Category: review

Television Review: WandaVision

There aren’t many appointment television shows out there for me anymore. Shows that I make time to watch as soon as I can, week after week. But one highlight of the pandemic has been Disney’s Friday night offerings on Disney+. First with the second season of The Mandalorian, and just barely with WandaVision, I’ve looked forward to having something new and fresh to watch with the family. (Well, MC doesn’t watch, but Tomas and Daniela really enjoy it, and Denisa generally tolerates it.)

WandaVision was a very strange concept that I wasn’t sure about heading into it. Some sort of a strange adaptation of sitcoms throughout the last six decades combined with a Marvel superhero plot? I had no idea how it was going to work, and how they would tie things together. I know Marvel movies have gotten criticism in the past for all of then blending together. This hasn’t really been a complaint of mine, since I’ve felt like they’ve done a solid job at differentiating them all by style and tone. Thor Ragnarok vs. Guardians of the Galaxy vs. Dr. Strange vs. Iron Man? They’re all different types of movies, though all still definitely superhero movies. (Maybe the complaint might be “too many superhero movies,” but I still haven’t reached that point. At least not for Marvel. DC, on the other hand, tried to differentiate itself by having the “serious” superhero movies. The end result is that, outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, they’re almost all broody and one note and just blah.)

WandaVision continues that exploration into different territory, and I think it really succeeded. I loved how they blended comedy into mystery into action, though admittedly I’m already the sort of person who really likes some genre bending. In the end, the whole series felt like a uniquely Marvel-flavored experience, and it gave me a lot of the same vibes I used to get seeing Marvel movies in the theater. A very wise move in the middle of the pandemic.

I know some have criticized it for being things it wasn’t. For not having huge character reveals. For not setting up enough Marvel franchises for the future. For not being explosive enough. I didn’t really connect with any of these complaints. For one thing, I realize WandaVision was never meant to be the next big step for Marvel. It had that role thrust upon it due to the world going crazy. I’m impressed that Marvel is able to consistently deliver great characterization and plot development into characters I didn’t really know a whole lot about before the movie or show. Wanda and Vision? I mean, they’re fine and all, but they always struck me as third fiddle to the other characters. Now that they’ve had a better chance to shine, it’s great to see that they polish up so nicely.

It’ll be interesting to see how things go with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I’m still excited for it, and happy that we have some time for continued experiences like this. For me, this was an 8.5/10. A much needed breath of fresh air for my evening viewing experience. What did you think?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Television Review: The Crown Season 4

I’m not sure if I’ve reviewed older seasons of The Crown. I don’t review everything I watch, even the shows I quite enjoy. I’ve stuck with the Crown through all these seasons because I like the way it presents different slices of history. Each season deals with a decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, and the shows I like the most are when they get away from the royals themselves and focus on what the royals were doing. What events were happening in that decade. It’s fascinating to see what they choose to fill each of the 10 episodes with.

So while many might have been really looking forward to Season 4, which focuses on the 80s, I wasn’t terribly enthralled with the idea. I expected it to be dominated by Prince Charles and Princess Di, and indeed it was. I understand why’d they do that: there likely would have been many people who would have been upset if they hadn’t given a lot of attention to the couple, since the couple was a focal point of the royals for the 80s. But man oh man was it a downer of a storyline. The show presents it as a miserable, failed marriage almost from the beginning, and it’s very hard to have any sympathy for anyone other than Princess Di coming out of the season.

(That actually makes me question just what things were really like. I know this is all a dramatization of historical events, and I know the royals are famously tight lipped about what they do and who they are. The Charles/Diana storyline seemed almost 100% in favor of Diana, to the point that Charles comes off as some sort of fairy tale troll. Perhaps they thought that all the goodwill they tried to earn for Charles in Season 3 would help offset that. Provide context for why he acted the way he did. It didn’t. He comes off as an entitled boor the whole time, gaslighting and manipulating this poor innocent wife. I hope it wasn’t really as bad as that.)

In any case, I wasn’t a fan of the Charles/Diana plot. Each time they were on the screen, I just felt physically drained. Too much baggage for a pandemic audience. Then again, Gillian Anderson did a tremendous job as Margaret Thatcher, and I really enjoyed seeing that arc unfold, even though it was also a bit of a train wreck, historically speaking.

In the end, you have a wonderfully produced, directed, and acted season about a subject that is very much not what I was in the mood to watch. It says something that I watched it anyway, which is why I gave it a 7/10. If I were being more impartial, that score would likely be higher, but I just didn’t have a fun time watching it. I understand that’s a petty complaint. I wasn’t supposed to have a fun time watching it. But there it is, nonetheless.

If you’re a fan of Charles and Diana and want to see one version of how it might have played out, or if you’re just into star-crossed marriages destined to go wrong, then have I got a show for you. If you’re not, then this might be a season you can skip. It’s rated TV-MA, but I think that’s more for the series as a whole. I don’t recall anything content-wise in this season that would call for it, short of the depiction of Diana’s experiences with bulimia.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Unpopular Opinion: Bridgerton Edition

Bridgerton has really been drawing a lot of attention since it came out on Netflix last month. While I might not seem like I’m squarely in the target demographic, there were a number of things about it that intrigued me. First off, anytime something’s getting that much attention, as a maker of pop art, I want to check it out and try to see what the appeal is. Add to that the fact that I was a big Downton Abbey fan, and I don’t think it’s a huge leap to think I might have liked the show. So I gave it a shot.

As per my policy, I don’t review things I don’t finish. And I’m reviewing Bridgerton now, so obviously I liked the show enough to stick around to see the end. That said, I loved the first two episodes, then grew increasingly frustrated with the plotting and characterization of the show the longer it went on, plus its insistence on just shoehorning sex in whenever possible. I realize that “I didn’t like this steamy soap opera show because it had too many random steam scenes and was too much like a soap opera” is a pretty idiotic criticism to make. (Kind of like saying, “I didn’t like that chocolate ice cream because it tasted too much like chocolate ice cream.”) But hear me out.

Those first two episodes were a lot of fun. They were setting up characters, setting up conflicts, and it all seemed to be going in a nice straight boy meets girl sort of a pattern. It was light and amusing and very different from any of the darkness kicking around current events, and so I appreciated it for that, and I was really excited to see it continue in that vein.

In many ways, this is the same thing that attracted me to Downton Abbey. I always felt that show was at its best when it was just presenting the lives of the characters through a historical lens. Showing what they thought was important and how they dealt with it. I became most frustrated with the show when it chose instead to delve into the soap opera story lines. The murder accusation was the worst offender that I can remember at the moment. In my opinion, the show jettisoned character for plot in those instances. Sure, anyone can have something “shocking” happen at any point in a plot. But throwing in shocks for the sake of shocks is just too much of a blunt instrument at some point.

Four episodes into Bridgerton, things started really going off the rails. I won’t spoil anything in particular here, but I’ll just say that characters stopped behaving like rational beings. They stopped being consistent with the people we got to know the first few episodes, instead choosing to do stupid things that (to me) felt like they were done simply because the writers wanted them to happen. It’s cheap theatrics, and it’s disappointing. For example, one of my personal big pet peeves is when a conflict would be easily solved if only the characters would take five minutes to talk to each other. I understand that sometimes people refuse to talk to each other, and that can make for problems. However, people need reasons not to talk. They can’t just decide not to talk because because. Bridgerton had huge swathes of conflict that relied heavily on this. So in many ways, my disappointment was heightened because I liked the first two episodes so much.

This is all setting aside the sex scenes, which really, really didn’t need to be what they were. If any of you out there are thinking about watching Bridgerton and just fast forwarding through the sex or closing your eyes or whatever, save yourself 8 hours and just don’t watch the show. (Well, maybe you’d only save 7 hours, because you’d be skipping about an hour of the show already.) What did Bridgerton feel like? It felt like Game of Thrones meets Downton Abbey, with more of the flaws of both than the strengths.

All told, I give it a 4/10 for the season. There were still glimmers of things I enjoyed, and those first two episodes were great, but it was a show that made me want to keep checking my phone or do a crossword while I waited for it to finish things that were stupid so that it could get back to the few things I still wanted to find out about. I don’t believe I’ll be punching a ticket for the second season, and unless you’re a big fan of steamy soap operas, I recommend going elsewhere for your diversions. I know it’s gotten a lot of great reviews. I just think they’re wrong. 🙂

(I understand that there’s a fair bit to like in this show. The costuming and set design are both really solid, and there’s plenty of drama to feast on. I think the 4/10 is more a response to my disappointment of what might have been, and that’s okay I suppose. Not all shows out there are made for me. I’ve learned to live with that fact, even if it makes me bitter from time to time.)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Best (and Worst) Media I Consumed in 2020

A little bit later than I’d like this year, but the wonderful thing about logging everything I read and watch is that it’s a pretty simple thing to look back and sum things up whenever I choose to do it.

2020 was (obviously) a strange year. I had to really force myself to get to my 52 books for the year, probably because unless a book was really gripping, I had a hard time focusing on reading. Distractions like a global pandemic seem to do that to me. Go figure. But I got there, and I actually broke my page number record (since I’ve been keeping track.) I took some time to see how everything has shaken out for me from a media perspective over the past several years (since I started logging.) Here’s an overview:

YearBooksPagesMoviesTV Seasons
20153816,40114836
20163814,1379138
20175218,6288833
20185218,6996826
20195221,0095739
20205221,27712629

I was really surprised to see how many movies and TV seasons I used to watch. If I’m wondering where I’ve been carving out all the time I’ve needed to do the other things on my plate, it’s clear at least one area that’s been winnowed down.

I’m not honestly sure what I think about that, really. On the one hand, it’s easy to say movies and television are extraneous, and so what if I stop watching as many. On the other, I’ve always thought of myself as both a well-watched AND a well-read person, and I’m particularly troubled to see the number of movies dipping so precipitously. Then again, I do believe some of what used to be movies is being turned into full blown television shows, so I suppose there’s some mushiness to those boundaries. It’s interesting to me that, in times of stress, I turned to more movies as escape. Movies are wonderful, because you consume them all at one sitting. No long term commitment. I might begin to think about adding a movie goal, but I’m not sure about it, so I’m not going to just yet.

Clearly my reading goal is stretching me, since I keep getting to 52 and no higher. Though it’s interesting to see how I’ve begun to take on bigger books, with that total of pages read creeping up each year.

Anyway. That’s it from a bird’s eye point of view. What did I think about the actual things I read and watched? As usual, I’ll give you my 10s and 9s for each, and then for film and television I’ll give you my worst. (Out of professional courtesy, I don’t tell people about the books I really disliked, though I might make some broad comments about them.)

NOTE: These are organized first by number score, and then within that by when I watched them, from earliest in the year to latest. I’m not putting the individual scores in order.

Best Books of 2020:

  • The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood (10/10)
  • Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson (10/10)
  • Memories of Ice, by Steven Erikson (10/10)
  • Underlord, by Will Wight (9/10)
  • The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis (9/10)
  • Wintersteel, by Will Wight (9/10)

Honorable Mentions (8.5/10)

  • Lost and Found, by Orson Scott Card
  • The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi
  • Uncrowned, by Will Wight

Best Movies and TV Seasons of 2020:

  • 1917 (10/10)
  • The Two Popes (10/10)
  • Up (10/10)
  • His Girl Friday (10/10)
  • 12 Angry Men (10/10)
  • Pirates of Penzance (10/10)
  • Inglorious Basterds (10/10)
  • The Queen’s Gambit (season 1) (10/10)
  • No Country for Old Men (10/10)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (10/10)
  • A Marriage Story (9.5/10)
  • Joker (9.5/10)
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 3) (9.5/10)
  • The Producers (original) (9.5/10)
  • Rear Window (9.5/10)
  • Hamilton (9.5/10)
  • Ghostbusters (original) (9.5/10)
  • Bugsy Malone (9/10)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (9/10)
  • The Good Place (season 5) (9/10)
  • Strange Brew (9/10)
  • Titanic (9/10)
  • The Walk (9/10)
  • The Martian (9/10)
  • Stranger Things (season 1) 9/10
  • The Muppet Movie (9/10)
  • Stranger Things (season 3) 9/10
  • Big (9/10)
  • WALL-E (9/10)
  • Field of Dreams (9/10)
  • Interstellar (9/10)
  • West Side Story (9/10)
  • Chariots of Fire (9/10)
  • Moonstruck (9/10)
  • The Great Escape (9/10)
  • The Philadelphia Story (9/10)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (9/10)
  • Bringing Up Baby (9/10)
  • Miller’s Crossing (9/10)
  • Soul (9/10)

Honorable Mentions (8.5/10)

  • Contagion
  • UHF
  • Argo
  • Knives Out
  • My Man Godfrey
  • Roman Holiday
  • Sabrina (original)
  • The Last Crusade
  • Dark (season 1)
  • Raising Arizona
  • Umbrella Academy (season 2)
  • A Knight’s Tale
  • The Twelfth Man

You’ll note that my viewing was pretty stacked, mainly because I was rewatching classic movies with Daniela, and it’s hard to go wrong with those. But I didn’t just watch good movies:

Worst Movies and TV Seasons of 2020:

  • Scoob (1/10)
  • The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (2/10)
  • Parasite (3/10)
  • Succession (season 1) (3/10)
  • The Hate U Give (4/10)

Dishonorable Mention (5/10)

  • The Hobbit (Rankin/Bass)
  • The Sorceror’s Stone
  • The Chamber of Secrets

Yes, a 5/10 is technically a wash in my rating scheme. It means I neither liked nor disliked the movie. However, since I generally only finish movies I like, and I don’t rate movies (or TV seasons) I don’t finish, my rating generally skews toward the higher end of the scale. So getting a 5/10 is a sign that I have no real desire to watch the movie again . . .

As for books, did I read anything a 5 or below? Just two, and nothing that was too-too terrible.

  • An adapted screenplay-turned-novel by a famous author in the 40s (4/10)
  • A classic novel by another famous counterculture author (5/10)

And there you have it. Quite the sampling over the course of the year. I really enjoyed revisiting the classic movies, and I hope to get back to that sometime in the next bit.

Watch or read anything great (or terrible) yourself?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Netflix Review: The Queen’s Gambit

Sometimes it feels like I’m always last to the table when it comes to reviewing different series on streaming. Then again, whenever I actually write the review, I’m surprised to see many people often haven’t even heard about what I’m reviewing. It’s hard to remember sometimes that just because I keep an ear to the ground on new series doesn’t mean everyone does.

That said, The Queen’s Gambit has been all over the place recently, so maybe this is an instance where everyone really has already heard about it. Still, it’s rated TVMA, and that’s often a deal breaker for some, unless there are extenuating circumstances. This is an instance where I would go ahead and recommend Queen’s Gambit to just about anyone mature enough to think a series about a young female chess prodigy sounds remotely interesting. (It has no nudity, but the main thing getting that TVMA rating is extensive drug use (though it’s very much presented in a non-glorified fashion) and a fair peppering of bad language.)

So why should you give a shot to yet another Netflix show? The Queen’s Gambit stood out to me in a number of ways, and I ultimately gave it a 10/10. It’s a rare show that starts strong and maintains that strength from start to finish. But if my recommendation alone isn’t enough (why not?), here are some specifics:

  • It’s about chess. How many other shows do you have on that subject? Better yet, it makes chess look exciting. It helps to know a bit about chess, but you don’t need to know anything about it to enjoy it.
  • It’s a limited run. No cliff hanger at the end of the series. Seven episodes depict the story from start to finish. There are a number of shows that I enjoy for the first bit, but then they turn their focus to lengthening the show instead of telling the story they set out to tell. This one doesn’t do that.
  • The acting is very strong. I found the characters engaging and surprising, but not in a gimmicky sort of way. You really grow to understand them and see why they make the decisions they do, even if you might wish from time to time that they’d just wise up.
  • The finale is a really great piece of television. It’s the strongest episode of the series, building on all the pieces that were strewn throughout the earlier episodes into a climax that really packs an emotional punch.
  • It has, at its heart, a very encouraging theme. I found it ultimately uplifting, and I really need more of that now.
  • It’s also a fascinating period piece, with great attention to scene design and costuming. Even in the lulls, it’s just a pleasure to see what’s on the screen.

All told, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve seen this year. Give it a shot.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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