The best of the bunch

Stranger Things 3, which dropped on the 4th of July, turned out to be a letdown for me. It lacks the charming nostalgia and sure hand of the earlier seasons. While the show did pick up steam by the fourth episode, I think overall this season is the weakest of them all.

The episodes are wildly uneven in tone, and don’t seem to know who the adult characters are supposed to be. They are demoted to cartoons, mugging for the camera and overacting all over the screen, only occasionally coming into focus. Especially egregious, to me, was the waste of talent in casting Cary Elwes as the evil mayor just to have him chew up the scenery.

The younger characters are handled with much more nuance. They have matured, and for the most part behave naturally (although in one scene, Mike is so blatantly mouthy toward Hopper I’m surprised he didn’t get smacked into next week). The Steve/Dustin friendship dynamic is wonderful, and I would joyfully watch a spinoff with just those two. As new characters go, Robin* is outstanding, as is (after a prickly start) Erica. 

Unfortunately, Stranger Things 3 seems like a money-grab to me, especially after the strong and satisfying arc of Season 2. While enough loose threads are left hanging for a fourth season, I truly hope they let Stranger Things lie. 

***
Los Espookys, in all their glory

On a brighter note–while Stranger Things seems to have run its course, Los Espookys is just getting started.

Los Espookys is HBO’s new mostly-Spanish-language comedy about a group of Latin American friends who create horror effects for a living. It is a sweet, silly, delightful show. The small and talented cast includes Bernardo Velasco as the group’s cheerful leader, Renaldo; Julio Torres as Andrés, the wealthy heir to a chocolate empire; Cassandra Ciangherotti as Úrsula, the brains of the group; and Ana Fabrega as Úrsula’s simpleton sister, Tati. Fred Armisen plays a small but pivotal role as Renaldo’s Uncle Tico.

While the monsters and supernatural goings-on thus far are all stagecraft, there are hints of real spooky things happening, as well. Andrés displays some magical abilities that may or may not be real. The gorgeous host of a popular television program may be under a hypnotic spell. And the blonde party girl we meet in episode one seems to work for a mysterious government agency.

Los Espookys is not technically a horror comedy, but it plays one on TV. It is a thoroughly charming bit of silliness to help pass a hot summer night. 

 

*For some reason, I decided to rename Robin as April. She looks like an “April” to me, but the correction has been made.

lurker in the lobby

Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft is an older but still handy guide to the many attempts made at filming Lovecraft’s cosmically weird tales. Authors Andrew Migliore and John Strysik bring a fan’s enthusiasm to the project, producing an often unpolished but still joyful compendium of Lovecraftian media. They approach their subject from several different angles, and end up giving quite a rich experience to their readers.

***

Since Lurker in the Lobby dates from 2006, it serves primarily as an historical reference. But what a history! The authors cover all the major films to that point, from Quartermass to The Thing to Dagon, with many familiar and lesser-known movies in between.

And when seen through the right lens, Lovecraftian elements show up in many places you wouldn’t normally think to look. Unexpected additions to the movie list include The Trollenberg Terror (1958) with its giant crawling eyes, Uzumaki (2000), based on a horror manga, and The Maze (1953), about the classically subversive threat of hereditary evil.

The television show list is also surprising, with Lovecraftian themes and references showing up not just in the usual horror anthology series but in the Saturday morning cartoons, as well.

***

But while the capsule reviews of the movies and TV shows are great fun, the interviews end up slowing the book down. Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Roger Corman, Jeffrey Coombs, and Bernie Wrightson are among the luminaries the Lurker spoke with, and their interest in Lovecraft and filmmaking is inspiring. But the overall tone of the interviews is uneven. The questions are fairly formulaic and not particularly probing. They end abruptly. And while many of the interviewees have long had an active interest in the source material, others are included only by the chance of having worked on an adaptation.

***

To round out their offerings, the authors include a picture gallery featuring art by Richard Corben, Mike Migliore, and Bernie Wrightson, a pretty thorough list of short Lovecraft adaptations, and an index of feature films listed by year and again by the story that provided the basis for them.

So while it is imperfect and rough around the edges, Lurker in the Lobby is still an essential read. It is an affectionate look at some of the many, many films and filmmakers inspired by Lovecraft, presented in a way that can only inspire more.

upstart crow

The last month went by fast.

I’m working on a few new stories, and waiting for the publication of several more. The near future should see my stories in Weirdbook and Vastarien, and in a couple of slightly-delayed anthologies.

***

In the meantime, though, I’ve been dabbling in a number of new and returning shows.

The big one is always going to be Game of Thrones. I was looking forward to the final season with joy and trepidation, and the first episode met my expectations. It was good to see Tormund again, and Arya, and Varys. But the exposition was so blunt it felt like a summary to me rather than an unfolding story. I hope it will smooth out a little on the way to its epic ending. (As a special added bonus, you might want to check out Upstart Crow on PBS, a sitcom about Shakespeare now in its third season. I only just realized that Gemma Whelan, the actress who plays Yara Greyjoy with such grim strength, is a regular on it and very, very funny.)

What We Do in the Shadows, on the other hand, has been consistently delightful over its first four episodes. The vampires, humans, and werewolves in the series are different characters than those in the movie. That was a small disappointment. The comfortable snark and deadpan awkwardness remains, though, and there is a steady supply of guest stars to liven things up. I highly recommend this one, even though FX is stringing it out week by week.

Black Summer came with many high recommendations, yet I was left completely unimpressed by it. In fact, I found the dialogue so weak I couldn’t even finish the first episode. The actual zombies were cool in a 28 Days Later sort of way, but an age-old question popped up almost immediately: How does a zombie with severely broken bones still run around as if nothing is structurally wrong?

To recover from that unhappy experience, I finally got around to watching Umbrella Academy. It is phenomenal–it looks beautiful, it pulls you in, it’s funny, it’s dark, and it’s cast is terrific. Especially Aidan Gallagher, who plays Number Five. He is wonderful.

***

With any luck, I’ll have more writing announcements soon. Until then, there is Netflix.

kingdom

My relationship with zombies is conflicted. I find the whole zombie genre fascinating, but also too scary to indulge in very often. I never could watch The Walking Dead. But Kingdom, the new South Korean series streaming on Netflix, definitely has my attention.

Set in Joseon Korea sometime in the later Middle Ages, Kingdom is as much a sweeping historical costume drama as a horror series. The zombies here are called simply “monsters”, and despite the medieval setting they are approached with scientific rigor. The reason they exist is known. Their capabilities are being observed and noted. Variations in how the infection is transmitted are recognized. And the race is on to find the cure before they overwhelm the nation.

***

Giving a new twist to the old saw “a fish rots from the head down”, Kingdom’s threat begins at the top with a weak king and a treacherous minister willing to use unnatural tactics to gain power. The first words spoken in the series are “You must never look inside His Majesty’s bedchamber,” and they serve as a warning of both the political consequences and the supernatural danger involved in disobeying. But what is inside soon escapes.

As so often happens, the poor bear the brunt of the suffering that follows. Starved by war and heavy taxation, the peasantry have resorted to cannibalism to simply survive– an act of desperation that allows a new disease to spread with terrifying speed. The noble classes think they can outrun the disease, or wall it away.

We all know how that goes.

kingdom
***

Kingdom is beautifully shot, with dramatic lighting and fierce action, serene architecture and monumental landscapes. It’s plot is elaborate, full of court intrigue, dynastic jockeying, and the scars of a recent war. The characters are well-acted and of all the familiar types, with a brave prince, a scheming nobleman, a loyal warrior, a smart and plucky woman, and a mysterious man drawn into the fray. And, of course, ravenous zombies. It is compelling stuff.

Kingdom’s first season ends, expectedly, in a cliffhanger. Season two is already in production. As long as the zombies don’t get too rotten, I’m ready.

true detective

I waited a long time for True Detective to get to Season 3, and after seeing the first two episodes I’m glad HBO took three and a half years to let it brew. After the dark and weird phenomenon that was True Detective’s first season, and the muddled disappointment of its second, the third season is back in fine, grim, wrenching form.

The main cast is outstanding, as expected. Mahershala Ali is quiet and guarded as Detective Wayne Hays. His reserve strikes a comfortable balance with Stephen Dorff’s more outspoken Roland West, Hays’ partner. Carmen Ejogo is poised and warm and sharp as Amelia Reardon, a schoolteacher who becomes involved, and then absorbed, in the central mystery. The supporting players are equally strong, with Scoot McNairy and Mamie Gummer as the raging, grieving parents of the lost children and Ray Fisher as Wayne’s caretaker son.

The plot dips and spins across thirty five years, following the 1980 abduction of two young siblings in Arkansas. We are already being wrapped up in three painful timelines, inconstant memory, and the stain of ritual sacrifice. There are hints of the coming Satanic Panic that spewed over the early eighties, and constant reminders of the just-past Vietnam war. There is blunt recognition of the subtle and pervasive racism that lies behind almost every interaction. And in the main characters, there is still the urge to do something good, to help someone, to stop someone from being hurt any more.

It’s a heady mix. It’s hard to wait for the next episode.

I admit I was a little disappointed at the end of True Detective Season 1, when the creeping supernatural elements evaporated into the swamp. This time out I am braced for such an outcome. But it doesn’t mean I’m not hoping for some very dark magic along the way.

nightflyers

Nightflyers is a beautiful and ambitious ten episode series currently unfolding on SyFy. Unfortunately, while the show is visually striking it is extremely derivative, without the focus or attention to detail to be a proper pastiche.

***

The titular ship looks like a blend of inspirations from Alien, Event Horizon, and Silent Running. Various flourishes from Don’t Look Now, The Amityville Horror, The Haunting, and Psycho are also pressed into service. It does not entirely gel.

Plotwise, we are confronted from the beginning with a plague, quarantines, overpopulation, genetic engineering, body modifications, murderous telepaths, first contact, memory recordings and memory wipes. Nightflyers is stuffed to the gills with details meant as world-building, but they lack the context and connections that would make them work. Instead, we end up with a fairly standard horror movie drifting serenely through outer space.

***

Based on George R.R. Martin’s novella (which I haven’t read, so I cannot make a comparison), the series is unsatisfying. Set in 2093, Nightflyers takes place aboard a colony ship whose captain has agreed to bring a scientific crew into an area of space known as the Void with the hope of making first contact with an alien species. Things, predictably, go wrong.

The science fiction aspects of Nightflyers are frustratingly mushy. Genetically engineered for space seems to mean stunningly attractive, grossly self-absorbed, and able to withstand high doses of radiation for up to four minutes. Cutting edge psychology appears to be cutting out any unwanted memories and everything attached to them. Memory recordings are a thing, even if you don’t want the memories erased. Computers appear to be just this side of magic. Which would all be excusable, if the characters were compelling.

Alas.

***

Three of the actors in this ensemble manage to breathe life into their rote characters. Maya Eshet brings a convincing vulnerability and wariness to her portrayal of the cyber-enhanced Lommie which made me want to follow her every twitch. Angus Sampson’s Rowan, the xenobiologist, resembles a heavier Tim Curry and comes across as both charmingly irreverent and deeply committed to the mission. And Sam Strike’s performance as the tortured telepath, Thale, conveys depth and layers to the character that the thin writing does not.

However, not all the characters fare as well. Eoin Macken plays Karl D’Branin, a scientist with an overstuffed backstory now leading a team toward possible first contact. I think he is supposed to be driven, but he comes off as kind of a jerk. As Dr. Agatha Matheson, Gretchen Mol spends entirely too much time asking everyone around her to just trust Thale. Agatha, conveniently, both the overinvolved psychologist responsible for keeping the dangerous telepath in check as well as Karl’s ex lover.

Rounding out the main cast, Jodie Turner-Smith’s Melantha is manipulative and arrogant and without any explicit purpose on the mission, David Ajala’s Captain Roy Eris is intense yet clumsily motivated, and Brian O’Byrne’s Chief Engineer Auggie is written in a way that makes his role in the storyline obvious.

There is no sense of a chance of getting to know these characters. They exist to get the plot from beginning to end, with a few not-terribly-surprising twists along the way.

***

In the end, Nightflyers is no worse than many other science fiction shows. But its unmitigated seriousness wears thin very quickly. Characters and story this self-important belong in a sweeping epic, not in derivative space-horror.

My opinion of Nightflyers is based on the five episodes released over the course of last week. I will more than likely watch the second five, as well, if only for completeness’s sake. I don’t actually dislike the show. Aspects of it are quite good. I simply don’t find enough there to grow attached to.

Stan Against Evil season 3

 

Stan Against Evil season 3
Not quite the Scooby Gang

Stan Against Evil came back for a third season on Halloween night, and boy, am I glad. The enthusiastically silly and low budget show continues to be a bright spot on IFC’s schedule. It has embraced its humble status and run with it, cementing its place as a goofy and sometimes sweet horror comedy well worth watching.

The show still looks as if all the special effects come from Party City. It still careens cheerfully from one joke to another with only a nod at coherence and character development. But I can’t hold that against it. Because Stan Against Evil is still escapist fun with an occasional dose of sentimentality, and the cast pulls it off without missing a step.

***

Former Sheriff Stan Miller (John C. McGinley) and his replacement, Evie Barret (Janet Varney) have become the best of friends, with his curmudgeonly snark nicely balanced by her occasionally off-kilter practicality. Deputy Leon (Nate Mooney) is more loopy and oblivious than in season’s past, but is still a core team member. And Denise (Deborah Baker Jr.), Stan’s daughter, still presents as a thirty year old going on thirteen, crafting, fan-girling, and inappropriately attaching at every turn. Her romantic interest from season two hasn’t reappeared yet, but the season is young. Evie’s daughter, never being much more than a prop, has pretty much disappeared from the show. But Evie’s boozy ex-husband seems to be a recurring character when a random monster is needed to give a plot a boost.

***

Stan Against Evil season 3
Romero would be proud

The overarching storyline from season one remains in place: Tiny, rural Willard’s Mill, New Hampshire is cursed. Back in 1693, the evil Constable Eccles burned 172 witches at the stake. Since then, every constable the town has ever had has died in office. Except Stan. Stan Against Evil’s unexpected second season introduced a lot more information about Stan’s late wife and her coven, the Black Hat Society, who protect the town from the worst attacks by Eccles and other evils. And now the even more unexpected season three has the crew still fighting off demons as Constable Eccles’s victims keep returning to exact revenge. Stan is still trying to find a way to bring his dead wife back to life. And the writers still keep everyone off-balance and well-armed with one-liners.

***

Stan Against Evil season 3
Nobody wants to believe

Stan Against Evil launches into the new season with its usual verve. Episode one features an undead Stan and an institutionalized Evie in their own private hells (which look remarkably like someone just threw garbage around in the street), learning to work through issues together. There is a bit of random time travel, and some wonderful bedside manner from the resident psychiatrist. Episode two features lessons in how to use evil for the greater good, a knock-off Mulder and Scully, and even Kolchak running around snapping pictures as Stan and Evie try to figure out how most of the Black Hat Society died. Apparently, bringing your own rubber gloves is important in investigations.

***

Each season is only eight half-hour episodes broadcast over the course of four weeks. A few episodes are free on IFC, and seasons one and two are available for binging on Hulu. I highly recommend it. Stan Against Evil is a far better treat than leftover candy.

 

dragon prince

dragon princeThe Dragon Prince is quite simply wonderful. Netflix’s new epic fantasy is intended for kids, but like all great literature it is able to speak to everyone.

There are often facile lessons, or missing nuances, in young adult fantasy (okay, in adult fantasy, too). But not so The Dragon Prince. The balance of light and dark rings true. There are unlikely alliances, unbreakable oaths, and awakening magic. The action is exciting and the world-building immersive.

And while The Dragon Prince is an unabashed, sweeping saga, it is also warm and funny. There are elements of Heavy Metal, hints of ElfQuest, a healthy dose of Lord of the Rings, and even a bit of Archer in the character renderings. Snarky and self-aware, the dialogue slips in plenty of pop-culture: “I was trying to sweep the leg”, “Winter is coming…eventually”, and “Say ‘hello’ to my little friend” are all uttered at various points.

It’s been a long time since I so thoroughly enjoyed an animated series the way I enjoy this one.

The Background

dragon princeLong in the past, humans discovered dark magic and were driven to the edge of the continent by elves and dragons. The story begins a few years after King Harrow murders the ancient dragon king and destroys his egg, bringing the humans and the elves to the brink of war. Elvish assassins infiltrate the kingdom to kill Harrow and his heir, Prince Ezran. Rayla, a young elvish assassin, finds she cannot take an innocent life. Instead, she helps Ezran and his half-brother Callum escape the assassination attempt after Ezran discovers the dragon’s egg hidden in the castle dungeons. The three then embark on a dangerous, epic quest to return the dragon’s egg to its mother.  

The Details

Created and written by Aaron Ehasz (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Futurama) and Justin Richmond (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception), The Dragon Prince is richly imagined and beautifully presented, with gorgeous artwork, a soaring score, and a full magical world.

Like many fantasy sagas, The Dragon Prince is stuffed with creatures borrowed from the classic, but they have been tweaked to fit their new world. The huge worm is a mountain dweller. The giant spider is an illusion. The dragon-slayers are not the good guys.

The characters are fully developed, diverse and inclusive, with their own complicated relationships and internal lives. The emotions behind their actions feel honest. The moral lessons are clear but the story refrains from hitting viewers over the head with them. The characters are almost entirely normal people–or as normal as elves, mages, and royalty can be. Some are clearly the bad guys, but they have recognizable reasons for what they do. There are, so far, no real caricatures among them.

The Actors

dragon princeThe three main characters are strongly drawn without falling back on genre stereotypes. Jack De Sena plays Callum, the fourteen year old half-brother to the heir apparent, with an excellent blend of adult responsibility and adolescent insecurity. Paula Burrows portrays the elf-assassin Rayla with terrific conviction and a charming, thick Scottish accent. Sasha Rojen plays the child-prince Ezran as a thinking, feeling, learning person with convincing agency and autonomy.
The secondary characters are also well done. Luc Roderique is King Harrow of Katolis, stubborn, proud, and trying his best to protect his people. Jason Simpson plays Viren, the King’s treacherous advisor, who may or may not be a good man underneath it all. Viren’s children Claudia and Soren are portrayed convincingly as close siblings by Racquel Belmonte and Jesse Inocalla. And Jonathan Holmes gives the elvish assassin leader Runaan a fierce and enduring code of honor.

The Conclusion

It’s rare to find something so well-done, so dedicated to its vision, so vibrant and enjoyable.

The Dragon Prince is that something. I recommend it without reservation.

ghoul

ghoulGhoul, the new three-episode miniseries from Netflix, generates its chills with a blend of tried-and-true tropes borrowed from multiple well-known films and a dash of modern dystopia. While the derivative nature of the scares is a downside, Ghoul political dimension provides a different layer of darkness. Overall the film is a predictable but effectively-done horror movie, with an engaging cast and plenty of well-placed gore.

“False sense of patriotism that seems to be spreading through the country.”

Ghoul unfolds in a near-future India that has fallen into fascism, with secret prisons, brutal re-education, enforced political orthodoxy, and questions of how religion impacts patriotism.

The story centers on Nida, a young Muslim woman training to be a government interrogator. Her father refuses to toe the political line. She turns him in, choosing patriotism over faith and family. Soon after, she finds herself assigned to a secret interrogation center where the arrival of a dangerous new prisoner sends the whole command structure spiralling into chaos and death.

Nida is played with great sincerity by Radhika Apte. S. M. Zaheer is her stubborn, seditious father. Manav Kaul is sympathetic as the drunk and troubled Colonel Sunil Dacunha, the man in charge of the prison. Ratnabali Bhattacharjee’s Lieutenant Laxmi Das is convincingly twisted as Dacunha’s duplicitous second in command. And Mahesh Balraj brings a creepy stoicism to the monstrous terrorist Ali Saeed.

“The ghoul shows as the reflection of our guilt.”

ghoulAnyone who watches horror movies will recognize plenty of familiar tropes. But an old story told well is still worth watching. And I think Ghoul tells its old story well.

The film is atmospheric, with a haunted house vibe that uses the desperation of The Blair Witch Project, the industrial oppression of Alien, and the paranoia of The Thing among its many inspirations.

Visually, the decrepit prison setting where Ghoul happens is also very familiar. Built as a bunker against nuclear attack, the site is of course not in any official records. But the film adds a few extra details that ramp up the totalitarian mood. Black-painted windows disguise night and day. Exterior shots of brutalist architecture reinforce the heavy-handed repression at work in this society. The incessant rainfall outside the massive buildings produces its own claustrophobia.  Everything is bleak, dull, and colorless, except for the stunning splashes of red when the monster is revealed.

And the reveal comes quickly. Unlike the graveyard-dwelling, corpse-eating demon of pre-Islamic folklore, the ghoul in Ghoul is a demon of vengeance summoned in retribution. It takes the form of the last person whose flesh it ate, but here it teases out confessions of guilt before it attacks.

“Finish the task, reveal their guilt, eat their flesh”

ghoulGhoul is written and directed by Patrick Graham with inconsistent levels of subtlety. The dialogue is at times very formal and stagey, with power struggles and plot turns telegraphed far in advance. The plotting is slow, grim, and pointed. Terrorism and political orthodoxy are major themes, as is suspicion of any display of faith. If there was any doubt about the point Graham was aiming at, the pile of pulled gold teeth and a crematorium should remove it. The three episodes could have easily been trimmed to two hours. The padding betrays its origins as an intended feature film.

It is still creepy as hell. The slowness, the obvious references, even the predictability of events do not diminish the skill of the cast and the strength and style of the storytelling. Ghoul may not break any new ground, but it is a solid reminder of why stories like it continues to be retold.

disenchantment

disenchantment
Bean, Elfo, and Luci

Disenchantment, Matt Groening’s new series for Netflix, certainly has its own unique charms. It is no Futurama. It is certainly not The Simpsons. While there are, of course, similarities to Groening’s earlier work, this new show is something that aspires to be a heartfelt, ongoing saga while still capturing the goofy spirit of the other series.

So far, Disenchantment has had some difficulty in finding its direction. The first season is a rather uneven journey, but it’s definitely on the right track.

***

The series follows the adventures of Princess Tiabeanie Mariabeanie De La Rochambeaux Drunkowitz of Dreamland, known more economically as Bean. She is a boozy, rebellious teenager who is constantly at odds with her father, King Zøg, her stepmother, Queen Oona, and her half-brother, Prince Derek. Bean’s only friends are her nursemaid, Bunty, Elfo the renegade elf, and Luci, Bean’s very own personal demon. She is also dealing with the loss of her mother, Queen Dagmar, who died when Bean was just a baby.

There are arranged marriages, diplomatic debacles, political machinations, crusades, curses, enchantments, and the occasional tavern brawl. There are witches, wizards, debauched fairies, transformed princes, giants, griffins, and three-eyed counselors. Castles, dungeons, and side-quests abound. There is also a whole lot of family drama.

disenchantment
Zog and Oona, Rulers of Dreamland

I think Bean’s relationship with her father is well-done. King Zøg has what may be a good heart inside his crusty royal shell. And for all her push-back, Bean loves her dad. I also find Queen Oona refreshing as the not-actually-mean stepmother, who manages to be both bizarre and boring in her stepdaughter’s eyes.

***

The characters are portrayed by Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre, Nat Faxon, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Matt Berry, David Herman, Maurice LaMarche, Lucy Montgomery and Billy West, with great enthusiasm and thoroughly random accents.

Unfortunately, the main characters’ personality traits are also somewhat random from one episode to the next, which makes it harder to become fully invested in them. Bean’s scattershot behavior is at least excusable for a confused teenager, but the writers don’t seem to have a good handle on Elfo and Luci. Both of these characters are frequently out of character, with Elfo in particular swinging wildly from innocent to cynical and a number of points in between.

On the other hand, the minor and incidental characters are wonderful, my favorites being the King’s two pages (who I suspect are Akbar and Jeff) and a knight’s overprotective mother.

***

Disenchantment is not quite a sitcom like Groening’s other shows. It is a sharp comedy with a lot more going on inside the jokes. It mocks the conventions of the whole fantasy adventure genre while embracing the threats and dangers inherent in it. Disenchantment is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and other times quite sentimental. The show has already taken a few serious turns. There have been several on-screen character deaths (some more permanent than others), played for comedy and for genuine tragedy.

The initial impression I get of the series was that it is still feeling its way. The thread connecting all the scattered plot points was too obvious to ignore, but still hard to follow. Then the final few episodes managed to not only tie most of the story together, but to take it into unexpected and promising territory. That sudden turn is one of the strongest reasons I can give to watch.

With all its inconsistencies and slightly blurred focus, I like Disenchantment. A lot. There is an unexpected and welcome warmth to it, and what I hope is the promise of something more substantial to come.