Categories
Popular Culture

‘Black Bird’ Review: A Dark Trip to the Depths of Human Depravity

Few, if any, of us know what it’s like to stare into the eyes of a killer. The cold, dead gaze of someone with no regard for another human’s life and, in the case of serial killer Larry DeWayne Hall, enjoys taking that life. On AppleTV+’s upcoming limited series Black Bird, we dive into Hall’s life and view it through the eyes of James Keene, another convict who has been sent to elicit a confession from Hall.

Similar to shows like MindhunterBlack Bird focuses on what makes serial killers do what they do and why they are compelled to do so. Even though it’s a dramatized retelling of actual events, Black Bird is a compelling look into the mind of an absolute monster and how doing something as simple as talking to him can nearly destroy someone in the process.

Per AppleTV+, “Inspired by actual events, when high school football hero and decorated policeman’s son Jimmy Keene (Taron Egerton) is sentenced to 10 years in a minimum security prison, he is given the choice of a lifetime — enter a maximum-security prison for the criminally insane and befriend suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser), or stay where he is and serve his full sentence with no possibility of parole. Keene quickly realizes his only way out is to elicit a confession and find out where the bodies of several young girls are buried before Hall’s appeal goes through. But is this suspected killer telling the truth? Or is it just another tale from a serial liar?”

For anyone familiar with a Dennis Lehane story—Mystic River, Gone Baby Goneand Shutter Island are among the most notable—you know that he has a talent for creating stories that keep you guessing until the end. Lehane, who developed Black Bird, does the same thing here. Serving as the writer and one of the executive producers, Lehane took this story and molded it into what is one of the best real-life adaptations in recent years.

It’s no secret that prison, especially a maximum security prison, is somewhere no one wants to be. In this story, Lehane paints a picture of what the day-to-day is like in this facility and how someone like Taron Egerton’s character is forced to adapt to a place where he doesn’t belong.

AppleTV+

The story is told through two lenses: One in the prison where Jimmy Keene tries to buddy up to Hall, and the other that follows two detectives (Greg Kinnear and Sepideh Moafi) as they also attempt to garner evidence that will keep Hall in prison. Moafi’s character, FBI Agent Lauren McCauley, also serves as Keene’s handler while he’s in jail.

It can be a bit of a clunky narrative device, especially at the show’s beginning when there are two timelines, but once things settle in, the two stories are almost perfectly in sync. Their investigation helps provide some clarity and backstory to Hall’s murders, and, in essence, we live part of the story through the eyes of his victims.

These scenes can be tough, as most of Hall’s victims were teenage girls, and even though he was only convicted on two of the murders, he was suspected of up to 20. It’s a heartbreaking story, especially considering that it’s all perpetrated by another human being.

What makes someone do this? Why do they seem to hate the world?

Rather than sympathize with someone like Hall, we try to learn what makes him tick. As mentioned above, it’s remarkably similar to Mindhunter, which didn’t make us care about the serial killers or empathize but got to the heart of the psychopathy that lies beneath the surface.

AppleTV+

The real highlight of Black Bird is the acting, most notably a powerhouse performance from Paul Walter Hauser. He is a terrifying villain, one who, in the beginning, you feel a shred of sympathy for due to his upbringing. He speaks with a high-pitched and soft voice, where he doesn’t seem threatening at first.

As you listen to him talk and describe his life and crimes, that’s when you see the man for what he is: a beast beyond redemption. Hauser’s performance is perfect for the role, as you rarely see his true persona bubble to the surface, but you feel a sense of genuine fear when it does. His facial expressions can change on a dime, further hammering how chaotic his personality is.

As he talked about when he was a grave robber in his youth, he said a line that stuck with me throughout the show: “The dead are pleasant; looking into their faces gives me hope that the next world is the good one.” Hearing him saying it is different than reading it, and Hauser nails it.

AppleTV+

Opposite Paul Walter Hauser is Taron Egerton as Jimmy Keene, and he is also fantastic as the co-lead. Keene is the polar opposite of Hall: Charismatic, handsome, well-spoken, and well-liked. You can tell that while he is buddying up to Hall and conversing with him, he struggles to identify with his life.

Even talking with someone like Hall affects Keene’s mental health and well-being, and it’s easy to sympathize with him here. Egerton’s confident swagger mixed with the inner torment of interacting with a psychopath is a true test of his talents as an actor, and he pulls it off incredibly well.

Sadly, the world lost Ray Liotta earlier this year. In his final television performance, he portrays Jimmy’s father “Big Jim” Keene in Black Bird. Part of the reason Jimmy takes the job investigating Hall is that his father suffers a stroke, and he’s unsure if he will live beyond Jimmy’s prison sentence.

Liotta is incredible as his father, and his tragic performance is only made all the more somber given his passing. Big Jim is remarkably similar to his character in Blow, in which he also plays the father of a drug dealer. Both love their sons and try to accept the fallout of their actions and still help them through it all.

AppleTV+

Shows like Black Bird are not for everyone. They are heavy watches that require you to examine a side of humanity that we’d all prefer didn’t exist. And even though they are fictionalized accounts, they are stories that must be told. Not to glamorize the killers but to give their victims the remembrance they deserve.

Black Bird premieres on AppleTV+ on July 8th.

Categories
Sports Strength

Who Are The Current UFC Champions?

Now’s a great time to take stock of the current champions in the UFC world. For new fans and those who may be unaware, here is a current list of UFC champions according to the official UFC rankings.

The standings are as follows:

  • Heavyweight Champion: Francis Ngannou (16-3)
  • Light-heavyweight Champion: Jiří Procházka (29-3-1)
  • Middleweight Champion: Israel Adesanya (22-1)
  • Welterweight Champion: Kamaru Usman (20-1)
  • Lightweight Champion: *Charles Oliveira* (33-8-1)
  • Featherweight Champion: Alexander Volkanovski (23-1)
  • Bantamweight Champion: Aljamain Sterling (21-3-0)
  • Flyweight Champion: Deivison Figueiredo (19-5-2)
  • Women’s Featherweight: Amanda Nunes (21-5)
  • Bantamweight Champion: Julianna Pena (11-4)
  • Women’s Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko (23-3)
  • Women’s Strawweight Champion: Carla Esparza (20-6)
Heavyweight Champion: Francis Ngannou (17-3)
Zuffa LLC

Date won: March 27, 2021

Defenses: 1

Francis Ngannou has one of the most remarkable journeys to the UFC. Growing up in Cameroon, he faced an incredible amount of adversity before getting to the UFC. He worked in sand mines, had multiple failed escapes to Europe, and did not start training in MMA until he was 25 years old. Now, he is the heavyweight champion of the world.

Ngannou defeated Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 via knockout in the second round. His power was and is widely known to be his most useful weapon, but in this fight he showed more. He put his takedown defense and kickboxing on display in a world-class performance.

The UFC put some pressure on Ngannou, just a few months after his win over Miocic. In August, the company had Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane fight for an interim title. Gane showed the world that he is ready for the big stage, putting on an incredible performance against Lewis. When Gane and Ngannou met, the champion proved his dominance with some remarkably improved wrestling.

Light-heavyweight Champion: Jiří Procházka (29-3-1)
Chris Unger / Getty Images

Date won: June 11th, 2022

Defenses: 0

The Light Heavyweight title had been vacant since Jon Jones’ contentious salary negotiations with the UFC saw him vacate the title on August 17th. Dominick Reyes and former KSW Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Błachowicz battled for the title in late September, with the Polish fighter ultimately coming out on top. After a closely contested title defense against middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, Błachowicz faced UFC veteran, Glover Teixeira. The Brazilian, Teixeira, understood that this was most likely his final chance at UFC gold. And the man delivered. In his first title defense, he would face Jiří Procházka. The Czech fighter had gained popularity for his unpredictable fighting style and his highlight reel knockouts. His big moment in the UFC came when he knocked out Reyes with a spinning elbow that garnished millions of views and lots of conversation. After a remarkably competitive first four rounds, Procházka would finish Teixeira in a surprising manor. He submitted the grappling wizard in the fifth round of their exciting matchup and a rematch between the two does seem like a likely possibility moving forward.

Middleweight Champion: Israel Adesanya (22-1)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Date won: Oct. 6, 2019

Defenses: 3

The “style bender” has only suffered one loss in MMA and in his short time in the sport, he was able to become the middleweight champion. His striking seems almost immediately adaptable to almost any opponent he has faced including the likes of Anderson Silva. He made his promotional debut with the UFC in 2018 and by 2019 he was the interim champ, and finally the undisputed champ when he beat Robert Whittaker at UFC 243.

Adesanya defended his belt for the third time when he was challenged by Marvin Vettori. Most recently, Adesanya squeaked by Rober Whittaker in a competitive rematch.

Welterweight Champion: Kamaru Usman (20-1)
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Date won: March 2, 2019

Defenses: 5

“The Nigerian Nightmare” has lived up to his name in the UFC’s welterweight division proving to be a difficult puzzle for many fighters competing at 170 pounds. The 32-year-old has either knocked out his opponents or ground out a victory and won by decision. His only loss was early in his MMA career in 2013 in his second pro-fight. Since he has proven to be one of the most well-rounded welterweights since the days of Georges St-Pierre. In his rematch against Jorge Masvidal, Usman delivered a showstopping knockout that shook the MMA world. For his fifth title defense, Usman rematched against Colby Covington. The two headlined UFC 268 at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. Usman was pushed to the brink, but at the end of the night, he got his hand raised.

Lightweight Champion: Charles Oliveira (33-8-1)
Getty Images

Date won: May 15th, 2021

Defenses: 1

Hmmm. This is a tricky one.

Technically speaking, there is no current champion in the UFC’s lightweight division.

Oliveira failed to make weight for his most recent fight against Justin Gaethje. He was then stripped of his title, despite submitting Gaethje in the first round.

A lightweight brawler fighting out of São Paulo, Brazil, Charles Oliveira fought former Bellator Lightweight champion Michael Chandler for this vacant belt, following the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Oliveira has been fighting with the UFC since 2010, but this is his first title belt with the organization. Despite this, he holds numerous UFC records including most submission wins in the organization’s history at 14, and for most finishes at 17. The champion made his first title defense at UFC 269 against Dustin Poirier.

Oliveira will be competing for the vacant title against an unknown opponent in the future.

Featherweight Champion: Alexander Volkanovski (22-1)
Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Date won: Dec. 14, 2019

Defenses: 2

The rugby player turned mixed martial artist recently picked up UFC gold with a recent victory over Max Holloway at UFC 245. The two fought to a decision last year that had the judges award Volkanovski the win and the title but he feels he and Holloway need to go again to solidify his position as the new featherweight champion. Volkanovski fought The Korean Zombie at UFC 273 and won via TKO.

Bantamweight Champion: Aljamain Sterling (21-3-0)
Jeff Bottari / Contributor

Date won: March 6th, 2021

Defenses: 1

During UFC 259 Aljamain Sterling captured bantamweight in bizarre fashion. In the fourth round against Petr Yan, Sterling was hit by a textbook example of an illegal knee strike. Sterling was clearly injured and the referee declared it was a disqualification against Yan. Prior to the knee, Yan was winning on two of the three scorecards. Yan defeated Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267 for the interim title, after Sterling was forced to pull out due to a serious neck injury. When Sterling did meet back up with Yan, he shocked a lot of fans by defeated Yan in a split decision.

Flyweight Champion: Diveison Figueiredo (21-2-1)
Christian Petersen/Staff

Date won: Jan 22, 2022

Defenses: 0

When Brandon Moreno took on Deiveson Figueiredo for the second time, history was made. After a close first fight, that was a fight of the year candidate in 2020, Moreno separated himself from the former champ. With his dominant performance at UFC 263, Brandon Moreno became the first Mexican-born UFC champion. However, the story between Moreno and Figueiedo did not stop there. The two competed for the third time at the start of 2022 and Figuiredo reclaimed his title. It appears that the two will fight for a fourth time in the near future.

Women’s Featherweight Champion: Amanda Nunes (21-4)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Date won featherweight: Dec. 29, 2018

Defenses (featherweight): 2

The lioness is considered by many to be one of the best fighters in the world. For a good chunk of time, she was the double champ at 135 and 145. Like most fighters who balance two weight classes, the difficulty eventually caught up to her. However, it doesn’t appear that anyone in the featherweight division will be able to take her throne any time soon. Nunes won the featherweight title in 2018 when she knocked out Cris Cyborg in the first round. That knockout became the biggest moment and fight of her career.

Women’s Bantamweight Champion Julianna Pena (11-4)
Getty Images

Women’s Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko (23-3)
Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Date won: Dec. 8, 2018

Defenses: 7

Shevchenko has been fighting professionally since 2003 and coming from the world of kickboxing has made her a force to be reckoned with. She won the vacant flyweight title in 2018 at UFC 231 and has successfully defended it six times with the most recent defense at UFC 275.

Women’s Strawweight Champion: Carla Esparza (20-6)
Alex Menendez / Stringer

Date won: May 7th, 2022

Defenses: 0

Rose Namajunas won the strawweight title by knockout at Madison Square Garden at UFC 217. Eventually, she would lose the title and have to work her way back up to the top. At UFC 261, “Thug” Rose stunned the fight community by knocking out Weilli Zhang via head kick. She defeated Zhang for a second time at UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden in a very close battle. However, there was a boogeyman that still loomed over her. Carla Esparza would be the one to strip Namajunas of her title in May of 2022. It was many years earlier where Esparza handed Namajunas one of her few losses in her MMA career. Esparza’s unque skillset has proved to be difficult to her competitors. This is Esparza’s second time holding UFC gold.

Categories
Sneakers Style

The 26 Best New Balance Sneakers

If you’re looking for a sneaker designed for all-day comfort you should look no further than New Balance. The Boston brand has consistently been at the top of the lifestyle/casual footwear canon while simultaneously holding a top spot within the world of top-level performance. They have a strong reputation for supreme durability and ever since the “Dad” wave from 2017 that hasn’t seemed to crash, they’ve been enjoying an unusually high place in the sneaker world. As with any brand, a lot of sneakerheads wonder: what are the best New Balance sneakers around?

With sneakers coming straight from the United States and the United Kingdom they’ve got a strong series of recent releases including some absolutely must-have collabs. New Balance doesn’t necessarily grab all of the headlines but real sneakerheads understand the importance of the brand and can recognize that they’ve certainly proven themselves as one of the best brands out right now. 

We took a look through New Balance’s extensive catalog and pulled out the 15 Best New Balance Sneakers available right now. Some collaborations, some rock-solid general releases, the brand is on an incredible sprint right now and there’s plenty of awesome opportunities to get in on New Balance.

1. New Balance 990v4 “Grey/Castlerock”
https://stockx.com/new-balance-990v4-grey
StockX

​​​​​​​Easily New Balance’s most iconic and timeless sneaker is the 990v4. Known for its classic “Dad” shape and high-quality comfort, the 990v4 is something of sneaker royalty. Everyone absolutely needs a pair, whether you’re trying to get a fit off or just taking a walk to the deli, it’s a sneaker that has bridged the gap from the simplicity and became a streetwear icon. Simply between its standing with regards to the “Dad” wave, DMV area, the v4 is a legend in its own right and is considered by most as the crown jewel of New Balance. 

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2. New Balance 999 x Concepts “The Kennedy”
StockX

Turning up the “New England factor” up to 11, New Balance tapped Beantown boutique Concepts for a sneaker that paid homage to JFK’s famous vacation spot, Hyannis. The sneaker is a famous and high priced piece of Americana but for fans of the 999 and President Kennedy, it’s revered as one of the best sneakers to represent the northeastern United States. The sneaker features rich touches of suede and mesh with seaside motifs hitting the laces, sock liner, and tongue. ​​​​​​

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3. New Balance 992 “Multicolor”
StockX

The New Balance 992 is a sneaker akin to the 993 but with a more chunky outlook on life. The overlays of synthetic and mesh uppers sit atop an extra-thick midsole. Unlike the 993, these colorways aren’t simple but bold, bright, and incredibly complicated, allowing the brand to get more in touch with their creative side. 2020’s “Multicolor” release was a great example of the brand’s colorful potential — the sneaker came drenched in a variety of eye-catching blue, yellow, green, and orange.

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4. New Balance 754 “Classic Grey”
StockX

New Balance has a lot of classic sneakers, but none encapsulates the brand more than the all-day capacity of the 574. The “Classic Grey” stands tall as the perfect sneaker for almost anything and the patterning of suedes and mesh bring the sneaker full tilt. “Classic Grey” was one of three colorways and silhouettes to embrace the brand’s “Grey Day”, a moment that put the spotlight on the relaxed yet expert execution for a casual, simple sneaker.

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5. New Balance 993 “Kith Grey”
StockX

The New Balance 993 is another great sneaker from the brand that epitomizes both the timeless cool and simplicity that they offer. The 993 has some very basic colorways making the sneaker an easy and incredibly comfortable go-to model. This 933 gets dressed up in a variety of grey hues making the perfect sneaker to go with any outfit.

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6. New Balance 998 “Moby Dick”
Flight Club

The New Balance 998 is one of the more slept on but better models from the brand. Not only is it the perfect “Dad” sneaker but turned the “Dad” level up with this 2014 release. They put an academic spin on the sneaker, and others, with a special pack honoring American literature. Of course, the sneakers are made in the USA which makes them a little more special, but these “Moby Dick” themed sneakers really take the cake. The result was a thematic and conceptual success, seen on other silhouettes like the 997 which came dressed as another American literary powerhouse; J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

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7. New Balance 997S x Bodega “No Bad Days”
StockX

Similar to the creative strength of Concepts is Bodega, another sneaker boutique that’s made a name for itself in its physical brick and mortar stores and its ability to craft quality silhouettes and unique stories. The Boston-based creative outfit collaborated with New Balance on the 997S silhouette – another glowing example with the “No Bad Days” colorway. They also put their spin on another 997S but the “No Bad Days” was surely the must-have of the two projects. ​​​​​​

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8. New Balance 991.5 x Concepts “Lake Havasu”
StockX

Like a true New England legend, Boston-based brand Concepts is usually right on the mark when they get together with New Balance. The 991.5 “Lake Havasu” is another great example of the low key power of New Balance hybrid sneakers. The sneaker comes with a unique colorway that includes a rich teal upper and yellow hit on the heel cup, and it’s made in the UK. The sneaker’s name also is no accident, this sneaker comes with a quirky story as well.

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9. New Balance 801 “Grey”
Foot Locker

NB has a great reputation as a running/performance brand but that part of the brand mostly takes a backseat to the casual/lifestyle sneakers that have brought the brand to new heights. Within their division of performance, they have some excellent outdoor options. With treaded outsole details found on silhouettes like the Trail buster, NB is a solid option for outdoorsy sneakers. The 801 is a super tough sneaker with a treaded outsole, giving sneakerheads another reason to pick New Balance.

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10. New Balance 990v5 “Black”
StockX

The 990 is one of New Balance’s best and most iconic silhouettes. The brand continues to revolutionize and further the model with iterations that have soared to the heights of sneaker popularity like the v4. Similar to the body of the v4, the v5 delivered again but with a fresh, new take on the staple design last year. The v5 originally came dressed in the classic white/grey colorway you typically see from the v4 but of the new colorways for the v5, I personally enjoy the murdered out look of the triple black colorway.

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11. New Balance 827 x Aime Leon Dore
StockX

The New Balance 827 made a strong first impression with a multi-colorway collab courtesy of Aime Leon Dore. The NYC boutique has made a name for itself among the streets of SOHO and brought the same upscale, super luxe, and chic style to the vintage-styled runner. The 827 has seen the creative imprint from other brands (see their Stray Rats project) but didn’t sing as true or bright as the playful color scheme from ALD which yielded three perfect for summer sneakers.

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12. New Balance 1500.9 “Make in England Summer Nine Pack”
StockX

The New Balance 1500.9 is a sleeper silhouette from the brand, a hybrid mixture of multiple silhouettes the 1500.9 delivers on a sleek look and playful “Summer Nine” colorway with richly colored suedes and an upper of mesh and synthetics. Another interesting point is that it’s made in England, one of the few releases from the brand that’s from the UK, both rare and refined and everything that’s great about the brand. The colorway is truly unique with a mint green on the heel, navy blue on the rand, and a nice pink touch on the branding hit and tongue.

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13. New Balance 1300JP
StockX

For rare sneakers, New Balance probably isn’t your first idea or last stop, but it should be. The New Balance 1300JP is a sneaker so rare it’s only released every five years and 2020’s contribution was certainly what fans of the brand were expecting. The design hails from 1985 and was originally loved by runners who described them as a “sports car for your feet.” The colorway is the same as the original design and with production only running every five years for the 1300, you can bet it’s going to be top-notch. Another cool detail is that the sneaker is made in Japan, a nice note for anyone trying to add to their collection of non-USA made New Balance sneakers.

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14. New Balance 327 x Casablanca “Green/White”
StockX

The New Balance 327 saw its debut in 2020, but before the general release of the new waffle runner, the brand partnered with luxe streetwear brand Casablanca for a hot summer collab. The partnership brought two sneakers, one in green, one in orange, to the public, giving them a sneak peek at the brand’s new silhouette. The Parisian brand elevated the style of the silhouette and set forth a strong precedent for future collabs with the 327.

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15. New Balance 850 OG Reissue “White/Blue”
StockX

If you’re even slightly familiar with New Balance you know that they have strong ties to vintage running. Among those early runners is the 850, a 1996 classic brought back to life by the brand in 2019 with an OG Reissue. The wide-soled sneaker is a pillar of stability with opportunities for skating, working out, and casual wear. The sneaker looks best in it’s white/blue colorway covering which highlights the mesh and suede upper with an ABZORB midsole to finish off the simplistic and minimalistic design.

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16. Kawhi Leonard “Sunrise”
GOAT
Kawhi Leonard “Sunrise”

Kawhi Leonard has been one of eBay’s biggest sellers over the course of this past year, proving not only his star power, but the power of New Balance in general. While Leonard has released multiple colorways with the brand, the “Sunrise” iteration remains arguably his most popular.

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17. New Balance 550 “White Green”
GOAT
New Balance

Dropping this past June, the “White Green” colorway was just in time for college football aka “University Season” if your team happened to have white and green colors. Yes we’re in winter, but white and green colorways always work well with the spring and summer seasons, and sneaker buying is always about planning ahead.

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18. 530v2 Retro “Khaki”
GOAT
530v2 Retro “Khaki”

There are two “automatics” in the sneaker world, retro styles and neutral colors. The 530v2 has both. It’s a classic look that can be paired with anything, and while isn’t too “overbearing,” it does stand out (especially when paired with the right outfit).

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19. 550 ‘Shifted Sport Pack – Team Red’
GOAT
550 ‘Shifted Sport Pack – Team Red’

Another university/team classic. If you’re even in doubt about whether or not a sneaker is going to work, go with a University Red colorway. It has never failed anyone in the history of sneakers.

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20. 990v5 Made In USA ‘Grey’
GOAT
990v5 Made In USA ‘Grey’

Every sneaker list needs a grey colorway. Don’t ask us why, it’s an unspoken sneaker rule. The 990v5 “Made In USA” dropped summer 2019, and while it’s been two years, they are very much still in style.

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21. New Balance 827 x Stray Rats
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StockX

Stray Rats has collabed with New Balance a few times, and each iteration has become a relative grail for a lot of fans of the Miami-based label. The 827 from a few years back is our pick for the best of their work together, but pretty much everything Stray Rats has done with NB is a certified classic.

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22. New Balance x JJJJound 990v3 ‘Brown Black’
StockX

JJJJound’s collabs with a lot of sportswear giants over the past few years have been incredible. The label really demonstrates how a few minor changes to existing silhouettes can put the cherry on top, making them a grail-level sneaker. This iteration of the 990v3—like with many JJJJound collabs—is an IYKYK sort of collab that will get diehard sneaker heads pretty excited.

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23. New Balance 2002R Protection Pack ‘Mirage Grey’
Stockx

This iteration of the 2002R from earlier this year is a fun, minimal take on a classic silhouette. The fraying will continue to wear with consistent use, making these a great option for sneaker fans who like to watch their kicks deteriorate and enjoy the wabi-sabi element of fashion.

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24. New Balance x Aime Leon Dore 993 ‘Brown’
StockX

This is the second Aime Leon Dore collab to make this last, and with good reason. All of NB’s collabs with the New York-based designer have been beautiful, but our pick is this brown iteration of the 993, a perfectly muted sneaker to add to your rotation. These won’t turn heads like some of the more vibrant entries on the list, but they’re an incredibly approachable and versatile pair of kicks to add to your rotation.

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25. New Balance 550 ‘White Royal Black’
StockX

550s have had a meteoric rise to prominence in the last few years, in part due to the high profile iterations produced in collaboration with Aime Leon Dore. A lot of the hyped colorways of this silhouette boast pretty atmospheric resale prices, but these beautiful royal blue kicks can be copped for a pretty accessible price. So if you’re in it for the style, not the hype, pick these up.

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26. New Balance x Joe Freshgoods 9060 ‘Penny Cookie Pink’
Stockx

Part of what makes New Balance so amazing is how many silhouettes the brand has produced in its lengthy tenure as a leading sportswear company. In this collab with Joe Freshgoods, they dove deep into the bag to utilize a very slept on silhouette: the 9060. This is a great option for those looking for an approachable pair of accent kicks that aren’t particularly vibrant, but certainly not dull.

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Popular Culture

‘The Terminal List’ Review: The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

There have been so many shows and movies that follow the formula of “man/woman who has lost all who are close to them and must kill everyone responsible” that the trope might as well be its own genre by now. Based on the book series of the same name, Prime Video’s The Terminal List starring Chris Pratt, is the latest entry to tell this sort of story.

It’s a show packed with action, thrills, and a whole lot of blood, and while it keeps you hooked for all eight episodes, it doesn’t deliver much to set itself apart from other series similar to this one.

Per Prime Video, “The series follows James Reece (Chris Pratt) after his entire platoon of Navy SEALs is ambushed while on a covert mission. Reece returns home to his family with conflicting memories of the event and questions about his culpability. As new evidence comes to light, Reece discovers dark forces working against him, endangering not only his life but the lives of those he loves.”

Taylor Kitsch, Constance Wu, Jeanne Tripplehorn, JD Pardo, and Jai Courtney round out the starring cast of the show and each brings something different to Reece’s journey of vengeance.

Prime Video

What makes The Terminal List so intriguing at first glance is that it’s very much about a man battling his demons (and his brain) and those out to kill him. As seen in the trailer, Reece returns home from the ambush that killed his team and is unsure of what exactly transpired there. His memory tells him one thing and the evidence another.

The combination of the PTSD and survivor’s guilt he has over the death of his comrades, and the physical symptoms of something else too. That theme of lack of care for war veterans is recurring throughout much of the show and is as much a part of Reece’s quest for revenge as anything else.

It’s a little unfortunate that it doesn’t seem to phase him all that much throughout the campaign of violence that he wages. With the exception of one episode, much of it is written off by him taking medication that keeps the symptoms under control. He goes from a man struggling back to a superhuman Navy SEAL almost instantaneously.

The Terminal List does make an attempt to tie Reece’s struggles to a larger conversation around veterans’ mental health. How much responsibility does the government bear? What about special interests that benefit from the conflicts these soldiers fight in? The show attempts to address this in between the rampages that Reece embarks on. While it does somewhat succeed, the message gets drowned out in the explosions, gunfire, and mayhem that are the centerpiece of the show.

Prime Video

Whether or not it was intentional, Chris Pratt has carved out a niche for himself as one of Hollywood’s go-to action stars. It’s hard to say that he’s been typecast because we know from his filmography that he has a talent for comedy, thanks to Parks & Recreation. He is also a known supporter of the military and veterans and uses his platform to help bring awareness to issues affecting that community.

This is the fourth time he’s played a soldier or veteran of some sort in a TV show or movie (Zero Dark ThirtyThe Tomorrow WarJurassic World Trilogy, The Terminal List.) His desire to see soldiers helped in their time of need is on full display in this show, and it’s clear that this is a passion project for him (he also serves as an executive producer on it.)

It might just be a personal issue, but it’s hard sometimes to see Pratt take on the role of a heavy action star. Sure, those roles listed above involve plenty of high-stakes action but none as violent as The Terminal List. Blood and guts abound, including one particularly gruesome scene involving a man’s intestines. He acts the role fine, especially in the scenes involving his PTSD, but when it comes to being threatening, he falls short.

He is a good man forced to do bad things in the name of his cause, the ends justifying the means. The adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” often applies to Reece’s plans.

Taylor Kitsch’s character, Ben Edwards, who is Pratt’s partner-in-crime and one of his former Navy SEAL squadmates, is a CIA asset living as a surfer in Southern California. Picture this: Tim Riggins is living on a beach and working as a spy. In a show surrounding such heavy topics, Kitsch is able to bring a dose of levity to it.

Prime Video

The Terminal List is a series of ups and downs, with plenty of solid action and intrigue that will likely keep you invested through all of its eight episodes. The book’s writer, former Navy SEAL Jack Carr, has said there is plenty of material for them to work with should Prime Video decide to make more seasons. Whether or not it’s deserving of those future entries remains to be seen, but you can do far worse when it comes to action shows.

While it may not completely hit the bullseye on all of its targets, if you are looking for an action series to watch, make sure The Terminal List is on your radar.

The Terminal List premieres on Prime Video on July 1st.

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Popular Culture

‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ “Part 6” Recap and Review

If there was one thing that we knew from the first teaser for Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s that the overarching theme of the series would be that hope—even when the light is most dark—survives. Whether through someone like Obi-Wan, a future Rebel like Princess Leia, a resistance fighter like Tala or Roken, or a con-man like Haja, hope will survive.

While at the beginning of the series we saw Obi-Wan at his lowest, we began to see him believe again, not just in himself but in people as a whole.

Spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi Part 6 follow.

The Hunt is On
Disney+

The finale begins on Tatooine, where we see Reva has arrived, clutching her side and struggling to recover from her injury at the hands of Vader. She says to a man in town that she’s looking for a farmer named Owen, clearly still looking for whoever Bail Organa was talking about in his message to Obi-Wan.

Meanwhile, Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer is pursuing the transport ship carrying Obi-Wan, Leia, and the remnants of the Resistance Cell. With the hyperdrive damaged and not likely to be fixed any time soon, Obi-Wan volunteers to take an escape shuttle to a nearby planet.

Knowing that Vader will abandon the chase and despite protests from Leia, Roken, and the others, Obi-Wan knows this is the only way. As Leia runs away, Obi-Wan makes Haja promise to get her back to Alderaan.

Owen finds that Reva has arrived on Tatooine and is looking for him; he returns home and tells Beru they need to leave. However, Beru refuses, hands him a blaster rifle, and tells him that they need to get ready for when she attacks that night.

Leia, angry that Obi-Wan is leaving, reminds him, “You said you’d take me home.” Before leaving, Obi-Wan gives Leia Tala’s blaster holster that Roken found before they fled Jabiim. Tearfully, they both say their goodbyes, with Leia making Obi-Wan promise that they will see each other again.

Obi-Wan speaks to Qui-Gon one last time, telling him that regardless of whether or not either of them dies, his conflict with Vader ends today. Vader tracks Obi-Wan’s ship and tells his men to follow Kenobi.

Obi-Wan lands on the planet below and discovers that Leia had placed Lola in his pocket, hoping to make him feel less scared as it does for Leia.

Master and Apprentice
Disney+

Vader lands on the planet, where Obi-Wan is waiting for him. They both eye each other down, believing that this is where it all ends for them. While the audience knows otherwise, the conversation that follows is no less impactful.

“Have you come to destroy me, Obi-Wan?”

“I will do what I must.” Obi-Wan sure does love that line, doesn’t he?

This time is different, though. They both know it, and Vader confirms it: “Then you will die.”

The duel we’ve been waiting for begins, and as the music swells, both men fight angrily but look as strong as ever with the Force and their sabers. Vader knows that he’s no longer fighting someone with the inexperience of Reva but the man who taught him all he knows.

Obi-Wan’s strength has returned since the last time they saw one another, even knocking Vader back at one point and trying to bring down a rock face on top of him. “Your strength has returned, but the weakness STILL REMAINS,” Vader goes on the attack and knocks Obi-Wan off his feet, causing the ground beneath him to crumble. Vader buries Obi-Wan underneath a massive pile of rocks and leaves Obi-Wan, saying he has failed again.

At the Lars homestead, Reva has arrived and begun her fight with Owen and Beru as she hunts for Luke. They both fight back and manage to hold their own, but Reva defeats them and chases after Luke, who has fled into the desert.

We then see that Obi-Wan hasn’t been completely buried but has been using the Force to protect himself. As he hears the voices of his past, from Anakin to Darth Vader, and remembers his journey with Leia and his responsibility for Luke, he blasts his way out of the pit.

He catches up to Vader and goes on the attack once again. We see that Obi-Wan has truly reconnected with the Force, becoming the Jedi he once was and possibly even greater. He knocks Vader back, picks up dozens of rocks, and begins pelting him with them. Vader struggles to his feet and, for the first time in a decade, finds himself outmatched by an opponent.

Obi-Wan continues his attack and damages Vader’s chest plate, causing his breathing to become labored as he struggles for air. Similar to the end of Return of the Jedi, we can hear him wheezing and his suit malfunctioning. He struggles to his feet, trying to bring Obi-Wan down, but after Vader is pushed away, Obi-Wan leaps and cuts off half of Vader’s mask.

In what is sure to become one of the series’ highlights, we see Anakin underneath. Hayden Christensen’s voice blended with James Earl Jones’, creating a tortured amalgamation that mirrors the man Anakin has become.

Tortured, broken, and seemingly beyond redemption. It is strikingly similar to a scene from Star Wars: Rebels, where Vader duels his former Padawan Ahsoka Tano. She also manages to cut off half his mask and hears Anakin’s voice one final time.

Obi-Wan has beaten Vader, and as the Sith Lord looks up at his former master, his yellow eyes briefly fade, and Obi-Wan simply says, “Anakin.”

Vader struggles to his feet and reminds Obi-Wan that Anakin is gone and he is what remains. Tearfully, Obi-Wan apologizes to him, hoping his former apprentice will forgive him. However, Vader says that he is not Obi-Wan’s failure; Vader has no one to blame but himself for his fall.

“You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.” The glow from Obi-Wan’s blue lightsaber fades, and Vader’s face is again illuminated by red. Obi-Wan recognizes that his friend is truly dead and leaves Vader there, calling him Darth. The name Anakin Skywalker no longer has any meaning.

Vader is left alone in the darkness, screaming for his former master to return.

Every Journey Ends
Disney+

We cut back to Reva as she causes Luke to fall right in front of her, knocking him out. Obi-Wan can sense something is wrong and moves to lightspeed to try and get back to Tatooine as fast as possible.

Reva ignites her lightsaber and moves in to kill Luke, somehow satisfying her need for justice. However, as she moves closer, she doesn’t see him but rather herself, lying on the floor of the Jedi Temple all those years ago.

As Obi-Wan lands back at the Lars homestead, he finds Owen and Beru searching for Luke in the desert. He joins them when suddenly they see Reva holding Luke, bringing him back home. Obi-Wan prepares himself for another duel, but Reva didn’t harm him. She is here to return Luke to Owen and Beru.

She confesses to Obi-Wan that she couldn’t bring herself to harm him; killing a child wouldn’t extinguish her pain. Reva still feels guilty for not helping her friends during Order 66, but Obi-Wan tells her that she has given them peace.

Reva has chosen not to continue down the path of the dark side, and all those years ago, when Anakin brought his mother’s body back to that very home and started his journey toward evil, Reva walked away from it.

At Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar, he has himself a little FaceTime session with Emperor Palpatine. He tells his master that probes are out looking for Obi-Wan still and that they will destroy everything until he is found.

Palpatine sees Vader as possibly being weakened by his obsession with Obi-Wan and tells him that he should leave his past behind. Vader says that Kenobi means nothing and that he serves only the Emperor.

On Alderaan, Leia is getting ready for guests to arrive and her duties to greet them. Her outfit combines future and present Leia with boots, gloves, and Tala’s holster, all paired with a dress.

As a ship lands, we see Obi-Wan exit, bringing Lola back to Leia. Obi-Wan reunites with Bail and Breha Organa, and Obi-Wan promises them that if they need his help, he’ll be there.

Obi-Wan talks with Leia and says that even though he said he didn’t know her parents, he admits that he did. While he doesn’t say who they were, he tells her how much she reminds him of them. Leia’s theme from John Williams begins to play, and he wishes he could tell her more, but that’s good enough for Leia. 

Leia asks if they’ll ever see each other again, and Obi-Wan isn’t sure but promises that if she needs help from a “tired, old man,” she can reach out. She hugs him, saying, “goodbye, Obi-Wan.”

The Force theme begins to play, and Obi-Wan departs, returning to Tatooine. Obi-Wan collects his belongings in his cave, leaving behind the life he thought he was doomed to remain in. He finds the toy shuttle he bought for Luke and rides for the Lars homestead, hoping to give it to him finally.

Owen spots him riding in and asks Obi-Wan what he’s doing here. He lets Owen know that he’ll be leaving them alone from now on, placing his trust in Owen and Beru. Owen invites Obi-Wan to meet Luke, and he accepts. Obi-Wan gives Luke the toy and, in a moment that’s pure fan service, says, “hello there.”

Obi-Wan rides out into the desert, where he finally comes across an old friend: the Force ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn. He had begun to think that Qui-Gon would never come, but his master says that he’s always been there, but Obi-Wan was not yet ready to see.

Qui-Gon leads the way, and as he fades away, Obi-Wan continues his journey towards a new home.

Final Thoughts
Disney+

In a series of ups and downs, Obi-Wan Kenobi saved its best episode for last. Packed with emotion, action, and nostalgia, “Part 6” delivered a satisfying conclusion to this limited series.

It’s tough to produce a prequel movie or show when the audience knows the fates of certain characters, especially primary ones. However, where Obi-Wan Kenobi succeeds the most in showing that despite knowing the future, the drama is still there. Seeing Obi-Wan and Vader duel once more, with both learning to accept that Anakin is truly gone, was one of the most impactful moments in the show and all of Star Wars.

Ewan McGregor seamlessly slipped into the role and seeing him play this character once more was an absolute treat. Even though we didn’t get to see a ton of him in the flesh, Hayden Christensen was also incredible. When we do see him, you can tell—despite the criticisms of his performances in the past—how much this character means to him.

Moses Ingram and Vivien Lyra Blair were welcome additions to the cast too. While the writing for Ingram’s character was clunky at times, her performance rarely faltered. Lyra Blair’s Princess Leia stole the show in practically every scene she was in. She embodied what a young Leia should be: Fearless, clever, witty, and ready for anything.

Overall, Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t on the level of other Star Wars projects like The Mandalorian, but it provided a welcome dose of sentimentality. There are rumors of a potential second season in the works, and Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen have both spoken of their interest in reprising the roles again.

However, if this was the last time we saw them both on screen as Obi-Wan and Vader, it was a welcome send-off for both.

Categories
Popular Culture

‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ “Part 5” Recap and Review

If you have been looking for some more Darth Vader since Obi-Wan Kenobi started, you sure got plenty of the Sith Lord this week. In “Part 5,” the show explores the aftermath of Obi-Wan’s rescue of Leia from the Fortress Inquisitorius in “Part 4.”

Naturally, the Empire was not going to take such a thing lying down, and after Reva placed a tracker on Leia’s droid friend Lola, Vader was hot on Obi-Wan’s trail.

Spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi Part 5 follow.

The Good Ol’ Days and the Pretty Terrible Present Ones
Disney+

Did you want more Hayden Christensen? Because Disney heard your pleas. “Part 5” opens up with a flashback that will make any die-hard Star Wars fan happy.

Anakin and Obi-Wan are training at the Jedi Temple, and based on their looks, it is either during or just before Attack of the Clones: Obi-Wan has his fantastic flow, and Anakin has the Padawan braid.

They are practicing dueling, and in what is no doubt of sign of tragedy that is to come, they are relatively evenly matched. We flash back and forth from the past to the present as we see that this is Vader remembering what it used to be like with Obi-Wan.

Before the Empire, before his fall, and before all his pain and suffering.

Reva arrives on Vader’s ship, where she informs him of the latest news and that Obi-Wan has arrived on Jabiim. In recognition of her achievements, Vader gives her what she wants and names her Grand Inquisitor.

As Obi-Wan arrives on Jabiim, he comes across our old friend Haja who was forced to flee Daiyu after getting into his “fight” with Reva. He’s now wanted by the Empire, so he’s decided to join up with Roken and Tala’s Resistance cell.

Obi-Wan asks Roken to help get Leia back home to Alderaan, but he tells Obi-Wan that they need to get the people out of there as they’ve been waiting to leave for months. They used the resistance’s ships to help rescue Leia, but now they need to get back to business. Obi-Wan agrees to help them out in the meantime.

We return to Vader on his ship, where Reva informs him they are nearly at Jabiim. Reva intends to attack them immediately, but Vader wants to seal them in and crush Obi-Wan’s spirit.

Due to the tracking device planted on it, Leia’s companion LOLA is now evil LOLA, and it causes the blast doors on the facility to close prematurely, sealing in the resistance members and the civilians. Vader’s ship has arrived above, and Obi-Wan knows the attack will be coming soon.

In the past, Obi-Wan and Anakin continue their training duel, with Obi-Wan calling out his Padawan for being too aggressive: “A Jedi’s goal is to defend life, not take it.” Anakin responds that mercy won’t defeat an enemy and believes Obi-Wan will lose because of that compassion.

Obi-Wan speaks with all the civilians, telling them they must hold the Empire off so they can get away. They don’t have to beat them here today, but they, unfortunately, need to fight. As the resistance prepares, Reva and a battalion of stormtroopers arrive and begin to break through the blast door of the complex.

Roken tries to get the hanger roof open but is getting nowhere fast. Haja suggests that they go in the vents to figure out a better way, to which Leia volunteers. Roken is initially against it, but after Obi-Wan backs her up, he agrees to let Leia give it a shot.

Obi-Wan gets a message from Bail, who has grown increasingly worried over his status. He tells Obi-Wan that if he doesn’t hear from him soon, he will head back to Tatooine to help watch Luke.

Tala meets with Obi-Wan and reveals a bit more of her past, saying that the Empire told her that her mission was originally to round people up for not paying taxes. In actuality, they captured four different Force sensitive families and handed them to the Inquisitors. Fourteen people were killed, including six children, so now Tala helps fight the Empire.

They are both trying to outrun their past but know that the only way to heal is to fight to improve things.

The blast door to the complex is nearly broken through, but Obi-Wan moves to negotiate with Reva through the door.

Obi-Wan speaks with Reva through the door, where we learn more about who the Third Sister (and new Grand Inquisitor) is. Obi-Wan asks her how she knows who Vader is, and he figures out (as many of us had suspected) that she was a Youngling at the Jedi Temple during Order 66.

She grows increasingly frustrated, eventually telling him everything. She saw Anakin killing the Jedi at the Temple, she thought he was there to help, but he murdered the rest of her friends. She played dead, hiding amongst the bodies. Obi-Wan realizes that she isn’t serving Vader but is plotting against him, waiting for her chance to get her revenge.

Reva asks where he was during the attack on the Temple and why he didn’t help her. He initially offers to help her, but she refuses because they both have different ideas in mind for Vader’s end. She seeks his death, but Obi-Wan remains conflicted.

Ever overconfident, Reva believes she can take Vader alone and proceeds to cut through the door, and a firefight ensues, with the stormtroopers breaching the base.

Tala and her droid compatriot, Ned-B, along with Obi-Wan and some other Resistance fighters, hold the troopers off long enough for the civilians to reach the hanger where the shuttles are.

Unfortunately, Tala is shot, along with Ned-B, and she tells Obi-Wan to get out of there. He tries to reach her, but as her droid leans down to protect her and is lit up, she pulls out a thermal detonator and sacrifices herself, saying, “May the Force be with you,” as the doors close.

Darth Vader (that’s it, that’s the headline)
Disney+

Vader is informed that they have Obi-Wan and the resistance boxed in, and he tells the soldiers to stand down until he arrives. Obi-Wan knows that the only way to stop this is if he surrenders to Vader, luring him into a trap to kill him. He gives his weapons to Haja, telling him to look out for Leia. He tells Roken and Haja that there are more ways to fight than using weapons.

As the stormtroopers bring Obi-Wan out to Reva, she lets him know that Vader is coming for him. However, Obi-Wan pulls the old Uno reverse card on her and says, “You’re not bringing him to me; I’m bringing him to you.”

Obi-Wan makes one last attempt to get Reva to allow the civilians to flee, saying that if they work together, they can take down Vader. He’s so blinded by hatred of Obi-Wan then she can make her move and kill Vader.

In the past, Anakin and Obi-Wan continue their duel, with Anakin seemingly emerging the victor after disarming his Master. However, Obi-Wan teaches him a very valuable lesson: His need for victory blinds Anakin to what’s right in front of him.

Obi-Wan isn’t held by the stormtroopers long, disarming and killing them. Meanwhile, Leia is still working on opening the hangar doors and is attacked by LOLA until Leia figures out that the droid has a tracker on it. She removes it, and LOLA is once again her best friend, and she successfully manages to open the hangar doors. Leia reunites with Obi-Wan, and he gets onto one of the transports with her.

Marching through a sea of dead stormtroopers, Vader catches up to the ships and, in full-on Dark Side mode, rips one of the ships right out of the air and forces it to crash with the Force. He then tears the doors off the ship, seeing that it was on Autopilot and there’s no one on it. Then, another ship flies off, with Obi-Wan escaping his clutches again.

Vader remembers his and Obi-Wan’s training duel and how he thought he had defeated him then. Obi-Wan used the Force to take Anakin’s lightsaber from him, showing that he still had much to learn.

“You’re a great warrior Anakin, but your need to prove yourself is your undoing.”

As Vader looks to the sky, Reva sneaks up behind him and attempts to strike him down but is stopped by Vader using the Force. Knowing that Obi-Wan had used Reva against him, Vader admits that his former Master was wise in this instance.

Reva attempts to kill Vader, but he toys with her, not even pulling out his lightsaber to stop her. He moves and dodges her attacks, using the Force to prevent her lightsaber from spinning, and breaks it apart, tossing one half to her.

She is hardly a match for him, and despite disarming him at one point, he rips her lightsaber from her and the other as well. She flashes back to seeing Anakin stab her as a child, just as he stabs her again in the present.

He knew all along what she was planning to do and, as a final twist of the emotional lightsaber, calls her Youngling, saying she is of no further use to him.

Then it’s revealed that the Grand Inquisitor survived her attack and that he and Vader will leave her here to die, “in the gutter,” as he puts it. As she lays there, struggling to maintain consciousness, she discovers Obi-Wan’s communicator and sees the broken message from Bail, revealing that one of the children is on Tatooine.

Obi-Wan senses this, knowing something is wrong. We then cut back to Tatooine, and the episode closes with a shot of a sleeping Luke Skywalker.

Final Thoughts
Disney+

Probably the best entry thus far, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s “Part 5” stretched across the past and the present and did so brilliantly. Framing it around a training duel in the past that mirrors the present thematically, we get a better look at how Vader has yet to learn from his failures. Not to mention, it was great to see Hayden Christensen back as Anakin; the nostalgia was on POINT in this episode.

From a story perspective, we got answers to some of our questions. We see why Reva is doing what she’s doing with such ferocity, whether or not the Grand Inquisitor survived her attack and more. It also sets the stage well for the finale, with everything, as expected, converging back on Tatooine. Reva is aware of someone important to Obi-Wan’s presence, so there’s no better place to lay a trap for him and Vader.

Outside of the narrative, it’s unfortunate that the editing and direction of this show still remain sloppy at times. The sequence in this episode where the Rebels and stormtroopers are having a firefight 5-10 feet away from each other felt hastily edited and looked goofy.

Obi-Wan Kenobi has just one episode left, so it was smart to use this one to tie up a few loose story threads, especially with Reva’s backstory. Next week will likely see the two former friends have another climactic duel as we head towards the finish.

Categories
Movies/TV Popular Culture

The 26 Best Indie Movies on Netflix to Watch Right Now

HBO Max may be putting out all of Warner Bros’ blockbuster films throughout 2022, but now is a great time to kick back and watch some independent classics. The streaming wars may be in full effect, but Netflix is still the undisputed king at the moment and is chock-full of quality films that everyone should watch.

The phrase “independent film” may conjure up artsy images for some, but these films can range in any genre or budget range. Some of the best films of all time were distributed by independent studios, and some of the most acclaimed directors started their careers cutting their teeth with independent filmmaking, so mining the indie classics is definitely a must for any film buffs. Check out our rundown of the 26 best indie movies currently available to watch on Netflix.

1. ‘Phantom Thread’ (2017)

In Daniel Day-Lewis’ first film appearance since his iconic role as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln (2012), he takes on the role of Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Lewis is a couture dress designer who uses Vicky Krieps’ character, Alma Elson, as the main inspiration for his designs. As a whole, the film was extremely well-received, earning six nominations at the Academy Awards.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Notable Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Runtime: 2h 11m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80195447
2. ‘The Lost Daughter’ (2021)

Olivia Colman portrays Leda in The Lost Daughter, a psychological drama about a professor who comes face-to-face with her tumultuous past after encountering a mother-daughter pair while on vacation. While critically the film received fairly high marks, quite a few people were left a bit puzzled and unhappy with the ending, which could possibly be why it didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. Despite that, Colman was widely praised for her performance, earning herself an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Notable Actors: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal

Runtime: 2h 1m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/81478910
3. ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ (2018)

At her Staten Island elementary school, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal)—a kindergarten teacher—comes to the realization that one of her students, Jimmy (Parker Sevak), is a child genius after hearing him read a poem he wrote. Because of this, she decides to devote all of her time to nurturing his talent as she’s fairly unhappy with how her life is going otherwise.

Director: Sara Colangelo

Notable Actors: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Rosa Salazar

Runtime: 1h 36m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80240972
4. ‘Roma’ (2018)

It may be odd to consider the Netflix original an independent film. Still, before the streaming giant purchased the film’s distribution rights, it was conceived and shot as an independent feature. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Roma is based on his childhood experiences growing up in Mexico City and the intense bond his family develops with Cleo Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), one of the family’s live-in housekeepers.

An extremely emotional and raw look at the need for connection, loneliness, and indigenous rights, the film is beautifully shot, and it takes its time, making sure the audience connects with the lead characters to understand their pain. Touching and heartbreaking simultaneously, the 2019 best picture Oscar winner is a must-watch for anyone ready to feel some emotions separate from the despair associated with the pandemic.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Notable Actors: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Jorge Antonio Guerrero

Runtime: 2h 15m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80240715
5. ‘Private Life’ (2018)

This Netflix original dramedy hones in on Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) who are struggling to conceive a child, having tried basically every option to no avail. However, when their step-niece comes to stay with them in New York City, Sadie (Kayli Carter), she offers to donate her eggs, which gets things into motion very quickly for the couple.

Director: Tamara Jenkins

Notable Actors: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon

Runtime: 2h 7m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80168222
6. ‘Nightcrawler’ (2014)

Being a local news pundit may look like a flashy job, but Nightcrawler shines a light on the hidden darkness inherent in the broadcast news industry. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief termed “stringer,” the term for someone who collects footage of terrible occurrences on a freelance basis and sells it to local news outlets.

In order to constantly chase his next paycheck and fulfill his sick need for adrenaline, Bloom starts to manipulate situations and people to create even more juicy footage and produce a name for himself in the business.  Featuring a stellar supporting performance by Riz Ahmed, among other talented actors, Nightcrawler is a fast-paced romp that perfectly breaks down the horrors behind why local news is so addictive and manipulative.

Director: Dan Gilroy

Notable Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

Runtime: 1h 57m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/70295182
7. ‘The Grizzlies’ (2018)

Based on a true story, The Grizzlies tracks a group of prep school kids in a cold, small Canadian town who are introduced to the sport of lacrosse. After a string of suicides occurs in the area, a new teacher, Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer), decides to form a lacrosse team at the school in order to give students purpose and bond as a team.

Director: Miranda de Pencier

Notable Actors: Will Sasso, Ben Schnetzer, Tantoo Cardinal, Eric Schweig, Natar Ungalaaq, Booboo Stewart

Runtime: 1h 42m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/81019033#:~:text=2018%20%7C%20R%20%7C%201h%2046m%20%7C,Schnetzer%2C%20Emerald%20MacDonald%2C%20Booboo%20Stewart
8. ‘Paddleton’ (2019)

Paddleton finds two neighbors and best friends, Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano), in a bit of a conflict as Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer and wants to end his own life. Eventually, Andy comes around to the idea and agrees to help Michael, though on their journey to make this happen, they go on a number of smaller adventures.

Director: Alexandre Lehmann

Notable Actors: Mark Duplass, Ray Romano

Runtime: 1h 29m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80224060
9. ‘Hunt for the Wilder People’ (2016)

Before Thor: Ragnarok and JoJo Rabbit turned Taika Waititi into one of the hottest directors currently working, he put out an equally fantastic film called Hunt for the Wilder People.

Adapted from a novel, the film is an adventure-comedy of the highest degree. Wilder People sees youngster Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his quasi-foster parent Hec (Sam Neill) depart into the New Zealand wilderness to avoid their problems, and eventually the law, as a national manhunt starts for the child. Full of sharp dialogue, likable characters, and heart-touching moments, this is a must-watch for anyone needing a dose of positivity in their day.

Director: Taika Waititi

Notable Actors: Taika Waititi, Sam Neill, Julian Dennison

Runtime: 1h 41m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80096995
10. ‘Everything Must Go’ (2010)

Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who has just had his entire life upended after being fired from his job of almost 20 years due to his alcohol abuse. Upon returning home, he finds that his wife has abandoned him, his credit cards have been cut off, and his car is taken away. Left with basically nothing, Halsey decides to sell all of his belongings over the course of three days at a yard sale.

Director: Dan Rush

Notable Actors: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña

Runtime: 1h 37m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/70140909
11. ‘Sorry To Bother You’ (2018)

Sorry to Bother You takes place in an alternate reality of Oakland, California, with Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finding this new place after discovering a secret key. While in reality he’s having a tough time paying rent, his new reality is one where everyone values and celebrates him, leading him into a spell of success that he becomes absorbed in.

Director: Boots Riley

Notable Actors: LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thomspon, Steven Yeun, Danny Glover

Runtime: 1h 52m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80240589
12. ‘Tallulah’ (2016)

While Tallulah is technically labeled as a dramedy, it’s definitely more so a drama as it deals with some pretty heavy stuff. Elliot Page plays the eponymous Tallulah, a struggling, homeless teenager who ends up becoming the caretaker of Maddy, a random toddler whom she meets at a hotel. As the child’s mother is clearly unfit, Tallulah takes the child and heads out on a new journey.

Director: Sian Heder

Notable Actors: Elliot Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Uzo Aduba

Runtime: 1h 51m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80093198
13. ‘Wind River’ (2017)

A classic Taylor Sheridan western, Wind River brings an FBI Agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent (Jeremy Renner) together to solve a murder mystery on a reservation in Wyoming involving an 18-year-old girl. An important story to tell, Sheridan wanted to shine a light on the fact that many indigenous women suffer crimes of sexual assault and murder.

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Notable Actors: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Wilson, Gil Birmingham

Runtime: 1h 47m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80173524#:~:text=2017%20%7C%20R%20%7C%201h%2046m%20%7C,Watch%20all%20you%20want.
14. ‘Friends With Money’ (2006)

Friends With Money follows a friend group where almost all of the women have extreme amounts of wealth, except for Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), who works as a house cleaner in Los Angeles. Though her friends lead successful lives and marriages, not everything is as good as it seems on paper; the bulk of the film focuses on the group as they travel on through their various different struggles.

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Notable Actors: Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener

Runtime: 1h 28m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/70043945
15. ‘Hell or High Water’ (2016)

It’s no surprise that this western was written by Taylor Sheridan; Hell or High Water is about two brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) whose main goal is to save their family’s ranch as they’re out of money to keep it going. In an effort to save it, they rob multiple banks, all the while being tracked by Texas Rangers portrayed by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham.

Director: David Mackenzie

Notable Actors: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham

Runtime: 1h 42m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80108616
16. ‘Our Souls at Night’ (2017)

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford pair up for one last film in Our Souls at Night, which is about two neighborhood widows who get to know each other over their shared bond of loss. After deciding to sleep together each night (platonically), they realize that they have more in common than just loss—and that something more might actually be there.

Director: Ritesh Batra

Notable Actors: Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Bruce Dern, Judy Greer

Runtime: 2017

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80104068
17. ‘St. Vincent’ (2014)

Bill Murray portrays the eponymous character of this film, Vincent MacKenna, who lives a particularly interesting life, posing as a doctor to visit his wife with Alzheimer’s, befriending a Russian sex worker, and fostering a new friendship with his neighbor, Melissa McCarthy, and her son, Oliver. After a branch from his neighbor’s tree ruins his car, the two get to know each other a little better, with Vincent striking up a close bond with Oliver, who struggles in school.

Director: Theodore Melfi

Notable Actors: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Martell

Runtime: 1h 43m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/70295665
18. ‘Big Eyes’ (2014)

Based on the life of Margaret Keane and her husband, Walter, Amy Adams and Christopher Waltz portray the couple, respectively, in Big Eyes, a historical drama based on their life. The entire premise revolves around the fact that Walter has taken full credit for the paintings that she has made, which affects their relationship and shifts the overall dynamic of things.

Director: Tim Burton

Notable Actors: Amy Adams, Christopher Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston

Runtime: 1h 46m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/70095129
19. ‘Begin Again’ (2013)

This musical dramedy pairs up Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo who play Gretta and Dan, respectively, a singer-songwriter and down-on-his-luck record label executive. The two work together to produce an album that’s recorded throughout various parts of New York City. The director, John Carney, is well-known for Once, which follows a slightly similar story, though in different regards.

Director: John Carney

Notable Actors: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld

Runtime: 1h 44m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/70307852
20. ‘Edge of Seventeen’ (1998)

A true coming-of-age film, Edge of Seventeen stars Chris Stafford as Eric Hunter, a high school teenager who is trying to figure out his sexual identity in the mid-1980s. He and his best friend, Maggie (Tina Holmes), take on senior year together, though their friendship becomes more muddled as Maggie develops feelings for Eric at the same time as he’s getting involved in the local gay club scene and is trying to understand himself more.

Director: David Moreton

Notable Actors: Chris Stafford, Tina Holmes, Andersen Gabrych

Runtime: 1h 43m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/60001737
21. ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ (1986)

Spike Lee’s first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It is a hilarious film about the confinements relationships put on people. The notorious she, Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), is living her best life in Brooklyn, dating three very different men who all adore her. Rather than treat the sex-positive Nola as a slut, the film positions her as a free-thinker who is trying to enjoy herself and her time as much as possible. The film was adapted by Netflix and Lee into an equally entertaining, modernized TV series with the same name that lasted two seasons.

Director: Spike Lee

Notable Actors: Tracy Camilla Johns, Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee, Raye Dowell

Runtime: 1h 24m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/60034929
22. ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ (2017)

Though this film has remained relatively under the radar, The Meyerowitz Stories has earned itself respect from critics and has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, to boot. The movie revolves around a slew of siblings who have varied relationships with each other and with their father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman). As Danny (Adam Sandler) ends up moving in with Harold after separating from his wife, the entire movie tracks the changing relationships that occur as a result of that.

Director: Noah Baumbach

Notable Actors: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Grace Van Patten, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Dustin Hoffman

Runtime: 1h 52m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80174434
23. ‘The Land of Steady Habits’ (2018)

With quite a stacked cast of headliners, The Land of Steady Habits is a Netflix original film that centers around Anders Harris (Ben Mendelsohn), who is struggling to figure out who he is now that he’s alone and newly retired. We see him through a number of trials and tribulations with his drug-addicted son and rough family, though he has one glimmer of hope in Barbara (Connie Britton), a woman he met at a strip club.

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Notable Actors: Connie Britton, Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Thomas Mann

Runtime: 1h 38m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80164779
24. ‘Fast Color’ (2018)

A new foray into the Sci-fi genre, Fast Color takes on the future while melding with superhero and thriller genres as it tracks Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as the seizures that she experiences causes earthquakes to occur. On top of that more supernatural aspect of things, we get a look into her home life, as well, as Ruth reconnects with her mother and daughter. Apparently, there’s also a series being developed based on the film for Prime Video—so stay tuned.

Director: Julia Hart

Notable Actors: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney

Runtime: 1h 41m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80242008
25. ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ (2019)

Another Netflix original, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind follows 13-year-old William (Maxwell Simba) after he’s forced to leave a school that he genuinely loves because the cost is too high for his family to pay. Despite not being able to attend, he sneaks into the library and teaches himself how to build a windmill in order to save his entire village.

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Notable Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily Banda, Aïssa Maïga

Runtime: 1h 53m

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80200047
26. ‘What Did Jack Do” (2017)

David Lynch is likely best known for his TV series, Twin Peaks, and strange movies like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, but he is also a prolific creator of short films. What Did Jack Do, a 16-minute short, is hypnotic, witty, and strange to the core. If a tuxedo-clad Lynch smoking a cigarette and interrogating a monkey sounds interesting to you, do yourself a favor and go check this one out immediately.

Director: David Lynch

Notable Actors: David Lynch, Toototabon, Emily Stofle

Runtime: 16 minutes

Watch on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/81226955
Categories
Popular Culture

‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ “Part 4” Recap and Review

After last week’s thrilling episode that featured the terrifying return of Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s “Part 4” finds Obi-Wan on the run once again, fleeing from his encounter with his former friend.

The shortest episode so far, which, after accounting for the intro and credits, clocked in at just around a half hour, sees Obi-Wan recovering from his injuries on Mapuzo.

Spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi Part 4 follow.

Another Week, Another Bacta Tank
Disney+

This week’s episode opens with Obi-Wan floating in and out of consciousness as Tala tends to him. They’re onboard her ship heading to Jabiim; the planet alluded to last week that serves as a haven for their resistance network.

We see the full scope of his injuries, severe burns up and down his arm and shoulders; a trip through a burning pit tends to do that to folks. They make it to Jabiim, where, as is tradition, he’s placed into a Bacta tank to heal from his injuries.

The shots of Obi-Wan in the tank are spliced in with images of Vader doing the same thing, both trying to heal their physical and emotional scars. Vader’s quotes from last week, “the years have made you weak,” “You should have killed me when you had the chance,” and “I am what you made me,” are heard as well. Obi-Wan continues to struggle with the knowledge that not only is this Anakin, but this is what he is capable of.

Obi-Wan climbs his way out of the Bacta tank as Tala protests, insisting he needs more time to heal. She lets him know that they’re safe on Jabiim, but he needs to know where Leia is. Unfortunately, she is not with them, and it’s revealed that she was captured by Reva and is being held at the Fortress Inquisitorius.

Leia is interrogated by Reva, who demands to know where Obi-Wan and the resistance cell are hiding. She tells Leia that Obi-Wan was killed on Mapuzo and burned to death during the escape.

Obi-Wan and Tala connect with another member of the resistance cell, Roken (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who stresses that Obi-Wan needs to get off the planet now. With so much attention being placed on finding him, Obi-Wan’s presence on the planet puts everyone, especially those who are Force sensitive, in danger.

Roken tells Obi-Wan and Tala that his wife was Force Sensitive and that she was hunted down by the Inquisitors and killed. He helps Obi-Wan and Tala by showing them scans of the facility, and they begin the journey to the fortress. On the way, Obi-Wan tries to reconnect with the Force, but it’s still a struggle for him.

Let’s Take a Trip to the Fortress Inquisitorius
Disney+

While Reva continues her interrogation of Leia, Tala lands at the Fortress and makes her way through security. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan (using the old familiar breathing tool from The Phantom Menace) sneaks onto the fortress.

Reva attempts to pull the information from Leia, taking her droid Lola from her. Obi-Wan sneaks through the facility, hiding from some patrolling stormtroopers. He uses the Force to distract the two of them and they head in a different direction.

Leia nearly tells Reva where they are but she refuses. As Leia is placed into a torture rack, Obi-Wan senses something is amiss and he discovers that the area he is in is a tomb of sorts, featuring the bodies of not just Jedi but civilians as well.

Tala distracts Reva by lying to her and saying that the Jedi and rebels are hiding in Florum. The room where Leia is being held is pitch black when suddenly the light from Obi-Wan’s saber ignites and he kills the stormtroopers that were guarding her.

Obi-Wan and Leia are discovered by a sentry droid and attacked by a group of stormtroopers. Protecting her from them, Obi-Wan blocks their shots as Reva gives chase. A stray blaster shot makes a crack in the window of the fortress with Obi-Wan attempting to hold the water back. The stormtroopers try to get through the door but he manages to escape before they do.

Disney+

Obi-Wan, Tala, and Leia continue their escape in disguise (with Leia even hiding underneath a trenchcoat for good measure.) The stormtroopers surround them, but just as they are about to open fire, they are saved by a group of Rebel T-47s.

One of the fighters is taken down by Reva, who manages to destroy one with an explosive device. We cut to Darth Vader marching down a hallway (clearly not pleased with the fact Reva got away.)

He Force chokes her and threatens her by saying, “I will tolerate your weakness no longer.” She tells him that she placed a tracker on their ship, with their location being revealed to them soon.

She placed the tracker on Leia’s droid companion Lola, and the episode ends with Lola’s light firing up, indicating the tracker is now active.

Final Thoughts
Disney+

While certainly a step back from the third episode of the show, Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s fourth episode provided plenty of thrills to keep the action going. Obi-Wan’s infiltration and battles with the stormtroopers were a highlight, showing that, even after all these years, he can still fight when given a chance.

Vivien Lyra Blair continues to be a stand-out as young Leia, portraying the snarkiness of the Princess that we all loved in the original trilogy. While Ewan McGregor remains the highlight, the rest of the cast surrounding him does help elevate the show as well.

It’s unfortunate that after last week’s showcase of Darth Vader’s pure villainy, he had been relegated to a background character in this episode. There are two episodes remaining of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and time is running out as far as their eventual showdown is concerned.

Categories
Popular Culture

‘For All Mankind’ Season 3 Review: A Turbulent, Uneven Trip to Mars

AppleTV+’s series For All Mankind has generally flown under the radar in the pop culture consensus, which is unfortunate considering the first two seasons made for fantastic television.

An alternate history series, For All Mankind explores what might have happened if the USSR beat the United States to the moon and what if the ensuing Space Race never ended. How would humanity progress? How would technology evolve?

The Space Race here has allowed for the advancement of technology at an increased speed, with things like video conferencing becoming the norm even in the 1980s. In addition, the emphasis placed on science and technology successfully allowed humans to combat climate change effectively.

So far, For All Mankind has focused on the moon landings and the establishment of permanent bases by the USSR and USA. It’s a new front of the Cold War, and as so much focus is placed on space, historical events in our timeline, such as the Vietnam War, take a backseat in this alternate one.

Unfortunately, season three of For All Mankind, set to premiere on June 10th, fails to capture much of the magic that made the first two entries so great.

Per AppleTV+, “In season three, the Red Planet becomes the new frontier in the Space Race not only for the US and the Soviet Union but also an unexpected new entrant with a lot to prove and even more at stake. Our characters find themselves going head-to-head as their ambitions for Mars come into conflict and their loyalties are tested, creating a pressure cooker that builds to a climactic conclusion.”

As seen in the trailer, the “unexpected new entrant” is announced as a private space corporation named Helios. In our world, as companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin begin their attempts to reach space and not be beholden to government oversight, this storyline felt like a natural progression for the series.

Along with the United States and the Soviet Union, Helios and its astronauts aim to be the first ones to land on Mars. They want private citizens to make their mark on history just as much as governments.

It’s an intriguing idea for the series; however, the idea is not explored in any depth that makes sense. Outside of the exposition explaining who they are and why Helios is doing this, Helios astronauts become just another crew racing to Mars. The story also loses the believability of “ordinary citizens” heading to Mars when the crew is primarily ex-astronauts from NASA.

The privatization of space does offer some exciting plot points, though, with Helios’ founder and CEO, Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi,) portraying an Elon Musk type of figure. It’s not explicitly said, but there are moments where the importance of Helios landing first on Mars is as much about his ego as it is about exploration.

How Helios interacts with its international competitors also makes for some great moments. Does a private company need to have any loyalty to the United States when it comes to space? Or are they free to do what they’d like to as if it were any other business deal?

Without revealing too much, the questions that these sort of interactions raises often provide some of the season’s best drama.

AppleTV+

Visually, the show looks as good as ever. With it not actually being filmed in space, on the Moon, or Mars (duh,) the design and set departments had their work cut out for them, and they hit their marks.

Mars, in particular, looks fantastic. Its sweeping hills and mountains, opaque dust storms that incite panic, and plenty of red rocks are visually stunning.

The space scenes give you a sense of how alone and in the “wilderness” these astronauts genuinely are. They are headed to Mars for multiple-year missions, and you feel how daunting that prospect is as these ships swim through that endless black ocean.

AppleTV+

Joel Kinnaman, who plays Ed Baldwin, one of the main characters, is a highlight of the show’s acting when it comes to being a serious, gruff, and challenging individual. However, he falls short of coming across as believable when he attempts to do anything that showcases emotions like sadness or grief.

That being said, there is a scene towards the end of the season where he succeeded my expectations when dealing with past pain.
Sadly, Sonya Walger was mostly pushed to the background in the eight episodes provided to the press because her performance as Molly Cobb has always been top-notch. Cobb suffered from a heavy dose of radiation on the moon in season two when she was attempting to rescue a fellow astronaut.

She’s now blind but still serving as the Head of the Astronaut Office at NASA. Following the decision of who will command the mission to Mars, she’s rarely seen again.

Elsewhere, mainstays such as Jodi Balfour and Wrenn Schmidt, who play Ellen Wilson and Margo Madison, respectively, are as solid as always. Both are forced to deal with the inherent sexism in the organizations they are a part of, Ellen as a US Senator and Margo as the head of NASA.

Krys Marshall, who plays astronaut Danielle Poole, gets plenty to work with this season. Despite being one of the first astronauts to be stationed on the moon and a legend of NASA’s space program, she still faces racist attitudes, even amongst those she considers friends.

Even in this alternate history, racism, sexism, and homophobia still play a major part in society. How these characters respond to that bigotry provides some of the season’s best moments.

AppleTV+

It was a minor issue in an otherwise stellar season two, but Karen Baldwin’s (Shantel VanSanten) affair with Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) was a bizarre decision on the part of the writers.

Considering Danny was the son of Karen’s friend Tracy and Ed’s best friend Gordo, the plot point was almost universally panned. It was only a few scenes, so it likely wouldn’t have made much of a difference if they decided to move past it for this season.

This storyline plays a significant part this season, with one character’s behavior coming across as frustrating and, in many cases, incredibly creepy. The writers’ intent was likely to add a layer of character development to those involved. However, there isn’t any real payoff until near the end of the season. Even then, its integration into the season’s bigger narrative felt very clumsy.

AppleTV+

Only eight episodes were made available to the press prior to release, so it is entirely possible that For All Mankind finds its footing as the season wraps up. That being said, it has a lot of ground to make up before the finish.

Speaking as someone who adored the first two seasons, For All Mankind‘s third journey into space has proven that no series bats 1.000. Some questionable narrative choices and some acting that leaves much to be desired cause the show’s quality to stumble but not enough that it isn’t fixable.

Season three of “For All Mankind” premieres on AppleTV+ on June 10th, with new episodes dropping weekly.

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Popular Culture

‘The Boys’ Season 3 Review: Glorious and Violent Chaos Reigns Supreme

If there is one thing that any viewer can expect from the third season of The Boys, it is chaos.

Glorious and violent chaos.

And season three, premiering on June 3rd, is no different than what you’re probably already used to. The Boys has never been for the squeamish, and you’ll be seeing plenty of blood, gore, violence, and nudity this season that you’ve come to expect on this show.

Even with that, The Boys has always managed to balance that insanity with a ton of emotion. Billy Butcher’s relationship with his wife Becca took center stage most of the time in the early seasons, but after a year without her, the other characters get their time to shine now, and it pays off in a big way. Season three is the show’s darkest and most personal one yet, and it is also might just be its best.

Per Prime Video, “It’s been a year of calm. Homelander’s subdued. Butcher works for the government, supervised by Hughie of all people. But both men itch to turn this peace and quiet into blood and bone. So when The Boys learn of a mysterious Anti-Supe weapon, it sends them crashing into the Seven, starting a war, and chasing the legend of the first Superhero: Soldier Boy.”

Underneath all the blood, guts, and mayhem, The Boys has somehow maintained a sense of realism. These ordinary people are forced to live in a world dominated by superheroes who are self-absorbed celebrities rather than crime fighters (come to think of it, it’s hard to remember the last time we saw them actually stop a bad guy.) How would the world react if superheroes were real? It’s more than likely that it’d be closer to The Boys than The Avengers.

The flawless public facade of superheroes in this universe was shattered in the show’s first episode with Homelander shooting down a plane, and it has only gotten worse as the series has gone on. In this season, we find Homelander at his lowest: alone, betrayed, and disliked by many who used to love him. It’s here where he is also his most dangerous.

Billy Butcher and the Boys have successfully gone legit in their work for the government. While they aren’t killing Supes anymore (or at least try not to,) they do keep them in check. Butcher still sees this as a half measure, but if it means keeping Ryan (the son of his wife Becca) and the world at large safe, then he’ll play ball.

The conflict between Homelander and Butcher remains simmering beneath the surface, and Billy has been looking for a way to end his mortal enemy once and for all.

Prime Video

It’s funny to call a season of The Boys to be its darkest yet, considering all the gore involved, but it’s certainly true here. Homelander is not the only one struggling with their current situation, and you feel it in almost every scene. Butcher is fighting his demons; Mother’s Milk is still dealing with family issues; Frenchie and Kimiko’s relationship is constantly under pressure; Hughie and Annie’s bonds are tested throughout the season too.

One of this season’s biggest strengths is its ability not just to skim the surface of these problems but to dive deeper and get to the root of the issues. While seasons past have put Butcher in the spotlight, the other characters, yes even Homelander, are getting more of their backstories fleshed out now.

Many of these stories would be less effective if the acting behind them weren’t strong but thankfully, that’s not the case with The Boys. You can tell that Karl Urban and Antony Starr remain the show’s stars, and they’re more than deserving of that. Starr’s Homelander is legitimately one of the best villains that television has seen in quite some time, with Urban’s Butcher being the perfect counterbalance to him.

They are in a symbiotic, very much a “one cannot exist without the other” scenario that will only end with one or both of their deaths. Any scene they share is among the show’s very best, and that trend continues this season.

Jensen Ackles’s Soldier Boy is a welcome addition to an already stellar cast. To get an idea of his character, he’s basically the evil Captain America, a lot like how Homelander is the twisted version of Superman.

His confusion over the modern day also provides some of the season’s best humor. He plays the character brilliantly, being the perfect combination of old-world values and over-the-top machismo, two traits that are his biggest follies.

If you were ever looking to see the show finally crack the shell that is Black Noir, then you’re in luck. The silent, masked assassin of The Seven gets his time in the sun too. Nathan Mitchell shows off a masterclass in showing and not telling, giving depth to a character who had long been relegated to the background.

Does he have a dark past? Did he do some pretty awful stuff in the first two seasons? Yes, and yes. This season you’ll undoubtedly learn why he is who he is and does what he does.

Prime Video

Without a doubt, Tomer Capon’s Frenchie and Karen Fukuhara’s Kimiko continue to be the show’s heart and soul. Their relationship delivers the season’s most touching moments, and I’m not ashamed to say that I teared up watching these two act the hell out of some of their scenes.

They are both trying to escape their past and put it behind them, and they lean on one another to do so. It’s impactful, and you can’t help but hope that these two will one day get a chance to be happy.
Hughie and Starlight’s connection is real, and the audience should care about them too, but there’s a feeling that their path is set and that they’ll somehow be okay in the end. With Frenchie and Kimiko, that’s less certain and makes caring about them that much more real.

The same applies to Mother’s Milk’s story, as he tries to maintain a presence in his daughter’s life. He’s retired from hunting Supes, but the pull to get involved again is strong, and his ability to be a parent is affected.

He deserves justice for the crimes committed against his family, but at what cost? Laz Alonso has become an expert at this dynamic, attempting to be the rock that both his family and The Boys can rely on.

Prime Video

Where the show tends to stumble this season is its tackling of social issues. The Boys has never been afraid to look at real-world problems and what the discourse around them would look like in a universe such as this.

However, this season, it doesn’t seem to be handled as delicately as it could have been. It shares the same issue that Don’t Look Up did, in that it lacks the subtlety that would have made the commentary more impactful.

Vought and Vought News are clear stand-ins for Fox News and the right-wing media; Homelander and his fans are the Trump and MAGA faithful in this world, and so on. 

Parodying the absurdity of the modern-day culture wars isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the idea less effective when you’re beaten over the head with the message.

Prime Video

If you’re a fan of The Boys, the good news is that you’ll more than likely love season three. It is funny, dark, and as violent as ever but has more heart than the first two seasons. By the end, you find yourself rooting for characters like Black Noir and A-Train, who are given more depth than ever before. Surprisingly, you’ll even have some sympathy for Homelander as well (just a little bit, though.)

It’s a testament to the writing team and the performances of all those involved that you can care this much about a show that features an episode titled “Herogasm.” Yes, a Herogasm is exactly what you’re now picturing in your head.

They also have plenty of fun with the “Thanos/Ant-Man” memes that came out of the lead-up to Avengers: Endgame, so take that for what you will.

This show truly deserves as many seasons as it needs, and hopefully, Prime Video gives them the chance to tell its full story.

The Boys premieres its first three episodes on June 3rd, with new episodes dropping weekly.