See It Instead: American Gods
(With Bonus First Impression)
Starz’ latest TV event is upon us, the Bryan Fuller adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s novel American Gods. If you’re on the fence about the show, or just want to wait for a full series binge session, we have some picks to tide you over.
Here on See It Instead, we give you all the news you can use on the movies you might want to peruse, so you can choose to excuse yourself from a mainstream flick that’s making you snooze. This time around: American Gods.
Starz has been upping their game lately. From it’s continuation of the Sam Raimi Evil Dead series with Ash Vs. Evil Dead to landing both Bryan Fuller and a Neil Gaiman commodity with American Gods, they’ve fully entered the appointment viewing arena. While I plan on doing a post mortem when the first season finally wraps, I thought I’d give you my impressions two episodes in. If you want something to tide you over ’till the season is over, I’ll even throw in three movies to scratch the itch. What say you to that proposal?
American Gods (2017)
Based on the novel of the same name, American Gods follows Shadow Moon, a prison convict released early due to his wife’s death. While making his way to his wife’s funeral, Shadow encounters Mr. Wednesday, a seductive con-man with a proposition: become his driver, bodyguard and all around errand boy, return for steady work. From there, the two embark on a whirlwind tour of America. Along the way the show explores faith, race, sexuality, culture, and the immigrant experience in America.
Don’t take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks!
Series creator Bryan Fuller has once again teamed up with Hannibal director David Slade and it shows. The visuals are gorgeous and sinful. Usually a combination of Lust and Gluttony. HD time lapse shots and colorful collages present even mundane acts like making coffee as sensual spectacles. Anyone who watched NBC’s Hannibal solely for the “food porn” will be in for a treat. The gore and violence get a similar flare for the dramatic. Limbs fly, guts shine, and blood gouts like claret in a champagne commercial.
If you watched Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, you probably have a fair inkling of his approach to adapting a novel. It cleaves to the source like a love-letter from a fan, while at the same time reinterpreting and rearranging in ways that can feel like fan-fiction. Some may find it refreshing. Others may find it infuriating.
Of Gods and Men
The acting is excellent. Ricky Whittle is solid as Shadow, our lens into this strange tour. Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday chews scenery, often times just with a look. Yetide Badaki is wonderful in her interpretation of Bilquis, evoking both power and sensuality into her role. In episode two we are treated to a powerful oration/sales pitch/history lesson by Orlando Jones’ Anansi. Oh yeah, Gillian Anderson is in this, and I’d raptly watch her read from an old TV Guide.
The show doesn’t shy from tough topics, but I’ve found it a touch uneven thus far. It may be intentional. The first episode is mostly centered on Mr. Wednesday, so all the big themes are subtle and crafty, much like his character. The second episode is blunt and in your face, very much like Peter Stormare’s character Czernobog. It will take time to see if it’s artifice or coincidence, but thus far I’m cautiously optimistic about the show.
All in all, American Gods is off to a decent start. If the one episode a week format is not your cup of vodka though, here are some movies you could check out in the meantime.
The Neil Gaiman Pick: Stardust (2007)
Narrated by Ian McKellen, our story follows Tristan Thorn (Daredevil’s Charlie Cox), a simple youth living in a small town. In an impulsive display of puppy love, Tristan vows to retrieve a fallen star for his lady love. This leads Tristan to a magical land, but he’s not the only one searching for the star: a trio of witches led by Michelle Pfeiffer as well as the scheming sons of the King are hot on its heels. When the star turns out to be the faerie Yvain (Claire Danes), Tristan must decide whether to honor his vow or return her back to the heavens.
Based on Gaiman’s novel, the film is delightful and star-studded. From Robert De Niro to Peter O’toole, everyone brings a winking charm to the proceedings. Except for Claire Danes. I don’t get why her sullen petulance was ever thought of as winsome, but that might just be me. The film is fun fantasy, in the vein of The Princess Bride. While it never quite reaches that zenith, it’s a fun watch.
The Immigrant’s Story Pick: An American Tail (1986)
American Gods takes a long hard look at the immigrant experience, with all the racism, cultural appropriation, and homogenization that becoming “American” entails. If you’d like to touch on these topics in a decidedly more lighthearted way, Don Bluth’s An American Tail is a great primer.
Fieval Mousekewitz and his family flee the constant threat of Russia’s cats by embarking on a trip to America, a land they are assured is thoroughly cat free. Once there, the family is separated, and Fieval must find his loved ones with the help of his new friends Tony and Bridget.
The movie is both entertaining and educational. Don Bluth always danced the knifes edge when presenting adult topics to a young audience, but he pulls the trick off perfectly here. Class-ism, loss of ethnic identity, and the reality of the American experience are presented alongside the song and dance, and it does so without diluting the message or pandering.
The “Wednesday” Pick: Oh, God! You Devil (1984)
Ian McShane is a delight as the smooth talking snake oil salesman Mr. Wednesday. It takes a special kind of charm to convince others that shit is in fact Shinola. One of the greatest at the flim-flam was George Burns. The cigar chomping comedian was the quintessential straight talking bullshit artist, and I remember him best from the third film in the “Oh God” trilogy: Oh, God! You Devil.
Bobby is a down on his luck rock’n’roll artist. Desperate to provide for his family, Bobby muses that he’d even sell his soul to be rich and famous. Of course this gets the attention of Satan (George Burns), who assumes the form of a talent agent and cons him out of his immortal soul. Lucky for Bobby, but not for Satan, God (also George Burns) has been in Bobby’s corner ever since his father prayed over Bobby as a sick child. A battle of wits and wagers between George Burns and George Burns ensues.
While the original Oh, God! was the most critically well received of the three movies, Oh, God! You Devil was a ton of fun, and even got Burns a Saturn Award for his portrayals. While Burns’ God was always a shady man with a silver tongue, adding in some gleeful malice as the Devil cemented my appreciation for the film when I first saw it. If a good grift is your thing, then George Burns has a bargain for you!