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Review: MIDNIGHT MASS masterfully turns religion into a matter of blood and devious faith

Midnight Mass

Religion and horror have never been known to be strange bedfellows. In fact, it can be argued they’re both cut from the same cloth, or at the very least that one can’t exist without the other. Mike Flanagan seems to find refuge in this idea as his latest Netflix series, Midnight Mass, turns to some of the Bible’s most terrifying passages to craft a 7-part story about how faith can turn the religiously devoted into desperate monsters trying to find meaning and purpose.

Midnight Mass is set in Crockett Island, a small piece of land separated from the mainland with a very reserved and quietly weary populace that has embraced their isolated experience. It’s the kind of place where despair and small-town politics breed a kind of people that can be easily manipulated by a charismatic enough figure. The island’s only saving grace is the common ground most of the inhabitants share on Sunday mornings: St. Patrick’s, a small catholic church.

Enter Father Paul (played by Hamish Linklater), a young and impassioned priest that’s ready to do whatever’s needed of him to bring more people into church, capital sins included. Problem is, Father Paul has brought something with him to the island, something monstruous, and it hungers.

While the series’ true north lies in the dangers of religious manipulation dressed as honest devotion, it isn’t content with just settling on the spiritual ailments plaguing the island’s residents. The story also explores grief, loss, the trials of being an outsider in a closed-off community, and alcoholism as problems religion can either alleviate or unintentionally replace with other addictions.

Midnight Mass
Hamish Linklater as Father Paul

Who says people can’t get intoxicated by the promise of receiving God’s most coveted blessings? The metaphor’s there and it’s expertly woven into the fabric of the horror at the series’ core.

Flanagan, who directs each episode and either fully scripts or co-writes them, is largely successful at turning religion into Midnight Mass’ primary source of terror by resorting to fiery Bible verses to create powerful connections between the horrible things that happen on the island and the contents of the holy book.

Father Paul’s sermons invite literal interpretations of some of Catholicism’s most potentially gruesome practices, if taken word for word. Deciphering this allows viewers to slowly piece together some of the story’s secrets and makes for some truly satisfying sequences where horror unfolds in new and inventive ways, especially when it comes to communion.

The setup and the character driven tempo of the story is where Midnight Mass excels. The island’s inhabitants only have themselves to contend with and it’s their willingness to either give in to the church or to question it that establishes the fear and tension surrounding Father Paul’s interest in turning Crockett Island’s inhabitants into fervent servers of God.

Midnight Mass
Samantha Sloyan as Bev Keane

One thing sometimes gets in the way of Midnight Mass’ already dialogue-heavy plot: individual character monologues. People familiar with Flanagan’s work, especially those that saw The Haunting of Hill House (2018), know that the director likes his horror to be sentimental, heavy-handedly so. To achieve that, Flanagan resorts far too often to long-winded monologues about faith, life after death, and the many philosophical meanings of life and they can grind the story to a halt.

In Midnight Mass, monologues surrounding Father Paul’s sermons or those of a particularly sinister character called Bev Keane (played by Samantha Sloyan), a zealous Catholic that can give the Old Testament a run for its money, are particularly interesting and intense. They’re some of the best parts of the story. Monologues relegated to what happens after death or about making amends are the opposite. They make their points early on and then they just keep going.

They open different avenues of conversation and feature some genuinely interesting ideas, but they’re too involved for their own good and they definitely overstay their welcome. Thankfully, the performances behind the characters delivering these monologues are excellent and they help sustain interest as the dialogue stretches on.

Rahul Kohli, who plays Sherrif Hassan, a practicing Muslim that has to navigate the town’s racism while also being the only resident that’s not Catholic in Crockett, does an admirable job of delivering each line with a force that commands attention. The rest of the cast follows suit, but they only alleviate some of the problems inherent in these monologues.

Midnight Mass
(From left to right) Annabeth Gish, Igby Rigney, Annarah Cymone, Kate Siegel, and Rahul Kohli

The story’s reveals, on the other hand, make each development feel monumental and prop up some of its most interesting characters for a series of profoundly heart-wrenching moments that are sure to stick around well after the credits have rolled on the final episode.

Taken in as a whole, Midnight Mass can more accurately be described as a work of horror drama. Flanagan isn’t afraid to spend time with his characters exploring themes that aren’t rooted in terror every step of the way. He prefers his horror slow-cooked, but once certain pieces have been set and the time comes to let the darkness take over, very few filmmakers can conjure up horror as unsettling or as disturbing as the kind in Midnight Mass.

Review/Recap: Stargirl S2E1 “Summer School: Chapter One”

Stargirl’s season two premiere starts off with a flashback to the a Golden Age, with a young Rebecca meeting a young boy named Bruce in small town Indiana. Young Bruce coaxes her to disobey her mothers’ order to stay on the porch, causes her to almost get hit by a car and steal a present from her neighbors birthday party stash on the nearby front porch. The present turns out to be a possessed doll and Bruce turns out to be an evil entity and Rebecca ends up presumably dead and found by her mother with her screams heard while the camera ominously focuses in on her family mailbox in front of the abandoned front porch and the name McNider.

We then flash to the future with Stargirl and her team patrolling before curfew strikes on the hunt for supervillains but, no one believes that any ISA members remain free except Courtney who really wants to stay on patrol. The other team New JSA members head home and Stargirl retreats to her home to go over old JSA files to find some new evil to go up against.

Life As They Know It: Courtney becomes so involved in finding evil where there might not be any that Pat tries to remind her to enjoy the quiet moments and life itself. With no one willing to go on her over vigilant quest with her this episode sets Stargirl up to be the superhero who cried wolf, especially when we seen the glowing orb in her makeshift lair near her research. This set up makes it feel like the supervillains aren’t going to be the only foil to the team this season, Stargirl is going to have to go up against finding a workable solution for maintaining work/school/life balance. Courtney isn’t the only one having problems, Beth discovers her parents are getting a divorce, Hourman Jr., finds a mysterious trouble site in the woods on his way to school and Yolanda/ Wildcat has made crying in a confessional her daily routine as she deals with the memory of losing someone she cared about and then having to kill his father to save herself and the rest of the JSA.

Episode MVP: Not a major character by any means but, Zeek gave me joy. His character is a comedic delight that added a bit of levity to an otherwise dark and serious episode. He oversteps, he’s nosy, pushy and wants to put a flamethrower on Stripsey but, damn it if watching him do whatever he’s gonna do no matter what Pat says and watching Pat get all flustered while trying to be small town polite isn’t the most awesome thing, IDK what is.

New Storyline, Who This? This season Courtney has an unfortunate run in with Artemis in the lunchroom where she flips her classmate and the run in leads me to believe that we are about to get more Artemis. Whether she’s going to be a villain or join the JSA is yet to be seen but, whichever way this storyline goes I’m sure it’s going to be interesting. There’s also the OG Starman who’s looking for his old sidekick/driver and potentially his staff.

Best Scene: It’s a tie for best scene. This episode we get an emotional scene between Pat and Courtney in the school hallway after finding out that not only did she attack a fellow student (see above paragraph) but, she is failing several classes and has to go to summer school in order to continue on the junior year. The two talk about how her Stargirl duties in some cases are going to have to come in second to school , Courtney makes a quip about Pat quitting his superhero duties which stings a little but, they come back full circle and compromise enough to have them both leave without a bad taste in their mouths. The second scene that’s worth mentioning is a more action based one than an emotional and cerebral one. Watching Stargirl go toe to toe with the owner of the green orb in what we are lead to believe is an intruder with villainous intent we discover it’s actually the Green Lantern’s daughter! But, that fight scene was amazing!

Overall: As far as second season premieres go, this was a solid episode. It tied up some lingering questions from the season finale, delved into the emotional and mental backlash of the teams actions from last seasons finale, added some new insights and storylines , all while making sure the episode was cohesive and interesting. The premiere also set up a less campy tone than the other CW /DC collaborations and even though the show is centered around high schoolers some of the plot point are not only universal but border on adult. The show goes dark but, in a way that pulls you in and revolves around emotional depth, multidimensional character development and a genuine story that you care about. The writers and director managed to hook me in by the time the credits rolled and make me eager to see how the rest of the season plays out.

Rating: 8.4

Review/Recap: DC’S Legends of Tomorrow S6E12 Bored on Board Onboard

Still stuck in space after saving the Earth in the cosmic bowling competition, The Z’s swap back and the Legends find themselves ship bound for over two weeks trying to find ways to keep themselves busy. Mick’s still pregnant, Constantine and Fancy Z stay cozied up, Nick and B enjoy some gaming bro time and Eva & Sarah get their wedding planning on.

In order to kill time Constantine uses his magic to transform the team into a live action magical version of Gary’s board game that is a murder mystery adventure using his house as a board game. Mick and Gary are still on the ship in real time and a distressed vessel docks the ship carrying a wounded Kayla.

Constantine’s vamp blood powered magic has terrible consequences for the team making everything wonky, Legends are becoming their characters, some are dying and they might end up trapped in the game forever. Back on the ship Kayla is super peeved that they left her and took her ship and while Mick wants to tell her about their bundles of brain incubating joy, Gary advises it against it because she could decide to kill him and or the babies.

Episode MVP: There was very little interaction between this episodes villain and a majority of the team. So, the episode MVP this time around is based on an unexpected pairing who yielded an entertaining result. Gary and Mick. They did not get as much screen time this week as the rest of the team but, their team up to stop Kayla from resurrecting a big baddie is comic gold. In a show with so many extreme personalities and a double dose of camp it was fun to watch them play off of each other and even though they get knocked out for their efforts it was good to see their characters bond a little.

Best Scene: In keeping up with the romantic arc between Fancy Z and Constantine that hit a nice peak with the Buzzcock’s duet on national TV that saved the planet this episode gave us some more depth to the relationship between the ships other couple. But, the best scene didn’t involve Z and Constantine but, Z and B who talk feelings, red flags and love. The siblings share a super sweet moment where they both share their thoughts on the Constantine situation and how something is off but, dig deeper into their own sibling relationship in a way that feels authentic , pulled the heartstring and added depth to their characters.

Overall: Even though only about five minutes of the episode moved the story along and set up the seasons final battle, this episode was a damn good filler. It showcased the personal issues of the characters in a way that added depth and gave us insight into their motivations and needs. There were a lot of moments and scenes that played in a way that made me have very real feelings about imaginary characters and at times I got swept up in the show, which is a good thing especially when watching something in the space cowboy/fantasy /comic/sci-fi genre. Legends is always a treat to watch and six seasons in it is still consistent and one of the best DC shows on the TV.

Rating: 8.9

TV Review: Sweet Tooth S1E2 Sorry About All the Dead People

Sweet Tooth Sorry About All the Dead People

The second episode of Sweet Tooth, “Sorry About All the Dead People“, focuses on Aimee, played by Dania Ramirez. It’s an interesting opening as it not only introduces a new character but gives us the world from another perspective. Much like the first episode, there’s a sadness and something magical about it all.

Aimee’s story, begins here.

Gus and Tommy’s adventure begins hitting some bumps and forcing them to find help introducing three new individuals who have been hiding out from the pandemic.

Yes, pandemic.

There’s something unerving and weird watching Sweet Tooth as we continue to experience one ourselves. Characters wear masks much like so many of us have done over the year. It’s a weird experience and in some ways Sweet Tooth feels like the first major film and show to feel like a response to our current life. Sweet Tooth was actually written in 2009.

The episode’s an interesting one as we see Gus interact with a kid his own age. It’s an interaction that feels like something so many of us will be experiencing over the next year as we reintegrate into society. The entire segment is one of fun and joy, a glimpse of hope in a world devestated.

The episode also adds a lot to the world and series. We get hints as to the villains that’ll be faced. And we get some depth to the characters as well. It’s just a fantastic follow-up full of action and emotion. “Sorry About All the Dead People” is a damn near-perfect second episode. It continues the emotional journey and adventure while expanding the world and danger.

Overall Rating: 10

TV Review: Sweet Tooth S1E1 Out of the Deep Woods

Sweet Tooth Out of the Deep Woods

Adapting the beloved and praised comic series from Jeff Lemire (along with letterer Pat Brosseau and colorist Jose Villarrubia), Sweet Tooth‘s debut, “Out of the Deep Woods“, takes us to a magical world and the beginning of a magical journey.

The world has been devestated by an unknown illness. In the destruction, a new race is being born, one that’s half human and half animal. These hybrids face hatred and racism from the survivors who blame them for what has happened.

Sweet Tooth tells the story of Gus, a half human and half deer. Gus is hidden away by his father, played by Will Forte, in an attempt to protect him from the chaos. After his father dies, Gus is forced to step into an unknown and dangerous world.

Played by Christian Convery in a star-making role, Gus has the bright-eyed wonder that makes interacting with kids so enjoyable. Convery delivers a performance that’ll have viewers going through a series of emotions in the debut. There’s a sweet innocence that feels natural and honest. It’s a believable delivery that’ll have you wanting to protect Gus from the dangers he faces.

The series knows at its core is heart. The interaction between Will Forte (as Gus’ father) and Convery is sweet. Forte’s delivery of a paranoid father attempting to protect his son shows a depth not often seen in his comedic offerings. It’s a father and son interaction that is both protective and somewhat scary as Gus’ father spirals in his fear.

Convery stands out but maybe more so is Nonso Anozie as Tommy Jepperd, his unexpected protector. Anozie delivers a tough but vulnerable character. He’s torn about his own survival and is the tough guy with the heart of gold. He could easily hurt Gus, aka Sweet Tooth, and help himself, but he has limits as he states. It’s a performance that will have viewers feeling for Jepperd’s clear sadness and wanting him as their protector and guide.

Sweet Tooth‘s debut is one that’ll have you returning to your childhood roots. “Out of the Deep Woods” feels like the heir to Jim Henson’s films and shows of the 1980s. There’s an adult nature to a story that so far is accessable for younger viewers. It’s a story of exploration and finding more about oneself. It’s a hell of a start and maybe one of the best comic adaptations ever.

Gus’ story, begins here.

Overall Rating: 10

Review/Recap: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow S6E1 – “Ground Control to Sara Lance”

The Recap: Last season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow ended with the Legends defeating the Fates, this season picks up with Sara MIA after a night of celebrating their victory. Long story short, Sara was kidnapped by Aliens who release her somewhere in the timeline after her attempts at escaping them is unsuccessful, the rest of the team uses their individual skills in small teams to find her and there’s an unexpected but, familiar bad guy behind Sara’s disappearance.

The Sweetest Thing: It is totally mushy but, adorable that Ava finds out about Sara deciding to finally propose to her thanks to a super 8 film from David Bowie. But, that’s not the only level-up relationship status going on aboard the Waverider, turns out Constantine and altered timeline Zari are getting all cozy and lovey-dovey and it’s about time.

Finding Sara: The team enlists the help of a former alien abducted named “Spooner” to aid in their current quest after she traps two team members and refuses to believe the team is not Alien in origin. There was a lot of wiggle room in her introduction and we find out that she’s quite savvy in a lot of ways that could come in handy with future missions leaving the door open for a possible new team member.

The Big Reveal: One of the coolest things about this episode is that we discover that the dear sweet, bunny rescuing, Gary is in fact an alien. He was sent to earth to capture Sara. But, finding out that one of the oddest, most fanboyish members of the Legends and Sorcerer’s apprentice Gary is an alien isn’t all that shocking, the biggest reveal of the episode is that Gary is/was engaged to the alien who wanted to collect Sara. Gary has a fiancé and a whole life outside of the team and I need to know more.

That’s So Ava: Ava has a whole check less and index of ways to find Sara. Her Type A neurosis is adorable in it’s completely organized way and her focus on the problem at hand as if it was another mission is completely in character for her.

Overall: There was a long wait to get back to one of my favorite shows on The CW and while the tone is different, the execution is still top-notch. Things have always been dark and deep with a perfect touch of camp thrown in and this episode keeps the traction and tradition going. It is well written, beautifully shot, expertly directed and the acting is superb. The team serves the writing and does the script justice in a way that makes even the most absurd storylines and phrases believable and interesting. The new baddies, Aliens, seem to make sense and don’t come off as far-fetched in the context of the show because the talented cast and showrunners sell the hell out of the current scenario. I thought this episode was a top-notch intro into the world of The Legends and the way that things played out to set up the rest of season six has me super hyped to see what comes next. The episode was a nice intro into the world they live in and the show itself, so even if this was a viewer’s first episode ever, you could still hop on board and be ready and interested in taking a ride on the Waverunner to see what the merry band of outcasts has come their way next. The writers are still amazing at creating characters that you can empathize and connect with and they tell a story that invites you into the world of The Legends in a way that makes you cheer for and feel for them.

Overall Rating: 8.7

TV Review: Jupiter’s Legacy S1E5 What’s the Use?

Jupiter's Legacy "What's the Use?"

What’s the Use?” feels like it’s getting Jupiter’s Legacy back on track in some ways. The episode circles back to the death of the fake Blackstar. You know, the rather important plot point from the first episode that’s been ignored up to this point. That includes Brandon who has been awol for the most part up to this point.

In the past, Sheldon is doing what he can do to gather the individuals he needs from his vision. It features some ok sequences and moments though overall the plotline feels very dragged out. There are some interesting moments where individuals question Sheldon’s sanity or outright don’t trust him. Who is chosen and what the pitch is all make for some interesting viewing but overall it could have been sped up and condensed.

As a whole, the series is dragging out the origin of the heroes. I can see what they’re doing, timing their gaining their powers with the end of the season, delivering a dual narrative. But, its a mystery that’s interesting and has some impact on the present. Getting to that point and then showing its impact would make for a more compelling season and also have the two narratives play in together with their themes.

In the present we finally get Blackstar’s death back in focus. The mystery deepens as hints as to who behind the attack is hinted at. There’s also Utopian wanting to speak to Skyfox and needing Hutch to do that. There’s also Chloe and her romance. It’s all the various threads dancing around each other and works in some ways but also feels a bit too tied together in ways as well. Not everyone has to be connected with each other and not every plot has to tie into each other. There’s a point it becomes too silly.

“What’s the Use?” isn’t a bad episode but it also creates a world that’s a bit too small in some ways. Characters have relationships that feel a bit random and other directions would be far better ways to handle things. Still, the series feels like it’s bringing things together and getting to the point.

Overall Rating: 7.5

TV Review: Jupiter’s Legacy S1E4 All the Devils Are Here

Jupiter's Legacy "All The Devils Are Here"

All The Devils Are Here” keeps it simple in the episode exploring Chloe’s world as well as Sheldon’s pursuit. Jupiter’s Legacy delivers a stronger episode with a character out of control and one that feels like he’s losing it.

“All The Devils Are Here” keeps things focused on these two storylines delivering one of the stronger episodes. It does some solid work tying in Chloe’s story with some other things. But, the main point is we get a better sense of her. She’s plagued by the shadow of her father. She also is ostracized by some for not being a part of the other superheroes. We also get a sense she’s struggling because she thinks her social life exists because of who she is and what powers she has. We understand her better.

Sheldon, back in the past, is on a mission to figure out his visions. That takes him on a journey where he discovers a little more about what he’s being driven to do. It’s a little deus ex machina and a series of events than discoveries but it moves things along nice.

Josh Duhamel stands out for his confusion attempting to piece everything together. Elena Kampouris as Chloe also stands out as she spirals.

“All The Devils Are Here” is another example that when the show keeps things simple and focused, there’s something there. When it attempts to deliver action filled superhero battles, the series stumbles. The characters, and their clashing, is where things are interesting. Here’s hoping the series figures that out.

Overall Rating: 7.5

TV Review: Jupiter’s Legacy S1E3 Painting the Clouds With Sunshine

Jupiter's Legacy "The Clouds With Sunshine"

Jupiter’s Legacy‘s third episode, “The Clouds With Sunshine“, is an intriguing one making a bit of a detour from the first two. The episode begins to focus on delivering some more solid villains and a larger meta-story and does so in a mix of ways.

A large chunk of the episode focuses on Sheldon’s breakdown and getting the “origin” of the heroes rolling. We’re introduced to George Hutchence, a wealthy friend who’s a bad take on Ozymandias from Watchmen. Matt Lanter plays the character with a playboy arrogance, part Bruce Wayne and part douche. Sheldon is getting messages from beyond the grave of a mission he must take to a mysterious island while George begins to put together some of what Sheldon claims he’s seeing.

It’s a slow origin and playing out the basics of the series. As a plotline it feels dragged out and plodding, a bit of a clash with the more modern time and sequences. With it and the more modern times, we have dual stories in what feels like dual series.

In modern times, we meet Hutch. Part of a crew, they’re on a mission to steal something for a powered individual. While Hutch himself doesn’t have powers, he does have a device that allows him to teleport. It’s maybe the one cool special effect on the show and looks the least cheesy.

Once again, it’s the special fx where the episode starts to fall apart. A battle between Chloe and our new villains has a look that feels like a cheap 90s superhero show on The CW. There’s a silliness to it all in both execution and the look. The series stumbles when it goes down that path creating a distraction from its more intriguing aspects.

One of those intriguing aspects is that theft and Hutch and what’s hinted at towards the end. The series continues to do best when it keeps things simple. Unfortunately it hasn’t found its balance between its super and grounded aspects. “The Clouds With Sunshine” is an ok episode, better than the debut, but it still has its eye-rolling moments.

Overall Rating: 7.5

TV Review: Jupiter’s Legacy S1E2 Paper and Stone

Jupiter's Legacy

With the death of the fake Blackstar, Utopian and the heroes are in the focus. The public’s support of Brandon’s action throws Utopian into a difficult spot to decide what to do. In the past, we learn more about the stock market crash and its impact on the Sampson’s delivering a deeper picture as to who Sheldon Sampson is as a person. “Paper and Stone” pulls things back for Jupiter’s Legacy focusing on the characters. It’s also a strong episode than the debut.

Bouncing between Sheldon’s past and present we learn more about the man, with both focused on his dealing with death and loss. It’s juxtaposed in a way with Brandon and his reaction to the death of his friends. It’s an interesting comparison and follow up from the debut’s focus on Brandon’s attempt to step in his father’s superhero shoes. In a way, Brandon surpasses his father delivering a speech that’s heartfelt and touching. It shows he really cares and feels responsible for his actions and inactions. You can feel the weight on his shoulders.

“Paper and Stone” is an interesting episode. We get to see Brandon and Sheldon and how they both feel responsibility for the actions of others. Sheldon in the past for the action of his father. Brandon for the death of his fellow heroes. The episode also continues to draw the line between Sheldon’s beliefs in not killing and Brandon crossing that line. The times are changing in both periods and everyone must deal with that.

The episode also kicks off the Indiana Jones like origin of its original heroes. Like the superhero moments of the present day, it’s a bit cheesy. But, it sets things up and gets that plot rolling.

“Paper and Stone” is a much better episode than the debut. It steps away from the tights and debates the morality of everything that has happened and what it means to be a hero. That’s where the comic was strongest (from what I remember) and it seems the show is too. It moves away from bad special-fx allow its actors to shine. Here’s hoping for more of that to come.

Overall Rating: 8.0

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