TV Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events (2018)


TitleA Series of Unfortunate Events
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

The second year of this Netflix series adapts books five through nine.  As such, it suffers some of the problems as the books in the repetitiveness of the plots and the extreme frustration with the adult characters’ persistent obliviousness and casual cruelty.  Neil Patrick Harris’ hammy performance as Count Olaf has its moments but too often veers into just plain annoying (especially in The Vile Village when he’s disguised as Detective Dupin).

But this series is saved by the women.  In The Austere Academy, Kitana Turnbull as Carmelita Spats is absolutely hilarious as the evil, secretly cake-sniffing brat. Then in The Ersatz Elevator, Esme Squalor makes her debut as the most-stylish villain, wonderfully portrayed by Lucy Punch who basically steals the screen from Harris for the rest of the series (no small feet).  One of the biggest changes from the book is greatly expanding and changing the role of Olivia Caliban, played by Sara Rue, into a librarian at Prufrock Academy who becomes a VFD agent and delightful – if short-lived – ally of the Baudelaires.

Another great addition to the cast for this season is Nathan Fillion as Jacques Snicket which allows for a long-awaited reunion with Harris of rivals from Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  Isadora and Duncan Quagmire make their debut, although there part is smaller than I remember in the books (perhaps I’m conflating with later books in the series?). But the Baudelaires are what really makes this show succeed: Malina Weissman as Violet Baudelaire, Louis Hynes as Klaus Baudelaire, and the greatest toddler actor ever, Presley Smith as Sunny Baudelaire.  This season shows them grow as characters, becoming more confident in their abilities, and willingness to stand up against those cruel, clueless adults.

The show remains a visual treat and is full of more memorable gags than I can document here. This show was made to be GIF-ed on Tumblr.

 

Related Posts:

 

Podcasts of the Week for Two Weeks Ending May 19


I’m not doing well at getting these podcast recommendations up every week, but here’s a good crop of podcast for your listening pleasure.

HUB History :: The Battle of Jamaica Plain

There was a gang shootout right here in my own neighborhood over a 100 years ago that had international implications and ended up involving Winston Churchill, and I’d never heard of it?!?

Hidden Brain :: Baby Talk: Decoding the Secret Language of Babies

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a nice chat with a baby.

Planet Money :: The Land of Duty Free

The mass quantities of liquor, cigarettes, chocolate, and perfume sold in airports has always fascinated/perplexed me.  Here’s the story of how the duty free shop got started at Shannon Airport in Ireland.  It also confirms my suspicions that duty free shop purchases aren’t really bargains.

LeVar Burton Reads :: “As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders

A live performance of LeVar Burton reading a hillarious/poignant story about a worldwide apocalypse, a genie in a bottle, theater criticism,  and the nature of wishes, complete with an interview with the author

BackStory :: Shock of the New

The history of World’s Fairs fascinates me and this episode commemorates the 125th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, with special focus on women’s and African American perspectives on the fair.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cherokee Story Slam

The stories and life of the talented Robert Lewis.

More or Less: Behind the Stats :: Tulipmania mythology

The Dutch tulip bubble always makes a good story about economics and finance, but the truth of the story is not as dramatic as the myths, albeit more interesting in many ways.

 

Brand New Music Pages


Have you ever wanted find all of my music posts in one place?  I’ve created a new music page which you can find in the menu at the top of this blogs homepage.   The music has three sub-pages.

Album Reviews

Reviews of recently released albums.

All-Time Favorites

Lists of my favorite songs and albums.

Music Discoveries.

My attempts to learn more about a band or artist by listening to all or most of their back catalog.

 

Comic Book Reviews: Ms. Marvel (2014-2016)


I’ve heard good things about the Ms. Marvel comics and so I read the first four volumes of the collected comics.  Kamala Khan is a wonderful character who cares deeply and has a lot of humor and creativity, as well as being just plain adorable.  I also like the water color style of the comic art.

Author: G. Willow Wilson (Author), Adrian Alphona (Artist)
TitleMs. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
Publication Info: Marvel (2014)
Summary/Review:
Rating: ***1/2

Kamala Khan is a teenager from Jersey City who writes fan fiction about her favorite superheroes (who in this universe really exist, not just in comic books), struggles with the strict upbringing of her immigrant Pakistani parents, and engaging with the wider American world as a Muslim girl.  On a night when Kamala sneaks out to go to a party, a mysterious fog envelopes the city and Kamala finds herself with the powers to morph her body and gain significant strength.  She adopts the persona of her hero Captain America – aka Carol Danvers – and begins protecting Jersey City from weird attacks and invaders.  This collection of the first five issues is not overly weighed down by origin story tropes as it depicts Kamala clumsily learning to use her powers while maintaining her ordinary life.


Author: G. Willow Wilson (Author), Jacob Wyatt (Illustrator), Adrian Alphona (Illustrator)
TitleMs. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why
Publication Info: Marvel (2015)
Summary/Review: ****

The second collection features Ms. Marvel coming face to face with her first archival, The Collector, a hybrid of a bird and a clone of Thomas Edison (a delightfully-weird villain).  Wolverine becomes Ms. Marvel’s mentor for a time and Kamala has to balance fangirling over one of her heroes with the reality that she is in better physical shape to handle their adventure.  She’s later paired up with Lockjaw, a large bulldog with teleportation powers.  The story of the Inventor kidnapping teenagers to use them for their energy cleverly plays on the stereotyping and disposability of Generation Y in our capitalist system.


 

Author: G. Willow Wilson (Author), Takeshi Miyazawa (Illustrator), Elmo Bondoc (Illustrator)
TitleMs. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed
Publication Info: Marvel (2015)
Summary/Review:

This collection includes another crossover story with a comical story about Loki ending up at Kamala’s school dance.  There’s also a crossover with S.H.I.E.L.D. as she teams up to save the school from alien infested cafeteria food.  The bigger story is that Kamala falls in love with a boy named Kamran, son of her parents friends, who not only shares a Muslim heritage and geeky interests with Kamala, but also has Inhuman powers.  It seems too good to be true, right?

Rating: ****


Author: G. Willow Wilson (Author), Adrian Alphona (Illustrator)
Title: Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days
Publication Info: Marvel (2015)
Summary/Review:

This is part of a larger Marvel story arc called “Last Days of the Universe” in which the big story is happening in Manhattan.  Kamala has to set up protection for Jersey City on her own while also trying to rescue her brother.  Then her biggest hero Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers arrives and they are able to spend some time working together.  It’s a bittersweet crossover as Danvers has little time to spare and Kamala has to recognize that there may be no tomorrow and reconcile with her family and friends.  My favorite part is when the people in the shelter Kamala sets up in her school decide that they will deal with the end of the universe in a purely New Jersey manner, with a dance party.

There’s also an issue of Spider-Man in which Ms. Marvel makes an appearance, which has nothing to do with the rest of this book, but it makes sense since Kamala Khan and Peter Parker have a lot in common.

Rating: ****

Favorite Passages:

“The young are seen as a political burden, a public nuisance. They are not considered worth educating or protecting.  They are called parasites, leeches, brats, spawn–

If you used the to describe any minority but children, it would quite understandably be considered hate speech.

We are simply taking this loathing to its logical conclusion.” – The Inventor

“Friendship is not a zone, you idiot! Friendship is something real and good and anybody who doesn’t understand that needs a dictionary.” – Bruno

“It’s always the same.

There’s always that one group of people who think that they have special permission to terrorize anybody who disagrees with them.

And then everyone who looks like them suffers.’


Author: G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon
Color Artist: Ian Herring
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Cliff Chiang & David Lopez
Title: Ms. Marvel Vol. 5: Super Famous
Publication Info: New York, NY : Marvel Worldwide, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC, 2016
Summary/Review:

Living the dream of saving the world with the Avengers takes it’s toll on Kamala Khan as she fails to keep up with her school work and her friendship with Bruno.  Meanwhile, the most evil supervillain comes to Jersey City bringing gentrification, and using Ms. Marvel’s image to promote redevelopment. Ms. Marvel must save her city and find a way to balance her priorities.

Rating: ****


Author: G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Mirka Andolfo
Color Artist: Ian Herring with Irma Kniivila
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Cameron Stewart
Title: Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II
Publication Info: New York, NY : Marvel Worldwide, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC, 2016
Summary/Review:

In the midst of a conflict between Captain Marvel and Iron Man, Kamala Khan begins to realize that she must assert herself and stand apart from both of her mentors.  The main plot focuses on Captain Marvel tasking Ms. Marvel with training fellow young Inhumans with predictive powers to fight crime before it happens, something with obvious ethical conflicts. This collection also reveals Kamala’s family’s past going back to the Partition of India and Pakistan, and ends with Kamala visiting family in Pakistan, and meeting a local superhero.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Inside Out


TitleInside Out
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Production Company:

The premise of Inside Out is well-established from all the promotion for the movie.  Inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson are five personified emotions – Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust.  When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has to leave behind her home, friends, and hockey team, and deal with moving into a creaky, little house, a late moving van, and her parents’ distraction, Riley faces new stresses that throw the organized world of her emotions into disarray.

The story goes in places I didn’t expect.  Joy and Sadness are separated from the “control center” of the mind to the “memory banks” and have to find their way back in what is essentially a buddy film.  Joy – the self-appointed leader of the emotions – has never understood the purpose of Sadness and as Riley goes through what is essentially a depressive episode, Joy realizes that they can’t resolve the problem until she lets Sadness take control and allow Riley to express her feelings.

It’s a complicated concept, but it’s done well with a lot of humor and creative illustrations of the inner workings of the mind. It has the gags that will make the kids laugh, and the moments that will make the parents weep (as I did both when Riley’s imaginary friend fades away and at the climax when Riley finally tells her parents how she’s feeling, which lead to my son shouting “hey, you’re crying!).  My son also noted that the emotions display a lot of – well, emotions – leading him to conclude that there must by five smaller emotions within their minds, and so on.

Summary/Review: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

Rating: ****

Album Review: Roza Cruz by La Mecánica Popular


AlbumRoza Cruz
ArtistLa Mecánica Popular 
Release Date: April 13, 2018
Thoughts:

It’s hard to describe the music on La Mecánica Popular’s album Roza Cruz.  I think it sounds like psychedelic Latin jazz, NPR describes it as “Radical Afro-Latin Futurism,” and the band’s own website says they are a “Brooklyn-based Afro-Latin group” and that “their sound is steeped in 1970s’-era Salsa Dura, yet incorporates a heavy dose of modern gadgets – a unique blend of processed Peruvian-style guitar licks & experimental sounds, synths, and textures.”  However one describes it, the five instrumental tracks on this album are a treat for the ears.

Rating: ****

 

 

Book Review: American Amnesia by Jacob S. Hacker


Author: Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
TitleAmerican Amnesia 
Narrator: Holter Graham
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

Two political scientists discuss the history of the “mixed economy” in the United States, how it was dismantled, and why our current political and economic malaise is due to it’s absence.  The mixed economy was ascendant in the United States from roughly the 1910s to the 1970s and at it’s height received wide bipartisan support and was recognized as unchallengable norm by even the most right-wing Republicans.  Mixed economy is defined as one in which corporations have wide ranging freedom to control the means of production and accumulate capital but the government has strong powers of regulation while also providing extensive public services.

During the long progressive period when the US was under a mixed economy, government was generally looked upon in a positive light.  The “American amnesia” is the state we are in today where most Americans are anti-government and have completely forgotten our ancestors’ admiration for government.  This is due to a five decade campaign spearheaded by individuals such as the Koch Brothers and corporate interests like the Business Round Table and the Chamber of Commerce whose Randian ideology of free market libertarianism required debasing and then dismantling the government and the mixed economy.  These views soon were adopted as the Republican Party platform and by the 1990s, even Democrats echoed anti-government sentiments.

This book is important work of political science, economics, and history that shows where Americans once were in a time of more generally widespread prosperity, how we lost that, and what we can do to regain it.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)


TitleBlack Panther
Release Date: February 16, 2018
Director: Ryan Coogler
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Black Panther is rightly celebrated for breaking ground in representation by depicting African and African Americans (and especially Black women) in a superhero/action adventure film.  That wouldn’t matter as much if also wasn’t an excellent superhero/action adventure film, certainly the best one I’ve ever seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The all-star cast put in excellent performances that balances the challenge of providing great character development,  motivations, and relationships with butt-kicking, blowing stuff up, and witty dialogue. The world of Wakanda comes alive, providing a “what if” view of how an African country uninterrupted by colonialism could develop a technologically advanced society from architecture to clothing to rituals to freakin’ awesome battle rhinos.

Introducing T’Challa in Civil War means that Black Panther doesn’t get bogged down with “superhero origin story” tropes, even as it shows him facing the challenges of coming of age, ascending to kingship, and realizing the nuances of right and wrong in governance.  Chadwick Boseman does a great job at examining this uncertainty and loss of idealism. Michael B. Jordan steals the show as Erik “Kilmonger” Stevens whose character is so very American in contrast to the rest of the cast, and brings up uncomfortable questions about Wakanda’s responsibility to oppressed and colonized Black peoples worldwide. (SPOILER: I’m disappointed Kilmonger chooses to die because I think his character could make a great “frenemy” in future films, allying with T’Challa as Wakanda opens itself to the rest of the world.  But I suppose Marvel is already telling that kind of story with Wanda Maximof).  Like most everyone else, my favorite character is Shuri, the young tech wizard played Letitia Wright who needles her big brother T’Challa (while secretly hero-worshiping him) and says inappropriate things at formal occasions.

You probably don’t need me to say it, but this is an all around terrific movie and has something for everyone.

Rating: ****1/2

 

Previously Reviewed:

Album Review: Last Man Standing by Willie Nelson



Album: Last Man Standing
Artist: Willie Nelson
Release Date: April 27, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Last Man Standing”
  • “Don’t Tell Noah”
  • “Something You Get Through”
  • “Heaven Is Closed”
  • “I’ll Try to Do Better Next Time”

Thoughts:

At 85 years old, Willie Nelson is cognizant that many of the people he loved and worked with have died and that he doesn’t have much time left.  Nelson’s new album explores that sense of mortality with tenderness and a sense of humor.  Musically, Nelson sounds as good as ever, and the display of musical styles is a retrospective on his musical career as much as the lyrics. May we all age as gracefully as Willie Nelson.

Rating:

Book Review: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson


Author: Joshilyn Jackson
TitleGods in Alabama
Narrator: Catherine Taber
Publication Info: Hachette Audio (2005)
Summary/Review:

This is a novel I saw highly recommended but didn’t know too much about going into it.  And since it jumps among many genres – romantic comedy, mystery, Southern gothic – it kept me guessing what would happen next (in a good way).  The narrator Arlene Fleet leaves her hometown in rural Alabama after a “miracle,” and promises God three things: never to lie, never to fornicate, and to never return to Possett, Alabama. 10 years later, an old classmate from Possett appears in Arlene’s life and forces her to make the decision to break all three promises.

Accompanying Arlene on her journey back to Alabama is her African-American boyfriend/potential fiance, setting up a confrontation with Arlene’s racist relatives. Arlene also has to contend with her strong-willed Aunt Florence, who raised her when her own mother suffered mental illness.  And she has to contend with the legacy of the popular high school quarterback, Jim Beverly.  There’s also an unsolved murder.  The murder is mentioned early in the book, so this is no spoiler, but the how and the why of the murder unfold over the narrative.

It’s an interesting and entertaining book that shifts from funny to dark on a dime.  I think it gets a bit too contrived toward the end, but by that time I was too invested in the characters to be bothered too much.  Of course, not knowing what exactly type of book this is helps in not anticipating its many twists.

Recommended books:

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price, The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann,  and Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Rating: ***