So, I Watched The Rings of Power…

So much has been written about what a screaming wokefest this series is, that I held off on watching it. I hate what Disney has done with Marvel along these lines, giving us such delicacies as She Hulk. Also, the memories of the last season of Game of Thrones are still a scabbed over wound on my heart. I had to mentally brace myself for The Rings of Power; girding my loins for what was coming.

As a preface, I read The Silmarillion when it came out. Better said, I attempted to digest the book. While I got through it, I wasn’t really sold on the concept. It was not an easy read. I didn’t find the stories particularly inspiring or exciting. It was a lot like reading the background notes for someone’s brilliant D&D campaign.

What the writers did to The Rings of Power, was take the kernels of story that J. R. R. Tolkien provided, and attempted to weave a narrative around those plot points. We’ve seen it done before and done well. We have also experienced what it is like when it is done horribly. The Rings of Power falls somewhere in the murky middle in terms of storylines. But, much like the corruption of the One Ring, the writers became seduced with the thought that they have to wage war on all males.

Much like Disney and the MCU, this was all about women and box-checking for marginalized people. Galadriel, the main character of the series, has been retooled into some Middle Earth version of Xena Warrior Princess. It makes little sense and comes across for what it is, forced. Some roles were cast with actors of color, which is fine, but clearly a departure from Tolkien’s (and Peter Jackson’s) work. Fortunately the actors deliver with the roles that the writers and producers have thrust upon them. We have a key female Hobbit character, Nori, the queen regent of Númenor, and so-on. Then there is Bronwyn of the Southlands, a supposedly natural leader in a society where women are not leaders. Pandering against the perceived matriarchy pushes aside half of the potential watchers. Worse, the writers simply ignored Tolkien’s universe and superimposed their wokeness upon his work, out the thought that they are clearly smarter than the rest of us.

I want to either identify with the characters of a series, or at least like them. I have found no characters in The Rings of Power that I even remotely connect with.

I found the series entertaining enough to watch all of it, though by the end, I didn’t care. It was like being the end of a package of Oreos.  The last few ones are stale and a little moist, but you eat them regardless. 

This series reminded me of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films. It wandered from the original book so much, that the movies don’t really reflect the original source material.  Things were added to The Rings of Power that were unnecessary or worse, forced plot points. For example: The whole subplot of mithril serves only to allow the fans to see dwarves. We get a bit of Isildur’s background, but ultimately, that is unsatisfying (almost as much as his character). The entire mysterious hilt/key that unlocks the dam that causes the eruption of Mount Doom is so overthought, that is borders on ridiculous. Even the forging of the Elven Rings, we are supposed to believe that their greatest smith does not know how to combine metals without help of a person that simply wanders into his forge.

On the plus side, the visual effects are spectacular. Seeing Númenor, right out of legend, is great. The eruption of Mount Doom is stunning. Seeing the Elves and Dwarves at their peak is heartwarming. Visually, the show is almost worth watching for these elements. You can always just put it on mute and enjoy the eye candy.

In some respects, this series suffers with the problems that plagued the Star Wars prequels. We know how this is going to end. Much like Anakin, Sauron is going to lose a hand over this. We know the rings are going to be forged and how this is going to play out. Ultimately, this is about Sauron’s rise to power and he is the bad guy of Middle Earth…Darth Vader sans the Death Star. So did they make him interesting as a character? No. In fact, so far, he’s little more than a plot ploy. The only good news is he doesn’t whine and bitch like Anakin did. Is the series worth watching? That depends on your sensibilities. If you are looking for a strict (or even ballpark adherence to Tolkien’s work, you will be frustrated with this interpretation of it. If you believe that what makes a great female character is the fact that she is female – this is likely your fare. If you have never read The Silmarillion then you may just find this enjoyable. Who knows, it could happen?

My Inevitable and Agonizing Review of She-Hulk

Worst Attorney Ever…

I actually was looking forward to this series when it was announced. “Why not She-Hulk?”  Almost immediately however I found myself awash in horrible writing. When you write about a character, you need to make it someone that people can relate to. If you were to get the powers of the Hulk, what would you do?  Is what she is dealing with in life similar to me?  Can I relate to her?  Will this character grow and evolve, overcoming hurdles and obstacles to be someone I admire?  Is there something in that character’s makeup I will admire?

Not in She-Hulk. 

The Jennifer Walters character was positioned as a strong individual, at least in the writer’s feeble woke-minds. She was introduced as someone that needs constant affirmation from Nikki, her best friend.  When a male colleague offers constructive feedback to her, it is poised as mansplaining and quickly disregarded. She only wants to hear that she is a great. Her need for constant support certainly fits her generation, but it doesn’t make her a person that we admire or even care about. Jennifer later goes on to claim she has to suffer from man making cat calls at her and that she worries about being killed. Cat calls? What is this, the 1950’s? When her cousin tries to help her, she presumes she knows better and heads back to work. Talk about a character with an inflated sense of worth…

As a lawyer she is subpar at best. Her character is a hypocrite of the worst kind.  While it bemoans getting a promotion and being in charge of a practice because she is She-Hulk, she has no issues with taking the job. Rather than speak up and say, “Hey, I should be getting this job based on my skills, not my green skin,” she simply accepts the diversity and inclusiveness promotion. She is a perfect character for the woke mob in this regard. She gets arrested and jailed with an inhibitor and in multiple episodes, has to hire another attorney to help her. Remember – she is a lawyer! Of course, she hires an ethnically appropriate female to take her case because this is all about powerful women…right?  

In fact, her character gripes more than anything. Her itty-bitty little feelings are blown out of proportion and made central themes to the series.  Who knew that moaning and whining were superpowers?

She is befuddled and caught off guard with a trademark case involving her name. Two episodes of this series made her getting clothing as part of their central plots. They cast a flamboyant and arrogant clothing designer that was so cardboard he was a fire risk on the set.  The other secondary characters that are introduced are more cartoony (ala Bugs Bunny) than any super hero comic book.  When you look at another Marvel character, Deadpool, he surrounds himself with characters you hope return at some point in future films.  Jennifer’s ‘legal assistant’ spends her time focused on Jen’s clothing, her dating, and surfing the web. For a show that claimed it was a legal thriller that happened to involve super heroes, it really failed to foster a single tense courtroom scene that deal with the law. The Walters character looks out of her league in the courtroom and downright uncomfortable. If law schools are producing graduates on par with the Walter’s character, I weep for our future.

In the case of She Hulk, you honestly hope and pray you will not see the other so-called heroes and villains that are introduced.  Worse, they took a good character like the Abomination, and neutered him – for no reason whatsoever other than he is a powerful male. The She-Hulk production team clearly loathe the male sex, which his humorous since it is a big chunk of their target audience. The writers don’t understand the genre, nor do they seem to care about the fans. Then again, this show is not about appealing to the fans – it’s about thrusting an anti-male agenda in everyone’s face.    

If this was a good series, the stories would be connected by a larger story arc, a threat worthy of testing the lead character.  There are hints of this, with guys trying to steal Jennifer’s blood – but that goes nowhere. In fact, the only real story arc in this is, “Men and fans will all hate this series, and we desire to mock them in preemptive retribution.” They claimed that fans just didn’t like strong female superheroes.  I guess Captain Marvel, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, simply don’t count.  Oh, we like good female characters – but She Hulk isn’t good; it barely qualifies as marginal. When a series predicts, in its scripts, that it is going to be torn apart by the fan community and mocks them, in advance, it isn’t good writing.  It is preaching out of the woke playbook.   

How this steaming pile of Taco Bell-fueled excrement ever made it onto television in this form would make a great documentary. Yes, I did compare it to getting the shits from Taco Bell.  It’s a case study in abhorring and scorning your target fan base and scolding anyone that dares to say your effort sucks.  Future screen writers should be made to watch this show if only to know what not to do.

The core problem is that this is not a heroic character. Hell, she’s not even likable.  She Hulk is more interested in dating and using her immense powers for sexual activity than she is as being identifiable or nice.  While whining (a constant theme in the show) about her powers, she is using them to advance her career and profiting from them. There is no sense that she is overcoming anything as a character. If anything, she stumbles through every script and storyline fired off at viewers.  She doesn’t really grow, except on the viewer’s nerves.

There was a point in this series when I forced myself to watch the last two episodes, simply because I felt there had to be some sort of payoff – like Kenobi.  There wasn’t though. I’ve had infected ingrown toenails removed that were more fun than watch this debacle.   

Then there was the post credits twerk-dancing routine. What brain-dead-Disney+-executive-level-moron thought that this was a good idea? Whoever it was should be drawn and quartered. The bad CGI was hard enough to tolerate during scenes where it was inflicted on viewers, but to spend money on a twerking scene just seems foolhardy.  Here’s an idea, concentrate your time and resources on something that builds some tension or adds to the character or the story.  

What the hell is this?

It wasn’t all bad.  The other connections to the MCU were nice and made me happy that Marvel at least remembered there was a bigger universe.  In the case of She-Hulk, the cameos became little more props to attempt to shore up this Titanic-level disaster of a series.  While it was cool to see Daredevil, he didn’t really add anything to the story other than as Jennifer’s most recent boy-toy. In fact, if you strip away all of the guest stars from previous shows and films, She-Hulk becomes far worse. The fact that these cameos were so integral to the series is a pretty good indication of how weak the plotlines were. 

In the comics, She-Hulk breaks the fourth wall; so I expected that with this series and enjoyed most of those sequences.  They were rare moments I assure you.  My only really feel-good minute was in the last episode when they paid homage to the original Incredible Hulk TV series in the intro. For one brief moment, I had a glimmer of hope. The writers quickly squashed that though.  The final episode, which should have been titled, “Trainwreck,” took that concept and used it to drive a stake in the heart of whatever was redeeming in his series. This self-indulgent waste of gigabytes does not wrap up any storylines. It was written solely to lambast anyone who dared speak out against this show in the real world. In the end, she warns people that criticize her that she will come after them professionally (no worry there, she sucks as a lawyer) and personally. Like all leftists, if they don’t get their way, raw violence is what they fall back on.   

I knew this series was going to be as ugly as a hickey on a hemorrhoid when they began to float the lie online that anyone that didn’t like the series was misogynistic.  The authors touted that they wrote the show to infuriate fans and generate bad comments so they could mock them. Does this make any sense?  How does this make the franchise good or entertaining?  Marvel, in catering to these writers, is akin to giving drunk teenagers the keys to the family car. 

She Hulk does set the bar however…for what not to do with a franchise. For that, I guess, we should be thankful. We should send copies of this to Gitmo to make the terrorists watch it…it’s that horrible. They would easily demand waterboarding over this series.

Now, I need to relax, chill, and start watching Rings of Power…

Non-Spoiler Review of Reacher on Amazon Prime

This guy – not tiny Tom Cruise – is the Reacher we all deserve

The action-hero thriller genre of novels is as American as Westerns. We like heroes that are bigger than life, who can do things we can’t, who are put in bad situations and have to overcome them. We love stories of a character rising above overwhelming odds to be triumphant.

A friend got me to read some of the Jack Reacher novels and I was always struck with a consistent image of the character. He was big, physically intimidating. Reacher was a bit of a Sherlock Holmes in terms of his logic and thinking. Reacher never starts trouble, it seems to find him. He was a loner. The thought that he traveled with no baggage and bought his clothing in a thrift shop was always kind of neat. Reacher also never kills people that don’t need to be killed, and even then, only when he has to. Reacher has no bravado about him…he is a calm professional.

Somehow that never fit the Tom Cruise image. He’s a good actor, but he didn’t look like the Jack Reacher I had in my mind from the books.

The actor that plays him in the Amazon Prime series Reacher is Alan Ritchson. Make no mistake, this is how Jack Reacher looks, talks, walks, and acts. It is stunningly accurate to the novels, which is something as an author, I fully appreciate. This series has really captured the flair of the novels – with this first season focusing on one of the novels. I hope this is a format they intend to follow going forward.

Some of the scenes are perfectly written and executed. Reacher dealing with the four guys at his hotel room still makes me chuckle. Reacher with the dog…excellent. I won’t spoil them for you, but I am confident you will enjoy them as well.

My best litmus test for an action series or movie is simple, ‘Does my wife like it?’ If it’s too violent, too over-the-top, too confusing of a plot – she will not watch it with me.

We devoured this one together. Bingo!

Look, there’s violence in this series. There’s some nudity too, but that stuff doesn’t drive the storyline. The plot is complex, but digestible. The writing and the acting are outstanding and this series is one that you are going to want to watch. I highly recommend you take some time and watch Reacher.

American Crime Story – Impeachment  A Mid-Season Review

Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp

One of the things I love about this series on FX is that it covers events that I lived through, like their kickoff season on OJ Simpson.  It is amazing how much you forget the little details of such events and I strongly suspect that is part of the success of the series.  The other aspect that stands out is the casting that the series does…which is brilliant. 

This season is the impeachment of Bill Clinton, at least that is the overarching premise.  In reality, up through episode 5 (which is where we are at as of the time of this writing) the focus is not on the President as much as it is on Linda Tripp and to a lesser extent, Monica Lewinsky. 

You might think this is a weird angle to approach this from, but it is brilliant.  Sarah Paulson plays Tripp who is a weird character that I think the writers and actress have captured perfectly.  She’s not cut and dry like the media often portrays her.  At times, she seems to be a genuine friend of Monica Lewinsky.  At other times, she is a victim, and at other times, she is a conniving person attempting to profit from her activities.  It is because she is not a simple character that this focus works so well in the series. 

The Beanie Feldstein portrayal of Monica Lewinsky is far from gracious.  She comes across as a love-struck 16 year old that does not seem to have a grasp of the story she is being sucked into.  Perhaps that is true to life, but somehow you still feel sorry for her which is a credit to the actress playing her.  She is being manipulated by everyone with conflicting agendas, which is probably close to how things actually played out. This is a crime where you find yourself wondering who the victim is and the one name that seems to fill that slot is Monica Lewinsky.   

The portrayal of President Clinton is deep and dark. Paula Jones comes across as a naive fool, manipulated by those around her. The first few episodes exist to put the pieces on the game board.  By episode five you start to see how these are converging for what will be a brutal confrontation. 

The series has done well to step back from the partisan aspect of the politics and focus on the characters, which was exactly where it needed to play. 

I enjoy the series so far and encourage you to give it a shot, at least through the first three episodes. 

Review of the True Crime Series Manhunt Season 2 Deadly Games

Eric Rudolph from Manhunt Season 2

As a true crime author, I have a trust of law enforcement.  It’s not a blind trust, but one borne out of experience.  When I saw the film, Richard Jewell, that trust as far as the FBI was shaken.  

So when I saw season two of Manhunt – Deadly Games was about Eric Rudolph, the actual Olympic  Centennial Park bomber, I was intrigued. 

Apparently both works were filmed at around the same time, which is wild given that some of their sets and scenes are eerily similar.  The acting is different and many scenes play out quite a bit different in the TV series, but this is a complex story that goes far beyond Richard Jewell. 

Eric Rudolph set off a number of bombs, including the Centennial Park bombing, before he was driven to ground in the forests of North Carolina.  He survived off the land and with help of locals for a long time before law enforcement finally apprehended him. 

There’s some creative licensing that has been done with this season of the show, much like the Unabomber one.  Some aspects, such as the timelines of the key events have been fudged for the series, but that makes it a little more engaging. After the Richard Jewell film, there was an uproar about the portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, the reporter who broke the story of Jewell.  Her portrayal in this series is more compelling, but far less complimentary.

Rudolph is a completely unlikable character.  Unlike the first season, we don’t get much about his background to make him at all relatable.  In that aspect, it likely mirrors real life.  Ted Kaczynski, who could generate some sympathy as to how he became the Unabomber – Rudolph comes across as merely a sociopath with no moral compass. 

Still, the series of worth watching.  I liked the film version much more than this, but the series goes far beyond the events of the movie which really does manage to hold your attention and pull you in.  It is on Netflix and I recommend you give it a chance to grow on you.    

Review of Crimes Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (Netflix)

We are in a quasi-spoiler zone here.  Read on at your own risk.

I’m going to use the word ‘refreshing’ here in that this is not your typical true crime drama.  It is less about crime and more about the dangers of people on the internet who consider themselves sleuths.  As a true crime author, I know all about treading carefully.  I have outted suspects before in my books, and I do so by presenting hard facts – not conspiracy theories. I attempt to engage the individuals I am writing about, to let them express their side of the story. If nothing else, this series on Netflix makes you see the dangers of people at their computers, assigning blame based on their own half-assed investigating. 

The Cecil Hotel is creepy, and a lot of bad things have happened there over the years.  Every city has a Cecil or two lurking in the shadows.  In many respects, the hotel is a character in this drama as it unfolds – which is interesting.  Elisa Lam, a Canadian, disappeared while staying there.  The police could not find her at first, and a number of self-proclaimed investigators start tearing into the bizarre elevator video taken of Ms. Lam prior to her disappearing.  They find a creepy song-writer who stayed there once and begin to label him as a suspect.  There are claims that the hotel staff and the police are involved in a conspiracy to cover up the crime.  You are drawn in, wondering where this true crime drama is going to take you. 

If there was an award for best character in a true crime documentary, it would be her.

Then it hangs a hard left in Albuquerque (Bugs Bunny fans will get the reference) 

Without ruining this series, it masterfully draws you in, then gut punches you.  I enjoyed it because it was different, because it showed the dangers of people using their podcasts or digital forums irresponsibly.  

The truth about Elisa Lam is sad and tragic.  It is something that was not preventable, unfortunately.  The real crime was what happened after she disappeared, and the producers get you there abruptly, almost without warning.  It is a cautionary tale, and one well worth watching. It ends, not as you want it to, but with a cold dose of reality.    

New Mini-Series on the Colonial Parkway Murders on Oxygen – The Lovers’ Lane Murders

Where Keith Call’s car was found abandoned on the Colonial Parkway

We just learned of the release date for two-night series on Oxygen dealing with the Colonial Parkway Murders starting Thursday, February 11.

To be clear, my daughter and I have not been involved with this production at all, but we fully support any effort to get the story of the Colonial Parkway Murders out there and hopefully generate new tips or actionable leads for investigators.  We remain in contact with some of the family members and endorse anything that can help the survivors get some closure. 

Victoria and I wrote the definitive book on these crimes several years ago, A Special Kind of Evil.  We have had people criticize us for writing true crime books, claiming that it is all about making money.  In reality, given the two years we spent doing the research and conducting interviews – it was NEVER about the money.  You get emotionally attached to cases and the victim’s families. 

With cold cases, you are putting yourself out there, knowing full well that the killer is still on the loose.  There were many times when we have gone to libraries and spoken when we have scanned the crowd wondering if the killer is sitting right in front of us. That is one of the reasons we have taken photos at the larger gatherings. 

I have received death threats because of the books we write, so we take this seriously. It is chilling to think that the killer may have picked up your book to try and glean what law enforcement knows about the case.  With one book we wrote, a suspect that we outed actually showed up to one of our book signings.  I take a certain amount of pride knowing that I piss off serial killers or other murderers.  The risks are real. So, if you think this is about profit, you are wrong.  Our level of commitment to resolving cases like the Colonial Parkway Murders or the Freeway Phantom crimes is very real and honest.   

When you write about true crime cold cases, you immediately become a focal point for some people to contact you with their tips and leads. Individuals are sometimes more comfortable calling or contacting an author rather than law enforcement with their ideas as to who may be behind these crimes.  Messages come in via email or over the phone, at all hours of the day or night.  We pass on any and all tips to the authorities to take action on. Victoria and I don’t have any illusions that we will solve this case, that will be done by the authorities.   

The logging trail off of I-64 where the last two victims were killed and their bodies left until hunters found them weeks later.

Going over my notes, I see that our efforts in writing A Special Kind of Evil has thus far generated over 20 tips for authorities.  Who knows, maybe one of these will eventually bring about some resolution to these heinous crimes?  We have had people give us tips about former school teachers, police officers, family members, store owners…you name it.  Many have come in regarding one or two suspects in particular…which is no real surprise. 

So we will be watching for this series to be released in anticipation that it may finally bring these cases to closure…and we encourage you to do the same. 

Addendum: Because of a request we received after this posting – here are links to the book if you want to get up to speed prior to or after the TV show:

Review of the Netflix Documentary – Operation Odessa

Would you buy a used Soviet submarine from these three guys?

I stumbled across this true crime documentary on Netflix and started watching it on a lark. It is…well…unique.

I remember bits and pieces of the news reports about this. Right after the fall of the Soviet Union, a Columbian drug cartel tried to purchase a Soviet submarine to smuggle drugs. No, I’m not making this up. Like many news stories, it disappeared off the headlines and faded away. Well, this series covers what happened.

Part of this series came across to me as almost like a comedy. I mean seriously, purchasing a submarine to smuggle drugs? And the cast of characters are so ‘quirky’ that you cannot imagine them actually getting together to try and pull this stunt off. Remarkably, however, it is a true story.

This series has elements of the Russian mob, crooked (if not crazy) cartel members (I mean, one guy stole $10 million from the cartel and is still on the run), corrupt Soviet officers (“Would you like to purchase some nuclear material?”) and more. If I were writing this as a piece of fiction, no one would believe the individuals involved, let alone the thought that they might very well have pulled it off.

This is not your typical true crime fare – it isn’t about murders or serial killers. I couldn’t bring myself to shut it off, it is entertaining enough to hold onto you. It’s only a single documentary episode, so you don’t have to commit to a series.

It’s worth it for the helicopter landing in the city square to get directions alone.

I am giving it five out of five stars simply because it made me chuckle and wince at the same time. Enjoy!

Review of the Netflix Series – The Ripper

The Netflix series about the Yorkshire Ripper was, with one exception, a very well-done documentary on the 1970’s murders commited by Peter Sutcliffe. As a true crime author myself, I was familiar with the killings, but did not know them in detail. I thought that the producers did an admirable job of laying out the crimes and giving viewers some of the social context that was useful in understanding the culture and the region during the period. I always respect that approach, expecially with older murders such as these.

I found the police investigation to be flawed…there’s no way around that. They had spoke with Sutcliffe on multiple occassions and found him suspicious. Further, he looked exactly like the artist’s sketch of the Ripper. Still, it was sheer luck that they stumbled into and finally apprehended them.

The only thing I didn’t like was in one episode which focused on this being misrepresentations of women and an issue of a male patriarchy. One individual got a summery of the Ripper report from the FBI and lauded that the authorities had painted the Ripper victims as prostitutes. I’ve seen such summary reports, they often do not contain the hours of interviews done to compile them. Their experts contended that many of the victims were not prostitutes and that, in some way, made the investigation flawed. They offered no real evidence to support this however, which left me puzzled.

They went on to explain that this serial killer was a product of a patriarchy and that the Ripper was suppressing their rights as female. I have done a lot of research on serial killers, with actual experts, and this just came acrossed as an unsupported and political-driven arguement. It would have been great to have experts on serial killers in the documentary talking about Sutcliffe or the crimes – but for some reason, the producers decided not to, which struck me as weird. Then again, my perspective could be entirely wrong…I leave that up to you to decide.

Regardless, most of my issues were contained in one episode and doesn’t take away from the overall high-quality production that went into this series. I give it four out of five stars — well worth your time and consideration.

True Crime Series Review – HBO’s McMillion$

Dipped in awesome sauce!

Okay, this isn’t your typical true crime series – there is only one dead body.  This is about the greatest scam in modern times.  It covers the crimes tied to McDonalds’ Monopoly game and that for years, the game was 100% rigged.

You didn’t know?  I remember bits and pieces of this story, but I never knew the entire story.  A friend turned me onto this HBO series and my wife and I got hooked.  The FBI agent who started the ball rolling made it for me.  I wish everyone in the FBI was a gung ho as this guy.  The undercover sting videos were wonderful!

The series begins with a simple tip – that the McDonald’s games are all rigged by someone called “Uncle Jerry.”  It turns out to be much bigger than that.  The mob is involved, as well as multiple Jerry’s.  There’s a questionable death, shady characters, and some remarkably bizarre twists. The spider web of winners and middlemen in all of this is incredible.

You are left, until the last episode, not knowing just how the pieces got stolen and switched out – or who the informant was.  We were shocked on the last episode, which means the producers did it right.

Some of the winners try desperately to paint themselves as victims which I disliked.  All but one, in my opinion, knew exactly what they were doing as part of this criminal conspiracy.  They paid money to middlemen for the winning tickets.  They knew the game was rigged and were cheating not just McDonalds but everyone who played and thought they had a chance of winning.

We were riveted to each episode, so the pacing is good.  I think if you tune into this you will not be disappointed.  It is a top-notch true crime production.  You’re stuck in the house anyway, so use your social distancing time appropriately and watch this series.