*TV SERIES RECAP: HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2)

In the final months of a dreadful 2020, I got the chance to finish up the year watching the second season of one of the most enjoyable book adaptations in recent memory.

His Dark Materials is based on a series of books by Phillip Pullman, who also serves as showrunner for the series. Season 1 was mostly based on book 1 of the trilogy, The Golden Compass.

This second season is based on book 2, The Subtle Knife, and season 3 will be based on book 3, The Amber Spyglass.

In season 2, we continue to follow the adventures of Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her Daemon Patalaimon (voiced by Kitt Connor) as they explored the alternate world that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened up after killing Roger (Lewin Lloyd) at the end of season 1.

Season 1 was excellent — there was a lot of exposition, lots of world-building, and many moving parts coming at you pretty fast. But it all worked well, and things came together nicely by the end of the season.

We catch up with Will (Amir Wilson), who is also exploring this new alternate world. Will and Lyra’s eventual encounter will put our two heroes on the path to fulfill the Witches Prophecy. They both need to rely each other, as they find themselves on a journey full of obstacles,

The Magisterium senses a dire threat to their control and power and dares to cross into this parallel reality to stop Lord Asriel and Lyra. The idea of witches and non-believers challenging the dogmatic and authoritarian ways of the Magisterium is dangerous for their hold on things and the power of The Authority. Here, at the intersection of politics, philosophy, witches, religion, and multiple worlds is where the series becomes more exciting and compelling.

Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is brilliant yet again — she is pure magic whenever she is onscreen, and she is way more manipulative and deceptive in this second season. Mrs. Coulter is by far one of the most outstanding villains on TV.

In a sense, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) becomes a more sympathetic and less villainous character in this season. The onscreen chemistry between Lord Boreal and Mrs. Coulter is exceptional.

Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) is terrific again. I enjoyed how they have continued to develop this character from the first season. I was glad to see Lee’s Daemon, Hester (voice by Cristela Alonzo), getting a bit more involved in the plot than in the first season.

Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), a physicist who studies dark matter, is crucial to the plot. Dr. Malone allows the audience to understand better what dust might be, and we get to go on this journey of discovery along with her.

But the young characters are the heart and soul of the story here. The loss of Roger haunts Lyra, and Will is obsessed with finding his father. The bond between Lyra and Will is a critical factor as both characters move forward.

According to the prophecy, Lyra is supposed to be the girl “destined to bring about the end of destiny.” This is why everybody is supposed to protect Lyra — Will, Lee, and the Witches are supposed to protect Lyra at all costs.

The set up to the eventual war between the multiple worlds is set in motion in this season’s final episode. We see Lord Asriel appealing to the Angels as he tries to raise enough support to wage war against The Authority. The post-credit scene with Roger in this season’s final episode is shocking and sets up season 3.

I really cannot recommend binging this series enough.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2). Streaming on HBO MAX

*MOVIE RECAP: GODZILLA VS KONG

As much as the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” might be valid for appraising works of literature, it’s downright true with this movie. The movie title says it all; it is all about two giant monsters punching and kicking each other into oblivion.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth and latest installment in the cinematic MonsterVerse series. The first movie in this monster series was Godzilla (2014), which was a pretty good movie directed by the exceptional Gareth Edwards.

The second entry into this shared universe was Kong: Skull Island (2017), a highly entertaining, fun, and at times, pretty compelling movie. I had a good time watching this 2017 version of King Kong.

The third movie was Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). This movie had a lot of stuff to unpack. It wasn’t bad at all; I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The whole concept of the Titans as the original and rightful rulers of the planet was awesome. The plot twist about Monster Zero as an invasive species, an alien creature not meant to be on Earth, was brilliant.

Sadly, Godzilla vs. Kong is not as memorable as the previous three Monsterverse movies. The storyline or plot (if you can call it a plot) centers around Getting Kong to his original homeland, which is supposed to be somewhere deep within the Hollow Earth. We learned that there is supposed to be some type of ancient historic rivalry between Godzilla’s ancestors and Kong’s ancestors.

We have the Apex corporation, a shady biotech company keeping Kong in a containment dome type of structure that resembles Skull Island. This sinister biotech company is using the skeleton remains of Ghidorah from Godzilla: King of the Monsters to engineer a monster of their own to challenge and kill Godzilla.

The human character component is pretty weak here. Despite the impressive casting, the characters are all poorly developed. Except for Jia (Kaylee Hottle), she is the last remaining member of the now-extinct Iwi people from skull island. She is deaf and communicates with Kong through sign language; her relationship with King Kong was the most interesting part of this movie.

The Hollow Earth concept is a fascinating idea. Watching how this myth is given such a prominent role in the storyline was interesting; however, this movie’s overall approach towards the Hollow Earth theory was beyond silly.

The only redemptive feature in this movie was the monster fight scenes; they were my favorite thing from the whole movie. Those scenes alone are worth watching this movie.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the less impressive movie out of all four MonsterVerse films. Nevertheless, this movie is a wild big-screen spectacle. The CGI, Sound effects, and all of the special effects are fantastic; the whole thing is meant to be enjoyed better on the big screen and IMAX. You have to suspend disbelief for however long this movie runs and let it take you along for a ridiculous action-packed ride.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: WONDER WOMAN 84

Wonder Woman 84 (WW84) has an exciting and very engaging start, and then at about the 45-minute mark, it collapses completely.

This sequel is way more cartoonish than the original 2017 movie, which was a fantastic movie, and I felt like it was a bit more grounded in realism than this movie. My only issue with the original film was Diana and Ares’s final battle scene — Everything else about it was terrific.

It has been roughly 60 years since the events of Wonder Woman 1 — we see Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) still heartbroken over the loss of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); she lives a quiet life, maintaining a low profile, she dines alone. She seems envious of the couples she sees dining out. Diana works at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and lives in what appears to be the infamous Watergate building.

There is tons of cheesiness throughout this movie — some work, and some do not. The main villain here is a wishing stone; An ancient mystical stone that grants wishes but takes something away from you in return. An evil god of deception created this wishing stone — You wish for something, and it cost you something.

Diana uses this wishing stone to resurrect her old boyfriend Steve from the dead. However, Steve returns in the body of another person. This was pretty weird and problematic for many reasons, but I felt like they could have easily brought Steve back just as he was without the whole body snatcher thing.

Steve Trevor not being a more significant part of the plot here like he was in the original Wonder Woman was a bummer. Also, the White house fight scene was bizarre and ridiculous. The plot’s globetrotting parts are flimsy, and I was not too fond of all the Middle East scenes.

Nevertheless, there are some cool things I enjoyed. The 1980’s mall scene was fun and cool, although not as cool as the 1980s Stranger Things season 3 mall scenes, but close enough. The feel and vibe of Washington DC in the 1980s were very close to how the city felt and looked in those days. The overabundance and greed of the Reagan 80s were well depicted, but it was missing a bigger 80’s soundtrack to grasp the era better. Steve witnessing what the world has become and all the technological advances are some of the funniest moments in the entire movie.

In any case, apart from the whole resurrection weirdness, there are a bunch of continuity issues connecting this movie with the rest of the DC Extended Universe movies. The events here are not even referenced in any of the other DC Extended Universe movies, nor they seem to impact any of the storylines in Dawn of Justice or Justice League. Those two movies are supposed to be directly connected with Wonder Woman and her storyline.

And, of course, the Linda Carter cameo can not be understated. It was an exceptional moment in this movie.

Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a villain with very little villainy and malice in him — he is driven mainly by greed and desperation. Pascal’s performance is a bit over the top but excellent. I can tell that he was all in to make this character work. Max Lord is a failing businessman slash TV personality with tons of huckster charm. It is implied that he has been searching for the wishing stone for a long time.

Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is another interesting character with a compelling arc. She is a gemologist, newly employed at the Smithsonian. She dreams of being someone else, and then thanks to the wishing stone, she becomes someone else. My main issue with this character is that I felt like we needed more Barbara Minerva and less of Cheetah. Barbara’s transformation into Cheetah should have been hinted at by the end of the movie and then have her return in the next film as the main antagonist.

Anyhow, Kristen Wiig seemed to be having lots of fun playing this Barbara/Cheetah character. The chemistry between Barbara and Max is solid, and the scene where Barbara is jogging and is attacked was very entertaining.

Wonder Woman 84 delivers a message of compassion and empathy, I think. Diana shows us that it takes real strength to love your enemy and that the true meaning of bravery lies in your respect and compassion for life. I liked how the fight sequence between cheetah and wonder woman is primarily a verbal fight scene. Diana feels compassion for Barbara and wants her to come to her senses…. the scene paid off for me.

The same thing for Max — Diana understands Max’s pain; she reasons with him and connects with his humanity. They both share emotionally well-acted scenes, which felt satisfying or even more satisfying than the action scenes.

Wonder Woman 84 is a complicated and bold movie to watch. It brings an unapologetic message of forgiveness, empathy, and kindness to the audience. Still, it doesn’t become preachy in its delivery—it is a superhero movie where both villains get a chance to redeem themselves and just walk away. Multiple viewings are needed to grasp what this movie attempts to execute.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE LAUNDROMAT

I was excited as hell when I heard the news of a Steven Soderbergh movie for Netflix about the Panama Papers. All told, I’m a big fan of Soderbergh, the filmmaker, not the cultural appropriator Steven Soderberg, owner and marketing face of a Bolivian national spirit brand (Singani 63), but more on this unrelated topic some other time. 

I still think that Soderbergh’s 2008 two-part movie CHE is a masterpiece and, to me, one of the most influential films ever.

The Laundromat sheds light on some of the legal manipulations of the financial system by the super-rich. It has a similar vibe to the 2015 film, The Big Short, but not quite as compelling. 

We have Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), the two real-life men directly involved in the Panama Papers leak. These two dudes own a law firm based out of Panama specializing in creating shell companies for wealthy people who want to protect their money from being taxed. They set up these corporations so the actual people behind the money can easily bypass tax regulations. And within said corporations, they can create shell companies; A company owns a company that owns another company, and so on and on—effectively shielding the initial corporation from anyone finding out who is truly behind ownership. These shell corporations are usually set up in foreign countries like the Cayman Islands, Panama, or the British Virgin Islands, for example.

There was some controversy surrounding The Laundromat due to the lawsuits by Mossack and Fonseca when they unsuccessfully tried to stop the movie from being released. Oldman and Banderas serve as the narrators for most of the movie, continually breaking the fourth wall and explaining how to avoid taxes, hiding money, and how creating shell companies for the super-wealthy works.

Meryl Streep is always excellent, and she is excellent here as well. She plays Ellen Martin, the victim of one of these shell companies. After her husband’s tragic death, she tries to file a claim with her husband’s insurance company and discovers that the insurance company has been sold to another company. Stringing her along and blocking her insurance claim. Therefore, she begins to investigate and discovers a world of shady practices.

Streep’s character was very compelling, and I felt like the movie needed to spend more time with her and her journey.

There are other characters and cameos by well-known actors like Sharon Stone and David Schwimmer. However, their storylines never really get any traction or enough screen time to develop their stories accordingly….. or for us to even care enough for them.

If this movie’s purpose was to illuminate, shed some light, inform and educate about the world of shell companies, then this movie fails to achieve any of that straightforwardly. I felt that it needed to deliver a more meaningful social message. The characters literally look at you while breaking the fourth wall and tell the audience in a sermon-like approach to what exactly needs to be done to fix this legal but broken, immoral, and nefarious financial system. Nevertheless, I did enjoy and recommend this movie. My main issue is that I felt like it needed to be more creative and practical when conveying its urgent message of reforming our financial laws.

In any case, The Laundromat is full of many exciting layers, segments, and sub-plots. It attempts, in the end, to connect all those things with the central plot of this movie. It is definitely worth a watch, but the Big Short somewhat spoiled me when it comes to this type of film.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿 🍿

THE LAUNDROMAT (2019). Streaming on Netflix.

* TV SERIES RECAP: DEAD TO ME (Seasons 1 & 2)

It originally came out in May 2019 on Netflix, but it wasn’t until this past summer of 2020, during the confinement when I finally had the chance to sit down and binge on seasons 1 & 2. The show runs for roughly 30 minutes at 10 episodes per season, making it very easy to binge through the whole thing in a few sittings.

It’s essentially a dark comedy but with a lot more drama than comedy; the humor and comedic moments are hilarious, but when the drama arrives, the show gets dark pretty fast.

We have Jenn (Christina Applegate), a widower searching for her husband’s killer, who was the victim of a hit and run driver. She spends most of her time obsessively looking for speeding cars passing through the scene of her husband’s death, with the hopes of finding a lead to the hit and run driver who killed her husband. She theorizes that perhaps the killer might be living in her neighborhood. Christina Applegate was nominated for an EMMY for this performance, probably her most intense performance ever. She is remarkable here.

While attending a grief support group, Jennifer meets Judy (Linda Cardellini). Judy is an upbeat, positive-minded person but seems to be hiding a secret. Her interest in befriending Jenn is suspicious. Linda Cardellini made this character likable — at first, I was taken aback by her decision to get close to Jenn, but as the show progresses, you cannot help but root for Judy.

On a dual role, playing twin brothers Steve and Ben, James Marsden adds a unique dynamic to the plot. Katey Segal’s addition to the cast was an excellent choice; her character has a manipulative, sinister vibe to it. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character in season 3, especially when she gets to interact with Jenn, which will feel like an unofficial Married with Children reunion of sorts.

The acting is what makes this type of material work. The entire ensemble cast is excellent—lots of drama, emotions, and heavy emotional content. The writing feels real and raw. The acting and the writing come together naturally and organically. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Once the two female leads are established as characters, their personality traits remain consistent. The rest of the female characters, like Detective Perez and Jenn’s mother-in-law, are well written — all the supporting characters are compelling and exciting.

There is this unique display of affluential, upper-class living portrayed by the luxury and flawless appearance of the houses inhabited by most of the central characters. They present this illusion of perfection, which is a mirage of the chaos, misery, and overall unhappiness in their personal lives. There is a particular scene when Jenn is crying her eyes out while an immaculate-looking kitchen surrounds her; A perfect example of the facade her character exhibits.

Season 1: It is mostly about Jenn’s grief and her family dynamics.

Season 2: We get to know more about Judy and explore her backstory further. There are many layers to Judy’s backstory, and season 2 gives you a more in-depth look at her life. 

Netflix announced in July 2020 that a 3rd and final season would be coming, but there have been rumors of a possible cancellation, which would be sad and unfortunate. This show deserves to come full circle and bring Judy and Jenn’s story to a conclusion.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Streaming on NETFLIX

*MOVIE RECAP: TOLKIEN

If all you want is just a simple, cliff notes version of Tolkien’s life and a brief understanding of his journey towards writing and developing The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then this movie is your ticket.

Nicholas Hoult plays John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien); Hoult delivers a strong performance here, attempting to capture the early life and formative years of Tolkien. However, this movie falls somewhat flat for me. There was plenty of room to be daring with this biopic, but it felt like lazy storytelling.

Nevertheless, the performances by the entire cast are remarkable. Lilly Collins 8is excellent as Edith Bratt (Tolkien’s wife and muse), Derek Jacobi is a scene-stealer in every scene he is in, which is a good thing; I always enjoy watching him.

The performances by the four friends who together form the brotherhood called T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), which eventually will be called “the fellowship,” are outstanding. There is a pretty remarkable scene when a young Tolkien attends the opera with his future wife Edith to see Wagner’s Ring cycle, “one ring to rule them all.

All of those things were pretty cool, but this type of biopic deserves a more careful and deliberate approach, similar to how National Geographic is doing their “Genius” T.V. series, based on extraordinary figures of history. The first season was focused on Einstein and the second season on Picasso. Those two seasons were excellent, and maybe any future attempts to make another Tolkien biopic should be approached similarly.

Maybe, an eight to ten-episode T.V. series rather than a movie would’ve been more appropriate. I think it is virtually impossible to properly showcase and highlight specific aspects of Tolkien’s life and genius in a 112-minute film.

The whole thing felt like an origin story gone a bit lazy. Still, TOLKIEN is very entertaining and definitely worth watching. The performances end up rescuing this convoluted script.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

TOLKIEN (2019).

*TV SERIES RECAP: HOLLYWOOD

The whole concept of this series is to essentially reimagine and reinvent Post-World War II Hollywood as an alternative history of the golden age of American cinema; Where real-life Hollywood figures are mixed in with a bunch of fictional characters.

At the center of the story, we have a group of aspiring actors, writers, and directors attempting to challenge the bigotry, sexism, and homophobia of the Hollywood studio system. Created by Ryan Murphy, Nip/tuck (2003-2010) Feud (2017), there are 7 episodes, each running roughly about one hour long.

There are many things that work well with this show, and there are a bunch of things that do not work well. To me, the real-life characters were much more complex and a lot more interesting than the fictional characters.

Jim Parsons sheds his Sheldon Cooper persona brilliantly playing real-life Hollywood agent Henry Wilson who was Rock Hudson’s real-life agent. Wilson was a highly controversial figure in Hollywood’s golden age, known for developing a unique and specific “look” from his young male clients. Henry Wilson comes across as this awful person, but he is probably the most compelling character in the whole show. I could not wait to see more of this character. Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) is excellent as a young version of Hudson, who has recently arrived in Hollywood and is signing on with this nasty piece of work, Henry Wilson as his talent agent.

There are plenty of well-written scenes, and the costumes are excellent. The show is beautifully shot, capturing the glitz and glamour of the era. But on top of all that, my other favorite thing from this show was Dylan McDermott (Ernie), based on real-life Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers. Ernie operates a male gigolo prostitution racket out of a gas station, where rich men and women would pick up young men from the station to have sexual encounters with. It was also well-known that closeted older rich gay men will often use this system to meet young men.

Many legendary and infamous Hollywood real-life stories are depicted throughout the show, like the notorious “Hollywood Orgy” parties organized by George Cukor. The show explores the predatory and abusive level of exploitation of young stars by people in positions of power and influence, which resonates deeply with the current MeToo movement.

And, of all the fictional characters, Mira Sorvino (Jeanne Crandall) has some of the best scenes, mostly relating to the abuse of power and the level of exploitation by powerful men. Her character is super compelling, considering Sorvino went through similar issues with Harvey Weinstein.

Queen Latifah (Hattie McDaniel) is terrific here, completely owning her scenes. Noel Coward (Billy Boyd), making a brief appearance, was a nice addition. Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), Vivien Leigh (Katie McGuinness), Tallulah Bankhead (Paget Brewster): All of them portraying real-life figures are exceptional.

However, to me, the show became less and less interesting as the fantasy and alternate history element took over. Discerning what was real and what was not became murky and confusing at times. I sense that the main point here was to expose the level of prejudice, racism, and sexism that existed in Hollywood in that era — and how complicit Hollywood studios were in elevating certain stereotypes. Still, this show would have been much more effective in delivering their intended message by minimizing this parallel reality within the real-life storylines and remaining a lot closer to the truth. Nevertheless, HOLLYWOOD is a hyper surreal and compelling show to watch.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

HOLLYWOOD (2020). Streaming on Netflix

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE OUTSIDER

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.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE OUTSIDER (2020). Streaming on HBO

*MOVIE RECAP: MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

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 7MankDa 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.

*DRACO ROSA — MAD LOVE LUXE LP (Album Recap)

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.

DRACO ROSA: MAD LOVE LUXE (2020)