In my continual playing of roulette with the many streaming services one can subscribe to, I landed on HBO this week. It is part of the Amazon system now which makes it super convenient. I can easily subscribe and unsubscribe to it via my Amazon Fire so there is no messing around with internet sites and new apps and credit cards. It's a great service, too. It has all the HBO shows plus lots of movies and they even let you watch the various HBO channels streaming live. Its a little pricier than I like (just under $15) but they give you a lot of bang for that buck.
You’ll only find one cool thing from HBO this week, but I suspect there will be more in the weeks to come. Let’s get to it, shall we?
There was a lot riding on Marvel’s newest superhero entry as well. There have been other black superheroes (everybody remembers Blankman, right?) but none were as hugely anticipated or expensive or part of as big a universe as Black Panther. Were it to have bombed, there likely wouldn’t have been another one for a long time.
But succeed it did. As of this writing, it has already made $800 million worldwide and has garnered huge amounts of fanboy hype and mostly critical praise. It is a good Marvel movie. I hesitate to call it a great film in its own right, but it does what Marvel does best really well. There are some pretty big flaws including some messy-looking action scenes and a villain who once again wants to take over the world (remember when comic-book villains had somewhat modest goals? yea, me either).
It's slick and fun and exciting. The new characters are interesting and well acted. It zooms when it should zoom and slows down when it should slow down and overall is a whole lot of fun. As a middle-class, middle-aged white dude, I can’t begin to explain what it means to have a black superhero (and some really well-developed and kick-ass black women) star in a massively successful franchise film, but I totally dig that it exists.
I suspect that behind the scenes there is a lot riding on this new HBO series. With Game of Thrones coming to its last season soon, the cable channel needs another powerhouse show to bring in the ratings. On paper, it fits that role just fine. It's an expansive (and expensive) science fiction tale with plenty of Lost-like mysteries, some heady philosophy, and a massive cast of great actors. I’m six episodes into it and while I’m really enjoying it, there is no way it will replace Game of Thrones. While it is full of action and sex and nudity, it is too philosophical and steadily paced to really bring in the massive audiences. While it does ask some big questions about what it means to be human and why humanity is so drawn to its baser side, it's not yet smart enough to answer them in a fully satisfying way. Its mysteries too are interesting but nowhere near as WTF? as shows like Lost.
But perhaps we shouldn’t compare it to Game of Thrones and let it stand on its own terms. Based on a Michael Crichton film from the '70s, Westworld is about a futuristic theme park where rich people can pretend to live in the Wild West, having grand adventures, and shooting and sexing extremely lifelike androids. It's got some good action sequences and engrossing stories and an increasingly large world to play in. Its creative team include Jonathan Nolan (Christopher’s brother) and J.J. Abrams and stars Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Anthony Hopkins, and Ed Harris. It might not be Game of Thrones but it's pretty darn good.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
When Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement back in 2013 and Studio Ghibli basically decided it was out of the movie-making business, fans like myself were quite worried if anybody would be able to replace them. Thank the animated gods Studio Ponoc rose from Ghibli’s ashes and with Mary and the Witch’s Flower proved they can carry the torch quite well. I caught it this past weekend thanks to Fathom Events and you can read my full review here.
What We Do in the Shadows
This mockumentary from Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi follows four housemates who happen to be vampires. The comedic genius of it is that they struggle with everyday problems. A meeting is called because the dirty dishes are piling up and no one is doing their share. They can’t get into the nightclub because the bouncer won’t invite them in. One of them is afraid of telling his human friend that he’s changed for fear of losing him.
The absurdity of these mundanities in the monster world works brilliantly as comedy. Apparently, most of it was improvised and they shot an enormous amount of footage and then slowly edited it down to a workable print. What’s left is wonderful.
End of Watch
This is not a cool book. It's not a particularly good one either. It is however the end of the Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King and as I wrote about the other two in this column, I figure I ought to give it a mention here.
The previous two books (Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers) were very enjoyable detective novels. For the final book, Mr. King seems to have remembered he’s mostly a horror writer and threw in a bunch of nutty supernatural stuff that is completely out of place. When he sticks to his main characters hunting down clues, it's all right, but for long stretches, he follows the killer and overexplains how he can do the magical things he can do and it becomes a real slog.
Created by Taylor Sheridan (who wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water among other things), Yellowstone follows the Dutton family (led by Kevin Costner) who own a big ranch in Montana. The trailer promises lots of drama and violence. I love me a good western and I’ve enjoyed Sheridan’s stories thus far so I’m hopeful he can work his magic on the small screen.