Friday, March 6, 2020

The Binge Review, Ep. 2: Netflix and Books

I thought I would talk about a few things I've watched on TV and read lately. In case you wonder, I'm writing this about two weeks in advance of posting.

The Witcher

It has probably been more than a month since I watched "The Witcher" on Netflix. I had been saving it to give myself something to look forward to and fill that post-Christmas void. I loved it. It's more magical and funnier than "Game of Thrones" but seems to satisfy the same need, if that makes any sense to you. Don't quote me on this, but I am thinking that the series might be inspired by a video game that was inspired by the books. I think.

The character of the Witcher--a magically mutated being whose sole purpose appears to be to defeat monsters--could have easily become some generic, stiff, concept character with no personality if played by the wrong actor, but it is executed very well. The story is told at different points in time, all leading up to when a princess finds the Witcher, a moment that is foretold to be their destiny. I've been told that it's easy to get lost, and they do mention that years have passed at certain points, but it's still not clear which scenes are in chronological order and which aren't, except for the major clues where someone is now alive who was dead earlier. In the story, a pesky bard decides to befriend the Witcher, who prefers to work alone, and this unwelcome union provides some humor and a soundtrack, some of it a tad anachronistic as it morphs from lute to electric guitar, but definitely a hit with fans since there are so many singers on YouTube doing covers of it. Along the same vein of "Outlander" and "Game of Thrones," this series includes adult material. I hope Netflix keeps "The Witcher" coming, and I can't wait for Season Two. Add this one to my growing list of Netflix shows where I'm waiting for the next season. 😸

Horse Girl

I also watched the movie Horse Girl, which was about a craft store employee who is concerned that she may be dealing with the same sort of mental health issues that plagued her grandmother. She has a series of strange dreams where she wakes up next to strangers—people she later encounters in real life. The big question is whether the main character is completely unhinged or the victim of the paranormal. SNL alumni Molly Shannon plays a supporting role. Although the movie was quirky and interesting, I did get a bit lost near the end. Although I understood the main idea, I wasn't sure if everything either just wasn't handled neatly or if I had missed some connection. I thought the movie might pair better with wine, like Velvet Buzzsaw. If you watch it, let me know if everything made sense to you. As for my overall opinion, it was compelling enough to keep my interest, but has a very low-key, independent feel to it. If superheros and intense action movies are your thing, this one is probably not for you.

October Faction

I tried to watch "October Faction" on Netflix, but I only watched the first episode before losing interest. The show clearly has a lot of potential, an interesting concept, a nice setting, and good main characters. However, I felt that the focus on political/social issues actually took over the story.

Think of the social/political message as the medicine you have to give your dog. You may have to be a little more sneaky than wrapping it up in a ball of ground beef, and you sure can't make him willingly swallow it without burying it in something. Or, think of the message as the bill that Congress gets passed by burying it deep inside an omnibus bill. It's the difference between a subliminal message to buy popcorn being displayed in a movie theater and a concession stand worker putting a gun to your head. You hear him cock the trigger, and he says, "You're thinking about buying popcorn right now." This movie was the latter of those two scenarios.

So, I wanted to like October Faction. It had good characters and a nice atmosphere. I heard this was based on a comic or something. Obviously, I haven't read it, so I don't have anything to compare this to. I just felt like they wrote a monster movie, but they're really using it to talk about politics. Most good writers don't explain their metaphors within the same work. Anyway, I am worried that the rest of the series is going to be more of the same.

Locke & Key

I also went through all of Netflix's new series "Locke & Key," which is based on a graphic novel by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King. I took a peek at the preview of the graphic novel, which doesn't have the same appeal for me, and the preview ended prior to the tragic or magical part that compels you to read or watch more. It seems that Netflix made a few changes and did a really good job with it. The premise of the story is that, having recently lost their father due to an act of senseless violence, three siblings and their mother (last name being Locke) move across country to his father's family home, known as Keyhouse. The siblings are two moody teenagers and a younger, playful, and spunky boy, although I'm not sure how old he is. Either elementary or very early middle school. The age of the main characters suggests that this is a family show, but the subject of drugs, sex, and alcohol probably indicates older children. Most of the drugs and sex references are in the first episode or so, and it is told that the mother is a recovering alcoholic. That being said, I'm sure that most of this is the same sort of material that might have been thrown into Steven Spielberg movies back in the 80s. It's difficult to put an age on because some parents might have had certain convos much earlier where other parents are waiting until the next life to start that. But I digress.... All that being said, all of the characters, with the exception of the villain(s), are actually likeable characters, and the magic provided by the keys is unique and fun. My main criticism of the show is in the storytelling... Why is it that people are conveniently disinterested in something truly magical JUST TO FURTHER A PLOT and make a really awkward situation? Why don't they ask questions? There were a couple of times when I'd have definitely said, "I need to try that," but the subject was conveniently dropped. Aside from ignoring magic in a way that makes no sense but furthers a plot, it was a good show, good enough that I watched all of the episodes as fast as I could and still be able to wake up the next day. The idea of magical keys reminds me of one of my own projects (maybe more on that in the future) and another book series.

Which brings me to what I'm reading now....

100 Cupboards

Watching "Locke & Key" reminded me of 100 Cupboards, which is a middle-grade contemporary fantasy. I love middle-grade books because that's when I really discovered the joy of reading and writing. I happen to have Books 1-3 of the series, but I have only read the first one. Although I remembered different details about the story, I couldn't remember exactly how it went, so I am rereading it. The premise is that a boy spending the summer with his aunt and uncle on a farm in Kansas discovers a wall of tiny cupboards that lead to other places. One cupboard is a P.O. Box somewhere (maybe this universe, maybe a different world), and putting your hand through a certain cupboard will make it come out of the one directly above it. Some of them seem harmless, and some seem evil. What I like about this book so far is the vulnerable humor. The main character has lived a sheltered life, a bit too sheltered, and the difference between how he has been taught to do things and how others appear to have been taught makes him feel weird and alone. His aunt and uncle don't seem to over-parent, and his uncle doesn't even ask questions when he find the boy asleep on the ground outside next to a pile of plaster that he has chipped off of his bedroom wall to reveal the cupboards. The uncle is well-written in a way that makes him lovable and loving. He's optimistic, resilient, and looks at twists of fate with a sense of humor.

The characterization of the uncle reminded me of Grandma Dowdel in Newbery Award winner A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (hilarious if you've never read it), and Missing May, another Newbery winner by Cynthia Rylant that addressed a relationship between a young girl and her aging relatives with a raw, simple beauty. When I read A Year Down Yonder, the main character reminded me so much of my mother and the type of life she had lived that I told her to read it. She loved it and ended up reading bits of it to a woman while she was getting her chemo treatment. Really good books seem to take on a life of their own.

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