The legend of El Cucu finally gets a spot on mainstream TV — Based on a Stephen King novel and adapted for TV by best-selling crime novelist Richard Price — The Outsider is not a straightforward murder mystery like I initially imagined; it is a detective crime drama with a huge supernatural component.
The premise is not as simple as it seems: A kid has been murdered in a small town, and all of the forensic evidence points to the local little league coach Terry (Jason Bateman) as the killer. But coach Terry seems to be well-liked by all the town locals. However, plenty of evidence points to him being miles away from town at a conference when the murder happened.
Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) is a grief-stricken cop who has tragically lost his kid recently. Ralph is hell-bent on solving this crime and is convinced coach Terry is guilty.
The paradox of being in two places at the same time becomes, at first, the main obstacle our protagonist must solve. This is a dark but slow and steady show. It can be a bit frustrating if you are not into slow-moving plots. Nevertheless, there are some solid elements to The Outsider that merits watching it.
There are some weird but pretty cool camera shots and angles. We have different and exciting characters that feel real; they seem like regular people confronted all of a sudden with the supernatural, and we get to see how they attempt to rationalize things that they cannot explain rationally. The entire ensemble cast of supporting characters is excellent.
The character of Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) is the best thing about this show; she adds a particular dynamic and energy to the plot. Stephen King fans will immediately recognize this character from the novel Mr. Mercedes (2014). This show introduces her as this quirky, weird private investigator who has this extraordinary ability to see things from a unique perspective.
El Cuco (The Coco) is a shape-shifting supernatural entity, primarily known in Hispanic cultures, but there are versions of this entity in just about every culture worldwide. It is also known as El Cucuy, El Cucui, and Coca. However, the lore of El Cuco was mildly presented and loosely explored in the show. Nonetheless, they explained that this entity feeds on the suffering, grief, and sorrow people feel after a tragedy and how it copies the identity of people it has come into contact with by scratching them.
If there is a second season, I would love to see them tackle more of the folklore of El Cuco and expand on this entity and its connection to similar cases all over the world.
Every year, without exception, I look forward to Awards season — it is a special time for movie nerds like me. It is a solid, two-month stretch of movie watching and catching up with some of the best films of the year. But also, it is a time when I have the chance to watch some of the most incredible movie performances of the year.
2020 was unique from previous years in terms of movie releases and Award contenders — the global pandemic forced all Oscar hopefuls to be released simultaneously on both movie theaters and streaming services. I love this format, and frankly, I feel that this streaming option should become the norm from now on.
HBO, Netflix, Prime, and Hulu had some of the most compelling movies of 2020 in their streaming catalogs. But Netflix, I think, had the upper hand; The Trial of the Chicago 7, Mank, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were some of the most interesting and well-made movies of 2020.
On top of all that, Chadwick Boseman’s final on-screen performances on Da 5 Bloods and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were nothing short of astounding; (both movies were Netflix productions).
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based on the 1982 play of the same name by August Wilson and beautifully directed by George C. Wolfe. Most of the movie takes place over a day — during a recording session in 1920s Chicago and all of the issues and conflicts that come to the surface throughout the recording session.
Ma Rainey was known as the Mother of the Blues, and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey) delivers an incredible performance, capturing the essence and physicality of this real-life character. There are only a handful of photographs of Ma Rainey in existence; I think there is only a total of 7 pictures, from what I read somewhere. Viola Davis is simply brilliant here — her physical demeanor is central to the story. There is a specific kind of power in the way she walks and stands. She knows her worth and demands to be treated with respect while standing her ground no matter what.
Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman) is a trumpet player and the youngest member of Ma’s band. The conflict and the power struggles between Levee and Ma build up as the story moves along. Levee is looking to make his way in the world, but he refuses to play by the established rules. Boseman gives an exceptional final movie performance.
Top-notch performances by the rest of the cast. Most notably by the other three members of Ma’s band. Toledo (Glyn Turman), Cutler (Colman Domingo), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) all shared unique life experiences, and their personal stories brought a particular sensibility to their characters.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a movie that feels like a stage play with lots of moving parts. Excellent performances all around, where race, social status, and music take center stage.
Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Streaming on Netflix.
The partnership between Draco Rosa and Bob Ludwig continues with this double LP remastered edition of the highly successful 2004 album Mad Love. This is the second collaboration between Ludwig and Draco. Bob Ludwig also did the 2018 remastered version of Vagabundo.
Mad Love is an album that I continuously revisit multiple times a year. And truth be told, this is not merely an album that I like or enjoy; it is an album that I love — It defined an era of my personal life that I often look back with longing, nostalgia, and lots of fondness.
I bought Mad Love on CD back in 2004, the same week of its release at the now-defunct Borders Books & Music store in Baileys Crossroads, Virginia. It knocked my socks off almost immediately upon listening to it for the first time — it has been 16 years since that fateful evening in May of ’04 when browsing through the new release CD bins I happen to find Mad Love just sitting there waiting for me — I bought it, rushed home to play it, and fell in love with the entire album.
Even after all these years, this album still comes across as a passionate musical masterpiece. Draco was inspired by Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew (1970), an epic record that blended Rock and Jazz beautifully. Draco stated that he drove up and down the West Coast of the United States listening to Bitches Brew as he prepared to record Mad Love, and it is beyond noticeable the influence of Bitches Brew as you listen to Mad Love.
The critics gave it positive and glowing reviews when it came out. But it wasn’t the gringo crossover hit that it should’ve been. It was a massive hit in Latin America, and it was pretty successful in Europe as well. However, in the United States, it was categorized and considered as a Latin album, never mind that the album had only 3 songs in Spanish and 13 songs in English. Music media outlets boxed this album in as a non-English album; A complete travesty. Mad Love was the farthest thing from a conventional Latin album, especially when you look back to the kind of music coming out in those days in the Spanish language market. The music videos from Mad Love were excellent, but they got zero airplay on MTV or VHI. In those days, MTV and VHI were still playing music videos regularly and had not become what they are now. Music has changed a lot since then.
Maybe the record label (Sony) did not feel the need to promote this album as a mainstream release. I don’t know what really went down or how they viewed the marketability of this record. Still, the fact remains that this album was poorly promoted and poorly marketed when it was initially released back in 2004.
I’m assuming that everyone who would be reading this blog knows already that Draco Rosa wrote most of Ricky Martin hits like; Livin’ la Vida Loca, Maria, the cup of life, She Bangs, etc. So it is clear that Draco can write pop hits for himself if he wanted to but chooses not to pursue that route. Instead, he has focused on creating meaningful and profound music. There is a peculiar edginess to Dracos’ music that you can’t find anywhere else in Spanish language music. Whether that edge comes from deep personal emotions or willingness to be vulnerable, or perhaps Draco merely explores new avenues of musical expression. The fact remains that there are only a handful of Spanish language musicians out there who can match or come close to Draco Rosa.
The first concert I attended after my mother passed away was Draco’s concert at the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia, about 6 months after my mother’s death. It was for “Lo Sagrado y Lo Maldito tour.” I enjoyed the show, but I was still in bad shape emotionally and overwhelmed by grief to fully appreciate the show. It took a lot of strength for me put myself together and make the concert. It was also the last concert I attended in the DC area before moving to New York City for good.
As a rabid record collector and the analog head that I consider myself to be, I was beyond static about the possibility of having a vinyl version of Mad Love finally available. This is a gorgeous-looking LP; it is pink (Rosa), and the artwork is exquisite. I don’t mind buying a non-analog LP — especially if I’m a fan of the artist or band. There is a novelty aspect to this new resurgence of Vinyl. Mostly with regards to albums that were initially recorded digitally, released on CD, and then remastered and transferred to Vinyl. These types of re-releases are a collector’s dream.
I’m not going to go on a track-by-track breakdown of this album because it is one of those conceptual records that you just have to immerse yourself fully. And you have to allow the music’s quality to take you on a poetic, sensual, and at times turbulent musical journey, which is what listening to Mad Love is all about.
First of all, I’m a true O.G. fan of this series — I watched the first season the same week it initially dropped on YouTube Red way back in 2018. I think it took me a couple of nights to watch the whole thing; I would watch it late at night after getting home from work — I pretty much did the same thing when the second season moved over to Netflix.
Needless to say, I binged the fuck out of season 3 the same day it dropped on Netflix. I watched the whole thing in one sitting on New Years Day — it was an excellent way to start 2021.
Season 2 ended with this insanely well-choreographed High School fight scene between the rival Dojos of Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai. Which ended on a cliffhanger with Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) going over a stairwell down a few stories and landing on a railing, leaving him paralyzed and in a coma.
Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is on the run from the cops for kicking Miguel over the stairwell and leaving him in a coma. Robby is more of an outsider in this season; He feels betrayed by all the people he once trusted.
Season 3 is darker than the first two seasons, and all of our favorite characters are in a state of disarray, but the rivalry between the two Dojos is the one true constant throughout season 3. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel La Russo (Ralph Macchio) are still beefing with each other just like in the previous two seasons.
Here is where our three main characters and the rest of the Karate Kids find themselves:
DANIEL LA RUSSO:
Daniel is in a tough spot with his car dealership — His top competitor is making deals with Daniel’s Japanese business partner, threatening to shut Daniel off from his Japanese car importer. And in a desperate attempt to save his dealership, Daniel goes back to Japan to try to work things out with his car distributor, Doyona International. While in Japan, Daniel decides to visit Mr. Miyagi’s Tomi village in Okinawa. Tomi village has completely changed to how it looked in Karate Kid II, and now it resembles a typical American town center, full of name-brand American retail shops.
Here Daniel reunites with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). This Karate Kid II reunion perfectly nails the Karate Kid franchise’s essence, and it filled me with warm nostalgia for these characters. Chozen teaching Daniel new techniques and pressure points was one of the highlights of season 3. Chozen should return in season 4; maybe this time around, he can visit Daniel in the States.
Season 2 ended with Jon Kreese (Martin Kove) taking back control over Cobra Kai Dojo, casting out Johnny and leaving him in a bad spot. Also, Johnny received a notification on Facebook that Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) had accepted his friend request….more on her later.
Johnny is still trying hard to make amends with Robby, but Robby wants nothing to do with him. The relationship between Miguel and Johnny continues to be central to developing his character and the overall plotline, especially as Johnny attempts to help Miguel with his recovery— Johnny’s rehab techniques are ridiculous and outlandish. Still, you have to suspend disbelief and go along with it for the sake of the story. There are some bizarre scenes, like when Johnny sets fire to Miguel’s feet to see if he feels anything or when he dangles an old porn magazine from the 80s over Miguel’s head so he can reach out and grab it.
We also get more of Bobby (Ron Thomas) in this season. Bobby’s expanded role in season 3 is great; he provides a bridge to the original Karate Kid film and to Johnny Lawrence.
Johnny’s relationship with Miguel’s mom Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), continues to grow this season. Carmen begins to sees that Johnny is a good man underneath it all. However, Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) returning to the Valley and to Johnny’s life throws him for a loop. He seems conflicted between Ali and Carmen — I think this whole love interest conflict stuff is critical for the growth and development of the Johnny Lawrence character and his road to redemption.
I’m happy to see Carmen given more screen time this season — I still believe that she might be connected to Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) or Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) from The Karate Kid III movie. She did say that Miguel’s father was “a very bad man.” And those two are both very bad dudes indeed.
Now back in charge of Cobra Kai Dojo, Kreese reverts to his original philosophies of the Karate Kid Movies with “Strike Hard, Strike First, No Mercy,”…. and the whole idea of the “Enemy” is out there type of stuff.
However, Kreese gets his moment in the sun here — he gets to be humanized a bit with flashbacks to his younger days. We get to see John Kreese’s origin story and his time in the Vietnam War. We learned that his mother was an alcoholic and committed suicide. We get to see where Kreese got his initial Karate training and philosophies and how those philosophies are rooted in his military experience. We get hints of a young Terry Silver as one of the members of his military team. The whole Vietnam flashback stuff is full of easter eggs and teasers for season 4… I think.
Also, Kreese is planting seeds of deception with Robby, turning him against both Daniel and Johnny. This plot twist is setting us up for something big on season 4.
The return of Ali Mills is beyond crucial here…She brings both Johnny and Daniel together beautifully. She tells them hard truths, like telling them that they are both very much alike and that they have a hard time admitting it. It was pure magic watching Ali return to the Karate Kid extended universe.
MIYAGI-DO VS COBRA KAI:
The power of mentorship continues to be the central theme here. We see how the passing of wisdom and knowledge can have both negative and positive influences on all these young karate pupils’ lives.
Samantha (Mary Mouser) continues to grow and develop as a character. In season 3, she is dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions and personal conflicts. This Samantha character is a compelling one, and I feel like the Miyagi-Do legacy rests on her shoulders.
Eli/Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) has some dark scenes but seems conflicted throughout this whole season. His rivalry with his former best friend Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) is still going strong.
Tory (Peyton List) gets a lot more screen time, and we get a small but better glimpse of her background. I initially thought that she was connected in some way to Terry Silver or maybe even Mike Barnes (the villains from Karate Kid III). We got to hear Tory’s mom speak off-screen, but we never got a chance to actually see her or find out her name. There is a good chance that Tory might be related to Julie Pierce (Hillary Swank) from The Next Karate Kid movie or Jessica Kennedy (Robyn Lively) from Karate Kid III. And now that we know a little more about Tory and her home life, I get the sense that she is in some way related to a character from Karate Kid III…. In any case, Tory is slowly becoming the primary and lone villain of the series.
Of course, there are some insane, hard-to-believe things going on in the plot, like the idea that in 2020-2021, we have rival karate Dojos running around fighting each other with no government or authority figures present….it is straight-up escapism at its best.
As I said earlier, Season 3 is a bit darker than the previous seasons. Most of the comedic parts are centered around Miguel’s rehab and Ali’s return.
All the characters continue to be massively compelling and appealing. Especially Johnny’s sentimentality and references to the 80s…. the 80s and 90s are near and dear to my heart, so I can directly relate to Johnny.
Cobra Kai is slowly becoming the Daniel LaRusso slash Johnny Lawrence buddy dramedy show. The chemistry between these two is terrific. I cannot get enough of them every time they share some screen time.
I get the sense that in season 4, they will take this whole concept of mentors and students to a higher level, especially with the potential return of Terry Silver and Mike Barnes.
This entire three seasons of Cobra Kai has provided a brilliant blueprint for how a successful revival of a series or franchise should be put together.
The Mandalorian First season was excellent, but the second season is unbelievably fucking good. Here is the thing, if you are a hardcore Star Wars fanboy like myself, you are going to love season 2. if you disliked the sequel trilogy or barely stomached them as much as I did, then you are in for a special treat.
In this season, we continue to explore other parts of the galaxy. Also, the western sci-fi elements are still there, as well as some Eastern philosophical vibes. The show’s episodic nature makes it a lot more exciting to watch; I was impatiently waiting each week for a new episode to drop. And after the whole season was done, I binge through the entire thing in one sitting, well, almost in one sitting; I had to go to work at some point.
Season 1 brought forward everything we love about Star Wars, especially the original trilogy’s tone, but there really wasn’t any direct connection to the Skywalker saga. However, In this season, the Easter eggs begin to drop early on. The nostalgic nods are sprinkled brilliantly throughout each episode, and things are put in place for established characters to show up at some point.
The structure for every episode is nicely executed, and the side quests on every episode worked well for me. We get to explore new systems, new characters, new villains, and new heroes in each new episode.
Episode 1 — THE MARSHALL (Episode 9, In chronological order from season 1): Written and Directed By Jon Favreau.
Din Djarin AKA Mando (Pedro Pascal) has been tasked with reuniting “The Child” with the Jedi — he seems skeptical and somewhat reluctant at first, but as we all know; This is the way.
Mando goes to a Tattoine mining town searching for a fellow Mandalorian to assist in his quest to reunite Baby Yoda with the Jedi. The mining town is called Mos Pelgo and is run by the local Marshal Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant), who shows up wearing Bobba Feet’s armor. Cobb explains he bought the armor from some Jawas. Mando wants Cobb to give up the armor since it doesn’t belong to him. Cobb makes a deal with Mando to surrender the armor if Mando teams up with him and with some Tusken Raiders to destroy an underground Krayt Dragon.
Some of my favorite and most memorable highlights from this episode are Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo) playing this underworld crime figure type and the scene-stealing Pell Motto (Amy Sedaris). But Temuera Morrison showing up in the last scene was fucking amazing. Is he supposed to be Bobba Fett? Has he been living in the outskirts of Tattoine all these years? or is this mysterious character a member of the original clone army who has survived all this time living in hiding in Tattoine? Whatever the case might be, this was an extraordinary scene.
Episode 2 — THE PASSENGER: Directed By Peyton Reed — Written By Jon Favreau.
Mando’s mission in this episode is to transport a passenger to another planet safely. This passenger is referred to as “frog lady” who carries a jar of eggs to be fertilized and save her species from extinction. The main plot conflict here is that Mando’s ship cannot use the hyperdrive because it would jeopardize the eggs. She is putting them in a tough spot and making them vulnerable to pirates and space criminals.
There are a bunch of cool space chase scenes all over this episode. We get to see the Razor Crest battle and outmaneuver new Republic X-wing patrols. The idea of including the X-wing patrols in this episode was a rad decision. Probably the weirdest and most awkward episode of the season, but lots of fun and lots of cool visuals.
Episode 3 — THE HEIRESS: Directed By Bryce Dallas Howard — Written By Jon Favreau.
This episode has a lot to digest; Mando ends up in a compromised position and needs urgent assistance — when three Mandalorians show up to rescue Mando. They immediately removed their helmets, revealing their faces, which we know is believed to be forbidden by the Mandalore way.
The rescuers’ leader is Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who is on a quest to capture the DarkSaber, which is currently in possession of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). Important to note that Katee Sackhoff initially voiced the character in the animated series.
We learned that Mando belongs to a fundamentalist faction of Mandalorians who follow an ancient creed called “The Way.” On the other hand, Bo-Katan belongs to a different faction of Mandalorians called “The Watch.” We hear about a past war between followers of The Way and members of The Watch due to their conflicting ideologies. The Way stood against more progressive changes to their ancient creed, and thus division and infighting began.
There are so many well-executed action sequences all over this episode. The battle scenes in tight corridors within the imperial ship are excellent, pure Star wars fan service. The Razor Crest is left in bad shape by the end of the episode and literally falling apart
Episode 4 — THE SIEGE: Directed By Carl Weathers — Written by Jon Favreu.
The first thing I have to say is that Carl Weathers should direct more episodes. I was very impressed with how he put this episode together and the choices he made.
This episode’s side quest is for Mando and friends to break into an old and almost abandoned imperial base operating in Nevarro. The thing is that this imperial base is not entirely abandoned and is full of Stormtroopers. There are also Speeders and Tie fighters, which are direct throwbacks to the original Star Wars trilogy.
Mando returns to the planet Nevarro from season one to perform emergency repairs on his ship. We get to see Cara dune (Gina Carano) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) return to the story. Also, we have the return of Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) from the first episode of season one.
Episode 5 — THE JEDI: Written and Directed By Dave Filoni.
Man, this episode kicks some major asses. Mando arrives at a forest system called Corvus, where he is supposed to find a Jedi. He finds Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who I guess has been living in hiding for all these years. In the way this episode is presented, I get the sense that Ahsoka has been living like a Ronin warrior.
We learned Baby Yoda’s name (Grogu), and we have a small cameo by Michael Biehn, but most importantly, the foundation for the Ahsoka Tano spinoff series is set in motion.
Episode 6 — THE TRAGEDY: Directed By Robert Rodriguez —Written By Jon Favreau.
I loved this episode — where things move at a fast pace, and we get to see Robert Rodriguez execute some of his trademark action sequences; Rodriguez fits Star Wars like a glove and should be involved in future Star Wars projects for sure.
The monster size revelation here is that Bobba Fett (Temuera Morrison) is alive and back in the middle of things. They decided to make Bobba Fett’s armor look small and tight-fitting, which I do not have any issues with; let us remember that Bobba is older, and it makes sense that he has somewhat outgrown his armor. I wasn’t a big fan of Bobba Fett growing up, but this series got me overly excited about the idea of Bobba Fett being back in the Star Wars Universe. He still remains fresh and exciting, as we have so much more to explore about this character.
Baby Yoda goes to an ancient Jedi temple and sits on a rock that serves as a medium to connect with other Force-sensitive beings throughout the galaxy. We get to see Dark Troopers introduced, and they are AWESOME.
The only small beef I had with this episode was trying to understand a continuity issue regarding Mando’s jet pack. Maybe I need to watch this episode again and see if it makes sense.
Episode 7 — THE BELIEVER: Written and Directed by Rick Famuyiwa.
This episode is pretty intense; Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr) is back and teaming up with Mando this time to access a base that holds information on Moff Gideon’s coordinates. Bill Burr shines bright here. Mando taking off his helmet for a good chunk of this episode is pretty compelling stuff.
Episode 8 — THE RESCUE: Directed by Peyton Reed — Written By Jon Favreau.
This is where everything comes together beautifully. Some of the most exciting and suspenseful moments in all Star Wars history happens in this episode.
The Mando fight scene with the Dark Trooper is terrific. Moff Gideon is creepy as fuck, especially when he delivers this epic line; “Assume I know Everything.” Gideon and Mando dueling it out was also a pretty fantastic scene. We learned that the DarkSaber could only be taken by winning it in combat.
Then we have the build-up to the most astonishing surprise in recent Star Wars history. We see a lone X-Wing showing up, then a cloaked figure emerges from the X-wing, lights up a green lightsaber, and awesomeness ensues.
By now, the whole world knows that Luke Skywalker was the mysterious figure arriving on the X-Wing. Luke’s battle scenes were out of this world, similar to Vader’s Rogue battle scene. Also, R2D2 showing up was glorious, and of course, the emotional scene between Mando and Baby Yoda was very touching. All in all, this was a special episode and a gift for hardcore Star Wars fans such as myself.
I was not too impressed with Luke’s de-aging. This is the same company behind Nick Fury’s de-aging in Captain Marvel and Michelle Pfeiffer in Ant-Man. So I assume that those productions had bigger budgets, and higher emphasis was placed on CGI effects. Hopefully, as we advance, we get to see an improvement in Luke’s de-aging special effects.
MANDALORIAN SEASON 2 FINAL THOUGHTS:
I have to say that this season opens up the door to fix what Rian Johnson and Disney did to Luke in a big way. The timeline of his arrival in the show makes sense since Luke is supposed to be starting a Jedi Academy, and Grogu could become the star pupil.
The Book of Bobba Fett is coming out in December 2021, and I’m beyond excited to know that Robert Rodriguez will be behind this project.
When it comes to Star Wars, There is no such thing as too much fan service. Mandalorian has delivered two unforgettable seasons. This is precisely what we hardcore fans have been hoping for all along, unlike the sequel trilogies that lacked a singular vision. The Mandalorian under Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni seem to be organically following a singular vision in terms of knowing exactly where the show is heading and what the endgame will be.
I am looking forward to more Star Wars content from Disney+.