Category: review

Netflix Series Review: The Frankenstein Chronicles

I’m a sucker for a good Sean Bean television show. So when I saw The Frankenstein Chronicles pop up on Netflix, starring Sean Bean as a policeman investigating a killer who’s been murdering children and stitching their corpses together in an unholy amalgam, I was intrigued. And when a friend mentioned she’d been watching and enjoying the show, I decided to give it a shot.

A reminder of my tastes, for those who might not know: I prefer plot to character studies, though ideally a great show will have both. But there are shows I’ve enjoyed but been unable to stick with. Justified is an excellent example. Great writing, solid characters, and I really had a good time for a couple of seasons, but in the end I lost interest, mainly because there was no big plot to keep me watching. Instead, it had smaller plots that masqueraded as a big plot.

Many shows will have a basic formula, and then repeat that formula week after week. House diagnosing strange illnesses. Michael helping out the victim of the week on Burn Notice. Monk doing crazy zany things while he solves the crime. To me, these shows are mainly relics of the Old Way of Doing Business. They stand up just fine for a once a week diversion, but when you binge watch them one after the other (or even just watch one per day), then it’s too easy to see the skeleton of the show. It starts to feel like each week was just a “find and replace” the same elements over and over again. Different zany situations. Different petty criminals. This can sustain a light show well enough, like a comedy, but anything more than that and I just don’t care to hang around.

So there are a number of shows left in the wake of my Netflix queue.

Frankenstein Chronicles has a couple of good things going for the first season. It’s only six episodes long, for one thing. Because sometimes the problem with newer binge-worthy shows is they’ll take a plot that can last five or six episodes and stretch it for ten or twelve. (I’m looking at you, Luke Cage.) Six episodes is long enough to really set up some interesting conflicts and have them pay off, without going overboard.

Second, it’s well acted. Sean Bean does a great job depicting a very confused man burdened with mounds of guilt, forced to investigate a crime he’s ill-equipped to understand. And there are cool supporting characters peppered throughout as well.

The story itself is intriguing, if perhaps a bit too tangled to follow too easily. There were unexpected twists I enjoyed, but others that left me bewildered. Some twists felt gimmicky, as if the show hadn’t taken the time to properly prepare me for what might happen. The best sort of twist is one that is totally unexpected, and yet feels inevitable when you look at it in hindsight. The clues were all there; you just missed them. Weaker twists come out of nowhere. They rely on information we had no knowledge of before they happen. In a murder mystery, this becomes more vital. You want to figure out whodunnit, and it’s upsetting if you weren’t given the right information to work it out ahead of time.

But this show isn’t really a whodunnit. It’s a mystery, for sure, but its success doesn’t rest solely on figuring out the culprit.

In the end, I enjoyed the show, and I plan on starting the second season next. I’d give it a 7/10. If you’re into broody English series with a vein of fantasy horror running through them, this is a good one to check out. It’s rated TVMA primarily for some gruesome scenes with corpses, and a couple brief shots of nudity. (Sean Bean’s rear end, pretty much.)

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We Can Both Be Successful

I came across this article today, describing how a group of 2,000+ DC Comics fans are banding together to give Marvel’s new movie coming out (Black Panther) negative Rotten Tomato scores as soon as possible. Their goal? To give it an artificially low rating, thereby hoping to harm Disney and Marvel. Their reasoning? They believe Disney has been trying the same thing to DC movies, blaming that for the box office failure of Superman and the like. The Last Jedi suffered from the same sort of attack, and there are now stories out that it’s underperforming in the long term in the box office, so they have hope this could have similar results.

This is so wrongheaded on so many different levels, I’m not sure where to begin. First of all, having watched DC and Marvel movies, I’d have to say the reason DC movies aren’t doing better in the box office has more to do with the fact that they’re mediocre films than any clandestine smear campaigns. If you want to make a boatload of money, start by making fantastic movies.

Second, the concept of lying about reviews is something deeply disturbing to me. It’s this mentality that makes people give things 1 star on Amazon, because they’re upset something has too high of a rating. As if they need to give an extra harsh review to “balance” the ratings.

Ratings don’t need balance, people. They need honesty. That will naturally cause the ratings to end up at a balanced point. That point will be different for each item. Ideally, that’s how review aggregators work.

At the same time, anyone who listens solely to review aggregators to decide whether or not they want to read or watch something is someone who needs to reexamine their media consuming criteria. There are plenty of things out there I loved that many other people strongly disliked. Am I wrong for loving them? Of course not. Would I want to deprive myself of the chance to watch them, just because other people might think those shows/movies/books were bad? Never. That’s why I give new media a shot. And there are times I hate stuff other people love. That’s okay.

In the end, I hate the “us vs them” mentality behind this whole concept. That somehow there’s a limited amount of money out there, and in order for one book or movie or show to do well, it needs to show why other things are worse. That’s not how it works. Successful superhero movies make people want to go watch more successful superhero movies. A smash like Harry Potter didn’t kill all other fantasy books. It made a ton of new fantasy fans.

As an author, I *want* books in my genre to succeed. I want them all to succeed. The more that are bad, the more people might get turned off of a genre. The more that are good, the more fans I might attract. There is no “them” in “us vs. them.” It’s all just “us.”

I can’t imagine my words will convince anyone in that group to change their mind, but I still wanted it out there.

And for the record, I continue to love love love The Last Jedi. Just a fantastic movie. Here’s my review.

The Best Media of 2017

As I did last year, I tracked the media I consumed over the course of the year, although at the end I stopped tracking television shows individually, choosing instead to rate each season as a whole. (It got really  old having to enter in every single episode. A big enough pain that I just ditched that approach altogether.)

So here I have the best (and worst) movies, TV, and books that I experienced in 2017. I’m not going to include things I’d seen or read before. Only things that were new to me this year. They’re listed in the order I consumed them for each medium. Ready? Onward!

Movies I Gave a 10/10 to:

  • Spotlight
  • Moana
  • The Last Jedi

Movies I Gave a 9/10 to:

  • Memphis (the recording of the Broadway performance)
  • The Two and Only (recording of a Broadway performance)
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Paddington
  • Beauty and the Beast (live action)
  • Little Evil

The Worst Movies I Watched (and their ratings)

  • Blue Velvet (3/10)
  • Pete’s Dragon (new version) (3/10)
  • Ice Age: Collision Course (2/10)
  • Jason Bourne (3/10)
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane (3/10)
  • Sicario (4/10)
  • Batman v. Superman (4/10)
  • Starcrash (The MST3K version) 3/10

I have no idea why I finished Ice Age, other than my kids wanted to watch it. A terrible film in almost every sense of the word.

Television I Gave a 10/10 to:

  • Nothing

Television I Gave a 9/10 to:

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Big Little Lies
  • Game of Thrones 7
  • Stranger Things 2

The Worst Television I Watched (and its rating)

  • Nothing. I’m only rating a show if I watched the whole season, and if I didn’t like the first few episodes or so, there’s no way I stuck with it.

Books I Gave a 10/10 to:

  • Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, by George RR Martin

Books I Gave a 9/10 to:

  • Extreme Makeover, by Dan Wells
  • Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage
  • Bluescreen, by Dan Wells
  • Ones and Zeroes, by Dan Wells
  • Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone
  • Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone
  • Full Fathom Five, by Max Gladstone
  • The Last Kingdom, by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi
  • Sufficiently Advanced Magic, by Andrew Rowe
  • Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson

Out of professional courtesy, I don’t reveal the books I really disliked. But I’ll say that I read one book that I gave a 2/10 to, and two I gave a 3/10 to, and one I gave a 4/10 to. Additionally, one book I just stopped reading altogether because I thought it was a waste of my time.

So there you have it. I’d be interested in hearing what the best things you consumed the past year were. Share away!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $1/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

On Veteran’s Day

In honor of Veteran’s Day, Denisa and I have been working our way through Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries based on the book by Stephen Ambrose. It follows the story of Easy Company, a group of American paratroopers who fought in World War II from D-Day through the defeat of Germany. (Tonight I think we might watch Saving Private Ryan, the movie that spawned Band of Brothers. Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg took their experiences filming SPR and decided the subject deserved a more in-depth version. They executive produced the miniseries, and Hanks directed one of the episodes.)

It’s a remarkable miniseries, and an important one for people to watch, I believe. (It’s available on Amazon Prime in its entirety.) Yes, it’s violent and graphic, and yes, it has strong language, but it gives some insight into what war is really like and at what price victory comes. (It’s based on the firsthand experiences of Easy Company members, related decades after the war, so some of the accuracy has been called into question.)

Ten episodes in all. Approximately 10 hours long in total. It shows training camp, D-Day, Bastogne, Berchtesgarden, and more. The acting is sharp, the characters well portrayed, the production values excellent.

Last night, Denisa and I watched the last two episodes. I found “Why We Fight” to be particularly moving. It’s the episode in which the soldiers first come across a concentration camp. Seeing the reactions of the soldiers. The confusion on their faces as they tried to take in what it was they were looking at . . . It’s contrasted so well with showing the rest of the German people to all of it.

I remember being over in Germany and talking to some of the people there who had lived through World War II. I lived in Weimar for 6 months. It was the Culture City of Europe for that year. The home of Goethe. And just up the street from me was Buchenwald. I saw the ovens firsthand. Saw the rooms where the prisoners were shot or operated on. And I spoke to Germans who had been there while that was happening.

As a missionary, I was able to go to people’s homes and get to know them in a way no tourist could do. This was my home as well for that time. I talked to people on the street. In the parks. Everywhere. So I feel like much of what I got to experience was about as authentic as it can get. One conversation stays with me. They said that they didn’t “know” Buchenwald was there. It wasn’t like they could drive there. It was restricted. But the wind blows down from Buchenwald into the city sometimes, and when it did, they could smell the smoke.

They didn’t officially know what was going on. But they knew something was happening, and they chose not to acknowledge it. And that’s something they’ve had to live with all these years now. It’s conversations like that which have made me feel the need to speak out against Trump’s rhetoric. For the majority of Germans, life under Hitler was just fine. It was tons better than it had been without him. He brought Germany back from the wreckage of World War I, and he made Germany great again.

But that greatness was built upon the bodies of minorities, literally. It was built on the deaths of millions. Jews. Roma. Homosexuals. Jehovahs Witnesses. Mentally handicapped. Political dissidents. It was built by labeling anyone different as less, and blaming those differences for the ills of the country.

I’m a patriot. I want America to succeed. But I want it to be with a clean conscience. I never want to be looking back at my life, decades later, telling a young missionary about how I didn’t “know” what was going in my country, even though I recognized it. True, Trump hasn’t done anything yet in terms of policy to even come close to what Hitler and the Nazis were doing, but scroll through the news, and you see the stories of so many racists who have been emboldened by Trump’s victory. My own high school had a story about it today. This is real. This is happening.

And a good man would speak out against it. Would use the enormous following he’s made for himself online to say that it’s not right. To say that people need to stop saying and doing those things, and that such actions will not be tolerated by him or his administration. The people who voted for the man should be calling for him to do that as well. Publicly. Vocally. Because the continued silence by them and him implies acceptance.

I love Germany. I love the German people. They are like any other people, and the mistakes they made are the same mistakes people continue to make on a daily basis. The only difference is a matter of scale.

On this Veteran’s Day, I honor the soldiers who have fought for this country and the freedoms we enjoy. But at the end of Band of Brothers, we hear a speech by a German general to his troops as they surrendered. It could have been given verbatim by an American to his soldiers. The Germans were fighting for their country. Being brave and valiant doesn’t make the country or the cause right. That’s up to the leadership and the people to ensure we always have a strong moral compass.

It’s up to us. Each of us. And we can’t forget that. We can’t forget that just because things are improving for me means they’re better for everyone or, worse yet, coming at the expense of a group of people in particular.

A Spoilerific Luke Cage Review

Denisa and I finished Luke Cage over the weekend, and I’ve been waiting to write a review until I was through with the season. Be aware that I will very much be going into spoilers, so steer clear if you don’t want to know how things end.

I enjoyed the show, but it’s probably my least favorite of the Netflix/Marvel shows thus far. (My favorite, for the record, is Jessica Jones, followed by Daredevil 2, then Daredevil, and then Luke Cage.) Cage has a lot of good things going for it. The hero characters are well done. Cage is very relatable, and I really liked how they incorporated his superpowers. (It’s interesting how they could get away with him being so public about them, using the very public existence of the Avengers to explain it.) The soundtrack was great, and it gave the whole series a nice vibe throughout. I really enjoyed the way the show explored the concept of a “Black man in a hoodie” as superhero. That was very well done. And it had a ton of appearances by vets of The Wire, so how could I not like that too?

But it wasn’t as good in some other areas. Plot was pretty weak in this season. The argument of “Luke Cage is dangerous. He made it so the police started beating up citizens. The answer to this is to give the police better bullets” was beyond weak. Especially in light of the fact that we’ve had very public instances of police brutality, and I don’t remember one single example of anyone saying “and this is why the police need more weapons” bring brought up as a solution. It didn’t make any sense at all. Likewise the motivations behind Diamondback. They never really crystallized for me, and they came across as lame the whole time.

Which leads me to my second critique. The villains, other than Cottonmouth, were lame. Diamondback especially was kind of pathetic. His whole motivation? Daddy liked you better. That’s just weak justification for becoming a terrible human being. (Though it’s not like Trump has had any better justification, so maybe I’m being too harsh?) He just came across as whiny the whole time.

Same with Mariah. She was better, but not a whole lot better. She just wanted extra power, and somehow she was able to game the system to get it. But again, the way she gamed the system made no sense. I just had a hard time accepting the fact that she’d be able to get away with everything she got away with.

On the other hand, I liked the fact that Cage was arrested in the end. That made perfect sense to me, even though it was upsetting. He’s a black man with a prison record. How does he not go back to jail in our society, guilty or not? (And the set up for Daredevil becoming his lawyer is great, too.)

What else? Shades was . . . okay. Kind of vanilla bad guy (but he’s got sunglasses! So he’s unique!) Cottonmouth I liked a lot as a villain, and I wish he’d stayed around longer. I liked the musician/gangster flair he had going. Claire was fine. Misty was good at first, and then progressively more annoying as she kept screwing things up. (The writers needed to decide if she was competent or not. They kept waffling on that.)

I’m totally on board for a second season, and I really did enjoy this one, but in the end I found too many areas lacking for me to really give it a 5/5. Maybe not even a 4/5. It felt forced too often, and that’s not a good thing. It’s probably around a 3.5 for me. I didn’t give any single episode more than a 4/5, after all. (Of the thirteen, 8 were 4s and 5 were 3s.)

What did you think?

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