REVIEW: “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”

MV5BNjVjODZmYWEtNjZhNC00MTdkLTgyMGYtNDBiODRmMzJkMDdjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_If anybody had told me five years ago that 2019’s hottest new fantasy show would be a spinoff of Jim Henson’s cult classic The Dark Crystal, I probably would have questioned their sanity. I’ve long had a fondness for the original film and even appeared as a guest on the Trial by Stone podcast. Nevertheless, Dark Crystal seemed destined to remain a niche fandom. The film came out the year I was born and wasn’t a particularly big box office hit. Moreover, the movie characters are all puppets; a fantasy epic without people doesn’t exactly scream marketability.

Fortunately, we live in a wonderful, bizarre world in which Netflix is prepared to give talented artists millions of dollars to bring their crazy visions to life. Continue reading “REVIEW: “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance””

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Game of Thrones: The Final Review

gameofthronesseason8posterGame of Thrones has ended. There will be no more episodes. It would have been impossible for the writers to wrap up every single plot thread in Season 8, especially because this past season had fewer episodes (6 instead of usual 10). The final episode, “The Iron Throne,” did manage to provide a sense of closure for most of the character arcs and had some incredible visual moments. However, in its rush to the end, the final episode lost sight of some of the political commentary and themes that made Game of Thrones so compelling in the first place. The raison d’être for this story is question “what makes for a good king?” The finale barely engaged with that question, which is a missed opportunity.

*** SPOILERS for Season 8 of Game of Thrones BELOW *** Continue reading “Game of Thrones: The Final Review”

“The Long Night” (Game of Thrones S8, E3)

gameofthronesseason8posterI hadn’t planned to write reviews of individual episodes of Game of Thrones this season. I had planned to wait until the series finale to see how the entire story plays out. However, “The Long Night” (Season 8, Episode 3) feels like an important pop culture event. In addition to being the largest battle filmed for television, it also concluded a story that has been unfolding since April 17, 2011 (or even longer if you started reading George R.R. Martin’s books in August 1996). To be clear, I don’t plan to discuss every single plot twist, character arc, or the cinematography (and, no, the episode isn’t too dark). Instead, I want to focus on one overarching question: did this provide a satisfactory resolution to the central conflict between the living and the dead?

So, for posterity’s sake, here are my thoughts on the episode:

*** SPOILERS for Season 8 of Game of Thrones BELOW *** Continue reading ““The Long Night” (Game of Thrones S8, E3)”

“Miyazakiworld” by Susan Napier

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A few years ago, I discovered Studio Ghibli and fell in love with Japanese anime. I’m particularly fond of Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki’s ability to use animation to tell stories that are emotionally moving, visually stunning, and intellectually stimulating. Miyazaki’s films combine whimsical settings, strong female protagonists, and unconventional plots. I’m still new to this brave new world of anime, so I was excited to find Japanese culture expert Susan Napier’s latest book to help me make sense of Miyazaki’s oeuvre. Continue reading ““Miyazakiworld” by Susan Napier”

“Overneath” by Peter S. Beagle

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I’ve been a fan of Peter S. Beagle’s work ever since I read The Last Unicorn, a cheerfully bittersweet examination of life and fairy tales. I also enjoyed In Calabria, Beagle’s more recent take on unicorns. However, aside from a short sequel to The Last Unicorn, I hadn’t read any of Beagle’s shorter fiction. Overneath is a collection Beagle’s short stories, some previously published and some new to this volume. It’s a great introduction to Beagle’s fiction. Continue reading ““Overneath” by Peter S. Beagle”

“You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones” by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov

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Season 7 of HBO’s Game of Thrones just wrapped up, but the speculation and commentary still rages on. A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book about medieval warfare in Game of Thrones. This time, I take a look at You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. This book analyzes Game of Thrones from the perspective of Greco-Roman literature, showing how ancient epics from our own world can help us better understand Westeros.

Continue reading ““You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones” by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov”

“In Calabria” by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite books, so I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw that he’d written a new story about unicorns. In Calabria is a short story about Claudio Bianchi, an Italian farmer whose life has seemingly fallen into a rut. At least until a pregnant unicorn visits his villa. In Calabria isn’t a sequel to The Last Unicorn, but in some ways it serves as a spiritual successor. The book addresses some of the same themes as The Last Unicorn, including mortality, modernity, and mundanity. It also contains the beautiful language and sense of whimsy I’ve come to expect from Beagle’s best works. Continue reading ““In Calabria” by Peter S. Beagle”

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

mv5bmjmxotm1oti4mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwode5otyxmdi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the first Harry Potter movie not based directly on one of J.K. Rowling’s novels (although she did write the script).* The movie takes place in New York City in 1926, over 70 years before Harry Potter first went to Hogwarts. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an eccentric wizard/zoologist, accidentally releases some of his magical creatures while visiting America. He teams up with Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an agent of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). They also encounter Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a muggle—or No-Maj to the Americans—who dreams about opening a pastry shop. Together, the three of them track down Newt’s creatures before they can wreck havoc on New York City. There’s also a subplot involving an anti-wizard movement led by the headmistress of a Dickensian orphanage, Chastity Barebone (Jenn Murray). Continue reading ““Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them””

Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter” (Season 6, Episode 10)

game-of-thrones-season-6-premiere-date-jon-snowWith only 13 episodes left for the show, Game of Thrones needed to wrap a lot of subplots in order to have enough time to deal with the impending White Walker invasion. “The Winds of Winter” did that, and then some. The episode killed off most supporting characters in a few dramatic scenes. As I’ve argued elsewhere, this downsizing was absolutely necessary. Game of Thrones had gotten too unwieldy; Season 5 seemed so intent on tracking the various subplots that it forgot to tell a story. “The Winds of Winter” violently confirmed that, at its core, Game of Thrones is, has been, and always will be about the three primary factions we met back in Season 1: the Starks, Lannisters, and Targaryens. Continue reading “Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter” (Season 6, Episode 10)”

Game of Thrones, “Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)

game-of-thrones-season-6-premiere-date-jon-snowGame of Thrones has become infamous for its unpredictability. Beheading Ned Stark in Season 1 shocked viewers because it defied everything we thought we knew about fantasy stories (namely, that the hero always wins). Over the past season, the plot of Game of Thrones has become increasingly predictable; the show is no longer willing or able to subvert audience expectations (Hodor’s death in “The Door” being a major exception). Instead, how the characters respond to predictable plot developments has become less predictable. This is what makes “Battle of the Bastards” so effective. The plot is about as straightforward as Game of Thrones gets, yet the episode contains moments that subvert what we knew – or thought we knew – about these characters. Continue reading “Game of Thrones, “Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)”