Review: The Kid Who Would be King

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There is something about The Kid Who Would be King gets right that other King Arthur movies don’t. It embraces the ideology and mythology of King Arthur. It doesn’t try to be realistic or gritty. But instead it is a source of hope and inspiration. Some of my favorite fantasy books have been based on the Arthurian legends. Some of the screen adaptations have not faired so well, though. Sure Excalibur is a classic, but some of it is a bit silly. Merlin was a decent retelling and straight up Fantasy for the BBC.

After a brief prologue that sets the background for this particular take on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, we are introduced to Alex Elliott (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a twelve-year-old boy being raised by a single mother and attending middle school in London. He and his best friend, Bedders are both the subject of bullying by fellow classmates,  Lance and Kaye.

The world is a dark place: international strife; global conflicts; basically our real world. And anybody who is familiar with Arthurian lore knows that after his last battle, and near death, Arthur is taken away to Avalon where his wounds will be healed and in a time of our darkest need, the King will return to fight the forces of evil.

One day, while running away from them, Alex finds himself at a construction site where he encounters a sword embedded into a block of  concrete. The inevitable happens and Alex pulls the sword out. (I seriously heard Wagner’s music in my head from Excalibur as this was happening.) After taking it home and running the engraving through Google Translate — come on, it’s still a kids movie after all — they find that it says it is Excalibur the sword of King Arthur. Alex playfully knights his best mate, Bedders.

Meanwhile deep beneath the earth, Morgana, the half-sister and eternal enemy of Arthur is awakening and sends he minions after Arthur to retrieve Excalibur. At Stonehenge, Merlin, in the guise of a teenager appears to aid Arthur. He suffers from a bit of time confusion as he is not quite assimilated to the timeline yet. But he makes his way to Arthur and Bedders’ school. Using his powers, he joins the school as a transfer student. It is revealed that in four days a total lunar eclipse will occur and that is when Morgana will reappear fully on earth.

What follows is Alex eventually recruiting Lance and Kaye as knights to aid him on a quest to find his absent father, who happens to live in Titagel, legendary home of Camelot. Knighting his companions also allows them to see the dark minions that periodically attack Arthur and Bedders as when they appear, time freezes and no one else can see them.

The story focuses on the need to not only work together despite differences but to also believe that the world can be a better place. Along the way, the uneasy friendship that Lance and Kaye have with Alex and Bedders will be tested as well as Alex’s belief in himself.

As the time of the eclipse draws to a mere few hours away, Alex must convince and recruit an army to defend the world from the evil of Morgana. So what better place to recruit an army but school? In a stretch of the suspension of disbelief, even for a fantasy film, an army of middle schoolers are armed, trained, and set up a fortifications and traps to await Morgana’s army.

This movie had so many opportunities to go sideways but it has a charming cast, a competent script and deft direction. Patrick Stewart, who doesn’t seem to age unless it’s through make-up, is on hand as the older version of Merlin. He pops up every once in a while to render some sage advice. It is ironic that he was also in probably the last good King Arthur movie, Excalibur, as Uriens. Freshman actor Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy Serkis) delivers a heartfelt performance as the boy who does not want to be king eventually embraces his Once and Future King mantle. Dean Chaumoo, another new actor, provides a believable portrayal as Alex’s best mate. Rebecca Fergusen, who has been appearing quite a bit in movies such as Mission: Impossible – Fallout and The Greatest Showman makes for a very dark and threatening Morgana.

The Kid Who Would be King is definitely entertaining and if you have young ones, I think they will enjoy it. If you are young at heart, you can sit back and have a good time too.

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Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

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Normally, I’m writing about geek and genre things, science fiction, fantasy, anime, etc. Things that go boom and make your eyes bleed with in-your-face special effects. Most of the time, they won’t get any sort of awards come awards season, unless they are for technical achievement. There are a lot of people who only watch these kind of movies. And then they wonder why critics lambast genre films.

If Beale Street Could Talk is one of those films that is pure cinema. Based on a novel by James Baldwin, it is a film that is complex, yet is broken down to the most simplistic idea that love is a powerful force that gives hope and strength to even the most broken of people.

Kiki Layne plays Clementine, called Tish who is having a baby. But her fiance is currently in jail awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit.  Alonzo, or Fonny as he is known is played by Stephen James. Through a series of flashbacks their love story is revealed to us. From when they were growing ups as little kids to their teen years, it appears as if they are destined to be together forever. Lonny shows promise as a sculptor and they plan on finding a loft together as man and wife together in a loft as is the way of so many artists. It’s a simple dream, but it’s also the early 70’s. This is reflected in a scene taken almost verbatim from James Baldwin’s novel:

“They got lofts standing empty all over the East Side, man, and don’t nobody want to rent them, except freaks like me. And they all fire traps and some of them ain’t even got no toilets. So, you figure like finding a loft ain’t going to be no sweat.” He lights the cigarette, takes a drag, and hands it to Daniel. “But, man – this country really do not like niggers. They do not like niggers so bad, man, they will rent to a leper first. I swear.”

The underlying story behind this tale of love is Baldwin’s examination of being black in America, not only of the racial tensions and the injustice of the criminal system, but of the bonds of family that can serve to unite as well as divide

Though the film features exceptional performances from its leads of James and Layne, it is very much an ensemble film with performances that ring emotionally authentic. But Regina King as Tish’s mother delivers an exceptional performance as a strong mother that is the backbone of the family and even has to travel to Puerto Rico where the victim of Fonny’s alleged crime has fled.

There is also a memorable cameo by Diego Luna as Pedrocito, the restaurant owner with a golden heart, and friend of Fonny.

Director, Barry Jenkins, whose last movie Moonlight, won an Academy Award for Best Picture, does a good job of going from flashbacks to present. His script adaptation wisely chooses to stick mostly to Baldwin’s excellent way with words. Though if you have read the book, there are some slight differences in then ending. This could not have been done without the smart editing by Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders.

James Laxton’s cinematography should bon noted for creating scenes of dreamlike near fairy tale quality while interspersing with stark scenes described by Tish of the injustice of the way black men are treated, through still photos.

It may seem like If Beale Street Could Talk is a dark movie, certainly there is dark material here. But the is love that permeates every inch of this film gives hope. And that hope makes the film all the stronger. Highly Recommended.

Review: The Hollywood Jim Crow

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Maryann Erigha has definitely done quite a bit of research for her book, The Hollywood Jim Crow. It’s an open secret that Hollywood has embedded in itself a racial belief and divide that with a few exceptions, Black directed and starred films are not bankable. Though primarily focused on Blacks in the film industry, the author tangentially applies this to Asian and Hispanic led films.

This idea is challenged with researched numbers dispelling this idea, though. Not only do Black helmed films do well, they proportionally outperform. The author primarily focuses on Hollywood’s treatment of Black directors and studio reluctance to dole out films of significant budgets to black directors. I do not dispute that there is significant racial bias in favor of white filmmakers, the numbers prove the author right. Of course there is a reason Peter Jackson directed all three Lord of the Rings movies, he was also the producer and writer. It was his project from the get go. That it ended up as big a budget and as huge a franchise as it ended up being was a gamble that paid off. Erigha used this as an example without the context of the background.

In bringing up Black Panther, the author points out that it took Marvel and Disney eighteen movies to hire a Black director for their films. Without a doubt, Black Panther was a financial success and it scored well critically as well. And let’s face some reality about Marvel movies, part of their success is their ability to fit as a whole narrative almost like a multi-part single movie. Directors are basically work for hire executing a big narrative. There is very little reason for this sort of racial disparity.

Those are blockbusters and The Hollywood Jim Crow points out as many successes as “bankable” stars or directors have had, their have been just as many flops. Yet Hollywood still hands out the big bucks and the projects. There was hesitation of having Denzel Washington star in The Equalizer, for instance. Now, Denzel Washington is probably one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, yet Hollywood still has this belief that a person of color can’t carry an action film, especially overseas. It did quite well. And for the first time in Washington’s long career, he signed on for a sequel.

As it is, studio execs, either purposefully or not, have little to no faith in films by Black filmmakers or starring Black actors in lead roles. And when those films come around, they are lower in budget and given less marketing than their equivalent movies of similar budget. Filmmakers like Tyler Perry have had more consistent profit in the box office despite lower market saturation. Is it because he appeals to a niche market and his films will only be as profitable as what his lower budgets are? We don’t know that for sure.

Although Erigha presents her facts well, at times, those facts are repeated a few pages later. Also, I did have some confusion on whether it was a good thing that Black directors were given projects with primarily White casts or not. Also the book does mention that many Black directors are pigeon-holed into making Black-urban films – characters struggling to get out of their “ghetto” life.  To me, those are fine films but it’s the same as asking a Chinese actor if they can perform martial arts for their character. One anecdote from a director says “I make movies about human.” And the human experience as far as cinema is concerned encompasses every experience of our lives. A recent example from this year of a human story, but also a Black story is the excellent If Beale Street Could Talk.

The book is definitely an academic work. The dead giveaway is that it is published by NYU Press. The Subject matter is compelling and certainly relatable, but at times it does come across as dry. It relies on published anecdotes, and figures but  does not seem to reach out to some of the personalities that the author talks about. It would have been nice to hear from Spike Lee or Chris Rock directly for the book rather than rely on previous interviews. It may have provided more current perspectives, if only a few comments.

Not mentioned in the book as much is also the way Asian actors and directors have been treated in Hollywood. As big a star as Jackie Chan is, he’s never had his own starring vehicle and been paired with a partner for market purposes. It is only recently in the rather serious film from him The Foreigner that he was the main lead, albeit, Pierce Brosnan was the villain. Asian directors, such as Justin Lin, and James Wan have had better success, though. That success in getting the big budget films comes from someone at one time giving them that big budget seat at the table. Not everyone gets that chance.

In the end, much of the author’s arguments are a call to action for better representation not only in the director’s char but in the studio boardroom as well. It is about the money, but that buttresses against old Hollywood beliefs about marketability and bankability. There is quite a lot to digest in such a short book, but it is well worth a read and a read on hand reference for those who don’t buy into the myth that people of color don’ make money in the box office.

I received The Hollywood Jim Crow as an advanced galley through edelweiss.com but it does not effect the positives I feel for this book. It is educational and well-informed. It could have even been wider in scope. But the author made a conscious choice to focus primarily on Black filmmakers and I don’t fault that choice. It is well worth a read.

It is my hope that studio execs give this a read or at least get an intern to read and summarize for them, because it holds a mirror to Hollywood’s shortcomings when it comes to representation behind the camera and within the industry. I seriously doubt it though. But as demographics change, Hollywood will have to as well if they want to stay profitable.

Review: Doctor Who – The Thirteenth Doctor

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“It’s About Time” proclaimed the tagline for the new season of Doctor Who. It is of course a play on words as the Doctor travels throughout time and space but is also for the first time to be portrayed by a woman. The new season would also herald the departure of long time showrunner, Stephen Moffat and usher in a new showrunner and writers. They also made a conscious and public decision to use original stories without old villains returning such as the Daleks, or Cybermen. In a way, all those changes stacked the deck against them. Anytime there is a new Doctor there is some kind of resistance and with the decision to finally cast a woman in the role, the internet being what it is unleashed its army of trolls.

So is this the best that the Doctor has ever been? No, not really. But it has potential. Hopefully that potential gets realized in later seasons. Is it so bad that it killed your dog and you have to go John Wick on the producers? No, far from it. But it has had some freshman problems mostly in consistent writing. Rather than totally recap all episodes I’m going to go over some of the highs and lows of the season and my overall impressions of the new season and Doctor.

The season started off well enough with the introduction of the new Doctor and an ensemble cast of companions in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” There’s some regeneration confusion and head wonkiness on the Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) part. Graham (Bradley Walsh) is a bus driver, married to Ryan’s (Tosin Cole) grandmother. There is a bit of distance between them as they are not really related. And Yasmin (Mandip Gill) is a young police officer who once went to school with Ryan. So not only are we introduced to a group of companions who are relatively ordinary people, there is no hint of them being anything other than that. None of the three seem to be a universe altering objects. Yes, I’m looking at you Bad Wolf, and Clara. They could be any of us just plucked from our mundane world into adventures through time and space.

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The second episode, “The Ghost Monument,” was still trying to find it’s legs for it’s ensemble and is not particularly remarkable as a Who episode. It’s just there. We do, however finally get to see the newly redesigned interior of the Tardis.

I’ve already heaped my praise in a specific episode review of “Rosa.” It still stands as the highlight episode of the season. Looking back on it it, I think it will be considered one of the best episodes of the modern era. It is a shame, however, that they followed such a well-rounded episode with “Arachnids in the UK.”  Slightly above mediocre only because of the guest appearance of Chris Noth or Law and Order fame. The episode after, “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” was more or less a bottle episode where the Doctor and team must avert disaster on a hospital ship. Some interesting moments and here and there, plus one incredibly cute monster that eats everything. But it’s still not as cute as an Adipose. It’s a straight forward Doctor Who episode with some decent science fiction elements.

Going again into the past, “Demons of the Punjab” feels almost like a spiritual successor to the excellent Rose-centric “Father’s Day” episode. Yaz not only explores her family’s past but along with the rest of the Tardis gang explores the very bloody day of Partition Day, when India and Pakistan split into two nations. There  was a little bit of hand holding for “Rosa,” for European audiences, but Partition Day seems very much a part of British history and its repercussions are still felt today. Like Rosa, it presents a set moment in time which can not be interfered with by the Doctor and her companions. And for Yaz, making sure history plays out as it is supposed to is personal. Like “Rosa,” “Demons of the Punjab” also has them be a part of that history as well. It addresses the often paradoxical appearance of time travelers as not just participants but as part of the history itself. In the end, it is implied that they were always there as part of history. After “Rosa” this is my favorite episode because it deals with drama that is grounded and relatable. It also has some nice interactions with Yaz’s family.

I think that after “Demons of the Punjab,” the series starts to gain its full legs. The writing is sharper. After a rather amusing episode called “Kerblam,” a little lark taking a few stabs at Amazon shipping and their warehouses, we get “The Witchfinders.” It’s a well done monster episode, also taking place in the past, this time where the Tardis team gets to actually change a few things. They are in a period where suspected witches are persecuted and even King James I makes an appearance for good measure. It is also the first time that sexism actually becomes an issue since King James does not believe in the Doctor’s authority with her usual magic ID papers. Graham, as the older white male, ends up playing the role of Witchfinder General, a sort of bigshot inquisitor who hunts witches.

The character interactions evolve more especially between Ryan and Graham in the surreal “It Takes You Away.” Ryan has father issues from his father not being around especially after the death of his mother. He is also a bit resentful of Graham marrying his grandmother not because of race, but because he is trying to be a father figure to Ryan. Graham, himself has had trouble coming to grips with the death of his wife, Grace who we last saw in the first episode of the season. It is ultimately an episode about loss of those whom we love and how we so often wish they were back with us. It’s deals with those last vestiges of grief, the final goodbyes that many of us wish we had.

The season closes out with “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos,” a mouthful of words for a fairly decent episode where we come full circle and are confronted with the return of the villain from the first episode., Tzim-Sha. The Doctor just calls him Tim Shaw. Tim Shaw makes for menacing enough monster though a bit generic. The science fiction elements of it are rather interesting with the incredibly powerful and religious Ux. Graham seems to complete his character arc of the season as he starts out by saying that he intends to kill Tim Shaw the first chance he gets. He eventually is the one that makes a choice in what sort of justice must be served.

Now it has become a bit of a tradition in modern Who to have a Christmas Special. So not surprisingly many fans were upset that they did a New Year Special instead. Give me a break, people. Find something else to complain about. The special, “Resolution,” brings in a new year and an old villain. No surprise it’s a Dalek. Apparently a scout Dalek that was defeated in the 9th Century resurrects and is trying to communicate to the fleet. The Doctor and team try to stop it. It works really well as a Dalek episode. For half the episode, it is in its flesh gob form and is controlling a human’s mind and body which is something new and unnerving at the same time. It’s mechanical body is a bit more imposing, not as sleek as modern ones, as it is cobbled together from whatever it can get. The special also features an appearance by Ryan’s father in which we get some closure on the character arc of Ryan.

Right up front, Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor and her new companions have a great dynamic together and chemistry. Also instead of waiting around always parroting,”Don’t worry, the Doctor will save us,” they work as a team or “fam” as the Doctor sometimes calls them. There is a deliberate emphasis on character development for the season which allows us to get to know them not only as empty cups to be filled by whatever the showrunners feel like making them from week to week. The companions, as I’ve said, up until meeting the Doctor have led fairly mundane lives, but the call to adventure and to make some sort of difference in the universe is very convincing.

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Jodie Whittaker brings delight to the show and a sense of wonderment as well. That is something that has been lacking lately.  As we go on this journey with her, we experience that joy as well. Sure there is danger but there is good in what she does, and it looks like she is having fun doing it. For the most part, anyway. Exception given for Daleks.

The episodic nature of the season does away with seasonal story arcs of the past and for the most part it works. But it’s a double-edged sword. Episodes are wrapped up neatly at the end and sometimes the writing shows that a nice tidy conclusion must happen, and it must happen quickly. It is very opposite of the Moffat era of convoluted season arcs and breadcrumbs of plot clues. Ultimately a few episodes have plot threads that were introduced into an episode dangling or uncluded by the end of that episode.

The shortened 10 episode season did not help the new Doctor much either. Any new regeneration will need a few episodes to get its legs. By the time the season becomes comfortable it is almost half over. And I can see why some see so many shortcomings of the show.

And I must say that as much as I appreciated Murray Gold’s music for the last 10 seasons of Doctor Who, I am quite impressed with the music from the new composer Segun Akenola. His title theme is a bit more evocative of the classic theme than the last few seasons. And although it is probably not the choice of the composer, for years I’ve disliked the sound mix of overly dramatic music drowning out dialogue.

The bottom line is Jodie Whittaker makes a fine Doctor and her companions are very down to earth and relatable. I have high hopes for some improvements next season and I’m looking forward to a few more seasons of her and her fam.

Trivia

I believe Yasmin Khan is the Doctor’s first Asian companion. While checking that, I came upon another Yasmin Khan:

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Review: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse

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So Spider-Man has always been Peter Parker, right? No? Okay, here we go.

Comic book universes are full of convoluted histories and some characters who have been around forever have been killed off, resurrected, rebooted and remade — it can drive casual fans mad. Marvel and DC have embraced the idea of multiverses for decades. Multiverses allow for different slants on the same characters. There is a universe where Gwen Stacy is bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. There is a universe where Miles Morales becomes a second Spider-Man. There is also a universe where Peter is an anthropomorphised spider who gets bitten by a radioactive pig, thus is born Peter Porker, Spider-Ham.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse takes these realities and combines them together into a wildly entertaining ride that only animation can accomplish. The main reality that we deal with is the world of Miles Morales a world in which not only is Peter Parker, still Spider-Man, but is beloved by the city. Miles is trying to cop with his new powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He comes across the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker who is fighting bad guys who are bout to turn on a particle accelerator owned by Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. The accelerator will tear time/space open and allow alternate realities to cross over. The reason Kingpin wants to do this is o bring back his dead wife and son. (The backstory of Kingpin’s wife is fairly convoluted but in this universe she and her son died from a car accident after finding out he was the Kingpin of crime in NY.)

Spider-Man ends up dying trying to save he city and Miles takes it upon himself to take on the mantle of Spider-Man. But the particle accelerator managed to work enough to bring across from the multiverse several different Spideys. Miles first meets Peter B. Parker, a Spider-Man from another reality where his life has failed him. He agrees to tutor Miles on being a superhero so that they can fix the crossed up universe. Along the way they will also encounter a noir Spidey, Spider-Gwen, Peni Parker who controls a Spidey-bot, and the aforementioned Spider-Ham. Together they must fix the rift in the realities or the multiverse will go kablooey.

The sub-plot to this is that Miles still must learn to control his new powers and reconcile his less than perfect relationship with his father, who not only is a police officer but dislikes Spider-Man and thinks of him as a vigilante. Yeah, his life is a little complicated.

The film quite a visual feast for the eyes and is in some ways revolutionary. Sure it is still CG, but there are instances of hand-drawn animation to it. There is a conscious effort to make scenes look like comic book panels, complete with thought balloons. Some of these stylistic choices were a little jarring at first for me as there were some scenes that looked out of focus in the foreground. I thought for a bit we were accidentally seeing the 3D version without glasses. I have been so conditioned for sharp and plastic skin looking CG animated films, it threw me off.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does not only a good job at being an animated film but also succeeds at being a good superhero film. It is, of course, not The Incredibles. It doesn’t try to be either. And with the success of this, it can hopefully pave the way for more animated adventures of Marvel characters on the big screen as opposed to the current trend of direct to video releases. DC, has been churning out quality animated (but direct to video) films for years. And to this day I still believe Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the best Batman films ever, live action or animated. I’m still hopeful for adaptations of Squirrel Girl or the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel. The good news though, is that a Spider-Gwen movie is in development with crossovers from Spider-Woman and Silk. So we have more Spider-Verse movies to look forward to.

Review: Aquaman is Glorious Trash

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Let’s be frank, Aquaman is not a very good move. DC/Warner’s latest attempt at making a good comic book movie starts out a little by the numbers. There is backstory on his parents and how he is half surface dweller, half Atlantean. His mother is a Princess of Atlantis found by a lighthouse keeper after a storm. They fall in love, have a kid and name him Arthur. She is taken back to Atlantis. He’s raised by his dad alone. One day he finds out he can talk to fish in a scene that reminds me of Harry Potter at the Zoo.

Flash forward post Justice League, and Arthur Curry, known as The Aquaman among seafarers is off doing his thing. He saves a Russian sub from pirates. Yeah, it will make sense later why pirates would attack a Russian sub. Not a lot, but it will.

After knocking back a few pints with his dad at a bar, he meets Mera, another princes from “Under the Sea, ” And yes, she has Ariel’s Red Hair from Little Mermaid. She basically says, “Hey your brother is a jerk and wants to wage war on the surface. You are actually the older one and have a claim to the throne, even if you are half human.”

 

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She neglects to mention that she is also engaged to him. But he must also fight his brother in ritual combat to claim the throne. Yeah, we’ve seen this in Black Panther, but this is underwater! Plus it uses a lot more CG. And they have an octopus playing drums. (The musically inclined octopus is in the comics by the way.) This is where I laughed out loud in the theater and figured out DC decided this is just going to be a silly trashy comic book movie. Never before in the modern DC movie era have the filmmakers embraced the silliness of a comic book movie as this has.

It’s a good thing too, because if this movie tried to take itself seriously it would be truly horrible. As it is, it’s full of cringe worthy dialog, flat generic characters, a convoluted story, and an obligatory fetch-it quest for a magical McGuffin. At the center of it is Jason Mamoa, who first got his big break in Stargate: Atlantis. With his “bro, I’m just here to have fun” performance, the film is a ride that takes us from one action scene to another. Amber Heard wavers from trying to be overly serious to eventually embracing the silliness of everything. She has a dress made from jellyfish, really. But she also gets to impale some bad guys with Italian wine.

Other actors seem wasted, however. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes a great Black Manta, unfortunately he’s a villain that is under utilized, and comes across as more of a set up for a return in a possible sequel. Patrick Wilson as King Orm, Aquaman’s younger Aryan brother is about as bland as they come. And Willem Dafoe, the biggest waste, is there as just a plot device as a mentor and to Arthur and a mole in Orm’s trust. It was fun to see Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus. He does come across as an old leader.

James Wan, as director, certainly uses a colorful pallet in creating the undersea world of not only Atlantis but other Kingdoms as well. And his action scenes are like Star Wars battle underwater. Well, it’s more like Star Wars battles than the last couple of Star Wars movies anyway. They is certainly a lot going on and I don’t even want to guess what the body count is during some of these fights.

There is a lot of Aquaman lore crammed into a two-and-a-half hour movie apparently. It certainly felt like it, but I’m no Aquaman expert. Perhaps they weren’t expecting a sequel. Despite how overly convoluted the movie is, it is full of action scenes that never become repetitive. And the underlying quest that Arthur has to undertake feels like a video game quest, going from one point of the globe to another and recovering clues.

So, no Aquaman is not a good movie. It’s a mess of popcorn trash. But it seems to know that it’s a silly movie and because of that, it is fun. It’s a visual feast of absolute junk food.

Review: Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel

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For some reason I still remember a tattered paperback of Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel in my huge collection of books only for the tagline “What if the President of the USA went stark-raving mad?” Never read it. Probably donated it to a charity like Friends of the Library. At the time, going by the back cover. I thought it was a thinly veiled allusion to Richard Nixon. I did not know at the time the book originally came out in 1965.

Fast forward to 2018, where we currently have a president that some have described as unhinged or incompetent. Let’s be clear, Night of Camp David is not some Nostradamus like prediction of the Trump presidency any more than I thought it was a reference to the Nixon presidency. Long out of print, interest had recently brought the book back into publication. I even received a NetGalley copy even though I had pre-ordered a paperback already.

The book itself is fairly simplistic, maybe even a little longer than it needs to be. A young junior senator from Iowa gets called to Camp David one night at the behest of the President. While there, in a darkened office the President rails about the Vice President whose own scandal the President takes as a personal attack against him. He want’s the young senator, Jim McVeigh to be his new running mate for re-election instead of the current VP.  He them goes on to promote the idea of nationwide wiretaps of citizens. Bells start going off in McVeigh’s head. But the offer of a vice presidency silences those bells.

But another encounter with the President as well as accounts from other people who have talked to him raises alarming red flags to him where he is convinced the President nuts.

What happens over the next few hundred pages is a lot of hemming and hawing between McVeagh’s own doubts and trying to keep things secret until he is absolutely sure. Even the few people he confides in aren’t convinced. In fact, they think he is the one that is losing his mind.

As far as political thrillers, this is definitely political, but barely has any thrills. Senator Jim MacVeagh is not the brightest bulb in the bunch and he is definitely morally flawed with his extramarital affair. At times the dialog is very dated and sometimes sound like an episode of Mad Men.

The situations themselves does come across as very plausible in how other political figures would react and initially refuse to believe that the president has become an unhinged paranoid with delusions of grandeur. The book was published in 1965, and the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967. But Fletcher Knebel was also a political newspaper columnist so we can assume he drew on his background for the material. And at time it reads almost like a satire. Perhaps it is and we were never told.

The novel comes to a tidy end. Perhaps it comes at that end a little too conveniently. Nevertheless it is a short read worth taking with you on a plane or to the beach.