TV Reviews

Review: Disenchantment Season 2

In its second season, Matt Groening’s Disenchantment could have followed either of the two sophomore release paths:

  • Run with the gimmicks of the first season and not further the characters or plot in any meaningful way
  • Take the core of what made the first season attractive, build upon it, and enhance it

Thankfully, Disenchantment followed the later course, and I found it generally better than the first season. The jokes were crisper, the characters felt more real, and there was a good balance between diversion and overarching plot.

Episode eight, “In Her Own Write” is a major highlight of the season. As Bean sets out to process her grief and confused emotions through writing, Luci acts as her writing demon (which all writers have, of course). The jokes here are painfully as Luci “encourages” Bean by prompting her to compare her art to others’, etc.

Disenchantment (Netflix)

Bean remains a somehow-likeable main character despite her many, many flaws.

Bean’s mom, Queen Dagmar, remains the “big bad” as revealed at the end of season one. She remains such at the end of this season, though she was not the antagonist of each episode.

Both Luci and King Zøg do some soul-searching. However, Elfo does not play nearly as central a role here as he did in the first season (I was okay with this…)

The people of Dreamland remain woefully ignorant and delightfully superstitious, though this fact is used to introduce some tantalizing possibilities for upcoming seasons when a steampunk traveler from nearby “Steamland” crashes in Dreamland on a mission to kill Zøg.

Even with season two having a cohesive, single project feeling to it, there are several promising openings for plot development in upcoming seasons, which is a great place to land.

Movie Reviews

Movie Review*: A Marriage Story

*I’m not much of a movie reviewer, so this “review” will quickly degenerate into a list of things I really really liked about the movie.*

I thought A Marriage Story was a really great film, though saying I enjoyed it doesn’t quite seem the right way of putting it. This movie absolutely destroyed me, leavening me empty of feeling before giving me a slight hint of hope an its end. And I loved every minute of it.

Directed by Noah Baumbach, A Marriage Story is on Netflix and stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple going through a divorce. They were both great, and really they carried the film. Many shots of one of these two talking is simply focused on their face, deriving the emotional weight up the scene from facial expressions and slight shifts in body language. When Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) first meets with her divorce attorney, Nora, there is a long shot in which Nicole is narrating the rise and fall of her and Charlie’s (Adam Driver) marriage. The scene is captivating, but Nicole is hardly seen. While she gives the details on the broken marriage and tells her story, viewers mostly see the office room they’re in while she steps away into the next room.

The movie opens brilliantly, with each partner talking about what they love about the other. Turns out that these beautiful essays were an exercise given to them my a mediator who will be helping them navigate their separation and divorce. Charlie and Nicole each show their role up front. Charlie is almost too confident and is eager to share his glowing essay with Nicole. But she is conflicted and distraught; she refuses to share.

Charlie’s confidence (arrogance really) greatly contributes to his downfall. As Nicole moves from New York to LA and finds an attorney (played by Laura Dern who is brilliant), Charlie is more and more frustrated as things escalate and do not comport with his vision of their life together.

Neither Charlie nor Nicole are portrayed as “the bad guy,” though there may be some villains in the film. The divorce attorneys are really the only ones who benefit from the whole situation. Though Alan Alda’s character acts as a mediating, tempered voice in the proceedings until Charlie replaces him with another cutthroat LA divorce lawyer who will go toe-to-toe with Nicole’s laywer. Their family and friends on the sidelines are obstacles too, however well-intentioned many of them are.

The tone of this movie is very warm and subdued. The film quality almost seems grainy making things feel comfortable and nostalgic. Despite the emotional weight of what is going on, Driver and Johansson are held back and reserved until a few select moments when they allow their frustration and their pain to breach the surface. We see this again when Charlie sings “Being Alive.” It stuck out to me that viewers could have been given the feeling of the scene by seeing the reactions of his friends as he sings this plea, but instead we simply watch Charlie in one camera view, singing the song with feeling but not overt emotion–somehow pulling the audience along into the sense of longing mixed with hope conveyed by the song.

Somebody need me too much

Somebody know me too well

Somebody pull me up short

And put me through hell

And give me support

For being alive

Make me alive

Make me alive

Stephen Sondheim, “Being Alive” (Company, 1970)

The audience is allowed some measure of hope in the film’s ending, not that Charlie and Nicole might reconcile their marriage, but that they may be able to grow as people. They might continue to love, despite it all.

this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/10/20): Say Hello to Heaven

The Good Place

This week I jumped back into The Good Place. The Soul Squad has given up on making themselves good enough to get into the Good Place, but they’ve turned their attention toward helping someone from each of their pasts get there. Unable to carry on in ignorance, Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, are perhaps more free than ever to truly pursue the good. They ironically chase the best for those who hurt them, as Michael explains that they are eligible to enter the real Good Place, knowing the truth of the eternal game as they do.

I really want to see what happens in the upcoming final season of this show, even though I think it peaked in season one. The show has been interesting and engaging but in the big reveal/turnaround at the end of the first season, there was a certain something lost for the audience as well as the main characters. Giving more weight to Eleanor’s story has been a strength of season three, and Michael’s role has been very satisfying. However, that first season just felt so perfect, and like Chidi and co., viewers just can’t go back to the life they once knew.

The Future of Another Timeline

Made some progress in Annalee Newitz’s second sci-fi novel this week. Her interweaving of technology, speculation, and social issues is really engaging. This book really brings life to the concept of “speculative fiction.” I’ve been delighted by the ways in which Newitz has written a definite time-travel book without being cliche or only playing into sci-fi tropes. I’m at the point in The Well of Ascension in which there’s no turning back, so I’ll probably put a temporary pause on this one for a few days.

The Well of Ascension

I’ve been somewhat disengaged with this one. I’ve been wondering if that was due to it being my third time through, but I think it owes mostly to the book itself. It’s got some typical second book foibles. It takes some time for things to pick up. A lot needs to happen before book three which needs to happen…in book two. The love story is also super frustrating and annoying. (But then again…see the quote at the end of this post)

But! Today I crossed the threshold into the pre-Sanderslanche zone. The Sanderslanche is my lazy term for the end of every Brandon Sanderson book (Sanderson + avalanche, get it?). After a haphazard Google search I feel fairly comfortable taking credit for the term.

Brandon really brings it home for the end of each of his novels, and it’s one of those things that keeps readers coming back and makes true commitment out of curiosity.

The Well of Ascension is no different, and now that I feel the ‘slanche coming. There’s no turning back.

Other Various Media: Comics and The Silmarillion

If I’m going to make my lofty reading goals for the year, I need to jump into some comic books and graphic novels. I don’t feel great about counting some of these as a book toward the total. But I also like to see that I’ve read x amount of books and feel that totally unearned sense of accomplishment.

On deck for comics: more Star Wars

Kick-Ass, Book 1 by Mark Millar

Blackbird by Sam Humphries

Sandman, vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Adventure Time, vol. 5 by Ryan North

I have made no progress through the audio of The Silmarillion, and I probably won’t until I finish The Well of Ascension. I’m at that dreaded point in the Tolkien master-work where I wonder if I need to start at the beginning again.

Well, there’s another week in my fantastical adventures. From everything I’m hearing, I’m excited to dive into the newest series of Doctor Who after I’m caught up on The Good Place. Otherwise I’ll be a puddle on the floor from the emotional weight of the Well of Ascension ending.

So what did your week in fandom look like?

I’ll leave you with another selection from The Well of Ascension that points back to last week’s. Last week I looked at what Tindwyl of Terris thinks makes a good king, namely, trust. In the following snippet, Zane comes to make Vin run away with him, and she almost does it. But then she finally chooses Elend. Zane asks her why:

“Tell me what it is!” Zane said, tone rising. “What is it abgout him that draws you? He isn’t a great leader. He’s not a warrior. He’s no Allomancer or general. What is it about him?”

The answer came to her simply and easily. Make your decisions–I’ll support you in them. “He trusts me,” she whispered.

The Well of Ascension, 584.
this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/3/20): Mistborn, Time Travel, and the Magic of That Screen Crawl

Welcome to the first weekly installment of “This Week in Fandom,” in which I’ll briefly explore what I’m currently into and hopefully synthesize my divergent interests into some sort of coherent life. This Week in Fandom is somewhat modeled after Sanderson’s yearly “State of the Sanderson,” in which he outlines his year and the progress he’s made in various projects. However, instead of outlining my own accomplishments, I intend to outline the ways in which I’m enjoying the accomplishments of others.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson.

The second book in the original Mistborn trilogy picks up about a year after The Final Empire. Last week [link] I started a series on how belief plays out in this series. So on this, my third time through, I’m digging in and exploring the ideas that have captured my attention on previous reads. This reread is also the start of another pass through the whole Cosmere for me, since we officially have a Stormlight 4 release date. More on what’s going on with Vin and Sazed later as I have a few more Mistborn and belief posts in the works.

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

I just cracked into this one, but I’m pretty excited. I read Newitz’s debut novel, Autonomous, last year, and it was great. I veer toward more fantasy than sci-fi, but the approach of Autonomous left me ready to open myself up to the genre. In her first novel, the ramifications of A.I. and bioethics drove the plot forward, so it will be great to see how Newitz takes on geological time travel.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Vol. 6: Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon written by Si Spurrier

Doctor Aphra is yet another Star Wars IP that is a dividing line between fans. Aphra is an archaeologist who plays by her own rules and lives by a “play or be played” philosophy. Her early adventures kept her perilously close to Vader, but these last few books have gone deeper into her back story and her absolute brokenness. Aphra is an absolute mess, but we just can’t look away. Sadly, I believe that Aphra is wrapping up with one final book, but I have found her to be a consistently great addition to the SW universe.

See my review of the latest Aphra book here.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Speaking of Star Wars, I was able to catch the final entry of the Skywalker saga again this past weekend. There is so much to say about this film, it’s place in its trilogy, and it’s place in the SW universe, but for now I’ll settle for just how great it was. I loved this movie. No spoilers here, but Kylo Ren’s *moment* atop the Death Star just wrecked me the first time I saw it. I am so satisfied with this film and remain so glad at the Star Wars revival. It’s not that there weren’t aspects of Rise of Skywalker that I didn’t appreciate, but the Star Wars opening screen crawl just has a certain power. It’s magic draws me in and ensures that I am about to generally enjoy whatever happens next. That is my bias that I don’t care to hide at all.

Other Various Media

I don’t think I’ve binge-watched a show since before my two-year-old was born, but I believe that I’m binge-watching The Good Place. I had heard this show was good, but I can now confirm that it is really good. The show pushes the “sitcom” boundaries and manages to ask deep ethical and metaphysical questions while staying in the comedy lane. Considering the other shows that creator Mike Schur has worked on (The OfficeParks and Recreation), it’s unsurprising what absolute gold this show is.

Currently on the back burner is The Silmarillion. I’ve been intending to take the plunge into Tolkien’s Legendarium since I read The Lord of the Rings as a kid, but have never been able to make it work for me. In order to shake things up, I checked out the thirteen (!) disc audio from my local library an have been listening off and on in the car. To be completely honest, I’m four discs in and can only vaguely describe what I have heard so far. That being said, the audio version is having it’s intended effect. The narrator, Martin Shaw, engages the material in a way that is enchanting and enticing. While it’s been a joy discovering the complexity and depth of Tolkien’s world, I think I have been most captured by the sense of beauty that he attempts to convey. The Silmarillion is rife with wonder.

I’ll sign off with a selection from The Well of Ascension. I have always loved Elend’s journey in this book. Elend finds himself as king of the central dominance. Though he believes in the government that he helped create, he does not believe in himself as king. It takes the catalytic tough-love of Tindwyl the Terriswoman, a specialist in the lives of the great leaders of the past, to get him there. From one of their tutoring sessions:

“Is that all it is, then?” Elend asked. “Expressions and costumes? Is that what makes a king?”

“Of course not.” 

Elend stopped by the door, turning back. “Then, what does? What do you think makes a man a good king, Tindwyl of Terris?”

“Trust,” Tindwyl said, looking him in the eyes. “A good king is one who is trusted by his people–and one who deserves that trust.”

The Well of Ascension, 186 

TV Reviews

Review: The Dragon Prince Season 3

*This is my spoiler-y review of The Dragon Prince season three*

I recently devoured season three of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince. I really like this show, but I often feel that I should really dislike this show. My main complaint is that plot events often feel very far-reached to me, e.g., Viren will do something just so ridiculously bad or things move to fast. Overall, though, this show has so much fantasy goodness that the end of each season has left me eagerly anticipating the next.

Book Three: Sun, takes off right where Book Two left off. Interestingly, there was no summary of the first two seasons, leaving my wife and I frantically searching the internet for a few things. We do get a brief scene of a nameless, very Viren-like (???) mage blinding the dragon Sol Regem, whom Rayla and Callum must face as they seek to enter Xadia.

Speaking of that ‘ship–it happens! Many fans rejoiced at the Rayllum (Call-la?) developments, my wife included, but I’m still holding on to a very small hope for Claudi-um (Call-lia?) because I’m sick. Anyway, Rayla, Callum, and Zym make it past Sol Regem and are crushed to learn that Rayla is basically dead to her people and that they have the magic to back up that sentiment. Thankfully Runaan’s husband briefly breaks himself out of the cruse and helps the crew along their journey to the Dragon Queen. They finally arrive after making it through the super-creepy desert with Nyx, who will hopefully not be a one-off.

Meanwhile, Ezran discovers that he just can wait to be king, handing control of the kingdom back over to Viren as he realizes he can’t convince Prince Dudebro to give peace a chance. Ezran’s friends and our favorites conspire to free him from the dungeon and send him off to find Rayllum in Xadia.

Viren descends into “no, this is totally fine” levels of relationship with Aaravos and drags Claudia and like eighty percent of the human population down with him. Disturbingly but all too realistically, Viren is able to lure the masses into his evil plot by playing to their fears, insecurities, and xenophobia (Xadia-phobia, get it?).

Our heroes make their stand along with the remnants of the Sun Elves at the base of the Dragon Queen’s mountain, but they eventually win–yay!

One of the most satisfying elements of season three was the completion of Soren’s redemption arc, which is encapsulated in his facial hair growth. After hitting rock bottom in the last season, Soren has to accept that his dad is absolutely the worst and wouldn’t know true love or empathy if it was standing right in front of him. Soren’s arc was important to the show for more than just its emotional pay off. For a show that can feel so touch-and-go with lots off one-off characters and seemingly-superfluous magics, it was good to have three-season arc like Soren’s.

Note Soren’s redemption beard

One of the most satisfying elements of season three was the completion of Soren’s redemption arc, which is encapsulated in his facial hair growth. After hitting rock bottom in the last season, Soren has to accept that his dad is absolutely the worst and wouldn’t know true love or empathy if it was standing right in front of him. Soren’s arc was important to the show for more than just its emotional pay off. For a show that can feel so touch-and-go with lots off one-off characters and seemingly-superfluous magics, it was good to have three-season arc like Soren’s.

Though there are still questions remaining* this season was the first to have an ending with resolution. It has that nice halfway point feel.

*Like, “wtf, Viren?”