Category Archives: television

My Thoughts on: Slayers NEXT (Season 2) (1996)

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While Slayers has a great start in season 1, it gets even better in season 2 with Slayers NEXT. All of our heroes return for more adventures and we’re introduced to even more interesting characters as Lina, Gourry and company go on more exciting (and dangerous) adventures! These new characters include:

Princess Martina of Zoana: Oh Martina, Martina…let me tell you something about Martina…she’s absolutely 100% crazy!! How so? Well, just as an example, Martina is a fervent devotee of the monster Zoamelgustar. There’s just one little problem with that…Martina made him up out of her own imagination, not that this impedes her devotion in the slightest. In fact, in one hilarious episode, Martina successfully invokes Zoamelgustar’s power to curse Lina through sheer willpower (not bad for a non-existent monster). She hates Lina with a passion for destroying her kingdom (even though it was Martina who started the trouble) and also has a habit in falling in love with every handsome man who crosses her path. Despite trying really hard to be a villain, Martina is more of a nuisance than anything else.

Xellos: This is one of the most frustrating characters you’ll meet in the series, because for most of the time he appears you’re never really sure what he’s up to or whose side he’s really on! He claims to be a traveling monk but hints are dropped repeatedly that this is far from the truth. Xellos also has an annoying habit of leading people in conversation up to a critical point and when they demand to know something important he’ll just smile and say “That…is a secret.” I’ll admit, the true identity of Xellos shocked me (though I won’t spoil it here).

Hellmaster Fibrizo: I’m pretty sure it goes without saying that if you have “Hellmaster” in your name than you are not a good person. Hellmaster Fibrizo might be one of the most sadistic characters I’ve ever seen. This is one of those characters who kills on a whim, all to get what he wants. Truthfully, you will not see this character coming, it’s one of the best villain introductions I’ve ever seen.

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A lot of the plot revolves around our heroes searching for the Claire Bible (a text containing powerful magical secrets) in the hopes that it contains some spell that can cure Zelgadis and make him human again. During this search, Lina and her friends stumble on a plot brewing among the monsters. It seems that the destruction of Ruby Eye Shabranigdu in season 1 had some far-reaching consequences and it’s up to Lina to deal with the fallout…if she can survive that is. Like season 1, Slayers NEXT gets pretty bloody in the last part of the season (not enough to be considered “gory” but there are still some fairly shocking moments).

If you enjoy season 1 of Slayers then you will absolutely love Slayers NEXT. I hope you get the chance to check it out someday. Unfortunately it’s not streaming on Hulu currently but you can get seasons of Slayers for a reasonable price on Amazon. Let me know what you think of Slayers NEXT in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Slayers (season 1) (1995)

My Thoughts on: Slayers Return (1996)

My Thoughts on: Slayers Great (1997)

Animated Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Slayers (season 1) (1995)

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*Note: It should go without saying that there are plot spoilers to be found below

Last summer some of my friends introduced me to a wonderful anime called Slayers which I’d never heard of before (my access to anime was severely limited growing up so for a long time the only shows I knew anything about were Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z). I quickly fell in love with the series and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.

In season one of Slayers we are introduced to a quirky cast of characters:

  • Lina Inverse (Lisa Ortiz): A very young and extremely powerful sorceress. Lina loves to travel the world and gather treasure. She also loves food.
  • Gourry Gabriev (Eric Stuart): Lina’s self-proclaimed guardian. Gourry is almost a pure iteration of the “dumb blonde” trope but he does have his moments (which I won’t tell you because that would spoil some wicked awesome moments).
  • Zelgadis (Crispin Freeman for most of the series): an equally powerful sorcerer who is continually seeking a way to restore his body to human form (for plot reasons he currently exists as a chimera with a body of stone).
  • Amelia (Veronica Taylor): This young princess and a would-be mage is the living embodiment of a crit fail in D&D (case in point: Amelia loves to make dramatic entrances but typically fails to stick the landing).
  • Sylphiel (Stacia Crawford): a priestess who refers to Gourry as “Gourry Dear” a lot.

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The plot of season 1 finds our heroes fighting against Rezo the Red Priest. It eventually comes out that Rezo is trying to summon Ruby Eye Shabranigdu (a powerful demon) in the belief that doing so will finally cure his blindness. However, when this plan backfires, our heroes must fight Shabranigdu and save the world! Actually, they end up saving the world several times over by the end of season 1, with some plot twists that I genuinely didn’t see coming.

One of my favorite things about Slayers are the ornate incantations used to create spells. For example, here is how Lina casts Dragon Slave, one of her most powerful spells:

Darkness beyond twilight
Crimson beyond blood that flows
Buried in the stream of time is where your power grows
I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand
before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hand
Let the fools who stand before me be destroyed
by the power you and I possess…
DRAGON SLAVE!

To make a long story short, Slayers is a really fun anime and you should definitely check out the first season if you get the chance (the subtitled version is currently streaming on Hulu but I highly recommend the dubbed version as well).

Let me know what you think about season 1 of Slayers in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Slayers NEXT (Season 2) (1996)

My Thoughts on: Slayers Return (1996)

My Thoughts on: Slayers Great (1997)

Animated Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Westworld Season 1 (2016)

As a lifelong fan of the science fiction genre (so much so that I made it my specialty in graduate school), I knew it would only be a matter of time before I watched this show. I was curious from the start to see what an adaptation of the 1973 Westworld film would look like and yet I hesitated a long time before finally starting the series. I think deep down I delayed because I was afraid I wouldn’t like the story, as it is very easy to do robot/A.I. run amuck badly. But it turns out I was worried over nothing: Westworld‘s first season is sheer brilliance.

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In ten episodes, we are introduced to the unbelievably lavish park that is Westworld, a place where the obscenely wealthy can come live out whatever fantasy they desire, from the innocent pleasures of living on a homestead to more depraved activities up to and including murder and rape. The human guests can act as they please since the robotic ‘hosts’ are incapable of harming them. In such an environment, many guests let loose with repressed fantasies of murder and sexual freedom (the series comments several times that most guests come to either “shoot or f*ck” whatever they want) in a way that can be very disturbing to watch (this show does not hold back on showing blood).

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The plot is divided between several arcs that follow different characters. The primary hosts we follow are Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), her programmed lover Teddy (James Marsden), Maeve, a saloon madam (Thandie Newton) and recurring visits from Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and his group of bandits. On the human side, in the park, we follow the mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris) and a newcomer to the park named William (Jimmi Simpson), whose coming to the park with Logan (Ben Barnes), his future brother in law. Outside of the park, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is the director of the park and is assisted by Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). The show clearly takes place sometime in the future as the technology is far beyond anything that currently exists, but it’s not known how far in the future we are, as so far as I know, no year is ever given.

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It is clear from the first episode that there is something odd going on in the park, with the hosts in particular, but it takes almost the entire season before enough pieces come together to provide answers. That’s not a bad thing: half of the reason I love Westworld is because the fragmented plot arcs keep you guessing at the truth and eager to see the next piece of the puzzle (so to speak). And when the answers do begin to come, you start to question everything you’ve seen in the series. Not only that, there are some twists that lead you to wonder if anyone in this series is actually human. Like many films and tv series that explore the concept of A.I., the border between robots and humans becomes so thin that it is practically non-existent (unless one of the hosts has a glitch).

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Anthony Hopkins turns in a magnificent performance, a particularly favorite moment coming at the end of episode 7 “Trompe L’Oeil.” In that episode, Hopkins switches from affable to pure menace so effortlessly that I was glued to the screen for the entirety of the scene. The episode also features one of my favorite plot twists in the season, simply because there’s almost no hint that it’s coming.

If you like robots and science fiction, then I think you will enjoy Westworld season one. The plot is very well crafted and as I said before will keep you guessing almost until the end. I’m looking forward to watching season two.

Final thoughts:

-I ended up feeling sorry for the Man in Black by the end of the season. Even though he was warned multiple times that what he was searching for wasn’t meant for him, he persists anyway and is eventually disappointed.

-Teddy (James Marsden) has so many death scenes it’s almost ridiculous. To be fair though, he pulls it off beautifully each time.

-I can’t stand Logan (Ben Barnes) and I feel like he deserves everything he gets.

What do you think of the first season of Westworld? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film/TV Reviews

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My Thoughts On: Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)

I was over the moon to receive Batman: The Complete Animated Series as an early birthday present. I’ve wanted to add the series to my collection for years as it holds a very special place in my childhood (it’s one of the first cartoons I can remember watching on television). Batman: The Animated Series is rightly held to be one of the greatest animated series ever made. It is sometimes referred to as cartoon noir as it borrows many conventions from film noir (for example most of the cars and buildings evoke the 1940s). The series is also responsible for jump starting the DC Animated Universe (which included Superman: The Animated Series; Justice League; Batman Beyond and Justice League Unlimited to name a few).

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The show also featured an all star voice cast, including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker himself) as the voice of the Joker. Even though I’ve seen video of Mark doing the Joker voice, it’s still hard for me to imagine that voice and Luke’s voice coming out of the same person (but then again that just shows how talented he really is as a voice actor). The series is also responsible for introducing Harley Quinn (voiced by the brilliant Arleen Sorkin) to the Batman canon. The besotted Harley was created exclusively for the show before eventually being written into the comic canon (one of the first times that’s ever happened for any character). There are also origins given for many of Batman’s most infamous enemies, including Two-Face (“Two Face” parts I and II), Clayface (“Feat of Clay” parts I and II) and Mr. Freeze (“Heart of Ice” which is widely considered to be the best episode of the series).

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I’ve been asked before which episode is my favorite and the honest truth is I can’t pick just one, because they’re all so good. However, I can pick a few to highlight:

  • “Heart of Ice” rewrites the origins of Mr. Freeze and turns him into what is probably the most sympathetic villain in the series.
  • “Harley and Ivy”: Having been kicked out of Joker’s gang, Harley Quinn goes into business for herself, eventually joining forces with Poison Ivy and the duo prove to be very skilled in the world of crime (to the growing consternation of the Joker).
  • “Lock-Up”: Lyle Bolton, head of security at Arkham Asylum, is dismissed from his job after it comes out that he’s brutalizing the prisoners. This is one episode where you feel complete sympathy for the villains as they literally quake in terror at Bolton’s mere presence (especially Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow, who practically begs Batman not to take him back).

I’m excited to continue watching this amazing series and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it (or perhaps hasn’t watched in a long time). Over 25 years after its debut, Batman: The Animated Series continues to impress.

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Animated Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Assassination Classroom (2015-2016)

I have loved anime ever since I saw my first episodes of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z in the 90s and I’m always on the hunt for (relatively speaking) new series to watch, which is easy to do as Hulu contains a wealth of anime. That’s how, last year, I stumbled across the magnificence that is Assassination Classroom.

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Based on the manga by Yūsei Matsui, Assassination Classroom follows the “end class” (full of academic and social misfits) of Kunugigaoka Junior High School who are given the task of killing their new teacher, a strange yellow octopus (with a smiley face for a head) before he explodes and wipes out the Earth the following March. To this end, the students are trained in various assassination techniques by Mr. Karasuma and Irina Jelavić (dubbed “Professor Bitch” by the class), all with the aim of taking their teacher, Koro Sensei, out.

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One of the best parts of the series is watching how the assassination plans evolve over time. This culminates (in my opinion), in an arc where the class attempts to assassinate Koro Sensei on a remote island during summer vacation. The plan is so intricate that it nearly succeeds…but it still falls short. In fact, none of the students plans work out, but that doesn’t hurt the series at all because every attempt brings with it a new lesson about life. While strange looking, Koro Sensei is a grade-A teacher who genuinely wants his students to succeed in life (as well as killing him). In fact, as I watched the series through the first time, it slowly dawned on me that many of Koro Sensei’s tips about assassination were actually skills and ideas you could apply in real life.

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There are some parts of the series that are really upsetting to me and I want to highlight a few of them. First of all, if bullying bothers you then several episodes will be difficult to watch. The rest of the school is trained to hate the End class on principle, with most events rigged to ensure that this class stays at the bottom. It’s really uncomfortable to watch but thankfully the series moves away from that aspect over time. Another episode that upsets me is one that introduces Mr. Takaoka, a (brief) replacement for Mr. Karasuma. Just the way this character is drawn is enough to set you on edge (I think they made his smile look fake on purpose) but what he does is even worse. It comes out that Takaoka employs sadistic training methods and rewards the smallest complaint with punches and slaps. However he does receive an epic comeuppance from Nagisa Shiota (a student who narrates most of the episodes), which partially makes up for what happened before.

Koro Sensei is by far the best part of the series; he has dozens of different quirks, facial expressions and quips that will leave you giggling more often than not. I love how his face changes to reflect his mood. He’s a character that grows on you very quickly.

I enjoy Assassination Classroom very much; I love the twists and turns the story takes and by the end of the series I was very much attached to the fates of each character. If you’d like to check out Assassination Classroom, the complete series is currently available on Hulu. If you’ve already watched the series, let me know what you think about it in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film/TV Reviews

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Film 101: Unreliable Narrator

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Yesterday in talking about the Rashomon effect I mentioned the term ‘unreliable narrator’ and I thought I would go into more detail about it today. This concept is one that has grown incredibly popular in recent years and is responsible for one of the biggest television hits of the 21st century.

The concept is simple enough at first glance: an unreliable narrator is any character who relays information about the story (either to the audience or another character (often serving as the audience surrogate)) that is untrue or a series of half-truths mixed together. In short, you cannot trust what this character says to be the truth. And as this character often serves as THE narrator (more or less) of the film/series/book, it makes the story that much more interesting because (assuming you are aware they are unreliable) the entire time you are wondering if you can believe anything being told to you.

 

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To really understand this concept though, you have to keep in mind that the unreliable narrator is, in my opinion, a relatively recent development. For most of film history, the narrator (if there is one) is a figure above reproach, one that will consistently let us (the audience) know what is really going on and who is doing what. It seems that the studios discovered that having an unreliable narrator made for a good story. Of course they weren’t the first: the big television hit I referred to at the beginning was none other than HBO’s Game of Thrones, which of course is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (that may or may not ever see completion, I finished reading A Dance with Dragons almost FIVE years ago). The books are notorious for having no overarching narrator that you might find in other book series. Instead, each chapter is told from one character’s point of view, meaning everything we see is biased by the perceptions of that character. Since none of the characters know the full picture (except for maybe Varys and I’m not sure even he knows about what’s going on north of the Wall), you can’t fully trust (and in the case of some like Littlefinger, not at all) what these characters see/know/think they know. And this mostly carries over to the TV show.

Other good examples of an unreliable narrator in film include:

  • Fight Club (1999): It turns out that only one of the two main protagonists actually exists, the other is in the main character’s head.
  • A Beautiful Mind (2001): The main character is eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and it turns out several characters we’ve come to know are not real.
  • Atomic Blonde (2017): It could be said this film has several examples as the “true” story does not come out towards the end. Lorraine, being the main character, is probably the chief example as her search for “Satchel” is revealed to be based on a lie

And that’s pretty much what an unreliable narrator is 🙂 What are some examples of an unreliable narrator that you can think of? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day 🙂

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Film 101

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Soundtrack Review: The Alienist (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

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The Alienist is an American television period drama mystery series based on the novel of the same name by Caleb Carr. The ten episode series currently running on TNT stars Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning as a team assembled in late 1890s New York City to investigate a ritualistic serial killer who is murdering street children. The title comes from a late-19th century belief about mental illness. At that time, the mentally ill were considered to be “alienated” from their true nature. Those who studied mental illness were therefore known as “alienists.”

The titular alienist is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), a criminal psychologist hired to secretly conduct an investigation into the case by police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (the future President of the United States). Kreizler is aided in his task by newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sarah Howard (Dakota Fanning), the police commissioner’s secretary.

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The music for The Alienist was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams. A truly versatile composer, Gregson-Williams has written a wide range of scores for many feature films, including the Oscar-winning Hotel Rwanda for which he was awarded the European Film Award for Best Composer, the blockbuster DreamWorks animated films Over The Hedge and Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, for which Rupert was nominated for an Annie Award for his original score and the independent BBC Films’ Love + Hate, for which he was awarded the Reims International Composer Award.

Most recently, Gregson-Williams scored the blockbuster and critically acclaimed Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine; the award-winning war drama Hacksaw Ridge, starring Andrew Garfield and directed by Mel Gibson, and the international hit The Legend of Tarzan. His upcoming film projects include “Terminal,” starring Margot Robbie and written and directed by Vaughn Stein.

Having cut the cable cord several years ago, I haven’t been able to watch the show yet, but based on the soundtrack, I think I need to. From the very start with “The Streets of New York” and “Brooklyn Bridge,” there is an old-time sound that is meant to recall the late-19th century. In fact, I was strongly put in mind of the soundtrack to Sherlock Holmes (2009) which is set in a similar time period (albeit in London and not New York City).

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The cue titled “Dr. Laszlo Kreizler,” which I assume is his theme, intrigued me. Given that he’s the titular character, it struck me how sinister his theme sounds with a descending three note motif that recurs in strings and piano. This could be because he studies the mentally ill and crimes committed by people who suffer from mental illness and as a result he’s “tainted” for lack of a better word by what he’s seen. Of course it could also be a musical hint that Kreizler is a villain in disguise, but I can’t say for certain (though now I want to read the book and watch the show to find out if I’m right or not).

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Another cue that caught my attention is “Madness of the City” which literally starts with a growl that briefly settles back before exploding into a mad cacophony that literally sounds like someone trying to break through a locked door (which may have been what they were going for) with repeated “banging” sounds. The entire track is underlaid with raging strings (primarily the cello) that continually make their presence known. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks. “Alienated Mind” is also an interesting piece because it consists of long musical drones that remind me of a Buddhist monk chanting “Ommm…”

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Finally, I’ll talk about the main title theme for the show, which is very short (only 35 seconds) but contains a wealth of detail. Instead of possessing a distinct theme as most shows do (for example Penny Dreadful, Game of Thrones, Star Trek and NCIS just to name a few), the main theme for The Alienist more closely resembles what music theorists call a “sound cloud,” that is to say a mashup of music that is loosely organized (otherwise it would just be noise) but has no distinct melody. It contains elements from several of the tracks I’ve looked at already, and it carries an air of mystery about it.

And those are my thoughts on the soundtrack for The Alienist. The soundtrack is currently available via Lakeshore Records. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review. Let me know what you think of The Alienist and its soundtrack in the comments below!

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