No Strings Attached

A Review of ‘Free Solo’ (2018)

Photo Credit: National Geographic

An imposing visage of vertical granite, El Capitan stands at a dizzying 3,000 feet.  One of the most alluring vertical challenges within Yosemite National Park.  Since 1905, there have been over thirty recorded fatalities (including experienced climbers).  Though many had made it to the summit using equipment and rigging, none had done so free solo or, in simpler terms, without the use of ropes, harnesses, or protective equipment.

This is where “Free Solo,” the National Geographic documentary on the eight (8) year efforts of Alex Honnold to be the first to free solo El Capitan, begins. From the opening shots, the viewer is brought into a story where tension, along with adrenaline, continue to build.  Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, along with their crew, bring the audience behind the lens and into their shoes, possibly even more so than in those of Alex’s.  With the camera crew being relatively safe from any real danger (thanks to proper training along with the necessary ropes, gear, and protective equipment), they are left with the discomfort and stomach-turning feeling of possibly watching, as well as recording, their friend fall to his death.

With a runtime of an hour and forty minutes, the film chooses in no way, shape, or form to slow down but bombards us with beautiful, anxiety inducing imagery. If this might be a documentary of a man falling to his death, then the counterbalance may be the awe that is Yosemite.  The cinematography captured by Jimmy Chin, Clair Popkin, and Mikey Schaefer is almost beautiful enough to make us forget that we might be watching the prequel to someone’s demise.

However, our eyes become fixated on a man who appears to never be satisfied with his accomplishments, even if he succeeds in his next conquest. Continuously chasing that next thrill, he will push himself until he perishes and  we are all allowed to ride shotgun in this narrative where the hero’s obsession might just be his undoing.  In all honesty, this might be the only documentary to have ever increased my pulse rate.

Normal society would call Alex Honnold’s choices irrational as he willingly puts family and friends as secondaries in his quest for that next perfect climb.  Others find him to be a hero and true adventurer, proving the human spirit (along with the human body) can vanquish what was deemed impossible for so long.  For this reviewer, I will cling to the comfort of my couch where “Free Solo” receives a deserving 9.5/10. Go watch it while it’s still on Hulu. YoungYoda out.

“The Family” Conspiracy or Corruption?

A REVIEW OF THE NETFLIX MINISERIES

PHOTO CREDIT: DIGITAL SPY

Whether or not you believe in conspiracy theories, Netflix has put together a series that showcases the coming and goings of “The Family,”(also known as The Fellowship and the International Foundation) a secretive, religious sect that has had unfettered access to not only the most powerful in Congress, but to leaders all around the world.  Based on the series written by executive producer, Jeff Sharlet, the writer of such novels as C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, “The Family” is 5 episodes which take the viewer through recruitment of the youth, protection of their political proponents, and how they are affecting the today’s political landscapes all around the world. 

Now “The Family,” is not just some new, upstart organization.  Oh no, first started in 1935 by Abraham Vereide as more of a church for the elite.  Those who possessed some sort of power, be it as Congressman of Alabama or President of Uganda, were recruited in some manner.  Doug Coe, continued Vereide’s vision with the slight change of not putting a spotlight onto the organization but keeping their works under wraps which does give the appearance of what some would call “suspicious”. “The Family” appeals that there are no nefarious intentions in their operations and is only there to provide spiritual support through prayer meetings, support groups, and the like. 

Jeff Sharlet gives viewers a different interpretation, being that he had actually been recruited in his 20s to become a member and live at their estate in Arlington, VA called Ivanwald.  From his experience he allows viewers to see that having powerful friends and using Jesus as more of a prop to get a foot in the door of the influential, versus living according to his teachings, garnered the organization to continually increase it’s influence and have the ability to be in the ear of the decision makers.  In Jeff’s opinion, “The Family” is willing to forgive and forget the misdeeds of other if those others are “chosen” by God, no matter the offence.  One example given includes the protection of the ex-Senator of Nevada John Ensign whose continued extramarital affair with a staff member’s wife led him to bribe/placate the staff member into silence with a job as a lobbyist.  Although the staff member was met with jail time and the loss of any and all credibility due to ethics violations once this arrangement had come to light, John Ensign managed to not face any penalties other than having to resign from his position and fines (after the case had been reopened in 2013).  Sharlet gives the presumption that “The Family” acted as the safety net for Senator Ensign, as he was chosen by God to be in his position, while allowing all others caught in his wave of deceit to drown.

It is up to the viewer to determine for themselves if Netflix’s “The Family” is just a conspiracy documentary/dramatization made to sell the books of an ex-member whose interviews include many wronged by the very people he looks to bring out into the public eye…or, is it an expose into a political organization that has used religion as it’s stepping stool in order to place themselves next to the most powerful, be it presidents or dictators, as to sculpt the world how they see fit.  In my personal opinion, some imagery throughout this series seems to have an exaggeration placed within, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do a great job at showing the public another hidden cog that turns the wheel of power in which “We the People” get no say.  I give “The Family” an 8 out of 10. – YoungYoda

The Boys (Season 1): A Spoiler Summary & Review

What would you get if Superman had landed in the front yard of a government facility instead of the Kent’s farm? You’d get “The Boys”.  Basically, Amazon’s response to Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,”  “The Boys” is a gritty, reimagining of The Justice League that’s equal parts Watchmen and Brightburn with a dash of Batman V Superman. 

Viewers are thrown into a world where superheroes are not only real, but also commercialized thanks to the corporation Vought International and its vice president Madelyn Stillwell.  Vought’s main roster of superheroes is known as The Seven and each have their fair share of movies, merchandising, and public events to attend to.  Vought keeps a close eye on each hero to the point where crimes are basically staged, and a camera crew is there to capture every moment in order to get their heroes trending and the money flowing.  Vought’s main purpose though, is to get their heroes into the military and reap those billion-dollar contracts that come with it.  At Vought, heroes are made, not born…both socially and literally.  I’ll get to that “literally” part, later in the review.

The Seven

Now, to introduce The Seven (now, there are other superpowered individuals shown throughout the series, but these are the mains, the cream of the crop):

First, we have their leader, Homelander.  Shown as American as apple pie.  Homelander is basically the love child of Captain America and Superman.  Armed with a cape of the Stars and Stripes, heat vision, and no weaknesses, he is shown throughout the season as Vought’s enforcer and also their most marketable and valuable hero.  To the public, he is perfection, but we all have front row seats that show him taking down a government official’s plane, letting a plane full of people crash into the ocean, and spiraling into the insanity of a god-complex.

Second of The Seven is “The Deep,” who you can pretty much think of as Aquaman, if Aquaman was a serial harasser of women (so, like Great Value Aquaman).  His storyline is actually the catalyst that leads Annie January aka the newest member of The Seven (Third of our members if you’re keeping track), known as Starlight, to rebel against The Seven (more on that later).

Fourth is Queen Maeve, basically Wonder Woman if Wonder Woman had lost herself and the whole point of being a superhero.  Through the season we see Maeve in this constant battle to be a good hero or just continue doing the selfish deeds her group and Vought has demanded.

The Fifth of our super degenerates is Translucent whose skin is both as hard as diamonds and can turn invisible. However, to be completely invisible, no clothes are required and as Starlight states “Translucent has boundary issues”.

Sixth is Black Noir who has no speaking lines throughout the show and whose costume looks something akin to Spiderman: Far from Home’s “The Night Monkey” attire.

Last, but not least is our Seventh “hero” otherwise known as the world’s fastest man, A-Train, basically The Flash if he was hopped up on steroids.  I left A-Train last on our list because he can be thought of the main antagonist of this story since his brutal collision with Robin Ward sets off the events where The Seven become the hunted by “The Boys”.

The Boys

Now, “The Boys” are led by Billy Butcher, who throughout the season we’re led to believe is on a mission of vengeance against Homelander for the rape and murder of his wife, Becca.  His background is somewhat left to the imagination throughout the series, but we learn in the later episodes that he was CIA trained to bring down Homelander and has now made it his mission to rid the world of “supes”.  Billy, in his own words, realizes that just like The Spice Girls, individually he sucks, but with a group…he’d be unstoppable.  This leads him to our next protagonist, Hughie Campbell whose girlfriend was the aforementioned Robin Ward.  Hughie is the shy tech geek who is a non-confrontational character at the beginning of  the show, but we watch him become an essential part of the group with his ability to hack into apartment cameras, pulling the trigger on the pipe bomb that was shoved up Translucent’s ass (also the first kill on The Seven), and wooing Starlight.  Next up is the one who happened to figure out this weakness against Translucent, Frenchie.  Frenchie, with over 30 different aliases, is Butcher’s main go to when he needs munitions made, bunkers infiltrated, or the like, but who can never stick to the plan. However, he befriends another super who had been locked in a Chinese, drug den/basement, Kimiko. The last member of “The Boys” is Mother’s Milk who you can think of as Butcher’s right-hand man, that continually wants out, but is always pulled back into the mix/sh*t of Butcher’s gravity.

“The Boys” continually are the thorns in the sides of “The Seven” as they uncover the secret to the heroes’ powers, which is the substance known as Compound-V (who many of the “supes” also abuse, including A-Train).  They figure out that no heroes crash landed onto earth or were just born with their gifts.  No, Vought approached parents of newborns, offering them the chance to make sure that their little bundle of joy would have a special life, a super one.  From there, these children’s veins were pumped full of Compound-V.  Not only that, Vought was also creating super villains by going to war torn nations on America’s terrorist watch lists and giving the compound to those children in order to create an image where their “heroes” would be necessities on the battlefield.  Unfortunately, these revelations are too little, too late as a bill allowing “The Seven” into the military passes through Congress.

Cliff Hanger

So, if you’ve read this far, I’ll let know where “The Boys” are left at the end of this great season.  Butcher, going basically on a suicide mission, has his whole plan to hit at Homelander’s weakness, Madelyn Stillwell, basically…umm…torched.  Madelyn, strapped into a vest with enough C-4 to level Jersey, has her face melted inward (it’s pretty gruesome, no lie) by Homelander who had become jealous of the attention that was taken from him and given to her newborn, Teddy.  Now, Butcher seeing that he now had no bargaining chip, lifts his finger and detonates the vest.  The next scene we see Butcher waking up, unharmed, on a lush, green lawn with Homelander right there wishing him a good morning.  Who happens to own this lawn?  None other than the thought-deceased Becca Butcher who walks out of the house with her son, the apparent love child of her and Homelander…DRAMA ALERT.

Hughie, Frenchie, and Mother’s Milk make it out somewhat all intact after a rescue mission to save Kimiko with Starlight making her decision to be one of the good one’s and protecting the four from A-Train who, in a large dose of karma, has a heart attack while trying to murder/maim Hughie.  Hughie then shows his compassion, performing CPR on A-Train and Starlight then taking over telling Hughie he must leave before any others of The Seven find him.

So, yeah…colossal cliff hangers.  I guess it’s a good thing the show got renewed for a Season Two before Season One even dropped.

The Verdict

In my opinion, if you’re a lover of comics and comic book movies (specifically DC and The Watchmen), then this is a must watch.  This show can be thought of as a sandwich of amazing ideas.  The two slices of bread, one being the imagery we saw in Batman V Superman, where Batman, just a human with no special powers, watches Superman’s collateral damage in the act of “saving” the city and the other slice being from The Watchmen where heroes begin thinking that they’re actual gods and humans are beneath them.  In between these slices is great visuals, dialogue, acting, and a story where it’s not just your typical superhero black and white, but all kinds of shades of gray.  Also, with the first season only being 8 episodes, it never seems to drag like other shows with 12 or 13 episodes.  It’s also a story of the underdogs who ban together to stop a seemingly unstoppable force.  Who doesn’t enjoy a good underdog story?  Anyways, I give this series a solid 9.5 out of 10. (The only reason I took off half a point is because Haley Joel Osment’s appearance made me realize how old I really am.  Dope beard though).  Let us know what you thought of the first season of “The Boys”. YoungYoda out.