I chose to watch Netflix’s Drifting Dragons practically on a whim. It had airships, and it would allow me to partially fulfill my desire to get more into anime, given how much it has influenced my social circles. I watched the whole thing in a single night, about four hours or so.
In terms of the ‘punk aspect, it is on the boundary between steam and diesel. The series is set in a fantasy world separate from our own, but the technology is familiar: you have the helium zeppelin and the small helicopter that it dispatches to fight dragons.
Given that it’s in the very title of the show, I feel I must comment on the dragons. These are not the dragons of European fairytales, nor are they the dragons of Chinese myth; these are more Lovecraftian monsters than anything else, with a sort of otherworldly horror to their design that made my skin crawl. They’re not just inhuman; they almost feel as if they were not designed by humans.
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HBO has brought back the hard-boiler defense lawyer Perry Mason in a drama series starring Matthew Rhys, of The Americans fame, in the title role.
I never saw the long-running CBS drama series starring Raymond Burr (1957-66), but I did read most of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels on which the characters and stories are based. Matthew Rhys’ Mason isn’t as smooth as the one from the novels, but this is a prequel. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, at the depth of the Great Depression, is tells the story of how Mason became a lawyer and took over the practice of his mentor, E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow).
Like the novels, which typically feature a (female) client falsely accused of murder, the HBO series stars Gayle Rankin as Emily Dodson, who is charged with kidnapping and murdering her baby son by a district attorney played brilliantly by Stephen Root (whom dieselpunk fans may recognize as Hawthorne Abendsen from Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle).
Juliet Rylance and Chris Chalk complete the cast as Mason’s loyal secretary, Della Street, and ally, detective Paul Drake.
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Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister has grown up in the country, raised by her single mother and away from her famous siblings Mycroft and Sherlock. After the disappearance of her free-thinking mother, she escapes Mycroft’s attempts to make her socially acceptable — and less of an embarrassment to him, a government official — to travel to London in search of the missing Holmes family matriarch.
On the way she gets embroiled, like Holmes family members tend to do, in the case of a missing aristocrat, has her brothers trying to find her, for various reasons, and is slowly stumbling across the plot her mother has gotten herself into.
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To the student of history, the premise of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (2015-19, our review here), based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel of the same name, isn’t easy to accept. The United States, in the real world an industrial titan and the “Arsenal of Democracy”, is defeated in World War II and replaced by two Axis puppet states. The show justifies its alternate history with a favorite dieselpunk trope: Nazi superscience. Specifically, the “Heisenberg device” atomic bomb, which is used to decapitate the American leadership in Washington DC in December 1945.
The “history” of Nazi-ruled America is more credible. Institutions like the FBI neatly fold into the New Order. Former soldiers, like John Smith (Rufus Sewell), join the SS. Jews and other undesirables, including the mentally and physically disabled, are exterminated with little resistance.
One political aspect of the show which was very much on-point came late in Season 3, when (spoilers ahead!) the recently crowned Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler, observes the celebrations of a Jahr Null, or Year Zero, in an alternate 1963.
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Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 movie Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swington, didn’t exactly leave the door open for a sequel. Instead, courtesy of TNT, and streaming on Netflix internationally, we get a reboot with Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton fame, and Jennifer Connelly, who recently starred in the movie adaptation of Alita: Battle Angel (our review here), in the lead roles.
The series, which consists of ten episodes — a Season 2 is underway — follows the basic premise of the long-running French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, on which it and Bong’s movie are based: The world has become a frozen wasteland as a result of catastrophic climate change. Humanity survives aboard the 1,001 cars of Snowpiercer, a huge train built by the eccentric billionaire known as Wilford. (See Big Trains in the Snow.)
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Mrs America is neither the takedown of a conservative activist feared by the right nor the glorification feared by the left.
The Hulu drama series fairly portrays both sides of the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA): the feminist movement, led by the likes of Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) and Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), and the anti-feminist reaction, led by Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett).
The series sticks close to the truth (Cornelia Channing has tracked the historical accuracy of all eight episodes for Slate), which is why this review will reveal a little more about the plot than we usually do. If you don’t want any spoilers, watch the series first (I recommend you do anyway!) and then come back.
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It’s 2045. War is the main industry and cryptocurrencies are invalid, leading to even more conflict and civil unrest.
Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 doesn’t start with a bang. It takes several episodes before the plot gains momentum and you’ve seen enough of the world, and the people in it, to really get into it. But it’s worth sticking with it.
Unlike such dystopias as Mad Max, the post-apocalyptic world of SAC_2045 is familiar to ours. It’s about real people. The series shows the impact of a large economical crisis and currency devaluation on average people.
The impact of the United States as a global power on other countries is another nice touch. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale, and this aspect of the anime is very well done.
What is less well done is the animation. I am not a fan of this style of cheap and basic-looking CGI at all, and I feel the anime deserves better.
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The Plot Against America is some of the most gripping television I’ve seen in a long time. Almost every one of the six episodes made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s a terrifying, and utterly believable, portrayal of how fascism might have come to America.
The HBO miniseries is a loose adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2004 alternate-history novel of the same name. I read it some ten years ago, so I don’t remember all the details, but I did notice some of the supporting characters have been given larger roles in the series and the ending is significantly changed. (Vulture has a recap of all the differences and Slate has more about why the creators of the miniseries changed the ending.)
The basic plot is the same, though: aviator hero and America Firster (the original) Charles Lindbergh runs in the 1940 presidential election on a promise to keep the United States out of World War II and wins. His victory gives license to antisemites, some of whom are in the cabinet. Lindbergh signs a treaty with Hitler and stays silent when American Jews are killed in pogroms.
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In our tradition of keeping reviews spoiler-free, you won’t find anything about the plot of Altered Carbon‘s Season 2 here. But to summarize: the Netflix series, based on the book of the same title by Richard K. Morgan, is set in a cyberpunk future where those of means can literally live forever. They store their consciousness on “stacks” and jump from one body — real or synthetic — to the next, indefinitely, never experiencing real death.
The story centers on, Takashi Kovacs, “the last envoy”, what that means, and his place in a society he doesn’t quite fit into.
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Reviews of Hunters, which is streaming on Amazon Prime, are all over the place. Some praise it as a “bold experiment” that is “visually ostentatious.” Others lament its “cartoonish tone and historical fabrications.”
Much of the criticism centers on the series making up stories about the Holocaust and showing Jews murdering war criminals in cold blood. The director of the USC Shoah Foundation, Stephen D. Smith, has gone so far as to ask Amazon not to renew the show for a second season.
In fairness, Hunters does grapple with the revenge-or-justice question. Famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal even makes an appearance (played by Judd Hirsch) to argue with Al Pacino’s character, Meyer Offerman, about the morality of killing (former) Nazis. The story arc of Offerman’s protégé, Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), is all about deciding when, if ever, it is right to kill.
As for the show’s “cartoonish tone”, what the critics miss is that Hunters is pulp. Which is why I’m categorizing this review as dieselpunk, despite the series taking place in the 1970s.
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