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Review: The Umbrella Academy

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Everyone wonders what it would be like to grow up with superpowers. How would we be? How would we take those powers and make our own justice? We grew up inspired by the heroes of comic books and want to be like them.

Netflix’s new hit show, The Umbrella Academy, gives viewers a look into the lives of superheroes. The children of the Umbrella Academy were adopted as babies by an eccentric billionaire. He schooled them, fed them, clothed them and trained them to fight. These children have grown up in the spotlight created for them and the consequences that come with that. Some of them left, running from their demons, and some were lost. Now those that are left have been called back to their childhood compound by the one thing that unites them, their “father.” They will be faced with a mystery that will lead them to a crisis. Will this dysfunctional and emotionally stunted group be able to band together to save the world one more time?

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The Umbrella Academy started off as a comic which was rolled out by Dark Horse Comics. Written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá this dark story took fans by storm in 2008. After rumors of a movie the title was picked up by Netflix as a series. We can all be grateful that Netflix did because The Umbrella Academy is almost too good. The line of dark realism and humor is straddled perfectly in this show.  

The casting is spot on and they give fantastic performances. The sets are masterfully crafted, really allowing the viewer to become immersed in this world. The soundtrack is perfection. It sets the mood for every scene and helps the audience to get to know the characters. The costumes were also perfection. Every character has their own look. It is clear that a lot of attention was put into giving us clues about the characters, both what they want to be and who they truly are, through their clothing. The cinematography is a thing of beauty.

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I would highly recommend The Umbrella Academy. I was blown away by the experience that is this show. Everything comes together to tell an interesting story. The characters are well thought out. You feel for them and root for them. My only words of caution are be careful about binge watching it, and you will, because when the ten episodes are over you will be left with a very real need for the next season. Seriously though, just go watch it.

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!  

Why I like: “Escape From The Happy Place.” Part 1: The Magicians, overview and characters

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Hello, readers!  I’m Soliyra and I like to talk about things I like.  Right now, I am really liking SyFy’s drama The Magicians, specifically the fifth episode of season four.  But my editors told me that before I start telling you all about that particular episode, I should probably write a short article introducing the show, so you’ll have some idea what I’m talking about.  That seemed reasonable enough, so here we are.

Inspired by the Lev Grossman novels of the same name, The Magicians follows eight young adults as they become adept at using magic, travel to other dimensions, and repeatedly save each other and the world(s).  It’s basically an R-rated “Harry Potter meets Narnia.” Most of the action early on takes place at Brakebills University, a graduate school in upstate New York where college grads can, in three short years, get pretentious degrees in being wizards -only they call themselves “magicians” because I guess ‘wizards’ wasn’t pretentious enough?  Other action takes place in New York City and the magical realm of Fillory, which is definitely not Narnia.

At the beginning, the series is mostly focused on a young man named Quentin, AKA ‘Q,’ though it evolves into an ensemble cast over time.  His favorite books are a fictional series called Fillory and Further, about a set of English siblings who, during World War II, travel through an enchanted piece of furniture to a magical realm populated with talking animals.  They do not resemble any real books at all. Nope. Quentin learns that magic is real when he gets accepted to Brakebills. This gets him thinking that maybe Fillory could be, too.  Surprisingly, he is right! (this is not surprising). Other things that are real include: monsters, witches, gods, bad fairies, DRAMA, and a shadowy organization known as The Library that reminds me of Welcome To Night Vale every time it’s mentioned.

So anyway, this dude goes to school, makes friends, learns magic, etc.  I had deeply mixed feelings about season one. I liked the characters (well, most of them), really liked the spell choreography, and thought the villain was genuinely frightening.  However there was a lot of Problematic content that made me deeply uncomfortable, to the point that I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue watching.  Furthermore, I was very over the ‘chosen one’ trope. I felt that the show had potential, in spite of revolving around what I’d deemed a nothing character, because everyone else was much more interesting.

Season two steered away from some of the problems, particularly season one’s treatment of mental health.  It introduced some new characters and a ton of absolutely fantastic costumes (speaking as someone who has devoted the past year to the study and practice of costume design).  Some of the charm of the first season was gone, though. The villain was not scary in the same way, and the storytelling wasn’t as tight. I didn’t find it particularly compelling, but loved getting to see more of the ensemble.

Season three, and what I’ve seen so far of four, have often consisted of damage control: they subvert, or even undo, much of the garbage from earlier seasons.  This is also, I understand, the point at which the show really begins to break with the books. The Magicians hits its stride in season three, and, in retrospect, I am very glad I decided to continue watching.  Problem tropes still pop up from time to time, but the writers are plainly making an effort to improve.

 

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Things have improved, on multiple fronts

The colorful characters are the reason The Magicians succeeds.  I have therefore created a bulleted list describing the core characters, along with their Brakebills year and major as of season one.  This will give you an idea of who is who and how they interact so, hopefully, you’ll be able to at least sort of follow me when I start analyzing things with a microscope.  Also, there is this scene in season three where a bird-man refers to almost everyone by cool code names and we had to figure out who is who. Fun!
Anyway, these characters are good.  I want to hug them all and bring them cookies.   Bonus! This list also doubles as a ‘tag yourself’ meme.  I’m Fen.    Peruse this list while listening to this playlist I came up with at 4am, entitled The Magicians Characters as Dessa Songs” while you read, for an even more complete picture.

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Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

 

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I like weird movies. I like magic, dragons, faeries, and mysteries. I also enjoy period pieces and anything that can suck me in and not let go. You will find much of this in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on Netflix. I was just searching for anything random to watch and stumbled upon this image of a man in old clothing and a white wig. Well, let’s see what kind of period piece is this? A magical one! 

Bertie Carvel plays Jonathan Strange and does a superb job portraying a young man who wants nothing more in life than to love his wife, Arabella, and read and practice magic. He has such a love for it that he will do anything to keep learning more, until he realizes that may lose him what he holds most dear. Charlotte Riley is Arabella and she does a wonderful job trying to keep her husband with her and on the path she feels is right. All the while, Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) is in the background silently messing everything up. 

Eddie is amazing at being this introverted magician who wants all the knowledge to himself while simultaneously wanting magic in England. He hoards books full of spells and stories of how magic was once there and is vehemently afraid of what would happen if he doesn’t have his books. He does everything in his power to make sure the books are safe with him and that magic is only what he thinks it should be. Gloriously ignoring what it used to be and what it could be again. That is, of course, til the end. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We foray through history into war scenes and zombies raised from the dead. We go to lavish parties and political meetings and all the while I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be great if magic was real and we got to use it like this? It’s more a practical approach to magic here. No flying on broomsticks or presenting kings with riches. It’s helping the military stay alive, healing the sick, and eventually trying to stay alive.  It’s entirely about magic coming back to England and making it better. 

My favorite part of this show is Lady Pole, The Gentleman and his world of Lost Hope. The Gentleman is played rather majestically by Marc Warren and Lady Pole by Alice Englert. I absolutely loved Alice in Beautiful Creatures and could not figure out why I loved her so much in this show until I read her IMDB profile. She is just an actress that can really get into character. Thanks to Mr. Norrell, Lady Pole lives half in real life and half in Lost Hope with The Gentleman and she really begins to lose her mind, but who could blame her. 

Lost Hope is through the King’s Roads on the other side of the mirror, or the rain. It is a fantastically dreary place where the ball never ends and everyone is at the mercy of The Gentleman. The Gentleman himself is a mysterious faerie who is only out to help himself. In the end, the only thing that can break him is the Nameless Slave, for not even The Raven King cares to get rid of him. 

Another person to watch for in this show is Vinculus, played by Paul Kaye. He may seem to be just a crazy homeless man, but really listen to the things he says and it all can become clear. Don’t worry, if it doesn’t, the end of the season will be sure to clue you in. This show was based on a book of the same name by Susanna Clarke in 2006. Seeing as it only took until 2015 for it to have a series air, one would have hoped she would have written a sequel by now. Alas, no such luck and therefore no season 2 to this marvelous show. No matter, I still recommend you watch this when you have some free time as it will draw you into a magical world of love, war, and friendship. 

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I have a confession to make. I devour a good love story. However, I’m not talking about a love story the way you think I am. Sure The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ends in a love story and that makes you think the whole point of the movie was for Juliet to fall in love, but that isn’t it at all. This is a love story of an island, of a community, of family and books. This is the type of feel good movie that you want to share with people and I’m here to share it with you. 

Juliet is played by Lily James, who I am a big fan of, and she does a fantastic job portraying a young writer trying to find herself after World War 2. She’s lost parts of herself and is trying to live a life she thought she should. Find the handsome husband, write stories about love and women, and live a comfortable life. Then she receives a letter from Dawsey, played by Michiel Huisman, that throws everything out of whack. She decides to visit him and his society. In fact, she just doesn’t seem to be able to keep herself from leaving as quick as possible.  

This leads to a plot full of intrigue, books, and a family made on the island. She meets remarkable people on Guernsey. Some turn out to become family, others show how war can make someone hard and unreasonable. She chooses to see the bright side of things and do everything she can to help these new friends. I really don’t like giving away everything in a review because I want you to experience it for yourself, so let’s just say that, through flashbacks of the war, she learns a lot about these people and how they came to be who they are.  

Through this learning of how the war affected this island and its inhabitants, she starts to see how she wants her life to be. She realizes what is important in life and what she was just doing because she didn’t know what else to do. In the end, it is the love of books and the love of people that brings them all together and helps her to figure out what she ultimately wants out of her life. I like period pieces and I find this one to be very good. I would recommend it to anyone that loves a good story. That has a notion to read a different sort of love story and to want to share it with someone they love afterwards.  

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Review

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Many of us grew up with the beloved television series called Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. This year a new version was released. Based on the comics of the same name a darker, one could say a more chilling, show called The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was an early Halloween gift for us all.

Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and staring Kiernan Shipka The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina aired on Netflix on October 26, 2018. Sabrina Spellman has a big secret. She is only half-mortal. Sabrina is also half-witch. Her whole life up to this point her family has been preparing her to make a choice that will change her life forever.

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On her sixteenth birthday Sabrina can choose either side but she must choose. She can continue to go to her mortal school and live as a mortal teenager. There are her best friends. Her boyfriend. The movies and the books that she loves. Or she can choose the path that her family has been grooming her for. She can go to an elite school for witches and live as a witch.

Sabrina is torn between both. She loves being a witch. Sabrina has grown up casting spells and being surrounded by magic in her home. She is also very protective of her mortal friends and is unsure if she can leave her life with them. Sabrina is being pulled between these two worlds that she loves. With her birthday drawing closer the pressure is mounting for Sabrina to make her choice.

The assorted cast of characters in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are fantastically written. Witch or mortal these characters bring the viewers into the world that Sabrina dwells in. The characters fleshed out creation help us to believe that we are really their with Sabrina as she fights for the life she wants. The costuming is also an important tool for the show. Every costume tells us about the town and the people who populate it.

Speaking of the town the sets are wonderfully constructed. The Spellman house is actually magical to look at. Every room helps tell a story. Sabrina’s high school serves as neutral ground for Sabrina and her friends. The soundtrack is also well picked to further the story. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into creating the world of Sabrina Spellman.

I would highly recommend watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It is a fantastic show full of well written characters and plenty of twists.  

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Review: The Haunting of Hill House (TV Show)

I love horror. Be it movies, books, TV shows.. I want it all. So when I heard that Netflix was going to do a series called The Haunting of Hill House, I could not wait! The day it came to Netflix I started watching it, and I was hooked. None of us are immune to binge watching, but be prepared to not put this one down.

First, let’s do a little history on the show. It is a re-imagining of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 Gothic novel The Haunting of Hill House. This book is one of the best horror stories of the 20th century and isn’t so much about the horror as the terror. To be exact, it wants to make you dread what comes next more than it wants to scare you and gross you out like most in the genre. It was originally adapted into a British movie called The Haunting in 1963 where a group of paranormal investigators investigate Hill House. Most people probably know the 1999 version of The Haunting, starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor. I know that was my first introduction to this story, and I love that one as well.

This latest version of the original story is terrifyingly surprising. Netflix and creator Mike Flanagan did a superb job creating this masterpiece of terror. I do warn you, there might be some spoilers ahead, so read on if you dare!

The Haunting of Hill House is about a family of 7, the Crain’s, that once lived in Hill House. The children are now grown up and each has their own problems in life that all stem from their time spent there. They have all tried very hard to keep the past in the past, but it’s catching up to them and there is nothing they can do about it. I really don’t want to reveal too much, but each of the 5 children is special in their own way and despite their hardships and differences the family sticks together in the end.

The journey the Crain’s take in this 10 episode season is remarkable. There are moments of love, of pain, of sadness and trust me you will feel all the feels right along with them. There are most definitely jump scares, hidden ghosts, and subtle hints as to what’s really going on. Be prepared for many, many flashbacks that eventually make a lot of sense. The red door is a big part of the plot, as is Mrs. Crain, so keep your eyes on them.

The cast does a tremendous job at portraying their characters and telling you the story of the summer that rules their lives. I would absolutely love to see another season of this in the future. I’m not sure if continuing on with the Crain family’s future would be the way to go, but I’d love to see the story behind the original owners of Hill House and how they became what they were. They don’t play a big part in this story, but they are definitely part of the reason the house is what it is.

I didn’t find this series horrifying and I didn’t get any nightmares from it, but it does seem to truly scare some. So beware if you get easily spooked! The story unfolds at a steady pace, so don’t worry about any slow moments making you wish you were watching something else. In fact, it will probably be over before you are expecting and then you’ll miss the Crain family and all the suspense in their lives.

GLOW: A Review

 

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GLOW is a Netflix series based on a television series that ran from 1986 to 1989. The show centers around a bunch of misfits, mostly actresses, trying to find meaningful parts. They come to an audition that turns out is actually going to be a female-centric wrestling show.

The 1980s where a time of changes in the world. Wrestling was no exception. Up until that point wrestling happened in territories owned by men of means. The McMahons were signing wrestlers based on talent, not territory and putting together television with this talent. Thus helping wrestling in becoming mainstream. However there was still no place for women. Women who wrestled were a sideshow, booked to help sell tickets when things were stagnant. Or they were arm candy for men, to be kidnapped and bedazzled at ringside.

Then GLOW: GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING aired. It was campy. It was full of glitter and drama. It had a cast of all female wrestlers who entertained America. It also ended all too soon, without warning, even for the ladies who worked it. Netflix took this story to make their own, and it is wonderful.

Don’t let the glitz fool you. GLOW also has hard hitting themes written in the script. They address the difficulty of women finding work in both fields of acting and wrestling at the time. The show is also hilarious. They also have worked to put real instances from the original into episodes,  including an episode in season two which looks exactly like the original.

The costumes are fantastic. The everyday dress of the characters really helps to add to the story. The hair and makeup is used to help show the difference between the wrestling world and the actresses who portray them. The soundtrack is also a great tool that the show uses. The music perfectly lines up with the story, adding to the mood of the scene.

In short I adore GLOW. As a little girl I drew strength from some female wrestlers. As a women who has rediscovered my love of it I am thrilled by the strides women have made in the industry. GLOW helps remind us fans how far we have come and how far we still have to go while giving us some serious laughs. I root for so many of these characters. I love their high moments. My heart sinks when they have a low point.

 I would highly recommend this series to anyone.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!