Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 3

Titans Season 2, Episode 3: “Ghosts”

This is the first episode that actually feels like business as usual for the team. After a pair of episodes devoted to closings and openings, this episode is about continuing. It would have worked so much better with that first episode as the finale, as it was clearly intended to be, but you can feel the momentum picking up with this episode, ending with an intriguing cliffhanger.

It picks up with the team dealing with the revelation that Rose’s father is Deathstroke. Then it immediately jumps to the other half of the team, Hawk, Dove, and Donna, showing up at Titans tower. Dick sends the kids off before discussing the current problem with Dr. Light with the old team. They decide they have to deal with their unfinished business and take him in. The team doesn’t react well to his revelations about Rose and Deathstroke. The reconstituted team goes after Dr. Light and kind of flubs the attempt. After Donna commits what was almost certainly a homicide with a motorcycle, Dr. Light escapes.

While the adults are trying to bring in Dr. Light, the kids are having troubles of their own. Raven is having trouble with her powers and Jason is a constant shit stirrer. The addition of Rose, another shit stirrer, really complicates things. Rose is a sympathetic figure, bonding with Rachel over their mutual terrible fathers. But she also can’t seem to help causing some dissension. Just a little time observing the team lets her find some weaknesses. That is not a good mix with Jason’s hatred of being sat at the kid’s table. When he and Gar find where Dr. Light is hiding, he can’t help but force the issue. It, of course, goes poorly.

The other big thread in the episode is the show finally really digging into who and what Starfire is. At the end of the last episode, she was kidnapped by another alien. Her, it is revealed that he is a member of the royal guard from her planet, her seeking a missing princess, who just so happens to be Kori. He is also something of an ex-boyfriend. Now Kori has to deal with her responsibilities at home and her desire to stay on Earth with her new friends. While the first season was all about her remembering who she was, this season is setting her up to decide who she is going to be.

One good thing about this episode is that it gets most of its characters in one place, and the show gives most of them some time to grow. Hawk and Dove continue to not really work. In this episode they frame their continual pull back to the team as addiction, which makes it clear what the right answer is, but if they are going to be on this show they are always going to be involved in superhero stuff. It is like the characters have already figured out the answer to their problems, but the show won’t let them solve the problem. Dick is dealing with some major guilt. The younger three are all trying to find their place, with Jason doing the most struggling against any perceived limits. Jason’s talk with Gar is particularly illuminating. He sees himself as wanted, which explains his general orneriness. He expects to be left behind or forgotten, so he forces everyone to notice him and leave him out.

Overall, Ghosts was a solid episode. The show appears to be finding a groove and appears to have a plan for its large and growing cast.

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Now Playing September 2019

Beaten

River City Girls —

This game is so close to being everything I want from a beat ‘em up. I feel like I say that with every new River City version. I really liked this game, but it has a bunch of small flaws that kind of grated on me as the game went on. One is that it requires a button press to move between screens. That button press is the same as attack, so if you end up fighting near the edge of the screen, be ready to jump back and forth whether you want to or not. Also, some of the boss battles try too hard to be different from the actual game play. It also has a twist at the end that I found narratively unforgiving. Not usually that big a problem in a beat ‘em up, but this one makes you spend a lot of time with its plot. Having the last impression the game leaves you with be pulling the rug out from under the player sucks. Those are the problems I had with this game. I have blown them somewhat out of proportion. River City Girls is gorgeous and fun. It is just a blast to play. It’s two (initial) characters have satisfyingly different movesets, making choice of character more than just a choice of look. The game is filled with fun references to other games in this series, as well as some fun general pop culture riffs. I will go back and do the new game plus before too long. I will try to get all the trophies. It is as good a beat ‘em up as I’ve played in nearly 20 years. River City Ransom is one of my all-time favorite games, when a game in that lineage comes out, that game is the mark I measure them against. River City Girls doesn’t quite meet that mark. But that doesn’t make it in any way bad. It is a delight.

Inazuma Eleven — I bought this game as soon as it was released in the US more than 5 years ago. I have generally enjoyed Level-5’s output, and a true sports RPG was an idea that I had long thought was a great one. The fact that I didn’t finish the game until now kind of says what I thought about it. I didn’t much like playing this game. I like everything about it in theory, but in practice it doesn’t quite work. I am glad I finally got around to finishing it, but I think I see why this series didn’t take off in the West.

Ongoing

Sonic Mania — I am taking this game at a leisurely pace. That, of course, means that I’ve kind of put it down and forgot about it. I still like it and will take the couple of hours I’ll need to finish it sooner or later.

Sega Genesis Mini I bought one of these. I really like my SNES mini, even if I haven’t played it as much as I want to. I never managed to track down an NES mini. I bought a PSX mini when they got discounted to $20 and I feel like I got ripped off. After spending less than an hour playing it, I don’t feel like the Genesis mini is quite up to the standards of SNES mini, but it is certainly better than the Playstation one. One thing I don’t like, which is not really a problem with the system, is that I don’t really have the nostalgia for this specific system. I had the redesigned Genesis, with 6-button controllers. That just means that the aesthetics of this machine don’t quite hit my nostalgia buttons as hard as it could. I will get to the game sooner or later.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne —

This hit the spot. I had to get my PS4 out of my house when MHW first hit because I was falling behind on my school work. Now it’s back, and with a sizable DLC campaign. I’ve cleared probably half of the new content. I don’t really know what to say; it’s Monster Hunter. It added a new area, some new weapons and armor, and a mix of new and returning monsters. Just the excuse needed to sink another 80 hours into this.

Persona Q2 — I might have hit the breakthrough point with this game, in a good way. I’ve cleared a couple of floors without a party wipe; I feel like I am gaining a better understanding of what strategies work in this game. I have also all but abandoned most of the characters. I’ve got about 7 I’m using, a base five and a few switch outs. Due to the structure of the game, that means a lot of the characters are from Persona 5, but since everyone shows up to blabber on in cutscenes, who you use in battle is 100% a building an effective party choice. Maybe I’ll actually start to enjoy this game soon.

Final Fantasy VIII Remaster — I didn’t get too far in this remaster, but plan to keep at it. This game holds a special place in my memory and playing it for the first time in about a decade has been interesting so far. One thing that has surprised me is how differently I feel about the characters. I used to think that most of the party members in this game were cool, but now I realize that none of them are. Good characters, but they are not cool.

Upcoming

Judgment — This game keeps falling off the ongoing list, but I am going to clear it before too long. It’s fun.

Sega Genesis Games — I’ve got the mini, I am going to play some of the games that came with it. I already started with Alisia Dragoon, a game I do not understand at all.

Elliot Quest — I feel a need to go back and finish up some leftover WiiU games, or maybe some Wii games. Elliot Quest is one that I got most of the way through, and really enjoyed, but never got around to finishing. Another one high on my list

Joker Review

I don’t know that I’ve seen a better made bad movie. It is a movie wearing the darkness and grit of late 70s-early 80s Scorsese as cosplay, without attempting to understand what movies like King of Comedy or Taxi Driver were trying to say. Essentially, why is not a question Joker ever considers. It does things because those things seem dark and provoking, but there is nothing behind them. It is vacant posturing, a movie hoping its darkness will mask its emptiness.

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck. Fleck works as a clown, scraping out a life in what appears to the early 80s Gotham City for him and his invalid mother. Fleck suffers from mental illness, taking numerous medications and still being prone to bouts of irrational laughter. He dreams of being a stand up comic, like his idol Murray Franklin. In the opening minutes of the movie, Fleck is beaten by a handful of kids who were harassing him as he worked as a clown. From his already abject starting point things get worse for Fleck. The funding for the social services that helped him pay for his medications gets cut, so he goes off his meds. He gets a gun from a coworker after his beating, but having while working gets him fired from his clown job. After another beating on the subway, Fleck fights back, shooting three men who were accosting him. The lone bright spot in his life is his budding relationship with a single mother living a few apartments down from him and his mother.

As shit keeps being piled on Fleck, he begins losing his hold on rationality. Many people treat his subway killings as a call to action, since the three men were well off money men, working for Wayne Enterprises. Thomas Wayne, exploring a potential run for mayor, calls the poor people reacting that way clowns, inspiring clown make-up at the protests arising all over the city. Things finally come to a head when Fleck gets the chance to meet Murray Franklin.

Joker pulls scenes and shots straight out of movies like Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and A Clockwork Orange. It seems desperate to appear to have something to say. But as the movie attempts to unravel Arthur Fleck goes on, it becomes more apparent that there is nothing there. That is despite some all caps ACTING from Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. Fleck starts delusion. The movie maybe wants to show why the character finally broke and became the Joker, but it doesn’t come to a better answer than that he was crazy. The movie can’t seem to help but show its contempt for the people protesting in the streets, but they are contrasted with the selfish and corrupt like Wayne or Franklin. Everyone is venal and self-serving.

The movie was numbing. Its desire to shock, to provoke radiates from every scene. But the movie doesn’t actually have anything provoking to say. It is utterly bleak, but that bleakness isn’t expressing anything. It isn’t a black comedy; there is nothing funny here. This is just two hours of ugly posturing that has nothing to say.

**

Carnival Row

For a long time, I was all in on Netflix originals. I still am, I guess. I try to give most of what they put out a try and have watched or intend to watch most of their movie output. While I am still in on a bunch of Netflix shows that have not yet been cancelled, lately I have found myself favoring Amazon Prime’s approach to original content.

Netflix’s strategy, though it may be starting to change, seems to have been to throw money at any and every project it can get its hands on. This led to a lot of weird interesting stuff, as well as simply bad stuff. I don’t think any one else would have given us something like American Vandal, for example. Amazon Prime has always felt more curated than Netflix. They are going for a specific tone and quality, like a network trying to create an identity. Even if Amazon’s output has been more consistent, I don’t think Amazon’s approach has resulted in appreciable better content.

That said, over the last year or so I have come to a greater appreciation of Amazon Prime’s output, and this year they have released several shows that reveal their target consumer appears to be me specifically. The adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens was delightful. I wound up really enjoying The Boys and the unfortunately cancelled The Tick. John Krasinski sells Jack Ryan despite the shows dodgy politics. There is more Homecoming on the way at some point. And while its second season was dreadful, I have hopes that Goliath can right the ship.

That brings us to Amazon Prime’s latest release targeted to my sensibilities and actual subject of this post: Carnival Row.

The reviews I’ve read of Carnival Row have been middling at best, and I can’t really disagree with most of the reasoning within those reviews. (I saw most, calling it out for not being the next Game of Thrones is nonsense.) Carnival Row is a strange beast, a Victorian-ish fantasy mystery show. I don’t know that Carnival Row is actually any good; that doesn’t really matter, though. What matters is that I loved watching it.

Carnival Row combines many elements that I enjoy individually. It is structured like a murder mystery, which I love. The setting is a kind of Victorian-ish steampunk fantasy world, another thing I greatly enjoy. Honestly, I am kind of a sucker for Victorian romances, which a major subplot of this show apes quite effectively. Nearly all the building blocks of this show are precisely calibrated for me to enjoy, so long as they executed halfway well at all.

The story is a little more uneven than the setting, but it mostly works. The mystery isn’t quite there because the most obvious answer after the initial couple of episodes turns out to be the culprit. I kept expecting a twist, but it was more waiting to learn the why rather than the who and there is no real way to speculate on that. Early on the show sets up a lot of threads that appear to be unrelated. Cara Delevingne plays Vignette Stonemoss (this show has top tier names), a fae refugee who shows up in the Burgue and finds out her supposedly dead lover is still alive. That lover is Orlando Bloom’s Rycroft Philostrate (told you about the names). Philo is a detective who is investigating a serial killer who has been killing fae in the slums. The two of them struggle to deal with their reunion as Vignette tries to get used to living as a refugee in the racist Burgue. Also involved are Imogen and Ezra Spurnrose, a pair of impoverished nobles trying to hold on to their lifestyle. They meet up with a rich faun, Agreas Astrayon, who is trying to make inroads amongst the upper class. Finally, there are the Breakspears, the prime minister and his family as they deal with some family problems. While Philo and Vignette are connected, the rest of them do not appear to be at first. The only thing truly connecting them are the setting.

Carnival Row is driven by an obvious and effective racism metaphor that is wrapped up in a solid exploration of colonialism. The fae and other related fantasy races are called “critch” by the people of the Burgue and treated like second class citizens. The fae in the Burgue are refugees from Tirnanoc, the site of a war between two colonialist powers that the Burgue lost. When they withdrew they left the fae that had supported them on their own. With their homeland destroyed, many had no choice but to flee to the Burgue. It creates a toxic stew on the titular Carnival Row, where the fae refugees do what work they can, largely as servant or sex workers, and the Burgue citizen resent them as a drain on the city, especially as the city’s power fades.

Philo and Vignette are co-protagonists, and they give two different and sympathetic points of view. Vignette has trouble dealing with the powerlessness and unfairness of the situation. She goes from working as a servant, with the Spurnroses, to realizing she has no recourse when the master of the house tries to force himself on her. Then she works with a criminal group, which is dangerous because they have to maintain secrecy to keep ‘safe.’ Meanwhile, Philo has a position as a constable, but he has trouble with his fellow cops because he isn’t racist. She gets to see things from the fae side; he sees it from the human. The clarity of its messaging, for the most part, makes up for its simplicity.

The show isn’t exactly fast paced, but it keeps the action coming at a steady clip. It is best when it is the most focused. The first few episodes are the weakest because it is not clear how all the characters relate to each other or how their stories are in any way connected. Some of those connections are not apparent until very late in the show. But strong performances all around and a generally entertaining setting and concept make for a strong show.

Ad Astra Review

Ad Astra joins the ranks of a rash of hard-ish science fiction movies. They present plausibly realistic futures and show people dealing with the harsh realities of the unforgiving nature of space. Movies like The Martian, Gravity, and Interstellar. I don’t know if this is the best of those, but does it really matter when the end result is another thoughtful, interesting space movie to enjoy.

Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Major Roy McBride. The movie introduces him as the coolest man in the US Space Command. His heart rate never cracks 80 bpm, not even when he is falling off a space antenna back to earth after a strange energy surge causes disasters all over the world.

The accident that send McBride plummeting back to earth is what sets up the plot of the movie. That energy surge came from the Lima Project, a research mission to the outer edge of the solar system that was captained by Clifford McBride, Roy’s father and one of the most decorated astronauts ever. They were reported lost years ago, but this surge is the first communication with them in 16 years. So mission command wants to send Roy to Mars to get a message to his father to stop whatever is happening, and to get a precise location for the Lima Project.

So Roy goes to space. The movie presents an interesting dichotomy between the physical journey and the emotional one. Roy’s trip is a Heart of Darkness-esque trek into the unknown, getting further and further from anything he recognizes. There is a lot of pulpy action, with a car chase and zero-g fights. This is presented with austerity and solemnity, but it is really stuff that verges on silly. The combination works, the presentation really sells the wilder stuff happening.

It dovetails nicely with the emotional journey that Roy goes on. At the start, he seems to idolize his father, but also resent his absence. As long as he is on, or near, earth he can maintain his balance. As he travels further from his home, and closer to the father he didn’t really know, the more unbalanced he becomes. This is doubly true as he begins to learn more about his father and The Lima Project. He has to deal with finding out that his father may not be the hero he has been portrayed as as he journeys further and further out into space.

What makes the movie work is Pitt. He is at first somewhat inscrutable; his is cool and cut off from his emotions. He keeps his cool by essentially cutting off his emotions, not actually dealing with his emotional problems. Pitt plays the coldness perfectly, as he does the slow unraveling of Roy’s emotional state as he gets closer to a reunion with his father and as that eventual reunion becomes more conflicted. When the big moment finally happens, you’ve been on this emotional journey with Roy and know where he is.

The movie is a bit too somber and spare at times; it feels like it could be a much more fun movie and still accomplish its central journey. But in my experience that looseness and fun is anathema to James Gray’s filmmaking. But that is a criticism of what this movie is not, not what this movie is. I found it to be one of the most moving film watching experiences I’ve had this year. Ad Astra is a must see.

****1/2

Magnum PI

Magnum, pi went off the air more than 30 years ago. I mean, I guess it came back on the air with a remake that started airing on CBS last fall, but the original Magnum, PI’s last episode was in May 1988. I was only two years old at that time, but through reruns, the show made a big impression on a very young me. Still, my memories of it were vague. I remembered the sun and beaches, the car and the helicopter, the music and the mustache. I started watching it on Amazon Prime expecting another piece of 1980’s camp that has little to offer now other than nostalgia. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Magnum, PI is that stuff, but it is also much more. There are some things that are very much of the 1980’s, but in many ways this show could come out today and fit right in in the upper echelon of television, especially broadcast television. (I know there is a remake show happening right now; no, I haven’t seen it.) It is sometimes silly, sometimes thoughtful, but nearly always entertaining. One of Magnum’s strengths is something that likely gets it dismissed from any serious conversation these days: Magnum, PI is almost completely episodic. With a few exceptions, this is not a serialized show. That works with Magnum’s job. He is a private investigator and each episode is a new case. That allows the show to be a lot of things, and only rarely do those things feel like they clash. It allows the show to bring all the elements of its setting to their fullest strength, depending on the episode. They don’t all work, but more work that don’t. The set up allows for one episode to pit Magnum against a dirty magazine publisher in softball game with the estate as the stakes and for another to feature a Soviet plot with ties to Magnum’s time in Vietnam, with each feeling like a part of the same show.

There is beauty in the shows simplicity. It is set in sun drenched Hawaii. Thomas Sullivan Magnum is a private investigator. He is also a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. He lives in the guest house of a rich author, the unseen Robin Masters, and nominally works as the head of security on Masters’s compound. In that capacity, he clashes with Higgins, the estate’s majordomo. On the side, he takes private cases. Magnum is aided by two old Navy buddies, helicopter pilot TC and club operator Rick. Magnum is a kind of a blue collar guy stuck in a white collar living situation. This set up works for all kinds of stories. The connections with the rich and famous through Mr. Masters allows Magnum to get involved in some of the sillier and more ridiculous cases. Meanwhile, his military past allows for more serious stories. His job as a private investigator works is malleable enough for all kinds of mysteries, thrillers and adventures.

Like any long running show, Magnum evolves as it goes along. As it nears the end of its run, it really pushed the boundaries of its malleability. Unlike the usual arc with long running shows where they grow more ridiculous as they get older, Magnum gets darker and more violent. With Amazon Prime being short the sixth season, the jump from the fifth to the seventh is the jarring. The show just keeps pushing farther to the extremes of violence and darkness that it shows. It is hard to quantify; the show was always a violent show. Magnum and his friends are all Vietnam veterans, and there are numerous references and flashbacks to their time in the military. One episode is essentially a TV version of Rambo II. The show never loses the lighter episodes, but even those seem more likely to involve shoots outs with machine guns.

With season 7 it is part of an arc, or at least something close to an arc, ending with Magnum’s apparent death at the end of the season. I knew of that episode before watching it. Before season 7 that ending would be completely out of sync with the rest of the show; the brightness always seemed greater than the darkness. But season 7 flips that, you feel the danger of Magnum’s world.

Magnum, PI remains a very watchable, entertaining show. Plus, I can see its DNA in some of my more modern favorites like Psych, another sun-drenched crime/mystery show. I still have the last season to get through, and season 6 which is not on Amazon Prime with the rest of the series, but the hundred plus episodes I’ve seen are mostly excellent. This is one memory from childhood that is at least as good as I remember it being.

Hustlers Review

Another review I read of Hustlers described it as “Goodfellas in a g-string,” and I cannot think of a better description than that. Hustlers is a crime movie that puts the focus on women. A group of dancers pull a scam on their odious clients, at least until a few of them can overcome the shame and tell the police what happened. It is one of the better movies to come out in the last few months and a good kick off for fall movies.

This is a true crime story of a group of strippers who stole tons of money from their clients. They did this by drugging them and stealing their credit cards. Constance Wu stars as Destiny, who comes under the wing of experienced dancer Ramona, played by Jennifer Lopez. Ramona teaches Destiny how to dance. Eventually, they split up, but after Destiny’s relationship fails and she tries to go back to dancing, they meet back up. The early part of the movie takes place before the financial collapse, the latter half after. The money just doesn’t flow like it did before. So Ramona assembles a crew for a new venture. They go to bars and find men and entice them to go to the strip club. But eventually that well runs dry. So then they hatch a new plan; drugging the men, bringing them to the club and robbing them blind.

Hustlers does a great job of playing with the audience’s sympathies. The first hour is all about getting you to sympathize with its main characters. You see the women’s struggles and their dreams. Those dreams might be somewhat ridiculous–I am not sure about Ramona’s clothing line of denim swimwear–but the movie never asks you to laugh at them. It also goes out of its way to portray the men who are coming into the club as absolute creeps. They are mostly wall street traders just before the stock market collapse. The movie gets you on board with them, and when their efforts turn criminal the movie makes it easy to follow their justifications. Then the movie pushes further and further. The marks become less odious, the women less justified. Then the movie pulls it back once it closes in on the ending.

The movie lives by the performances and relationships of its crew. Lopez is the standout as Ramona, a force of nature in the club, whose drive leads to the plan and whose foibles lead to their inevitable capture. Wu doesn’t appear quite as comfortable as Destiny; at first because that is the character, but later because her attitude is inconsistent. Other characters move in and out, with Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart rounding out the primary crew of scammers. Palmer in particular steals every scene she is in. The chemistry between Wu and Lopez drives the movie. At first it seems almost romantic, but the real nature of the connection becomes clear later. Destiny was abandoned by her mother at a young age and was raised by her grandmother. Ramona becomes like her surrogate mother. That fits with Ramona’s mother hen tendencies. But Destiny is not the only young dancer she has formed such a relationship with. Ramona’s refusal to cut any of them loose, no matter how untrustworthy they prove to be. Even at the end, Destiny still craves that connection with Ramona.

The other thread, that one that doesn’t quite work, is how this story is being told as a story to a reporter played by Julia Stiles. She is fine, but the storyline only seems to deflate the tension of the main story.

Hustlers is a delight. It is a crime story with a fresh perspective. It is a movie that takes characters that are usually treated as disposable and showing that they are people. It doesn’t quite land every note, but the whole package is a lot of fun.

****

The Goldfinch

The best thing I can say about The Goldfinch is that it made me want to read the book. That sounds like, and is intended to be, damning with faint praise, but I think I liked it more than most people. It doesn’t seem to be entirely deserving of the critical drubbing it has taken. It also not completely undeserving of its reception, either. The Goldfinch feels like a well crafted failure; it has all the ingredients and make up of something great, but the end result is significantly less than the sum of its parts.

The Goldfinch takes place in time periods; in the past with 13-year-old Theo and in the present with adult Theo. The parts with young Theo get a lot more time, and therefore work a whole lot better, even if many of its characters get no development. The inciting incident of the movie is the bombing of a museum that kills, among others, Theo’s mother. During the aftermath, Theo makes off with a painting of a Goldfinch. The movie follows his journey as he lives with the Barbour family, headed by the kind yet distant matriarch played by Nicole Kidman. Eventually he ends up with his father out in the Nevada desert. Along the way, he struggles to process his grief. When overcome, he clutches the Goldfinch, a connection to his mother. As an adult, Theo sells antiques and tries to fit in with the social set he left as a child. There are numerous plots and subplots, eventually building to a conflict around the stolen Goldfinch.

The adult stuff feels like a full movie squashed into less than an hour. There is not enough to get a feel for any of the characters or their relationships. Especially with the time jump, it makes it hard to get a read on the world the characters live in. You see young Theo attempt to process his grief, with him finding some solace living with the Barbours, and less living with his father. He makes some friends that help him cope, if not always in healthy ways. Then it jumps to his time as an adult, and the movie never really establishes who he is. Revelations are fast and frequent, but without knowing what the situation was, it is hard to tell how this new information changes anything. Ansel Elgort tries to do what he can, but adult Theo is a cypher. You see him meet a character for the first time in years. The next thing you know, they are engaged. Then the relationship is on the rocks. The movie never really gives a reason to care.

The movie goes through all the motions, but never gets to the emotions. There is a big scene near the end, when Theo comes into conflict with his mentor and business partner. The movie makes it feel like it should be a big moment, but it doesn’t have the impact because the reasons things matter so much to that character aren’t mentioned until that scene. The movie spends so much time with everything else, it could have spent more time on The Goldfinch. You know, the one from the title.

In the end The Goldfinch feels a bit like the early Harry Potter adaptations. There are a lot they do well, but in the end those movies feel a little like they are marking boxes on an adaptation checklist. All of these scenes need to get in, even if that doesn’t leave the time to actually develop any of the characters or the plot. The Goldfinch gives a look into a story that feels like a modern day Dickens (again, I haven’t read the book) but sapped of most of its humanity. It is a movie about grief, but it shows the effects without really letting the viewer into the minds of the characters to see how it affects them.

**1/2

The Boys

I guess superhero TV shows are my niche. There are a lot of them these days; everyone is in on it. You’ve got DC and Marvel shows all over the place, Netflix is staying in the game with Umbrella Academy, and Hulu having Marvel’s Runaways. Like everyone else, Amazon has made its forays into the genre, first with the recently cancelled The Tick, and now with its adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys, from Dynamite Comics.

I’ll admit straight up that I am not a fan of The Boys comic. I will also admit I haven’t read a lot of it. I have generally bounced pretty hard off of Garth Ennis’s work and I have never really been interested in forcing myself to acquire a taste for it. He combines some genuinely good observations about human nature with a somewhat cheeky revelry in the most absolute profane imagery or ideas imaginable; I usually end up put off by how gross stuff can get. His approach to superheroes seemed to me to be an extended take on the old “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” concept. I know people really like his work with The Punisher, but I’ve never really cared for The Punisher in general. I’ve also heard good things about Hitman, but DC hasn’t made that easy to get a hold of these days (If I missed a collection or something, let me know!). What I read of The Boys didn’t do anything for me and I never really felt any need to revisit it.

So I was not exactly excited for The Boys at Amazon. Still, I gave it a shot and I am glad I did. The Boys still displays plenty of the meanness and profanity that turned me off on the comic, but enough has been reimagined here to make it a different story and, in my opinion, a much better story. The bones of the plot remains the same; Hughie’s fiancé is killed by a drugged out superhero in a completely avoidable accident. This leads to Hughie being recruited by Billy Butcher into The Boys, a former CIA team that polices superheroes. In the show, the team is officially no more, but it is unofficially recreated to allow Butcher to seek revenge against the Superman analogue Homelander and against all superheroes in general.

One central level of the satire of The Boys is superheroes as corporate celebrities. It is a direct shot at Marvel and Disney with the MCU. A bold shot from a giant corporation like Amazon, but there is still some truth in it. Most of the “superheroes” operate within this; they are some corporatized failure of the idea of being a hero. It is fine, but nothing particularly new or eye-opening. The same goes for most of The Boys’ story. It is not a familiar tale, but it isn’t a surprising one. Butcher is clearly somewhat unhinged, and the other members are in the group for their own reasons. The show does a good enough job showing how amoral the “heroes” are that most of the awful things that the Boys do feel at least somewhat justified.

The part of the show that worked for me was the relationship between Hughie and Starlight. Mostly it was the character arc of Starlight. It starts off so bad, but by the middle portion of the season has easily become the highlight. Starlight is a young superheroine from Iowa. She had been managed by her mother like a stage mom with a pageant girl. Somehow she had caught the eye of the Vought Corporation and the Seven, the Justice League analogue superhero team. She is called up to replace a departed member. The first thing that happens when she arrives at headquarters is that The Deep, an Aquaman analogue, coerces her into a sexual act. It is a gross way to start things out, but of a piece with the rest of the show. Luckily, things look up from there.

Like Hughie with his girlfriend, Starlight has had her innocence violently shattered. She is the only superhero on the show who is shown to be trying to do good, to actually be a superhero. The other heroes, though, treat her like everyone else, like she is below them and not worth their time. Starlight, with some advice from Hughie, refuses to let that break her. She goes back determined to be a hero. I understand if the start of her story is enough to put someone off; large parts of The Boys seems to exist just to dare the viewer to stop watching. Especially because The Deep goes on to be shown as more of a goof than actually awful like some of his contemporaries. I, however, found sticking with Starlight’s story very rewarding. Because she goes from this sheltered, naive and unsure person to a much stronger one. That journey would be possible without the sexual assault, but that is not the story told. She not only reevaluates her career as a hero, but she also reexamines all aspects of her life, like her relationship with her mother and her religion. For me, it all worked. It also works in tandem with Hughie’s story.

Starlight seems much more focused that Hughie; he doesn’t really have anything to hold on to, personally, after the loss of his girlfriend. So he is more easily swayed by Butcher’s excesses and falls more easily into that quest for revenge.

The show truly won me over near the end, when some characters are forced to make a moral choice, and the show, at least for the moment, rejects the nihilism that had always threatened to run away with the show.

So, The Boys is a show for people who want a cynical look at superheroes that eventually reveals itself to have a sincere heart. I was pleasantly surprised by this show and I’ll be back for season 2.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep2

Season 2, Episode 2: “Rose”

This feels like the real start to the season. It opens with a time break, beginning three months after the end of the last episode. While the first episode of the season spent its time winding up plots and creating openings for the future, Rose follows what is essentially three plots that actually set up conflicts that will likely take up most of the season.

The first is with Dick, Raven, Beast Boy, and Jason in San Francisco at Titans tower. It mostly feels like a catch up episode with these characters, quickly reminding the viewer who they are and what they are about. It mostly works. You get a glimpse at Dick as the leader and mentor to these younger heroes. The best bit is likely with Jason. Jason was a bit player in the first season, but here he is more closely integrated with the team. Jason is a great character to add to an ensemble because he is such an obnoxious little turd. Not irredeemable, and not always wrong, but he creates friction with everyone. Yet you see Dick pretty expertly manipulate him into buying into the team concept, at least for now.

The other thread the pops up in San Francisco is Rose. She has some criminal misadventures while running from some unknown person or people, which gets her on the news and makes Dick realize that she is just the kind of person he wants the Titans to protect. So he “rescues” her. While Rose determines which is the best path for her, the young Titans do some digging and find out a familial connection for the character that spells trouble. I want to say something about Chelsea Zhang as Rose, but I don’t feel like this episode really had enough to determine anything. She sold the fight scene at the very least. This episode also introduced Michael Mosley as Dr. Light. Mosely is great pretty much everywhere he shows up, but I am not as excited for Dr. Light, a character that is usually either a joke or a gruesome try-hard attempt to prove that the character is not a joke.

The development that seems the least justified is the partnership between Donna Troy and Kory. That is a common pairing from the comics, but I don’t recall them becoming that close last season. Still, their few scenes are effective. They are on a stakeout, looking for a superpowered criminal. Once they get their woman, a figure from Kory’s past shows up and starts another mystery for the season.

The third and easily least effective prong of the episode is Hawk and Dove. They were an awkward fit in season one, and things haven’t really improved much. Hank is out of the game, working to rehabilitate kids with drug problems on a farm, while Dawn pretends to be retired but is sneaking out to fight crime. It would almost be interesting if I was confident that the show was intentionally inverting the usual Hawk and Dove dynamic, with Dove the more violent one to Hawk’s attempts to resolve things peacefully, but it really just reads as kind of muddled. The events of the episode sends the duo back to the team for help, so we’ll see how that develops.

This episode kind of highlights the problem with making the previous seasons finale the premiere episode of the season. That episode was primarily wrap up for last season’s stories, this one is set up for this season’s stories. That makes two episodes that feel a lot like being stuck in place. “Rose” is not unentertaining, and I am excited to see where this season goes, but I am really ready for it to start going there. Maybe I am just spoiled by Netflix’s binge model and now lack the patience to wait a week between episodes.One thing I liked about this episode is that it felt more expansive than any from the first season. Titans season 1 hinted at a wider world of superheroes, of the Titans being a team with a past. This episode feels like it takes place in a world with a history, in a world with other superhero stuff going on. Hopefully the show can use that as a strength going forward.