The Strain Finishes Its Third Season With A Literal Bang

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Forget about The Walking Dead, the horror TV show that is on my must-watch list is on FX. No, not American Horror Story, though that show is great. I’m talking about The Strain. Based on Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novels, The Strain is about a vampire virus that devastates the world today, specifically New York City. Its third season just finished and wow it ended with a literal bang!

One thing I like about the show is that it takes a pseudo-scientific approach to vampires or strigoi as they are called in the show. One of the heroes, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is a former CDC scientist desperately trying to find a cure or a way to stop the vampire plague while battling the bottle. At the same time, the show dwells a lot into the history of the vampires and that is best shown with the other hero, the elderly vampire hunter but total badass Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) and the main villain, former Nazi and current vampire Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel). The two are great foils for each other and the actors greatly convey their mutual hatred. That’s just a mere sampling of the show’s many interesting and unconventional characters.

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I have to admit, The Strain is unabashedly grade B fare, but it’s rarely dull, and moves along at a fast pace. By the time the third season ended, humanity is on the verge of becoming cattle for the spreading vampires. Goodweather’s idiotic son Zack (Max Charles) nuked the Statue of Liberty in retaliation for Goodweather killing his vampire mom (Natalie Brown). Never mind that a few minutes earlier the mom was eyeing the kid for her next snack. That kid is so annoying, I can’t wait until he gets his, not for being a moron but for killing thousands of New Yorkers. What he did was carry out the vampires’ master plan of detonating a nuke to create a nuclear winter and plunge the city into eternal darkness. Of course, this means the vampires can now roam all over the place without fearing the sun and that is where the show ended.

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Loosely following the storyline in the novels, The Strain will come to an end next year. Unlike some shows, it knew not to overstay its welcome and have a beginning, middle and end. Unlike the meandering zombie show that basically repeats itself, The Strain is often always fun to watch and sometimes creepy and gross. Looking forward to seeing the slurping vampires one more time next year.

T. Rod Jones

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The Walking Dead Goes Too Far In Its Season 7 Premiere

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The following will contain spoilers from the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead...

The question that we all wanted to know and not know has been answered this past Sunday with the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. That question being who Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed among Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) group. It turned out that the madman didn’t just kill one, but two beloved characters; Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun). Let’s be clear, this episode was brutal, raw and frankly, it went overboard in its portrayal of violence and depravity.

That isn’t to say that the episode “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” isn’t without its merits. abe-ford-killedTechnically it was well done, well acted, well shot; it emoted tension like you wouldn’t believe. But the  bottom line is while it was too gruesome, it had the air of a bad car wreck. You want to look away but can’t help but look. However, you often wind up regretting watching what was on the screen because it was so gratuitous to the point that it bordered on torture porn. Did we really have to see Negan repeatedly bash in Abraham and Glenn’s skull until mush was left? Sure, creator Robert Kirkman and the showrunners probably wanted to convey some message about helplessness and the ugliness of violence. The problem isn’t just the violent display of Negan’s sadistic violence, but what went on before and the presentation.

For months, we had to wait to find out who was Negan’s victim. The season 6 finale was overhyped (as was the season 7 premiere with all the images of Negan and his barb-wired bat Lucille) and we were all expecting to see Negan kill someone. But we didn’t. Instead we had to wait for months to find out that the reveal  largely followed what happened in the comic books. In The Walking Dead #100, Negan bashed in Glenn’s skull, but Abraham had been killed beforehand issues past. So “the Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” threw off viewers with Abraham’s death.

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The only problem with that death was that it was very telegraphed in season 6 of The Walking Dead. Abraham has had a death wish for much of the season. He seemed aimless with little to live for. In the season finale though, he began to muse about a life where he can settle down…a dead (forgive the pun) giveaway in The Walking Dead that he is doomed. This happens to all characters who find a measure of peace (look out Morgan, you’re next), except Rick. Another clue was when he told his friend Eugene Porter (Josh McDirmett) that he’s come a long way and  become capable of taking care of himself. It was a way for the two men to say goodbye to each other and it was obvious by that small scene that Abraham wasn’t long for the world.

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 Sneak Peak!

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Boy, that was unexpected! Director James Gunn surprised those of us who were led to thinking that a trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 would be out for Christmas. Instead, he released a teaser trailer and poster today.

Seriously, with all the craziness going on right now with this stupid election, seeing the teaser is a tonic for the soul. It had me right at the beginning when “Hooked On a Feeling” started playing as we were re-introduced to our favorite space pirates (sorry Han and Mal).

Compared to the teaser for the first Guardians of the Galaxy, this one doesn’t show as much, but it doesn’t have to since we don’t need to be introduced to the characters. All we had to see was Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Yondu! Now he’s part of the gang and supposedly Nebula, but how that comes about should be an interesting story. Let’s not forget Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The duo were the breakout stars from the last film and it looks like the same will happen with the sequel. Come on, no one with a heart can’t help but squeal at the end of the teaser when baby Groot pops up on Rocket’s shoulder! It’s a complete reversal from the last time around when Rocket was often perched on Groot’s wooden shoulders.

The highlight for me was the big scene shown where Drax consoles Peter Quill over his love woes. Apparently, Peter’s lovestruck over Gamora and can’t connect. Drax just tells it like it is when he advises his friend that there are two kinds of beings in the universe. “Those who dance, and those who do not.” he adds that Peter needs to find a woman as pathetic as him before giving him an unwanted hug. It still brings a smile to my face as I think about the scene.

Looks like Marvel Studios has another winner with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. I’m already eagerly anticipating the release of the full trailer for this sequel. Anyway, here’s the teaser for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. It’s already on my must-see list for 2017.

Waldermann Rivera

 

Supernatural Begins A Record 12th Season

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This past week the 12th season of Supernatural premiered on The CW. That’s right, 12th season. It is incredible to believe that this show has been on for over a decade without a break, which makes it the longest-running American genre show of all time. Supernatural still has some ways and seasons to go before it can match Doctor Who’s record run, but 12 seasons is a rarity these days in TV, especially when you consider that Supernatural airs more than 20 episodes per season.

So why has it been so successful? An easy answer is that it airs on The CW, a network that is way more lenient with its TV shows in terms of ratings. Supernatural’s seasonal ratings averages about a one point one share. In normal networks that would put the show in danger, but these days, the ratings are respectable and in The CW Supernatural is one of its highest rated shows. Even though it isn’t a ratings bonanza or the number one topic at water coolers and forum boards, Supernatural has built up a solid core of support from its fans.

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Early Haunts and Scares

When Supernatural first premiered back in September 13, 2005 on The WB network, George W. Bush was the president and the country was still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. Not much note was given to the show when it came out, but word quickly spread over how surprisingly creepy and scary it was. Focusing on two twentysomething brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), Supernatural followed their adventures as they traveled flyover country in the U.S. and fought monsters, demons, ghosts and other supernatural entities. The representations of these creatures were often low-tech, but effective. More importantly, the episodes took time to develop the brothers and their relationship with each other. We witnessed the pain and loneliness they experienced in their missions as Hunters as they were forced to live on the outskirts of society. At the same time, we couldn’t help but chuckle at the ease of how they impersonated government agents with pseudonyms that gave nods to genre actors and rock artists.

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The arc in the early seasons dealt with them finding the demon that killed their mother during their childhood. That later led to an epic storyline where Lucifer (Mark Pelligrino) was unleashed on Earth and the Winchesters had to prevent the Apocalypse. Along the way, they picked up some memorable allies who became beloved supporting characters. The best of these was Castiel (Mischa Collins), a stoic angel in a rumpled trench coat who, when not being an episode’s deus ex machine, kept us amused with his reactions to modern day civilization. Another noteworthy character was Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), a middle-aged mentor/father figure to the Winchesters whose working-class demeanor often disguised his enormous heart and fortitude.

Post Apocalypse

After the epic Apocalypse storyline ended when the fifth season concluded, the series’ creator Eric Kripke departed the show and the fifth season ended in a way that provided a sense of closure for the Winchesters. However, the show by now had developed a strong following and good ratings and The CW (formerly The WB) continued the saga of the Winchesters. Regrettably, the quality of the show suffered in some of the following seasons as storylines became repetitious and lackluster villains showed up (the less said about Rowena the witch the better). Drinking games could be made based on how many times Sam and Dean Winchester quarreled with each other because one of them made some sacrifice without telling the other.

But the mythos of Supernatural expanded castiel-crowley-and-dean-winchesterand some stories still delivered even if the scariness and darkness of the early seasons wasn’t as present. Part of that mythos included the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard), who became a series regular and a foil for the Winchesters and Castiel. Conniving, sardonic and quick with comical putdowns, Crowley became a sort of anti-hero, if not a particularly threatening villain. Often, he provided a humorous presence during scenes where he interacted with the Winchesters or as he calls them “Moose” (referring to Sam’s height) and “Not-Moose” (the smaller, but scrappier Dean).

In recent seasons, we and the Winchesters learned they are descended from a secret society called the Men of Letters. After finding the vanquished society’s hidden bunker with its vast library about supernatural beings, the brothers used the place as their base of operations. These newer episodes led to some interesting stories that functioned as backdoor pilots for new characters, but to date, none of them went further.

amara-vs-chuckRecent Resurgence

Supernatural had a very strong eleventh season which was about an ancient entity called Amara (Emily Swallow) or the Darkness. She turned out to be God’s sister and wanted to destroy his creations. This in turn led to the introduction of God Himself in the guise of Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), who was MIA for years but decided to come to Earth to confront Amara. Many episodes were decidedly unique, take the episode “Baby”, which was told from the POV of Dean Winchester’s beloved Impala. Another one was “All in the Family” where the Winchesters finally meet God/Chuck and Dean has a poignant conversation with Him and asks why is so much misery allowed on Earth. The answer was simple and thought provoking. The episodes and characters in the eleventh season proved that Supernatural still had  life and while the Amara storyline may have ended anti-climatically, it was a good change of pace.

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Now, the 12th season has begun without any indication, so far, that the show will conclude. Unlike past season openers there wasn’t a clear super baddie to give the Winchesters and their circle headaches. Instead, Lucifer, who returned to Earth last season, is on the loose and Crowley is hunting him. Meanwhile, the Winchesters are dealing with more personal threats. The British chapter of the Men of Letters showed up and kidnapped Sam because they are not happy with the American branch of the society. Now Dean and Castiel have to find Sam. Joining them is Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith), the brothers’ long-dead mother, who was resurrected as a thank you to Dean by Amara. This opens up a new dynamic for Sam and Dean Winchester being that she will be around for this season and it’s already paying off. Mary has shown that she still has the tough chops of having being a Hunter, but is finding out that adapting to the modern world to be perplexing.

Hopefully this 12th season of Supernatural will continue to delight and thrill viewers as we follow the never-ending saga of Sam and Dean Winchester.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto

 

Luke Cage Is a Solid, But Uneven Entry in the MCU

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The newest Marvel superhero TV show to premiere on Netflix, Luke Cage, is a notable departure for the standard superhero TV fare. The question is does Luke Cage deliver the goods? Sort of, to be honest.

In trying to be different, the show falters in some important areas. Namely, in keeping up the momentum, the villains aren’t as compelling or as interesting as the other foes featured in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and rarely does it feel as if Luke Cage (Michael Colter) is ever in real danger.

That is a problem with a superhero like Cage who is nearly invulnerable. Bullets bounce off him, his skin is impenetrable and he can shrug off attempted beatdowns from local thugs. Sure, it’s cool to watch Cage being all badass in his hoodie and walking in slow-mo as punks try mowing him down, but after awhile these scenes lack any sense of peril or urgency. luke-cage-and-popLater in the show’s run, the criminals start to up the ante with him and finally put him in danger, but it takes too long to get there. The show tries to get around this by putting people that he cares about in danger and that has mixed results. Sometimes we care about what happens to them, like with Pop (Henry Faison), a local barber who offers sage advice. Other times, we don’t.

Luke Cage is smothered with many colorful characters who are there to add mood and atmosphere, but the show goes overboard in trying to establish a so-called gritty tone that seems inauthentic at times despite the location shots and the constant use of 70s style background funk music. It tries too hard to set up a street-level atmosphere with callbacks to blaxpoitation films instead of providing a reason to keep watching the show. The other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) shows on Netflix can be binge-watched without a thought, with Luke Cage, there isn’t that compulsion to find out what happens next. It all depends on how invested you are in the characters and Luke Cage should have been front and center the main focus and at times he isn’t so that is a concern.

cottonmouthA lot of screentime is spent on the show’s main adversary Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), a Harlem crime boss that crosses path with Luke Cage. The problem with Cottonmouth is that he just doesn’t come across as particularly menacing. He is weak and inept at times, always being concerned with another crime lord, his superior Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey). Cottonmouth lacks the amoral sociopathic verve of Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave or the volcanic brutality of Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk. Then there is Shades (Theo Rossi), an annoying lackey for Diamondback that is always around Cottonmouth to remind him of what he has to do. Shades tries to come off as intimidating, but looks like a poser with these stupid sunglasses.

The show’s other characters were more interesting like Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who nearly steals the thunder from Cage and is deserving of her own TV show. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in next year’s Iron Fist. Rosario Dawson reprises her role as the cage-and-night-nursenurse Claire Temple and is a welcome presence as she reminds us that this show is part of the MCU. Speaking of the MCU, to this show’s credit, it does not hit viewers over the head that it is part of the MCU even though there are tons of Easter eggs. Interestingly, the events from The Avengers still have an impact even though it is more subtle. The references do not feel intrusive nor give the impression that someone has to go and watch all the MCU films and TV shows.

As for Cage himself, Colter does a terrific job playing the title hero. He exudes a quiet nobility and steel fortitude and never descends into a cliché. His back story is actually different and fresh. Once a lawman named Carl Lucas, he was framed and sent to prison where he got his powers from a lab experiment. After escaping prison, he adopted the Luke Cage identity and tries to live a low-key life. But his powers call out a responsibility and duty to his community that he cannot ignore. The moments when he becomes a local legend were pleasing highlights.

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By no means does this criticism mean that Luke Cage is a bad show; it’s a good, solid effort and isn’t unwatchable like Agent Carter or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s just with all the talent behind and in front of the screen, it could have and should have been much better. Still, there is the hope that the next season, which is coming, no doubt, will work out the kinks and give us a better show.

T. Rod Jones