th Part 2

Phil

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – Four movies in and I was already feeling a little bit of franchise fatigue in the repetitive nature of the storyline. The silver lining is that this movie does have some of the best kills and a truly vicious Jason.

SEVEN

Jeremy

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) – This movie has too much Jason in spirit and not enough of him in the flesh. It does add nice touches by bringing out more of his mythology and showing how powerful he truly is while his spirit jumps from body to body.

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Jason went through hell on his way to hell in 1993´s The Final Friday

Phil

Friday the 13th Part III (1982) – The disco theme and 3D novelty make this movie fun in parts, but it sort of drags on in the middle. It´s iconic for introducing the Jason mask, and I truly loved the last chase of the final girl.

SIX

Jeremy

Friday the 13th Part III (1982) – Iconic for having Jason put on his hockey mask for the first time. It gets some love for that.

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Jason takes an ax to the head in Friday the 13th Part III

Phil

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) – Too much comedy made Jason a little less threatening for me. He does go into supernatural boogie man mode, though, which is important for the series.

FIVE

Jeremy

Friday The 13th (1980) – This is the one that launched them all and was clever in doing a whodunit with a mother as the killer.

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Mrs. Voorhees, played by Besty Palmer, carves herself a spot into horror history

Phil

Friday the 13th (2009) – This is an amped up version of the movies but doesn´t detract enough away from the original concept to upset me.

FOUR

Jeremy

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) – The birth of Kane Hodder as Jason is all I need to say about this one and why I rank it so high.

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Kane Hodder in all his demented glory in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Phil

Friday the 13th (1980) – Classic slasher mystery with a lot of gore and sharp turns. Mrs. Voorhees is one of the great horror villains.

THREE

Jeremy

Freddy vs. Jason (2003) – This movie wrote the blueprint for the big head to head of icons of their respective movie genres. Since it came out we have had Alien vs Predator, Batman v Superman, and await the upcoming King Kong vs Godzilla.

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The Grudge Match to end all Grudge Matches

Phil

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) – Jason is not really in this movie, but I had fun with the over the top humour and characters.

TWO

Jeremy

Friday The 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) – This movie launched Zombie-Jason and made him a supernatural force on par with Freddy. It´s a turning point for the franchise.

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Jason inspects a forearm in Jason Lives.

Phil

Freddy vs. Jason (2003) – Absolute camp, but with good laughs and great kills. The grudge match for the ages lives up to the billing.

ONE

Jeremy

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) –  Tom Savini makes a comeback in the make up department and the difference is notable. Ted White gets the best reaction out of the characters as the most methodical, stalking Jason.

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Jason jumping through a window to grab young Tommy, played by Cory Feldman

Phil

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) – Jason is the most vicious and relentless in this movie. He is out for revenge for the death of his mother and is not playing around. I enjoy the indie-realism of this entry. It truly made me jump in parts.

 

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