TV Review: Loki (2021)


Title: Loki
Release Date: 2021
Creator: Michael Waldron
Director: Kate Herron
Episodes: 6
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

WARNING: This review contains light spoilers, so if you’re sensitive to spoilers and not watched all 6 episodes of Loki, please don’t read

This Disney+ series picks up from a scene in Avengers: Endgame when the Norse trickster god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) uses the Tesseract to escape the Avengers, and over six episodes ends up in a completely different place that appears to be setting up the next phase of Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Loki is captured by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a bureaucratic organization that operates out its massive mid-century modern headquarters to maintain the Sacred Timeline by “pruning” branches from the timeline.

Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) condemns Loki to be erased from existence but Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) convinces her to allow Loki help investigate another Loki variant who has killed several time agents.  They find the Loki variant and discover it is a woman who uses the alias Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Loki and Sylvie end up teaming up and begin uncovering the dark truths behind the TVA. The final episode avoids the typical Marvel battle for a quieter conversation with the TVA’s creator He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors).  As someone who hasn’t read 60 years of Marvel Comics, I found it a bit frustrating to not be aware of the identity behind He Who Remains until after I read reviews of the episode, but he appears to be setting up to be the MCU’s next Thanos-level threat.

Loki is another excellent limited series that takes storytelling to new and interesting places.  The acting is on point with Hiddleston getting a chance to show his ranges as Loki and Di Martino is a great addition.  I also really enjoy the style of the TVA and the self-referential humor.

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

Movie Review: Sorry to Bother You (2018)


Title: Sorry to Bother You
Release Date:  July 6, 2018
Director: Boots Riley
Production Company: Significant Productions | MNM Creative | MACRO | Cinereach | The Space Program | Annapurna Pictures
Summary/Review:

Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is a young man, down on his luck, and going through an existential crisis when he starts a job at a telemarketing company.  He learns that to make successful sales he has to use a “white voice” (ironically, his managers always talk in “Black voice” when pumping up the employees in meetings).  Soon he’s promoted to the Power Caller department where he makes a fortune selling unethical products and services at the same time his friends and coworkers from the lower floors are organizing a strike. Underlying everything is the growth of a new company called WorryFree that provides cheap labor by signing people to lifetime contracts and housing them in factories (which opponents call slave labor).

The movie has a stellar cast supporting Stanfield. Tessa Thompson plays his girlfriend Detroit, who is a performance artist and underground activist. Steven Yuen is a labor organizer named Squeeze. And Omari Hardwick plays the mysterious Mr. _____, Cash’s Power Caller manager.  Danny Glover and Forest Whitaker also appear in small roles, and Rosario Dawson performs a voice.

I was not prepared for this movie.  I went in expecting a satirical comedy more than anything else but ended up feeling more disturbed than anything else.  Granted, this movie is supposed to be disturbing, but I wasn’t expecting creepiness approaching Get Out levels.  And that was before the scenes of full-on body horror!  I also felt the movie had too many targets.  While the satire of the corporate world and capitalist exploitation works, I felt the gags about online memes, reality tv, and performance art fell flat.  Still this is a good first film for Boots Riley and I look forward to seeing what he’ll put out next.  Oh and the music by Riley’s band The Coup and tUnE-yArDs is perfect for this movie.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2020)
Summary/Review:
Favorite Passages:
Recommended books:

Timothy Zahn introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn as the Imperial antagonist to the New Republic in his 1990s trilogy of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command.  A more recent trilogy gives us a Thrawn origin story of sorts as he is found by the Empire, presumably in exile, and then rising up the ranks of the Imperial navy in Thrawn, Alliances, and Treason. Chaos Rising begins a new trilogy of books that go even further back in Thrawn’s life to his rise in the military of his own people, the Chiss Ascendancy.

The novel tells two intertwined stories.  The main narrative set in the “present day” deals with a new threat to the Chiss Ascendancy. Thrawn is tasked with rooting out the new enemy.  His tactical genius is impeccable but Thrawn is not skilled in dealing with the internal politics of the isolationist Ascendancy and the infighting among and within its Nine Ruling Families.

Thrawn’s ventures into the mysterious region of space called the Chaos bring him in touch with the old Republic during the Clone Wars.  In fact, a scene from Thrawn: Alliances is retold from a different perspective. Chiss ships navigate space with the help of force-sensitive girls who are known in the Chiss language as “sky-walkers” (a funny coincidence). This novel introduces former sky-walker, Thalias, now an adult, becomes the caregiver for the sky-walker on Thrawn’s ship.  Thrawn sees Thalias’ talent and their collaboration on the mission is a central part of the story.

Chapters entitled “memories” tell the story of the early days in the military of Thrawn and his mentor Ar’alani.  Both stories tie together in a captivating adventure and thriller, and Thrawn remains one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars universe.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Luca (2021)


TitleLuca
Release Date: June 18, 2021
Director: Enrico Casarosa
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Pixar’s latest release is part Pixar formula, part innovation.  The story is a coming-of-age comedy mixed with fantasy elements that is similar to other Pixar films.  The animation veers away from the more photo-realistic style of recent Pixar releases with more cartoonish character designs and a fairy tale rendering of the Italian Riveria.  The biggest disappointment is that Disney chose not to give this movie a wide theatrical release because I expect it looks amazing on the big screen.

The story centers on Luca (Jacob Tremblay), a young teenaged sea monster who is curious about the human “land monsters” and their artifacts that fall into the sea, but his strict parents warn him to keep away.  Before he can get all moody and start singing “Part of Your World,” he is accidentally scooped up onto land by Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), an older teenage sea monster who has made a home for himself in an abandoned tower. The sea monsters take human form on dry land, the transformations being a great visual effect used throughout the movie.

The boys bond in friendship, and dreaming of exploring the world on a Vespa, they go to the local town.  They meet Giulia (Emma Berman), an adventurous teenaged girl and misfit, and the trio work together to earn prize money in a triathlon of swimming, past eating, and bicycling.  The movie tells a story of young people forming friendships and finding a place where they feel like where they belong, while dealing with bullying and prejudice.  As you can expect from Pixar, there’s a lot of humor, charm, wonder, and tear-inducing heartfelt moments.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: The Last Command
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2012) [Originally published April 1, 1993]
Summary/Review:

The finale of “The Thrawn Trilogy” is an exciting culmination of the shaky New Republic’s stand against the cunning plans of Grand Admiral Thrawn to reestablish the Empire.  It’s great to have Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, Artoo, and Threepio all working together.  Then there are wild cards like Mara Jade, a tentative ally who is sworn to kill Luke for her former master Palpatine, and the mad Jedi clone C’baoth who believes that he rules the Empire instead of Thrawn.  The book could be trimmed of some of the excessively talk parts, and I could do without all the subplots involving Talon Karrde and other smugglers, but it is a satisfying conclusion.

I still think this books could be the inspiration for movies set after the destruction of the Second Death Star.  They would have to be animated movies, because of the age and deaths of the cast members.  But I think you could make a good story with elements such as Thrawn, Mara Jade,  and the Noghri.  Things would have to be adjusted to fit into the Sequel Trilogy, such as Leia giving birth to one child instead of twins.  I’d also dispense with C’baoth and anything to do with cloning since clones were already central to the Prequels and Rise of Skywalker.  But there’s a good kernel here for a fun film trilogy or maybe a Disney+ series.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Last Olympian: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5
Publication Info: New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011.
Previously Read by the Same AuthorThe Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s CurseThe Battle of the Labyrinth
Summary/Review:

The final book of the series leads to the culminating battle to save Olympus from the Titans in the streets of Manhattan. The book builds well to get to that point with a natural ebb and flow in the narrative between fightin’ and more contemplative stuff. Themes that have been building across all five books play out hre and Percy, Thalia, Grover, Annabeth, Tyson, Clarisse, and Nico all show great character development.  I particularly like how Percy plays his reward from the gods.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Battle of the Labyrinth: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2008.

Previously Read by the Same AuthorThe Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse
Summary/Review:

The Battle of the Labyrinth is another great quest story, this time primarily underground in the mysterious labyrinthe.  Annabeth leads the quest with Grover, Percy, and Tyson with an angry and dangerous Nico playing a part as well.  The book is well constructed as each characters has a role to play that leads to a specific goal.  The war with the Titans begins in earnest with a battle at Camp Half-Blood that concludes the novel.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Titan’s Curse: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: New York : Random House/Listening Library, [2007]

Previously Read by the Same AuthorThe Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters 
Summary/Review:

Book 3 of the series once again features a coast-to-coast quest (literally Bar Harbor, Maine to the Bay Area of California) as Percy Jackson seeks to find his friend Annabeth and the goddess Artemis.  The book introduces half-bloods Nico and Bianca di Angelo, features Zeus’ daughter Thalia for the first time, and brings in Zoë Nightshade and the Hunters of Artemis.  All of these characters will be significant to the course of the narrative in the ensuing novels.  But I feel The Titan’s Curse doesn’t work as well as a stand-alone adventure and feels a bit formulaic.  It’s still clever and fun, though.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title:The Sea of Monsters: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: [New York, N.Y.] : Listening Library, 2006.
Previously Read by the Same Author: The Lightning Thief
Summary/Review:

The second book of ancient Greek mythology adapted as American teenager adventure and drama is just as it’s fun as its predecessor.  In this book, Percy and his friends have to travel to the Sea of Monsters (now in the Bermuda Triangle) to rescue Grover and find the Golden Fleece.  Adventures include dodgeball with cannibal giants, a ship full of dead Confederates, escaping Circe with the help of Blackbeard’s pirates, and Grover trying to escape marrying the cyclops Polyphemus.  This book also introduces the dim but brave and kind Tyson, one of my favorite characters in the series.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Dark Force Rising
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: 2012 Random House Audio [Originally Published in 1992] 
Summary/Review:

Much like The Empire Strikes Back, this book draws upon its predecessor and takes the storytelling to new heights.  Also like The Empire Strikes Back, this story sends our heroes off on separate missions to come together again at the finale.

Luke Skywalker seeks out Jedi Master Joruus C’baoth for training, not realizing he is mad. Leia Organa Solo travels with Chewbacca to the planet of the Noghri in hopes of using diplomacy to bring them to the side of the New Republic.  Han Solo and Lando Calrissian try to solve the mystery of a spy within the New Republic’s inner echelons and a possible coup by an ambitious Bothan. And Mara Jade, who has sworn to kill Luke, now seeks him out for help.

Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was a major point-of-view character in Heir to the Empire, plays a smaller role here, but his presence lurks behind all that is happening.  Marc Thompson does a great job reading the book and the production includes music and sound effects for full immersion in the Star Wars galaxy.

Rating: ***1/2