I Watched: The Umbrella Academy Season 2

Unfamiliar with The Umbrella Academy? No worries, I can assist you with that. In October of 1989, forty-three women across the globe became pregnant and delivered babies in the course of one day. The billionaire industrialist, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, manages to adopt seven of these infants and creates The Umbrella Academy in order to train his adopted children to save the world. But teen years being what they are, the kids have a falling out and each goes their separate way and don’t reconnect until they’re in their thirties when they learn of Hargreeves’ passing. They reluctantly work together to solve a mystery surrounding their father’s death, which puts them on a collision course with a global apocalypse. All caught up? Good. Here’s the trailer for Season 2:

The end of Season 1 saw Vanya (Ellen Page) absolutely losing her ever-loving mind and inadvertently bringing about the apocalypse but Five (Aidan Gallagher) manages create a time portal for his family to escape before life as we know it is obliterated. But it was done in rush and the math on the portal wasn’t accurate enough to keep everyone together, so the Hargreeves siblings land in the same location in Dallas, Texas but scattered in time across the early 1960s.

Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben (Justin H. Min) arrive at 1960 where Klaus accidentally becomes the leader of a cult; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) arrives in 1961 where she lands a job in a beauty salon in the colored part of town and marries a civil rights activist; Luther (Tom Hopper) lands in 1962 and becomes an underground boxer for Jack Ruby; Diego (David Castañeda) lands in September 1963 and winds up in a psychiatric hospital; Vanya lands in October 1963 with no memory and becomes the nanny of a young boy who is on the spectrum; and lastly, Five (Aidan Gallagher) lands on November 25, 1963 in the middle of the Soviet Union invasion of America, and when I say middle I mean US and USSR soldiers are battling all around him. Before Five can get his bearings, his brothers and sisters arrive on the scene to aid the US troops but are unable to stop the nuclear missiles overhead from detonating on American shores.

Before the nukes land, however, Hazel (Cameron Britton) appears beside Five and delivers his version of the classic Arnie line, “If you want to live, come with me.” and he transports Five 10 days in the past and arms him with as much information as he can before he’s gunned down by the assassin trio known as The Swedes (Kris Holden-Ried, Jason Bryden, and Tom Sinclair). The Hargreeves siblings, believing they’re stranded in the past, decide to settle into their new lives which makes Five’s job all the more difficult when he has to pull them out of the comfort of their individual worlds to save the world and repair time. Oh, and their father is alive at the time and very much active in some shady goings-on.

I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to this season because 1) although I liked the first season well enough, the plot’s big mystery felt belabored and stretched thin and I was beginning to lose interest during the midpoint; and 2) Netflix original content ongoing series usually suffers from sophomore slump. That is absolutely not the case here. Season 2 surpasses its predecessor by a country mile.

And while the season is better, it’s almost a little too familiar with the Hargreeves siblings starting out separated from one another, facing yet another global apocalypse, and being dragged into investigating yet another mystery surrounding their father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves. The saving grace is each character is placed in different settings and is allowed to grow outside of the confines of their dysfunctional family relationships. Not so much for Five, Luther, Klaus, or Vanya (who gets a personality reset thanks to a helpful bout of amnesia) but Diego, Allison and Ben are each given their moments in the spotlight, and through Diego, we’re introduced to the most intriguing character of the season, his girlfriend, Lila (Ritu Arya).

Okay, I’m not being totally fair to Klaus or Vanya because they both have moments where they deal with the hardships relating to differing sexual preferences especially when placing the well-being of others before themselves, just as Allison comes face to face with the reality of the lengths some people will go to express their dislike of the color of a person’s skin.

If I had my druthers, I would have liked to see more development in the season’s antagonists. While it’s sometimes fun to watch Kate Walsh chew up the scenery, her one-note characterization detours into tedium after a while. And The Swedes are nothing more than cardboard cutouts of Season 1’s Hazel and Cha-Cha, with every ounce of personality drained from them. I’m also not the biggest fan of the dance numbers and I realize I’m in the minority here, but if you’ve got the time for a dance number, then you’ve got the time to beef up your bad guys. Just saying. And more of Ritu Arya. She’s amazing.

So, would I recommend The Umbrella Academy Season 2? Yup. Much like the Hargreeves siblings, the series as a whole still has a lot of growing up to do but this season shows the promise of the better, faster, stronger show it can be if it abandons its rehashed story beats and explores bold, new, weightier territories (and by weightier I don’t mean another global damned apocalypse). If you’re looking for superhuman action, humor, jukebox moments and head-scratching time-travel antics, then you’re in the right place. Still not convinced? Why not check out Season 2’s opening scene (it doesn’t spoil anything, trust me):

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: Horse Girl

How do you draw a definitive line between dream life and waking life when characters and events begin bleeding into both? That’s the question explored in the Netflix fim, Horse Girl, directed by Jeff Baena, written by Baena and Alison Brie, which follows a socially isolated arts and crafts store employee who finds herself more content in the company of horses and supernatural crime shows than people. Have a gander at the trailer:

Sarah (Alison Brie) is that oddly shaped piece that doesn’t quite fit in the societal puzzle, friendly yet friendless–with the possible exception of her boss, Joan (Molly Shannon)–her shy, introverted ways leads her to live a quiet life. Aside from working at a crafts store, she visits the grave of her suicided mother and frequents the horse stable where Willow, the horse she rode in her childhood is boarded, which annoys the stable owners to no end.

On her birthday, when roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan) finds Sarah home alone, she invites her boyfriend’s roommate, Darren (John Reynolds) over for a double date. The four drink and smoke weed and despite Darren talking about his ex all night, he and Sarah hit it off. When the party’s over, Sarah has a bizarre dream in which she is lying in an antiseptically white room with a man and woman and she wakes up face down in the living room on a mound of throw pillows and there are large scratch marks running across the wall that she can’t account for. Shortly after, a series of bizarre incidents begin to befall Sarah and that’s where this recap ends because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the movie for you.

So, would I recommend Horse Girl? It’s a yes for me but it’s one of those divisive films and it depends on how you view it, as a psychological drama about the effects of hereditary mental illness or a slow burn science fiction fever dream. Like a previous film I reviewed, Relic, the filmmakers seem intent on leaving the decision of whether Sarah is suffering mental problems or the victim of extraterrestrial forces beyond her ability to comprehend, entirely up to your interpretation.

Whichever way you personally lean, the one thing you will probably agree on is Alison Brie’s powerful and convincing performance as a troubled woman who slips on a patch of sanity and falls head first into the instability of a dream-life/waking-life reality that’s been tilted on its axis.

It’s currently on Netflix (apparently it’s been there a while) and it’s certainly, in my not-so-humble opinion, worth the watch. Besides, city and state reopenings have been a mixed bag, so you’re better off playing it safe by maxing and relaxing in your home, and there are far, far worse things you could be doing with 104 minutes of your self-isolated life. Treat yourself, why don’t you?

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: Japan Sinks 2020

Based on the 1973 disaster novel, Nihon Chinbotsu by Sakyo Komatsu, Japan Sinks 2020 is a 10-episode anime series available on Netflix in which a series of major earthquakes hit Japan. We follow the Mutou family (who were separated when the first quake hit) as they reconnect amidst the chaos and try to escape the city before additional quakes and the possible eruption of Mount Fuji threaten to sink Japan.

And that’s all I’m going to give you because I truly do not want to spoil a moment of this for you.

So, would I recommend this series? Without a doubt but it comes with the caveat to keep in mind this is based on a disaster novel, so if you’re out for a lighthearted coming of age Ghibli romp full of magic and wonder, this might not be the anime you’re looking for. The Mutou family and the people they pick up along the way are plunged into extreme life and death situations and from early on you realize that No. One. Is. Safe. which I appreciate, though you might feel differently about it. Different bikes for different likes.

I’ve heard people complain about Naoya Wada’s character designs, Science Saru’s animation style and the fact that the characters in the series live under a constant cloud of hopelessness as the pendulum swings both ways as they experience lucky breaks and violently devastating events in near equal measure, but I was far too interested in the story to nitpick any of these details. When it comes to the show’s atmosphere, I suppose it all boils down to your personal outlook. Is the glass half full or half empty? Do you only see the unapologetically brutal chaos brought on by a natural disaster and how it brings out the worst in some people or can you admire the strength to keep moving forward, the determination to survive in the face of unending adversity which is a cornerstone of the human spirit? Again, each person to their tastes.

For my money, this is a wonderful, intense and compassionate anime series that starts off strong and remains consistent throughout. I started out only planning to watch one episode to get a feel for whether it was in my wheelhouse or not and ended up binging the entire thing in one sitting because each segment closed with a cliffhanger that immediately drew me to the following episode. This deserves more attention and respect than it’s getting. I hope that changes soon.

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: The Old Guard

In The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, a covert team of immortal mercenaries are suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.

Former CIA operative Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) hires a mercenary team to rescue a group of kidnapped children in South Sudan. During the mission, however, the team find no children, and are ambushed by a squad of soldiers and are killed with extreme prejudice. The problem is, the mercenaries don’t stay dead. Their bodies spit out bullets, wounds heal rapidly and they slay their attackers, all of which has been recorded by Copley to expose their gift of immortality.

The mercenary team consists of Andromache of Scythia, but you can call her “Andy” (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) all of whom are centuries-old warriors with regenerative abilities who use their vast experience to help those in need.

While the team is hunting down Copely, the scene shifts to Afghanistan where U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) gets her throat slit in the line of duty, dies and recovers without a scratch. She is plagued by a disturbing dream that is somehow shared with the other immortals, who are now alerted to her existence, which forces Andy to track the Marine down and rescue her before the military brass can subject her to testing.

Copley shows video of the ambush to pharmaceutical executive Steven Merrick (Harry Melling), who naturally wants to capture the mercenaries and turn them into lab rats in order to uncover the secret of their abilities for fame and profit. Andy take Nile to France where she’s introduced to the rest of their team and she hears the story of Quynh (Veronica Ngo), Andy’s first comrade, who was captured by priests during the witch trials and cast into the sea in an iron maiden and has been continually drowning ever since, as the mercenaries have not been able to pinpoint the location of the iron maiden. Nile learns that neither she or the rest of the team is truly immortal and one day their ability to heal will stop without warning.

Merrick’s forces are able to track the mercenaries down and in the melee Joe and Nicky are captured and a heavily wounded Booker is left behind as bait for Andy, who has taken damage during the assault and discovers her body is no longer healing in the process. After a bit of computer hacking, Booker locates Copley, and he, Andy and Nile mount a rescue attempt.

And because I don’t like spoiling films (not much, anyway) that’s all I’m telling you. You wanna know how it ends? You know what to do. It’s available on Netflix for you to stream to your heart’s content.

So, would I recommend The Old Guard? Sure. Just go in knowing that this is based on a comic book series written by Greg Rucka and the plot feels comic booky in nature, which is a weird thing for me to say because this film is in my wheelhouse and I should like it better than I do. I suppose my biggest problem is that I have no connection to any of the characters. Oh, I’m told how wonderful the characters are but I’m not shown anything beneath that expositional surface. The story is laid out so matter of factly, interested in hitting story beats rather than providing texture, that it feels more like the pilot of a tv series than a fleshed-out movie. Items are introduced to set up a sequel or possibly a franchise and I know that’s a thing now, with everyone jumping on the How-To-Franchise-Like-Marvel bandwagon, but it shouldn’t be overtly shoved into a film in place of proper character and story development.

If I had my druthers, I would have liked to see Nile, our every-person, resist a little more. Resist coming to terms with what she’s become, resist the mercenaries and their cause, and resist the wholesale slaughter that comes part and parcel with joining the old guard (which she does a little but it’s not enough in my opinion). Having said all that, it ain’t a terrible movie (don’t go by me and my tastes, what the hell do I know?) and if you’re already subscribed to Netflix, you’re not going to be out of any extra money, and Charlize Theron knows how to throw down in a fight and there’s enough action to satisfy your deep-seated need to see bad guys catch a bullet.

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: “Beastars”

Beastars is an anime series (available on Netflix) based on the manga by Paru Itagaki which is set against the backdrop of a high school where anthropomorphic carnivore and herbivore students coexist in harmony and mainly focuses on a drama club where members compete to attain the rank of Beastar, an individual of great talent, service, and notoriety.

The series opens with a bloody alpaca, Tem, fleeing for his life from a classmate whose identity is hidden from us by shadows yet is known to Tem. The alpaca tries to reason with his assailant to no avail, and his murder causes a cultural divide between the carnivores and herbivores, as it becomes clear that the campus is no longer a safe place for any creature considered prey who is foolish enough to be traveling outside alone once the sun sets.

We follow the struggles of three main characters whose lives intersect and form an unusual love triangle:

  • Legoshi, an introverted large gray wolf with the gentle, contemplative heart of a monk, struggling to suppress not only his carnivore nature but his sexual desire for someone who by all rights should be prey.
  • Haru, an isolated, cheerful, adventurous, and sexually promiscuous dwarf white rabbit who is never afraid to stand up for herself amidst constant shaming and bullying from her classmates.
  • Louis, an intimidating red deer lead actor who lords himself over the drama club, who I absolutely hate, though I respect his plight. He has the heart and soul of a predator, trapped in the body of prey. Though his will is strong enough to dominate all who step into his sphere of influence, his herbivore body can’t go toe to toe with a carnivore. But like I said, I can’t stand him. He has that type of anime face just begging to be punched.

Since there is currently more content available than any sane person can keep track of, this means a lot of movies, tv and anime fly completely under my radar and Beastars would have been one of those shows if a good friend of mine hadn’t recommended it. She knows my taste in anime so I trust her judgment and I went into this series blind, no trailer, no synopsis, no reviews, no nothing. And as soon as I streamed the first episode, I thought Chance the Rapper was going to jump out screaming “You’ve been Punk’d!” because my friend knows there are two things I’m not a fan of in my anime:

  • The first is anthropomorphism. Furries and animals acting like humans no longer holds any interest for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just not in my current entertainment wheelhouse.
  • The second is slice of life school kids romance. If that’s your thing, good on you, I’m simply not the target demographic for that sort of thing.

And as I am no spring chicken, the thought of investing my limited time on this planet suffering through a number of episodes of a boy too shy to tell a cute girl he has feelings for her despite the numerous occasions fate forces the pair together…well, ain’t nobody got time for that.

And I was ready to punch out of the series, when this happened:

What the holy hell was I watching?

Don’t get me wrong, I may be old, but I’m not a prude. I have no problem with women taking charge and owning their sexuality and sexual experiences. There’s no slut-shaming here. In fact, take your clothes off, tiny bunny (sung to the tune of “Tiny Dancer”). It’s all good. You do you. (Do the kids still say that?). The scene simply caught me off guard and it was enough to make me curious about the direction the show was heading in.

I know it’s popular these days to recap events episode by episode, provide thoughts and theories and even pose questions to elicit reader response but that’s a bit too spoilery for me so I won’t be doing any of that. I will, however, point out the moment that made up my mind about this series. It’s the scene where after navigating through a string of hardships, Legoshi and Haru are finally about to connect romantically when this happens:

The bits of text you may not be able to read are:

“A rebuke from my rabbit instincts: loving each other is a terrible mistake. A predator has its own instincts, so does a prey.”

And the line that cinched it all for me:

“Their bodies know what their relationship should be.”

It’s a damned heady line that made me ponder not only their relationship but the biological roles we’re meant to play during the mating process, long after the episode ended. And if a show can make my rusty brainbox think and not simply sit idly and absorb content, well then, it’s got a viewer for life.

Looking at this, I realize that I’ve only showcased intimate scenes but Beastars is far more than a randy animal school romance. Characters struggle with the confines of societal roles, fight to rein in their desires, try to outwit the destinies written on their foreheads, and so much more.

I quite liked the character designs and the animation remained smooth and consistent from episode to episode with no dip in quality. The series juggles several storylines effortlessly and I didn’t experience that midpoint slump which often occurs when binging a show whose plot has been stretched thin in order to fill a preset number of episodes.

So, would I recommend Beastars? Definitely. Will I come back for the second season? Most assuredly. And before you complain about the lack of story breakdowns and spoilers, realize that I’m doing you a favor and I’ve probably said too much already. Go watch it for yourself.

Ciao til next now.