If you have been under a rock or haven’t decided to jump in on the Netflix train ride to glory, then you might have missed one of the best series to be produced in the last decade.
I’m talking about The Haunting of Hill House, an original series produced by Netflix that is gloriously eerie where it needs to be and is generally a spooky experience.
I guess if you’re not into horror, then maybe the series isn’t for you but overall, I’d say you should still give the series a shot because I’ve heard it described as “This is Us, but horror.”
Warning, there is no non-spoiler section in this one. Sorry.
The Haunting of Hill House, which is apparently based off of the novel by Shirley Jackson, is the story of the Crain family and their experience with Hill House. There are a ton of layers to what is going on and this review isn’t going to do the series justice but should be enough to get you interested in checking it out.
Just like This is Us, the story jumps around between the present and the past. The past is around when the Crains bought Hill House to flip it, with five kids to live while the process was going on. There are things that don’t make a lot of sense at first when you’re watching early on but will make you go “I didn’t see that coming” as the season wraps up.
Again, I said that there are many layers to this show.
The present is about everyone all grown up and how they have developed over the years having experienced the house and are dealing with the consequences of what they’ve experienced.
Here’s where the spoilers come in.
The oldest son has written a book about their experiences and no one else in the family is real happy with that.During the flashbacks we learn that the mother has died, and you find out why in the last few episodes, but you also come to understand that the House is really the main reason why things are happening.
Each of the kids is dealing with the loss of the mother, dealing with how their dad has turned out, and is coping with the whole experience in their own little ways.
Needless to say, everyone is severely screwed up.
We, along with the family, start piecing together what actually happened in the house as the series progresses, learning about the history and events that have taken place in the past from both the past and the future perspectives.
A careful eye will find all the hidden ghosts in the series, too, though I haven’t rewatched the series yet to find them for myself.
Yes, this is something you’re going to want to rewatch at least a couple times because there is so much going on!
When my wife and I were watching, we made some guesses about some things and got just as many right as we got wrong. There are layers to this story and I’m so glad Netflix poured cash into this project.
This review isn’t as long as the last one because, though I have not bothered hiding spoilers, I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here. Go watch the series.
I’m also excited for season 2, which I’m hoping will explore more of the past BEFORE the Crains get to Hill House!
Starz has had a stellar TV series that I happened across about four years ago and the show was Black Sails. If you like pirates and are interested in HBO level quality of a show about them, then you are in luck.
This is my review of the entire series (as the fourth and final season has long since ended). We (my wife and I) just finished watching the last episode a night or two ago (as you read this).
Black Sails is the story of how Long John Silver got to the point where he’s at in Treasure Island, along with a good mix of actual historical events as well as actual historical pirates.
Yes, Black Sails is a prequel to Treasure Island.
The non-spoiler review is actually pretty short. You get introduced to all of the “main players” right off the bat and some new ones straggle in after a season or two, then you see where the background of Treasure Island gets built, and finally we end up in a place that (for those who have read the book) is more familiar to us.
Starz, as an HBO-like channel, also went and added all the wonderfully adult language as well as plenty of nudity just like one would come to expect from a big budget production like this.
And now, I should move forward into the spoiler review.
Your warning is now, this is the SPOILER section.
Captain Flint (fictional, from Treasure Island), Billy Bones (fictional, from Treasure Island), and the crew of the Walrus (fictional, Treasure Island) end up with a passenger named John Silver (fictional, Treasure Island) who ends up becoming part of the crew.
They are all pirates from Nassau, a city in the Bahamas where the pirates have built their Republic (this is fact). In charge of the island is Eleanor Guthrie, the daughter of a man who organized the pirates into something less random and something more civil. Eleanor, as well as her unseen father, are real.
Among the other pirates that hang out in and around Nassau are Charles Vane (real life pirate) of the Ranger (his real ship was called Lark), Jack Rackham (real life pirate, known as Calico Jack), Anne Bonny (real life pirate), and Benjamin Hornigold (real life pirate and mentor to Edward Teach… Blackbeard).
Nassau has a brothel where a lot of scenes happen (both for the gratuitous nudity and the story development for meetings between characters) and Fort Nassau is under the control of Hornigold, who uses it to fend off ships who aren’t welcome on the island.
There’s a Spanish ship carrying a lot of gold, known as the Urca de Lima (real ship), which is discovered by the pirates and becomes the focus of their attention… because they’re pirates.
The whole while, John Silver is slowly becoming the scary and powerful pirate we know he is in Treasure Island, which is a transformation worth watching as the series goes on.
There are spectacular naval battles, political intrigue, examples of what kinds of things people at sea faced in the 18th century, and for those who need a little nudity, there is some in every season (though, as is typical with HBO shows, the amount decreases as the seasons progress, giving way to the actual story).
As a series, this was surprisingly excellent in a way that I hadn’t expected Starz to produce. HBO has a track record of producing content like this, and I’m sure if I subscribed to Starz I would find more interesting content there (I watched Black Sails through my Hulu subscription).
If I had to give the series as a whole a star rating, I’d give the series a 5 out of 5. Sure, there were some slow parts and drawn out pieces that took away from the spectacle. Some of the historical stuff isn’t accurate, either (like Blackbeard’s final appearance didn’t actually happen the way they showed us), some of the integral pirates necessary to be more historically based were missing entirely, and after we’re given some examples of what pirates dealt with we’re pushed into pure story instead of noting how those things didn’t go away. Overall, though, I’m still giving the series a 5.
There is so much awesome packed into this series that I can’t even contain my enthusiasm. I wanted more than 4 seasons but I understand that the story didn’t have more story in it… I would have been less happy if there was a season 7 that just sort of padded itself to last to get to the “good stuff” in a finale.
That’s the one thing I wasn’t disappointed in at all: there is very little stretching of the story for the sake of stretching the story.
If you want to know why columns aren’t coming out like they used to then you should be aware that November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I have decided to participate this year… that basically eats up the extra spare time I had to write a column.
So where is this one coming from? Well, the subject of my NaNoWriMo novel this year is basically SpecterChess. I started writing and came up with some wonderful ideas that I’d like to revisit on this site, and perhaps alter SpecterChess with… so, let’s not waste anymore time.
I have an issue finishing writing projects. No, really, I do.
Yes, I know that isn’t a surprise… that was sarcasm.
Anyway, I was challenged by my friend (and author) Jason Brick (of BrickCommaJason.com) to write something I “wasn’t married to as an idea.” I chose to write about someone who wants to set up a chess league and that basically meant I was writing about SpecterChess, in a nutshell. Along the way, though, something happened.
Some writers will tell you that they aren’t necessarily in control of their characters. Non-writers will be baffled by this statement but writers understand that sometimes the characters are really the ones who are in charge of the dialog, meaning they can sometimes start talking about stuff that you hadn’t expected them to talk about at all. Sometimes, even, they bring up subjects that are completely out of left field, and in my case they can actually unveil things you weren’t sure that you wanted to do.
My characters have done that very thing.
The character who came up with the idea for SpecterChess (it’s called ICE for International Chess Experience in the novel) pitched the whole idea to his friend and unbeknownst to me came up with some formatting changes that I didn’t really take into consideration when I launched SpecterChess. The biggest one is the “divisional breaks” I used for SpecterChess: my character broke them up more evenly and with a better overall vision for them.
As I write this, SpecterChess has 10 rate divisions that are between 100 and 200 Elo points apart (with no room for being at the top of the rating maximum and going over). I initially just named them after the weight classes that the UFC uses with the addition of the unified rules of MMA inclusion of Cruiserweight. Using the names and weights, I literally just added a “0” on the end of the weight to create an Elo maximum for each division.
Sounded good at the time.
My character, though, broke them up differently and excluded anyone above 2200. Why 2200? Well, the reasoning is that anyone above that rating will be focused on “traditional chess improvement” and wouldn’t really be interested in playing in ICE at all. These players would be the ones attending all kinds of tournaments and winning prize money.
The new “Rate Classes” are as follows (with the maximum Elo in parentheses): Kilo Rate (1200), Mega Rate (1400), Giga Rate (1600), Tera Rate (1800), Peta Rate (2000), and Exa Rate (2200). If someone won their division’s championship, and they were already at the maximum rating (or very close to going over), they are given a 50 Elo buffer to defend said championship. ONLY 50 Elo points and ONLY for championships. If you’re a non-champion player and you stray over the rating limit, you’re in the higher division.
Another caveat that I came up with, which I do not personally have the funding to do, was being paid a salary for playing in ICE. The salary varied based on rate division and would only apply to those who were “ranked” contenders. That means that the champion and the top 15 players under the champion are under salary, while the rest of the competitors are not salaried players. This gives anyone a reason to try to get ranked in their divisions and gives a reason for ICE, or in my case SpecterChess, a reason to be a draw to players.
On top of a salary, every win you achieve under the ICE (or in my case SpecterChess) banner would be a bonus of a flat fee (let’s use $25 for this example). Regardless of salary, you could earn an additional $25 per win (meaning the win over the opponent and not the win of individual games). There would also be bonuses for outstanding game/match and other possible bonuses.
The characters in the novel started by forming a single division first and expanding out from there. Now, I’ve only written into the beginning of their first event, so Tera Rate is the one they started with and they established a KO tournament in order to determine a champion and 15 ranked contenders. After another event of only Tera Rate competitors, they will be starting in on another rate division (I’m thinking “down” would be smarter to go with initially, so they’d be introducing the Giga Rate division next using that line of thinking).
When I use the word “tournament,” I am speaking specifically about KO tournaments. Chess is rife with round robins (it is THE norm) and the whole point of SpecterChess is to go back to match play.
Why match play?
Well, there is no scarcity in chess anymore. Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana (the two World Chess Championship 2018 players) have played each other more than 50 times already… where’s the mystery in that? Also, with only tournament play in chess, they haven’t gotten a chance at a long run of match play like they are about to enter. There isn’t really any match play other than the WCC.
Sure, that allows all kinds of kibitzers to download all their games and overanalyze things. I also agree that tournament play isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My concern is that with ONLY tournament play, chess is becoming more an endurance product than a player v player game. Players are more concerned with their overall tournament performance and less about “that one game they drew” early on.
My goal with SpecterChess isn’t to eliminate “normal” chess tournaments, it’s to add a feature for those who aren’t in some sort of contention for the WCC. I’m creating “chess competition for the rest of us.”
I’d like to play in tournaments, sure, but I’d rather concentrate more on a single opponent at a time with a focus on seeing if I can outmatch them rather than endure an entire tournament.
The last thing that ICE is doing that I hadn’t really considered before is game time. Each game is 15 minutes per player, meaning we don’t need to worry about achieving that “perfect game” in a traditional time control. It also eliminates the stress of needing to be spectacular at blitz chess, which in my estimation can be overrated as the alternative. With 30 minute games, players have their entire set of four games (per match) in a single day, leaving the multiple day event format in the dust.
SpecterChess would literally be like the UFC in that they’d only be happening on single days.
I would like to thank my characters for coming up with most of this and though I’ll be altering SpecterChess’s format/rules in the near future, I wanted to point out that sometimes writing takes you in weird directions.