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Titans (series) – Berlanti / Goldsman / Johns (2018-2023)

A while ago I was looking for another series to watch when I have some time to kill. On Netflix I ran into “Titans”. The series open with a beautiful lady who lost her memory. After a while she meets a group of ‘superheroes’ (the Titans) and there proves to be a Batman connection to the story. The group is led by Dick Grayson, a runaway Robin who is still somewhat in contact with Bruce Wayne.

There are other “Titans”, an emo-type girl, a boy who can change into a tiger, but also you more typical comic book heroes in fancy clothing either with just weapons or some supernatural skill.

In four seasons some heroes come and go. Every so often a new arch-villain has to be found. Needless to say that there is drama. Not all characters are very interesting and the writing is not too great either. It frequently seems as if suddenly somebody thinks there should be a plot twist and one storyline is wrapped up and another started within one episode. The Titans are always out to save the world.

The series are not boring, but they are not great either.

Utopia (series) – Gillian Flynn (2020)

In 2015 i watched both seasons (2013 and 2014) of the British series “Utopia“. On Amazon Prime I ran into a series with the same title. When I started to watch it, the Amazon “Utopia” appeared to be a remake of the British series. Or would both series be based on the same (graphic) novel?

The original series is an interesting watch. Bright colours, interesting camera work, violently weird situations. The Amazon version is a fairly normal kid’s thriller series. Both series appear to have about the same story.

Some nerds know about an elusive comic (“graphic novel” in the British series) called “Utopia” which would not only predict past and future pandemics, but also present their cures. When a copy surfaces, the group sets out (meeting each other for the first time) to get hold of the copy. They are not the only people after the book though.

Followed by a similarly cold killer in both series, the group tries to find the main character of the comic book in which they eventually succeed. Together they try to prevent the world-ending events to come.

The British series use two seasons to tell the story (12 episodes), the American version one (8 episodes). The American version is much more explanatory, especially towards the end. Both have an open end. This may be due to the fact that originally there would have been a third season, but the project was dropped, so the creator (and author) of the original series (Dennis Kelly) simply did not write more. According to Wikipedia first HBO bought the rights, but when their project fell through, the rights went to Amazon. They made an adapted version of the original series.

The original is better in every regard. Not that the Amazon version is bad or boring though.

Sense8 (series) – Wachowski (2015-8)

I ran into this Wachowski series on Netflix. It does not have the pomp of some of their creations and (perhaps) not even the complex story.

Well, there is an ‘attempt’ at a complex story. The title refers to a different kind of human being. Besides the “homo sapiens” there is also the “homo sensibilus”. The series do not explain how these “sensates” are born to ‘normal’ humans. We follow eight such sensates. It seems that they all have the same age and that they discover their abilities only later in life. We have the Korean daughter of a wealthy business family. A German criminal. An Indian beauty about to marry rich. There is an LA cop, a Mexican actor, a Nigerian buss driver, a woman who used to be a man and an Icelandic DJ.

The sensates can be in each others presence whereever they are. Also they can take over each other’s bodies. Along the way our eight sensates learn that they are a “cluster”, that there are other clusters and that there are also people hunting them. The last element brings thriller elements to the series.

The series show the characters with both the personal and the joint problems. Nomi has frictions with her parents who do not accept her transition. Lito is a popular actor, but he fears the end of his career when his fans learn that he is gay. Sun takes the fall to save her brother’s career in the family business. Wolfgang tries to do his own thing, but the criminal underground of Berlin tries to draw him in further. Kala has a loving future husband but second thoughts about the marriage. LA cop Will has frictions with his father. DJ Riley tries to balance between succes and personal life. Capheus (played by another actor in the second series) unintentionally becomes the hero of his slum.
In times of crisis, another member of the group, or all of them, team up to solve a problem of one of them. This often brings unnecessary extra drama or another tension. This typical ‘enhanced drama’ that is present in many American films and series, also crept into the work of the Wachowski’s. Sometimes these elements even overshadow the development of the story.

Overall, “Sense8” is alright. Especially in the first season (which is directed by both Wachowskis) there is quite some stress on ‘minority issues’ (trans, gay). Later (only Lilly Wachowski, but also guest directors) the ‘larger story’ gets the upper hand, making more of a thriller. There is the earlier mentioned drama, but the creators also wanted to add a layer of sensuousness, both are overdone and superfluous in my opinion. The story develops alright, but it seems that some turns had to be made to allow for future episodes or seasons. The two-and-a-half-hour final episode seems to have been made to wrap things up (quite thinly) when there no more would be a new season.

Not bad, but not the Wachowski’s best work either.

Children Of Dune (series 2003/4)

A while ago I wanted to rewatch David Lynch’s “Dune” (1984). In spite of my old review of the film, I quite like it, but I still find the story hard to follow. Shortly after I ran into “Children Of Dune”.

The mini series is announced as “Frank Herbert’s Children Of Dune”. It has three episodes of about an hour and a half, so basically it is three films.

The children of Dune are the twin kids of Paul “Muad’Dib” Atreides, Leto and Ghanima. Muad’Dib walked into the desert at the end of the first book (the films of Lynch and Villeneuve). Apparently he planned to make the desert planet of Arrakis more habitable by watering it and growing forests. The planet is ruled by the Atreides, Paul’s sister Alia. Paul and Alia’s mother left the planet, but she is still of considerable influence. Alia is not the best of leaders and the people start to oppose her reign.

Like in the first book / film, there is a lot of politics, allegiances, family feuds, etc. again making a complex story. The mini series are not great, but enjoyable. Only now for this review did I check, but Children Of Dune indeed is a book of the same author as Dune and this Frank Herbert (1920-1986) wrote six “Dune” books and other authors have continued the “saga”, with currently a list of 22 novels and nine other books! Plenty of material for further movies.

The Sandman – Gaiman / Goyer / Heinberg (series 2022)

Another Neil Gaiman mythological fantasy. “The Sandman” from the title is the lord of dreams, Morpheus. When he gets captured by a wicked magician, the world of dreams crumbles. After a long time Morpheus manages to escape and he tries to set things right. First he has to regain his objects of power.

Morpheus looks like he plays in The Cure. Other characters are more colourful, especially in “the dreaming”. The series jump from ‘real world’ to ‘dream’ scenes. Morpheus meets entities that are either or not friendly towards him and one storyline is pulled up after the other. Also halfway the series seem to jump to a quite different season, while in fact, when I write this, there is only one season. New characters are introduced, even again in the very last episode.

The series are alright. There are many references to mythology, there is the fantasy pomp that you perhaps expect. Some story lines are more interesting than other, the same goes for the range of characters that pass by.

The Order – Heaton & Erikson (series 2019/20)

A fairly weak Netflix series that holds the middle somewhere between “Harry Potter” and “Stranger Things”.

Jack Morton lives with his grandfather close to a prestigious college. At this college a secret order is active, the leader of which caused the death of Jack’s mother. The grandfather is obsessed with taking down the order, so Jack not only has to try to get a place at the college, but also to find his way into the secret order.

The members of the order speak quite openly about their secret order and it is basically a school for magic with teachers as teachers and students as students and the students are the “Stranger Things” age.

Jack also gets recruited by another secret order, making him both suspected on both side and a double agent. Of course there is a nascent romance in which both parties are tossed between responsibilities.

The “Grand Magus” has big plans with a powerful magical book and members have to take sides.

Brand New Cherry Flavor – Antosca & Zion (series 2021)

The strange title for a horror series caught my interest. In this 8 episodes Netflix series we follow Lisa Nova. Lisa had made a short horror film which is picked up by a one-time big film producer who wants to turn it into a feature film. The two meet up, agreements are made and Lou Burke starts to tutor Lisa in the world of movie business.

When it becomes clear that Burke gave the project to another director, Lisa is furious and she hires a witch that she met before to curse Burke. For the curse Lisa has to drink and eat the weirdest things which prove to have a bigger effect on herself than on Burke. Slowly things start to run out of hand.

Early in the series the two creators seem to have taken much inspiration from David Lynch. The atmosphere is dense, dark and weird. With a bit of a Cronenberg note, the series shift more towards more typical horror and my interested started to go down. The ending is particularly weak.

Perhaps it is only good that there are only eight episodes. There are a few good elements, but a bit too many open doors as well. It is not all that often that I get to see something weird, so I rate “Brand New Cherry Flavor” in the middle.

Dahmer – Monster – Brennan & Murphy (series 2022)

The story of Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994) keeps fascinating ‘the entertainment business’. I know the story of Dahmer mostly because of the “Dahmer” album of the “murder metal” band Macabre from 2000. Most elements that Macabre sings about, can be found in the series. There are a few noticeable differences. I will quote Macabre here and there.

The series open with the “man [who] got away from Jeffrey’s apartment. The police came in and Jeff was busted”. Actually quite at the end of the story of Jeffrey Dahmer. Initially the series appear to present two story lines. One from the end working towards history and one from the beginning and on. This does not stay that way.

In the first episodes we mostly see Dahmer. A difference between the series and the Macabre album is that the latter does say that “Jeffrey used to play with road kill”, but according to the series, it was Dahmer’s father who taught him taxidermy, the only thing the boy showed any interest in. Also we witness the problems with Dahmer’s parents. His mother taking a plethora of pills, also while pregnant and his father leaving when Jeffrey was a young boy. His mother did not really take care of him, so Jeffrey went back under the care of his father. Always making trouble, his father sends Dahmer to the army, but he “drank too much alcohol, so he got dishonorable discharge”. The blood bank and chocolate factory that we hear about on the Macabre album are also shortly mentioned in the series.

Not staying out of trouble, Jeffrey is put under the care of his grandmother. By that time Dahmer had made his first victim, by accident. Dahmer started to find out that he was homosexual and when he picked up a hitch hiker he liked, he took him home. When the man “tried to leave, he had to die”.

Later on we find Dahmer going around the local gay scene, picking up gays he found beautiful. He soon started to drug and kill them on the first date. The drugging part was even known in the “bathhouse” scene where gays went to spend the night with their hookups and Dahmer was banned from the bathhouses. Then we get another story that differs between Macabre and the series. Dahmer takes a man to a hotel and when he wakes up in the morning, the man was dead. Dahmer uses a suitcase to get the body out of the hotel. In the Macabre version the taxi driver helped him to get the body in the suitcase.

There is also an episode about one of Dahmer’s victim. Quite a tragic story, as this was the first person Dahmer actually had the chance to build a normal relationship with. He did not even kill them on the first date. Yet, after a night spent together, when Tony wanted to go to work “he had to die”.

The series also put some stress on the father of Dahmer. He left his son when he was young and blamed himself for what Dahmer became. A brave man who kept believing his son could be helped. Also his second wife was a brave woman who stayed with Dahmer’s father even when -after Dahmer’s apprehension- she and the father were slandered in the media.

A big part of the series is about Glenda Cleveland who lived next door of the apartment where Dahmer lived and where he made most of his victims. She kept calling the police, but was always ignored. Cleveland was black and Dahmer’s victims usually had a double reason to be neglected: they were black and gay. Also the (in)famous situation in which a 14-year old victim was brought back to Dahmer who “turned the boy into bones” gets some attention.

And there we have the more social implications of the story. The subordination of minorities, racism and incompetence in the police organisation. It is amazing to see that Dahmer was trialed for harassing a minor, whose brother was later brought back to Dahmer’s apartment to be his 10+ victim. Or Dahmer fined for expose, while his apartment was full of body parts. One of the reasons he did not stop, was that it was so easy, he told the police.

The series also have a bit of an aftermath. “The media circus”, the trial in which Dahmer (in spite of his own request) did not get the death penalty, but 17 times life in prison, his father writing an unsuccessful book, Dahmer growing into a cult figure and -at last- him being bludgeoned to death in prison and one more court case about whether or not to destroy his brain.

So, a few angles on the Dahmer story in a watchable series. Several episodes have been directed by Jennifer Lynch by the way.

Lost In Space – Allen & Sazama & Sharpless (series) (2018-2021)

Mankind is forced to move to another planet. The best of the best are recruited as the first colonisers of Alpha Centauri. We follow the family Robinson who join the mission collectively. Each family member has its talents and tasks including the children.

The trip does not go as planned and the family gets stranded on another planet. They have to figure out a way to get to their actual destination. The son of the family befriends an enemy robot who also crashed on the planet. The relationship between Will and the Robot is the main red thread throughout the three seasons.

In every episode there is a problem that has to be overcome. This usually is a means for some extra drama which soon becomes tiring. Some idea succeeds, something else goes wrong. Who will die this episode, but miraculously gets saved at the end only for the next problem to appear? The same thing happens with the different seasons. The planet is left behind, new problems occur, so the story continues in another place. Meanwhile the other robots that have not changed to like men are chasing Will.

With pomp Star Wars like music, too much drama and fairly predictable story lines, but on the other side descent acting and just enough interesting events to not stop watching, the series manage to balance just enough for me to finish all three seasons.

Certainly not a must-see, not a complete waste of time either. The story that is stretched over three seasons is not all that bad, but all these boring subplots and problems make that perhaps the story was more fit for a film so all unnecessary additions could have been skipped.

Cabinet of Curiosities – Guillermo del Toro (series 2022)

A Netflix series by Guillermo del Toro! Well, he is the creator, but not the director. Too bad. Also, just as the two series that I just reviewed, “Cabinet of Curiosities” is not really a series, more of a collection of short films. So again, you have eight very different short films by different directors. The episodes are usually based on a short story and have a horror theme.

Del Toro did gather some interesting directors though. The first episode is directed by Guillermo Navarre with whom Del Toro often cooperates for his own films. Then we have Vincenzo Natali, known for “Cube”, “Cypher“, “Splice” and other films. David Prior is new to me. Next up is Ana Lily Amirpour of “Bad Batch“. Then we have Keith Thomas. After that Catherine Hardwicke of “Thirteen“. The most interesting episode is made by Panos Cosmatos of films such as “Cobra“, but who made something more akin to his caleidoscopic “Beyond The Black Rainbow“. The more dramatic closing episode is for Jennifer Kent.

A few of the episodes are based on Lovecraft stories, which says something about the type of horror that is presented. More of a Victorian mystery horror than the slasher type of horror. Some episodes are humorous, others more typical horror. It would have been nice if Del Toro had directed an episode himself. He did write the story for the last one.