Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 1, Episode 3 – “Past Prologue” – The Politics of Bajor and Kira’s Role

Past Prologue (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom

     “Past Prologue” is a good example of the themes that “Deep Space Nine” loved to explore. This is an episode full of politics and character development that really make it an enjoyable outing. This is also the episode that introduces my favorite character on “Star Trek.” That character is Garak. He is such a fantastic character and this episode does a beautiful job of illustrating so many of the reasons why.

The episode was directed by Winrich Kolbe and written by Katharyn Powers.

The story follows the arrival of Tahna Los on the station after he is being pursued by Cardassians. He is part of a fanatical group that never gave up the fight against Cardassians called the Kohn-Ma. Kira and Sisko are left with a choice as Tahna Los’s story unfolds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise is really neat as it shows the politics that surround the Station and the wormhole. You have Bajoran fanatic groups like the Kohn-Ma who will have to be integrated back into society again. You have the shady dealings with Tahna Los and Kira’s torn loyalties. It is a really neat premise.

Commander Sisko – Commander Sisko is a character walking the line between keeping peace with Bajor and also representing the Federation. It is handled really well here as he is at first sympathetic to Tahna Los’s talk of reforming himself and giving up violence. He is sympathetic while still using all the crew at his disposal to see if Los is lying or not. After he finds out the truth he plans and springs the trap. It is really well done. I love how he and Kira clash but respect one another. It is a nice dynamic.

Tahna Los – Tahna Los is a nationalist fanatic but it is something that is slowly revealed over the course of the episode. He starts out sympathetic as a man who wants to give up violence, but we soon see it is all a lie given how he manipulates Kira and his dealings with the Duras Sisters. I found him compelling as an antagonist though as he truly wanted a Bajor that had no one connected to it. He was a nationalist and blinded by his hate for anyone not Bajoran.

The Duras Sisters – The Duras Sisters show up trying to get money to fund their family. They are handled well as we see them walk the line of diplomacy while never losing sight of their desire for financial power. It is a shame we never see them again after this until “Generations.” They had a lot of potential as they were the remaining power behind their house. The most I can think of is that even after this they were never able to rebuild Duras back to it’s former might.

Garak – Garak is introduced in this episode and he is wonderful. He uses Bashir to get information to Sisko to reveal the plots of the Duras Sisters and Tahna Los and I love his use of metaphor. Him being a spy is pretty on the nose in this episode, but I enjoyed it so much. Bashir is in over his head and this is played up well as Garak’s experience helps him get Bashir in the right place at the right time. God, this simple tailor is simply brilliant.

Major Kira and Uniting a People – This is a Kira episode and I like the conflict that she is left with. She is Liaison to the Federation and was also a freedom fighter during the occupation. In her eyes Tahna Los is a man who never gave up that fight. In this we see how she wants to unite all Bajorans and help Bajor make it’s own path but Los uses that until she catches him lying. In the end she is essential to his defeat and her relationship with Sisko is back to some level of normalcy. It is very well done and I got her aims with trying to help all of Bajor heal.

The Cons:

Pacing – For an episode about a secret plot, this episode is real slow. It really only picks up in the final act. This is a shame as there were so many political factions in play it could have done for more of that tension and less of Bashir going to Sisko on what he should do.

Odo’s View of Justice at this Point – Odo bashes Federation justice and compliments the simpleness of the Occupation. Not a good look Odo. When he said that to Sisko I was glad he grew out of that mentality to a degree. We do see the Founder in him come out in that mindset though. The Dominion functions in simple brutality.

This was a good episode that could have been great. The politics should have lead to a lot more tension but I love how involved most of the crew is with the main plot. This is a Kira story that uses “Deep Space Nine” as an ensemble show really well. I can see how the philosophy of the Kohn-Ma will play a part later in the story as well. Season 1 is all about the Federation and specifically Sisko and Kira’s relationship to Bashir and this episode is a shining of example of that.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Could have been great with better tension in the writing.

Star Trek: Voyager – Season 1, Episode 8 – “Ex Post Facto” – The Time “Voyager” Went Noir

Ex Post Facto (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom

     “Ex Post Facto” is early “Voyager” and trying to tell a Noir style mystery. Overall it works, though the greatest things against it is the dialogue. At times it felt like the characters were speaking as Noir archetypes, rather than characters which kept me from rating it higher. Tuvok is the most compelling character in the story and I was grateful to see him get some development. This was an episode I overall enjoyed and I’ll get into why below.

The teleplay was by Evan Carlos Somers and Michael Piller and was directed by LeVar Burton.

Tom Paris is convicted of murder, leading to Voyager and Tuvok investigating into events further.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Mystery Presentation – The mystery is presented in interviews and a black and white memory file of the victim. This is beautifully done and LeVar Burton does a great job capturing the stakes and mystery of each scene, as well as capturing the tension between characters.

The Politics and Species – The politics of this episode are fascinating. You have the Banae and Numiri who are at war and once shared a world. Throughout the episode the Numiri are neutral to hostile and we soon see that there are some Banae working with them. I wish the conflict had been explored further, but the premise of the conflict as well as the designs were very well. The Banae look more human with feathers on their head while the Numiri are entirely reptilian. I’m glad they didn’t go cheap for the character designs on these two.

The Doctor’s Individuality – Kes is one of the first people to help the Doctor realize he is more than his programming. It is a really well done scene as she questions why he discounts what he cares about and if he’d ever choose a name. I loved their relationship in this as it had the Doctor as a mentor but also learning from the only person who could see his humanity.

Chakotay and the Maquis – Chakotay asks Janeway to do a Maquis tactic to neutralize the enemy Numiri forces and we see him work with Torres to pull it off. It is beautifully done and I wish we’d seen more of it. This is early in the show, so they are still showing the Maquis perspective on this voyage home. It was great seeing his origin as a Maquis put to use and him working with one of his crewmen (Torres) to pulls it off.

Janeway – Janeway is both respectful of the conflict she is in the middle of and not taking a side while doing everything she can get Paris back. I really liked her appreciation here and hated how when she came to Neelix for advice he acted like an ass. This is an episode that shows why she leads and I like how she calls out Chakotay’s tactic that is good they never met in battle. Even if she was bluffing it was a nice bit of dialogue.

Tuvok – Tuvok is the heart of the episode. It is his quest for the truth that helps it come to light. He mind melds with Paris and notices the height difference between he and the woman he was cheating on her husband with and also the data in the memory. It is from this he extrapolates someone is trying to pass information onto the Numiri due to them attacking everytime Paris is leaving or coming to Voyager. We learn he’s been married for years in this episode too and he accepts Tom Paris’s friendship which was a touching way to end the episode.

The Cons:

The Dialogue – The dialogue is really on the nose. Anytime characters are discussing the murder they sound like jaded cynics, which didn’t fit. When Harry Kim was talking like someone twice his age, I didn’t believe it. The best dialogue is when it is naturally occurring dialogue like Chakotay and his plan and any scenes with Tuvok.

The Motivation of the Villains – The villains were trying to sell weapon technology to a species they were at war with. Why? I didn’t see what they were getting out of the situation. The performances were fine but they needed a more fleshed out motivation. Lidell is only using Paris as she is already with a Doctor who doesn’t even have a name in the episode. They needed more motivation. The performances were good but they needed a deeper motivation.

Neelix – Neelix jokes around way too much for the crew trying to save Paris. He comes off as uncaring and not really knowing all that much about either people in the conflict. He was the only crewmember this episode could have done without and been better for it.

This is a solidly enjoyable episode. LeVar Burton clearly knew what he was going for in telling the murder mystery Noir and he captures this beautifully. The only issues were the dialogue at times and the motivation of the villains. We never learn why they were trying to get weapons to the Numiri and why they’d betray their own people. Besides this, we get to see so many of the crew shine and this never stops being an episode with stakes.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – An Amazing Show About Politics, Philosophy and the Fully Realized Life

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

    “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is one of my favorite animes of all time. This is an anime that has intriguing characters, philosophy, politics and a narrative that builds to a fantastic and rewarding ending. If animes are your thing, you should definitely check it out. This is a re-watch for me as I was looking for more long form completed stories to see during the Covid-19 crisis. Suffice to say, it still very much holds up. There is a 2003 adaptation that is quite different from the manga that I did not enjoy as much, but at some point will revisit. If you want to see some really fantastic deep video content checkout Wisecrack and Lowart’s takes on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” They are amazing deep dives well worth your time and I want to give them a shout out before I explore my own thoughts on the show.

The series is based off the manga created by Hiromu Arakawa, directed by Yasuhiro Irie, written by Hiroshi Ōnogi and produced by Bones.

The story follows State Alchemists Ed and Al of Amestris as they seek to get Al’s body back and free him from the armor his soul lives in. This all unfolds as the brothers and other characters slowly uncover the truth of their country and the nature of Alchemy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Akira Senju’s gothic inspired soundtrack is so beautiful and helps build the tension of the narrative so well. This is a story with consequences and that is reflected in the composition of the score who pulls on gothic choirs and somber instrumentals.

The Action – This show has some of the best fights you will see in any anime. Any time a character is fighting a Homonculus you get to see the full potential of both the fighters. You get the superhuman speeds of the inhuman homonculi and the power and magic behind the attacks the alchemists bring or the martial arts from the characters from Xing. It is hard to choose a favorite fight but the personal nature of anyone facing Wrath is extremely warding as well as Lust against Mustang.

The Politics – The politics of “FMA: Brotherhood” are one of the strongest aspects of the story. We have the Ishvalin Civil War, which is used as cover for Amestris to destroy them. We see them clash with their northern neighbors Drachma who they’ve clashed with in the past and the rise of to power as many Generals vie to control Amestris as they plot the downfall of the Furor Bradley. Within all this we see the stories of the Ishvalin refugees, meet characters from Xing, seeking immortality through Alchemy and see the clashing between clans happening there. All of these struggles are told through character interaction and we come to care about the people and their missions.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “FMA: Brotherhood” as it is their struggles and stories that bring meaning to the political and philosophical battles that unfold. This show made me care about random characters who were introduced as muscle for enemies and even the villains get explored in a compelling way. The exploration of the villains is best executed through the stories of the Homonculi who will get their own section in this review. What makes things work the most is the characters and their relationships change. Ed and Al inspire people to be better and even they go through crisises of identity when faced with the monstrous acts of others or the consequences of their choices or situation. This applies to all the characters and I felt for anyone who died over the course of the show.

Homunculus | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

The Homonculi – The Homonculi are the primary antagonists of the series. They are lead by “Father” who became the form of Hohenheim after he used the destruction of Xerxes to create a philosopher’s stone. After this he tore his voices from himself and made them his children. These are the Seven Homonculi – Wrath, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Sloth and Gluttony. All of them are compelling with most being muscle at different points. Gluttony and Sloth are muscle. Lust and Envy are the ones trying to get under characters skin and acting as assassins early on to keep Father’s plot hidden. Pride is the one watching and controlling a lot of what is going on. Greed is doing his own thing and Wrath is King Bradley. Greed and Wrath were my favorites and I’ll into that further.

Wrath / King Bradley – Wrath was an orphan raised from birth by mad scientists to some day potentially lead Amestris. He survives the philosopher stone that is put into him and so much of his life is seeking his own choice. This is one reason the rebellion against him gets as bad as it does. Wrath wants something unpredictable and challenges to fight as it is only in battle he truly feels alive. He also still holds onto his humanity as he took a wife who clearly cares about even though I don’t think he is capable of love. He is one of the best antagonists in the series and is dynamic, charismatic and threatening anytime he is in action.

Greed  – Greed is the Homonculi who grows. In the beginning he has a gang of Chimera (part-human, part-animal creations) who Wrath takes out as he is seen as a threat to Father’s plans. Father destroys him but later introduces him once more as a pawn to be used when Ling, a Lord of Xing is captured. From here Greed protects Father and stays out of his way until Ling establishes more control and the memories of what Wrath did to him come back. This eventually leads to him realize that he desires people and power in order to have friends, which leads to his final sacrifice to make Father vulnerable in order for Ed to finally defeat him. It is a powerful arc and I loved that he changed over the course of the show.

Defining Tragedy – One thing that defines the stakes and choices in this story is that of tragedy. Scar and the death of his brother and the Ishvalin people, Scar’s murder of Winry’s parents who were caring for him, Ed and Al’s loss of their mother (and Al’s body and Ed’s arm and leg), Izumi and the loss of her child, the murder of Maes Hughes and the death Nina and Alexander. All this happens early on or is revealed over the course of the earlier arcs. It is beautifully done, and keeps the stakes high through the series. Loss is what defines these characters and it is their facing that loss and the consequences that they change.

Forgiveness – Forgiveness is a running theme of the show as it is the first step for a character who has done wrong to realize they can atone and can change their actions. This is seen in the Ishvalins refugees who forgave the military and are there fighting with them at the end to overthrow King Bradley and in Winry whose forgiveness, that changes Scar and his hunt to kill all Alchemists.

Winry – Winry is a fantastic character who takes an active role in her destiny and country’s future. So many times Ed and Al try to protect her from the truth (Scar, murdering her parents) but she learns it any way and lets them know that she is here to help beyond being Ed’s mechanic. I really liked her arc over the course of the show as she develops as a mechanic and sees more beyond her village and friendship with Ed and Al, even as her relationship with Ed is sweet and I like that they end up together. She is smart and honest and though she won’t kill Scar and forgives him she says she can’t abide by him continuing to murder. This holding of account while not giving into hate changes him and it is thanks to Scar joining the fight that it is even possible to defeat Father in the end.

Atonement – Another theme in the series is that of Atonement. Mustang and his men are attempting to redeem themselves for the wrongs they committed in Ishval. Scar is attempting to redeem himself for the murders he committed and Ed and Al are also seeking atonement for their attempt to bring back their Mom, just as their Father seeks atonement for his empowering of “Father” and being a very terrible dad himself. There are other examples as well but these are some of the strongest as it is the mistakes characters made that inspire them to change things and make things better for themselves, their people or country and the people around them.

Mustang – After the horrors Roy Mustang committed in Ishval, he and his men promise to change the country and that they will make Mustang leader in the process to write these wrongs. It is powerfully done and we see Mustang facing his internal rage as well as his guilt. It is Ed and Hawkeye who show help him get past that final step to become leader when he nearly kills Envy in revenge for his killing of Hughes. In the end Mustang lives and is working to help Ishval with the hint that eventually he will become leader of Amestris.

Scar – Scar is first introduced to us as a complex antagonist. He is hunting down Alchemists on a religious crusade as he sees Alchemy as an afront to God. He is also seeking revenge for the death of his brother and the destruction of his nation by the Alchemists of Amestris. This rage and belief that drives him doesn’t change until Winry forgives him for his murder of her parents but holds him accountable for the evils he still commits. He sees her justice as worth it and the fact that she doesn’t kill him forever changes him. After this he becomes an eventual ally of our heroes and their war against “Father” and King Bradley. In the end Scar defeats Bradley and we see him unite with the refugees among his people and become a leader. What he and the Ishvalin refugees do is essential to defeating “Father.” Scar is such a wonderfully complex character and has one of the greatest arcs on the show.

The Cost of Hate and Revenge – The cost of hate and revenge are a running theme in the series that also gives it strength. Scar and Mustang are nearly defeated because of how it consumes them. Envy’s hate for humanity leads to him killing himself when they fail to give into the hate they should feel for one another. What is a part of this is that killing in murder or revenge will change you and in turn you will only hurt more in the process. Scar’s journey is truly the best execution of this path. Ed and Al and Winry and Hawkeye are the one keeping the characters balanced as they always seek alternative and also face their rage or guilt and find out why they feel the way they do. It is powerfully done and I loved this element of the show.

The Philosophy of Equal Exchange – One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the philosophy of equal exchange. Everything has a price and is a part of something else. This is expressed anytime Alchemy is used as something can’t be created from nothing and when characters confront the mysterious “Truth.” “Truth” always takes something and in turn a character gets back something in turn.

All is One and One is All – Within Alchemy is the philosophy is all is one and one is all. This is part of Equal Exchange as something cannot be made from nothing. This philsophy is also taken literally in how the Homonculi are defeated or changed. The Homonculi are powerful one on one or against one or two people but whenever they face multiple characters or forget the people that make them up within the philosopher stones that birthed them, they lose. “Father” loses because he fails to recognize the individuals within him, and it is even the final act of one of his children Greed sacrificing himself changing him physically that leads to his final defeat. The multiple standing as one are more powerful than any single individual even if they wield the power of “God.”

Hohenhiem and “Father” – Hohenhiem grew up a slave in Xerxes, which is where “Father” who at the time was “Dwarf in the Flask Homonculus” was also a slave to the Alchemist. “Dwarf” teaches Hohenhiem and helps him become an alchemist himself. He is even the one who gives Hohenhiem his name as at this point he only has a number as an identity. and eventually gains a form when he tricks the King of Xerxes as nationwide Alchemist Circle is used to create a philosopher stone. From this Hohenhiem gains immortality and “Dwarf” becomes “Father” and takes Hohenhiem’s form.

Ed and Al – Ed and Al are the heart of the show. They are idealistic brothers who refuse to kill. They are also driven by their guilt for their attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. Ed is more stubborn and loud while Al tends to be more reflective. We also see how hard is life is too. His soul is in armor as it was the only way to save him and because of this he can’t sleep or feel anything. This makes his fight through the series all the more powerful and gives strength to all his arguments to Chimera about them choosing to live and to find a cure. Ed doesn’t carry that same trauma but he is in the thick of the politics and it takes time for him to open up as his early arc is holding his trauma close. Winry is one of the first he opens up too and I love that they end up together by the end. These are two of the most compelling protagonists in any anime and it is their wonderful flaws that define them and their choices so well. They deserved getting Al’s body back and in the end they are still seeking truth as it is Ed giving up his knowledge of alchemy in order to bring him back.

The Cons:

Whiplash Between Humor and Seriousness Early on – I am not a fan of when shows jump between a more serious art-style to chibi and cutesy. “Brotherhood” has this problem early on but it happens far less as the series goes on. For that reason I’m willing to give this con more of a break since I can see why it was used as it is an attempt to give humor to all the tragedy that happens over the course of the show.

The fact that the only real con is the very common anime animation and humor whiplash is a testament to just how strong this show is. I came to care about nearly all the protagonists but they minor or major characters. There was nuance in how they were written and their relationships. We also had a show that explored philosophy and identity deeply. We got all of this told through a beautiful animation and soundtrack. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed or watched anime and it was very worth it return back to this stunning story. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic and deep story.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The show does have flaws, but the strengths of it far outweigh those flaws. This is an example of how to tell a great long form story with consequences that can explore deeper themes.

 

The Gentlemen (2020): A Great Guy Ritchie Crime Thriller

Amazon.com: Watch The Gentlemen | Prime Video

    “The Gentlemen” is Guy Ritchie’s return to classic form as seen in his film “Snatched,” “Locked, Stocked and Two Smoking Barrels” and others. This is a crime thriller where there aren’t any good people. The action is kinetic, the soundtrack is amazing and besides pacing issues I was enthralled in how the reveals would all pan out in the end. If you are in for a good thriller or have enjoyed Ritchie’s older work I’ll recommend now before I get into spoilers.

The film was directed and written by Guy Ritchie.

The story follows Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) as he attempts to sell his drug company while forces vie against him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The opening song “Cumberland Gap” is pure gold and the rap and instrumentals littered through the film kept me enthralled as the betrayals unfolded. Ritchie clearly knows who to choose for his soundtracks. Christopher Benstead did a fantastic job.

The Action – The last 2 films I saw with great action were “Birds of Prey” and “Come to Daddy.” This film beats them both. Ritchie has been doing action for longer and this pays off in how he frames action scenes. You are left with suspense and consequences throughout the entire film. Even if it is a character telling a story, you know that there will be action consequences within the story and after. Ritchie did not disappoint.

The Main Characters – This film has no moral characters but damn if they aren’t compelling. The four most fleshed out characters are Mickey, Raymond, Coach and Fletcher who I will go into below. The minor characters are still compelling though. You can see why others are working with these characters in different ways and you should really watch the film for those minor characters, even if they don’t drive the narrative.

Mickey – Mickey is the main driver of the narrative as Coach is pulled into his orbit after his student’s steal from him, Raymond is his bodyguard and Fletcher is trying to blackmail him. He begins as a man wanting to retire and sell his Empire and ends with holding onto his Empire, making a profit and getting rid of the competition. Part of me wonders if this wasn’t the point all along as it is hard to know just how genuine the character is given he is proven to be ruthless very early on in his life. His story is still very compelling though. McConaughey plays the crime lord very well.

Raymond – Raymond is Mickey’s accountant and muscle and is very good at his job. As the fixer is being blackmailed by Fletcher at the beginning of the film and we see how all the dirt was gotten on him and Mickey and the first place, before the final reveal of just how in control the character is. Hunnam gives vulnerability to the character while still showing why he is trusted in the role he is in.

Coach – Colin Farrell’s coach is a character who it is implied was once in the criminal underworld but now works as a fighting coach to help others have a new start too. After a few of the people he is helping still from Mickey he finds himself roped in and working for Mickey. In the end he is able to even the score with with Raymond owing him as Coach is one of the more moral characters we meet in the entire film.

Fletcher – Fletcher is trying to blackmail Mickey with all the dirt he gets on him over the course of the film. Hugh Grant plays this playful, slimey character very well. He is passionate about film and we see him pushing Raymond’s button in his home as often as he can. Grant would have made a great Jack Sparrow honestly after seeing him in this role. In the end Raymond captures him after he attempts to sell the premise of this film to Miramax, to give us some meta. He is also the character narrating what has happened for the majority of the film.

Set-up – The set-up has Mickey getting shot in a cafe and Fletcher blackmailing Raymond for money from Mickey’s organization. It is immediately promising as we have a lot of questions to be answered and the stakes start out high.

The Reveals – Like any classic Guy Ritchie films we get a bunch of double crosses. Dry Eye, one of the antagonists kills his boss, Fletcher is betraying whomever is convenient at the time and the reveal of Mickey figuring out how deep all the betrayals go is revealed at the very end. It is extremely well done and I’m not going to spoil it here.

The Cons:

The Pacing – The film is nearly 2 hours long and before we get to the climax there are a few moments it feels that way. It pays off in the end due to the reveals but I think the film would have been stronger with better use of those reveals, which in turn would have saved time.

Rosalind and Victimization – Rosalind is nearly raped by Dry Eyes who is Mickey’s rival. She kills his goons but is only in the film as a something to be protected. This was awful especially since the only other woman in the film is a heroin addict who dies from an overdose to further victimize Mickey. We spend so much time with Raymond and nothing happens to him. Given how much of a role he plays in the narrative why couldn’t he have been victimized to up the stakes?

Even with the very obvious flaws this is the best film I’ve seen so far in this very strange 2020 with the world under quarantine. If you are a fan of classic Guy Ritchie you will no doubt enjoy this film and if you enjoy a good thriller I think you will too. The flaws, are blatant but the overall strength of the narrative boosts the film to a greater degree. With all the big budget projects Ritchie has been up to it is nice to see a return to his cinematic roots.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Easily the best film I’ve watched thus far in 2020.

“Star Trek: Picard” Season 1 – Good Characters That Needed a Further Developed World

STAR TREK: PICARD - REMEMBRANCE - PhantaNews

      Season 1 of “Star Trek: Picard” is flawed but has more that works than doesn’t in the end. This is a series that is willing to explore quite a few different factions that are at odds and still focus on the characters who drive the story. It doesn’t all work, I would not call this series great but it is good and has the potential to be great in future seasons. This is a review that will include SPOILERS so warning you now, I’m exploring what works and doesn’t work about this season for me so I will be in the details. Continue reading at your own risk. In the end, more worked for me than didn’t and I really hope we see characters and the world developed further in Season 2.

This is a season reflection so will contain SPOILERS as it covers what I liked and hated in the narrative.

The Pros:

Premise – The premise of the show is really strong. You have a Federation that has retreated from the world and outlawed the building of synthetics after synthetics destroy the shipyards on Mars. This in turn leads to a refugee crisis as Mars was building ships to help get Romulans out of the blastzone of the Hobas Supernova. Picard resigns in protest against Starfleet, which brings us to the present and Dahj, an android made from Data’s postaron seeking out Picard’s protection after an attempt is made to kindap her.

Soundtrack – Jeff Russo’s soundtrack is beautiful and reflective and has a hint of melancholy about it. This worked really well as what drives the show is Picard facing is own mortality and what he wants to make of the rest of his life as he comes out of retirement. The theme song reflects this well as well as the underlying mystery as Dahj and Soji discover they are androids slowly and the soundtrack captures that.

Cinematography – Picard is a good looking show. The cinematography is movie quality and the use of sets and green screens are blended together really well.

Star Trek: Picard's Best New Characters Are Laris and Zhaban

Laris and Zhaban – Laris and Zhaban are former Tal Shiar and Picard’s carekeepers at the winery. Laris is one of my favorite characters on the show and both of these characters bring a human face to the conflict. They believe in Picard and helping the refugees and are the ones who tell Picard about the Zhat Vash. I wish we had gotten more time with both of them as we saw they have given up their old ways but still use their training to protect.

Zhat Vash – The Zhat Vash are a secret order that seeks to destroy all synthetic lifeforms as due to a beacon left on a planet they saw that advanced synths will destroy all life. The members of the order we meet are Oh, Narissa and Narek. Oh is half-Vulcan while Narissa and Narek are adoptive siblings. All of them are damaged in different ways and see their desire to protect the universe from the synths above all else. I’m really curious to see if we will learn more about them in Season 2 as they do not succeed in destroying Soji’s people and the new Synths made from Data.

Seven of Nine – Seven of Nine has changed since the last time we saw her, and I appreciate the direction it took. She is part of the Rangers who are a group fighting criminals in the area that was once the Neutral Zone. Seven finds her story tied to Picard as she gets revenge against the woman who killed Icheb. After she is pulled back to Picard when Elnor uses Hugh’s emergency beacon and she and Elnor fight the Romulans with Seven even taking control of the Cube as a Queen at one point. After she and Elnor are taking care of the Ex-Borgs until they rejoin Picard. I’m curious to see her relationship with the Ex-Borgs explored further and her relationship to whatever form the Borg are now. Jeri Ryan did an amazing job.

Ex-Borg Hugh's Character Arc in 'Picard' Embodies the Best of ...

Hugh – Hugh was my favorite character besides Laris and Jonathan Del Arco returned to this character beautifully. He is the Director on “The Artifact” and is helping Ex-Borg also called xBs heal from the trauma of assimilation. The fact that the Romulans are good with him until he tries to get to the Queen’s room says a lot for Federation influence and the impression he left. He reminds Picard of how all xBs were victims of the Borg Collective and Picard doesn’t have to ask twice for him to help. He is only killed when is scene as breaking the treaty by helping Elnor and the Zhat Vash agent “Narissa” kills him. I hated this death initially and but on further reflection, him dying fighting to help another is fitting as that was his final act in “Descent” Part 2 which was his final appearance on “The Next Generation” and lead to him leading the free Borg who had been under Lore’s control. I do hope they bring him back in some capacity, flashbacks of how he knew Seven of Nine would be very fitting or if Seven gets a show have it be during the time when he was alive.

The Crew – I liked the crew though it is hard for me to really choose one who I like more than the characters mentioned above. Soji brings a curiosity and presence as Data’s daughter, Raffi brings empathy and cynicism, Caption Rios is broken with hidden idealism and Agnes, Elnor is the young innocent and ruthless bodyguard and Agnes is the torn over honest doctor. Each of them bring something reveals a part of Picard as his relationship to them also reveals aspects of them. It is a good crew and if I had to choose favorites it’d probably be Elnor and Captain Rios.

Riker and Troi – Riker and Troi offer relief for Soji and Picard from the Zhat Vash and Riker arrives with the Federation fleet to protect the Synths from the Zhat Vash. Seeing how much all of them had grown and their relationship to one another was powerful. Sirtis and Frakes truly inhabit their roles and they brought much needed wisdom that Picard needed. I hope this isn’t the last of them we see on the show.

Picard – This main story on the show is that of Picard and him facing his regrets, trauma and mortality. He faces his regrets in his going into retirement rather than seeking to change Starfleet, he faces his trauma in once more facing his history with the Borg and what was done to him and his mortality in his illness and death. In the end he is granted a chance to live without the illness, though it involves finally saying good-bye to Data and granting his last wish for death.

Data and his Legacy – Data’s legacy lives on the synthetics and the society they created when Maddox and Alton Soong used his positrons to make them. In the end it is one of his “children” Soji who saves his people and lives his idealism over the fear that is felt towards him and his people. We also see that he has been living in a holographic world since his psyche was saved out of B-4 after “Nemesis.” In the end he wants to die to complete his quest to become human and like a human his life lives on in the society made from him. It is beautifully done and Spiner finally gave Data the sendoff he deserved.

Brent Spiner And Patrick Stewart: Saying Goodbye To Data On 'Star ...

Confronting Fear and Persecution of “The Other” – Another theme of the series was fear of the other and facing it. Hugh had become the Director on “The Artifact” to protect and take of the xBs as he told Picard, they had no home and everyone feared them. Those same rules applied to synthetic from their outlaw by the Federation and the Zhat Vash quest to exterminate them. We see Soji’s people and herself fear and experience first hand. I hope this thread isn’t dropped as it as all the more important today.

The Cons:

Dropped Plot Threads – There are quite a few dropped plot threads that hurt the narrative. We have the xBs and them forming a civilization with Seven of Nine and Elnor and it is just forgotten as we see Seven and Elnor as member’s of Picard’s new crew in the final shot. We never learn why Maddox left the Synthetic homeworld, which given he would have been protected there made no sense why he’d leave. These are just a few of the dropped plot threads that could have easily been wrapped up with more dialogue at the very least.

Lack of Starfleet Perspective – Everyone in the crew and even Picard are all former Starfleet. This I think is a disservice as Starfleet comes to save the day at the end but no one within Starfleet is picked up as a part of Picard’s crew. This was a missed oppurtunity and would have been a great oppurtunity to have someone who contrasted with the rest of the crew. They wouldn’t even have to be “Next Generation” cast, just someone who still believed in Federation but also felt they had to help Picard and his mission.

Actual Political State of the Romulans – We learn about the Zhat Vash, meet a Romulan Refugee planet and that the Romulan Free State was in control of “The Artifact” which was the Borg Cube. Is the Romulan Star Empire gone? Is the Romulan Free State the only organized faction or are there others? The Romulan Star Empire was huge but I had no idea if they even had an Empire anymore as we only have the Free State who the Zhat Vash seem to control. This would have been such an easy fix and could have been solved in showing us a map of the region.

The Synthetic Threat – The Reaper like Synethic threat are a faction we get a glimpse of but are never taken on directly. We learn that they exterminate organic life and apparently come from another dimension and not much more than that. We even see one coming through the portal but that threat is never addressed. They are put away when at the very least I wish we could have learned more about this threat that caused the Zhat Vash to destroy the Romulan rescue fleet when they hacked the synths on Mars.

This was a flawed show but in the end it was good. I liked the moments the show slowed down and we got to know where Riker and Troi were. When we got to know the villains they became compelling and the characters who returned had lives that took fascinating directions. The show was flawed and as a whole I would consider it good but not reach great. It had a great ending and I loved how it explored the characters and themes, but too many unexplained plot and world elements held it back. Regardless, I can’t wait to see where the story is explored from here.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Watch Star Trek: Picard - Stream Full Episodes on CBS All Access

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020) – Solidly Enjoyable Action With a Larger Point

Birds Of Prey | Official Site

     “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” also known as “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is a really enjoyable film. This is a film with Guy Ritchie style crime thriller action mixed with the crazy you’d see in a “Deadpool” film. The biggest flaws in the film can be found in the script and an interpretation of a certain character but the rest of the film stands as one of the stronger DCEU films.

The film was directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson.

The story follows Harley Quinn after her breakup with the Joker as GCPD and Black Mask target her. She soon finds herself pulled into a larger plot as others vie against Black Mask and seek a stolen diamond.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is beautiful. We see the film through the eyes of Harley Quinn and her world is full of color. This is literally illustrated when people are targeting her and she gives them names, draws on the screen and lists their grievance against her. This cinematography is if “Suicide Squad” had been done right.

Action – The action is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this film and makes up for some of the weaker writing elements in the script. We have a diversity of areas and weapons that people fight with from a chase through a crowded market, a standoff in a funhouse with different floors connected by slides and shootouts in a few locations. All of it feels organic, raw and insane. There is a reason I compared it to an early Guy Ritchie film as both the stolen diamond and the action feel like something out of “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” It is truly amazing action.

Birds of Prey – One of the common criticism’s I’ve heard of this film is no one is really developed outside of Harley Quinn. I disagree. This film works because of the ensemble cast working with Harley Quinn and all of them get developed, I just think one of the characters wasn’t needed or should have been reinterpreted differently. I’ll get into that after why I think the different Birds of Prey work as characters.

Dina Lance / Black Canary – Black Canary is a lounge singer in Black Mask’s club who slowly stops playing it safe when she starts to see more of how Black Mask treats those around her. It is sparked by saving Harley from a kidnapping and increases from there as she contacts Montaya about the jewel that Black Mask is after and is part of the vigilante Birds of Prey by the end. She fears being a meta-human and when she stands with the others her last act in the fight is doing the Canary scream which makes possible the rescue of the girl Cassandra Cain who has the diamond.

Renee Montoya – Rosie Perez plays an older alcoholic Renee Montoya and she does a fantastic job. Her Montoya was cheated out of a promotion by her partner and is still driven to bring justice against characters like Black Mask that GCPD refuses to do. This logically leads to her leaving the force and joining the Birds of Prey after Black Mask is defeated (and her partner takes the credit for the defeat). It is a great arc and fits the liberation theme of the film.

Helena Burtinelli / Huntress – Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s version of Huntress is pretty awkward and I love it. She has trouble socializing with other as she was raised by assassins after her family was killed and her opening up to the others hunting Black Mask is her arc. She goes from being alone to having a community of vigilantes in the Birds of Prey after she completes her kill list. I hope we see more of her, though I hope it isn’t with the awful mask she is wearing in one of the final scenes.

Harley Quinn – Harley Quinn is the driving action of the film and this clearly Margot Robbie’s passion project, and for the most part it works. Harley is the chaos that upends the lives of Black Canary and Montaya and forces them to take action. This is all sparked after she moves on from the Joker after their breakup by blowing up Ace Chemicals. This film is from her perspective so we get time jumps, colors and commentary. This all worked and I’m really curious to see how her character further grows in “Suicide Squad 2.” Margot Robbie truly inhabits this version of the character.

Roman Sionis / Black Mask – Ewan McGregor is a creepy, scary and compelling villain. We have a club owner who has been taking over Gotham and sees all as property of him. He’s very Immortan Joe in that way. He’s unhinged and punishes those who go against him by cutting off their faces. Like in the comics he also collects masks from around the world and has the Black Mask as his own. This version of the character seems to be in a relationship with the serial killer ZsasZ and it works. Zsasz calms him down and is the only one he lets in his space but also feeds his violent nature as they are both killers. Black Mask is constantly gas-lighting those around him and it is fighting against that abuse that is the ultimate arc for many characters in the film.

Liberation Over Abuse – The theme of liberation is key to the film, especially against abusive men like The Joker and Black Mask. We see this as Black Canary comes to finally stand up against her boss and in Montaya leaving GCPD as every case she wins her partner steals from her and of course Harley breaking up with the Joker and blowing up Ace Chemicals and finding her own identity beyond the Joker. This liberation is powerful and I loved that this was the core theme of the film.

The Cons:

Cassandra Cain – This version of Cassandra Cain is a pick pocket faster kid, and it doesn’t work. First, I didn’t believe Harley’s relationship with her and it just felt awkward in the same way with Deadpool and Russell. I wish one of the Birds of Prey like Black Canary could have been the one with the Jewel as it would have made the stakes more personal. Cassandra Cain is taken from place to place and protected or captured and she could have just been the diamond and nothing would have changed. This is a shame as the comic book Cassandra Cain is pretty awesome and I hope we can see her someday on screen.

Final Scenes After Final Fight – The final scenes has the formation of the Birds of Prey as a vigilante group with Huntress, Montaya and Black Canary. The execution feels false as everything is way too happy and Huntress’s mask is crap. She was fine without the mask and adding it just ruined the awesome scene of the Birds of Prey fighting enemies. If the last scenes were cutout and it ended with saving Cain it could have been great.

This is a film that could have been great with a better script. Changing or taking out Cassandra Cain would have brought focus to the film and changing the ending would have helped everything flow together perfectly. I had a lot of fun with this film and I’m glad that DCEU is doing it’s own thing. It is that different perspective and voice that makes it stand out against the sameness that can sometimes intrude upon so many MCU films. Can’t wait to see what they do with these characters next.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 Really good and would have been great with a better script.

Come to Daddy (2020): A Son and His Relationship to His Distant Father

Come to Daddy [DVD] [2020] - Best Buy

    I was first introduced to Elijah Wood in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. He was great as Frodo and since than I have come to see his filmography goes into the strange. I like the more unique films that have something interesting to say. This film is great and flawed and totally worked for me. In this you have fantastic rising tension and we discover the truth of the situations along with our protagonist. Without getting into spoilers, this film was really strange and enjoyable and I recommend it to anyone who likes these types of films.

The film was directed by Ant Timpson and written by Toby Harvard.

Norval visits his isolated estranged father after receiving a letter from him. When he arrives at his father’s isolated home, all is not as it appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, haunting and claustrophobic as well as a sense of distance and isolation. The color red is used well to up the stakes and action and even scenes that are dark have a kinetic energy and aliveness to them. Daniel Katz did a fantastic job.

Soundtrack – The music like the cinematography does a great job establishing isolation and tension and sets up the dark nature of the film. Karl Steven’s soundtrack kept me glued to the screen as he taps into what Norval is feeling as the stakes of the film continue to rise after the truth is revealed.

Tension – As mentioned in both the cinematography and soundtrack, tension is what drives the narrative and makes it work. Norval shows up to the isolated home of his father who abondoned him and his mom. They proceed to lie to one another. He discovers his father is drunk and has anger issues and dies when trying to kill him. At this point he is stuck alone in the house, relapses into alcoholism and discovers a secret torture room where his real dad is being held by the people he stole from to give Norval and his mom the privileged life in Beverly Hills (money from when they kidnapped one of the richest men in Thailand’s son and held him for ransom). He has two more people to face and has to free his father and is in over his head. This all happens with time to breathe in the story with the tension rising the entire time.

The Ending – In the end Norval saves his father and kills his business partners and in the process learns about the dark history of where his money came from. In the end Norval admits he never moved on from his dad and never let his mom move on either. In the end they die together as both were mortally wounded in the escape. The final scene is of Norval’s only memory of his dad from his childhood. It is touching and wraps up everything really well.

The Cons:

The Father Should Have Been Introduced Sooner – This is a film where I wish Norval’s real dad could have been introduced sooner. This could have been in flashbacks where we never see his face (to save the reveal) or even a conversation on the phone after receiving the letter. He is introduced late in the narrative and because of this it hurts the overall story. He is the person we need to be invested in via our perspective through Norval, and more time getting to know who he is or was would have helped with that.

Norval’s Life – Norval’s life is a complete mystery. He says he’s a DJ but lies about knowing Elton John so who knows if even him being a DJ is even the truth. The one thing we do know is that he is a recovering alcoholic and attempted suicide at one point. Both these points humanize this broken character but I wanted to know more about his life with his mom. One or two lines of dialogue could have fixed this easily.

This was a great and flawed film. I loved how strange it was and the tension and performances are really what make it work. I look forward to what Ant Timpson and Toby Howard do in the future. This is a film that easily could have failed under lesser writing and direction. If you are looking for a strange great film to watch under quarantine, definitely check this one out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10 This was a flawed great film. It has a focused script which leads to the tension paying off really well.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 3, Episode 16 – “The Offspring” – Data’s Daughter and the Rights of Androids

The Offspring"... 26 Years Later

   “The Offspring” is the sequel to “The Measure of a Man” as we see Data create a child. The story that is explored from this premise is great and I can see this story living on in “Star Trek: Picard.” I won’t say more than that as I recommend the show and think you should see it for yourself if you are a fan of Data’s story. This was Jonathan Frake’s first time directing and he does a wonderful job of capturing the the fears and joys of being a new parent. Without going into spoilers, I recommend this story to anyone who loves “The Next Generation.”

The episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes and written by René Echevarria.

The story follows Data after he crafts a child he names Lal. From here her future is thrown into flux as Starfleet wants to take her away and study her at the Daystrom Institute.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Data Learns Parenting – The process of Data learning to parent is quite wonderful. He talks to Dr. Crusher about raising Wesley and also to Guinan as his daughter grows up. We see him introduce her to the different aspects of what it means to be human…from smelling a flower and is proud when she asks the big questions about purpose and existence. Brent Spiner does a fantastic job in this role and is his daughter’s defender against Starfleet when they try to take her away.

Picard and Android Rights – Picard is Data’s defender through this entire episode, even though he wished he’d been consulted about Data creating Lal. We can see how the events in “The Measure of a Man” have shaped his philosophy and he brings up that case with Starfleet. It is beautiful to see and I’d say this Picard

Admiral Haftel – The Admiral is a character in the same vein as Maddox. He’s driven to protect Starfleet interests and comes to sympathize with the very people he is making it difficult for. His final acts are working with Data to save Lal…I just wish he’d admit he caused her panic attack and is the reason she died. Great complicated antagonist to say the least. He brings up his own experience as a father and having to let go as his kids grew up. He respects Data even as he is driven by duty.

Lal – Lal is Data’s daughter and this episode we see how that process takes place. She chooses to take on the form of a human woman and over the course of the episode we see her go from basic experiences, questioning her own existence and experiencing emotion. Hallie Todd is fantastic in the role and I love how you can see aspects of Data in her as it was him as he transferred his brain into the one he crafted for her. Her last emotion is sorrow and love of her father Data as she experiences sadness for both of them. It was touching and powerful. This episode has a powerful core and Data and Lal are the heart of it.

Data – Data is an awesome Dad. In this we see him stand up against Starfleet and the rights of himself and Lal and guide Lal through the process he’s been going through for years. It is beautifully done and heartbreaking when she dies as she takes her program into his memory and she mourns for both of them as Data at this time…cannot mourn. He drives this episode from the beginning and his and Lal’s relationship is what truly makes the episode great.

The Cons:

Starfleet Ignoring Prior Cases – The Admiral follows the evil Admiral trope that we often see in “Star Trek.” He ignores everything that Data, Lal or Picard say and that was really a disservice as he is an interesting character. Sadly it is his giving Lal a panic attack that leads to her death. If the Admiral was not here chances are she would have survived. This is never directly addressed, which I feel like was a mistake. She was fine until her choice was taken away by the Admiral and she panicked.

This is a great sequel to “The Measure of a Man” as it further develops both Data and Picard and shows that Starfleet is still adversarial to Androids and them existing as beings with their own autonomy and rights. Lal is a fantastic character and I would have enjoyed this story being a two-parter, just to see more of her journey of growing up and becoming more human. Sadly this was not the case. Still, this is a great episode and well worth your time.

Final Score: 9 / 10 If Haftel and Lal had both received more development I’d rate it higher. Episode is still great, just needed that final bit of character development.

Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 10 – “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” – The Legacy of Data

Star Trek: Picard': S01.E10. “Et in Arcadia Ego: Part 2”

     “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” gives us satisfying end to the first season of “Picard.” This is an episode that is long and has to accomplish a lot, which it manages to do. We get the resolution to multiple plot lines and have some good use of fanservice near the end. This is an episode that sets up the future of the show and captures the inherit optimism about the future that is so intrinsic to “Star Trek.” Without getting into spoilers, it was great and flawed and a satisfying ending for the season.

The episode was directed by Akiva Goldsman with teleplay by Michael Chabon who co-wrote the story with Akiva Goldsman.

Part 2 picks up where we left off, with Picard trapped by the Soong Synthetics, Raffi and Rios repairing the ship and Seven and Elnor taking care of the Ex-Borg. The Romulan fleet is on the way as Sutra and Soji build the tower to summon in the ancient and powerful synthetics for protection.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Narek Teams Up with the Crew – After Sutra freed him last episode we see him team up with Rios, Elnor and Raffi giving us one of the best lines in the episode, “I choose to live.” It great and shows that even though he is an enemy he thinks the grew is the best bet from stopping the arrival of the powerful synths and stopping Sutra and Soji. The dynamic is wonderful and we see him recount the legend of the last time the Synths came and wiped out everything. It sets the stakes and you get why he chose to ally.

Seven of Nine – Seven of Nine is taking care of the xBs for most of the episode until “Narissa” arrives leading to them fighting and Seven getting the chance to avenge Hugh for his death. She has a great dynamic with Elnor where he mentions he would miss her if she died and how she is a mother figure to him. By the end of the episode she is part of the main crew and might have a romantic relationship with Raffi. During the time where Picard might be gone for good she mentions how Picard pulled her back into the past she thought she’d left behind and Rios says Picard caused that same change in him. It looks like she is main crew by the end of the episode and I hope we get more of her Season 2.

Captain Riker and Starfleet – Captain Riker arrives with a Starfleet armada to protect Picard’s first contact with the Synth civilization. It is an awesome moment as he calls out Commodore Oh for her betrayal and says he wants her to fight. Given his inspiration in Kirk, it was a very Kirk like taunt and I loved their face down. I was expecting one of Picard’s allies to arrive and it made sense that it was Riker given he was still a Reserve Captain in Starfleet.

Picard and Soji – What saves the day in the end is Picard’s relationship with Soji and a Picard speech. It is here that he stalls the Romulans until the fleet arrives and uses the last of his strength to stand up for Soji and her people. It is very well done as we see courage win out over fear and as Picard dies he knows he saved Soji and her people.

Peaceful Resolution – We have a standoff between the Romulan and Federation fleet and I was worried that we’d get a big battle “Discovery” Season 2 style…thankfully we didn’t. Diplomacy is what defined “The Next Generation” and the final episode captured this beautifully. This also leads things open as Oh was in charge of Starfleet Intelligence so she knows all their secrets and may have future plans because of it. This resolution leaves things open in all the best ways as this new society can now develop further under Federation protection.

Data’s Legacy – One of the last scenes is when Picard’s consciousness is downloaded into a realm where Data’s also is. They talk and Data asks Picard to die as he knows mortality is a huge part of what defines humanity. It is a powerful scene and I loved their last interactions together as Picard finally gets to say good-bye to his friend and to honor his final wish. In this Synth civilization we see Data’s legacy live on and with the choices made by one of his children, Soji…they have a future.

Tying Things Back to Episode 1 – The show began with Picard and Data playing cards as “Blue Skies” played and ended with them having the conversation and closure Picard always wanted as Data finally got to die as his life ends to Isa Briones, his daughter singing “Blue Skies.” It was poetic and one thing I liked as the theme of mortality was one of the consistent themes for Picard through the series.

The Cons:

What Happened to Narek? – Narek is captured by Synths and we have to learn in interviews that Starfleet pics him up as prisoner. It would have been good to see that given Picard was around to make first contact with this Synth Civilization.

Copy and Paste Starfleet Armada – The new ships from Starfleet look really cool…they also were clearly all copy pasted. This was a shame as a diverse fleet could have gave us a good idea of the Federation military in this era. Instead we got the lazy copy and paste of the new flagship a hundred times. Come on CBS, you have money and can do better than this.

The Synth Threat – The Synth threat is still out there. Soji may have destroyed the tower but any member of her species could rebuild it. We also know that the powerful synths know about the cry for help and could take the long way around or build something like the beacon potentially on their end. If we had a fight this episode I was hoping it would be with the new threat and with it us hopefully learning more about them…instead they are in the wings as a potential threat for later.

I thought this was a great final that really made up for how weak “Part 1” was. We finally see a noble Federation ready to defend new life and new civilizations. We have a problem that is solved by diplomacy rather than violence and we get some wonderful character moments and fanservice to end the season. Overall, I would recommend “Picard” to any fan of “Star Trek.” It is clearly it’s own thing and I appreciate what it has added to the lore. I look forward to any future seasons.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Final Score for “Part 1 and 2” together: 8.3 / 10

Onward (2020): Pixar’s exploration of Brothers and Family

Onward (2020) - IMDb

    “Onward” is Pixar that is on the level of “Monsters Inc.” and “Monsters University” as it primarily a relationship between two guys that drives the story. This story once again has the depth I’ve come to expect in Pixar in the relationships between the characters that are explored. I really wish we’d gotten more of that exploration as it would have pushed the film to great. Suffice to say, if you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this film out. I rented it off Amazon.

The film was directed by Dan Scanlon who co-wrote the screenplay along with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin.

On Ian’s (Tom Holland) 16th birthday he and his brother Barley (Chris Pratt) receive a wizard staff that belonged to their father. From here they must find the Phoenix Gem to restore their father fully as on Ian’s initial attempt at summoning he only manages to summon his father’s legs. They have 24 hours before the spell ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Modern Fantasy World – I’ve always been a fan of urban fantasy. Modern fantasy creatures put into the modern world leads to fun and interesting situations. In this this is best expressed in The Manticore who was an adventurer who ran a tavern but  turned it into a more Chuck E. Cheese type joint in order to survive. We also see how Unicorns dig through the trash and you have a Pixie motorcycle gang. This world is so much fun and I’m glad Pixar made this film, simply for the world alone.

The Manticore – The Manticore is the one who gives into the quest and is reborn in the brother’s quest for the Phoenix Gem to bring back their dad. She ends up raging and burning down her restaurant and teaming up with Laurel Lightfoot to get her sword back as we learn that the Phoenix Gem is tied to a curse and only the sword can destroy it. Octavia Spencer is absolutely fantastic in this role. By the end of the film her Tavern is more traditional and she is once again the storyteller recounting her past adventures.

Laurel Lightfoot – Julia Louis-Dreyfus does an amazing job as the mother of the brothers. Her quest to get to them is the B-plot and I really enjoy how we see her taking more control of the situation over time. In her we see both the improvisation to solve problems that Barley has and also her nervous and overthinking nature that her son Ian inherited. She is key to the final battle and I really liked how she plays off her sons and the Manticore.

The Lightfoot Brothers – The core relationship is that between Ian and Barley. Their arcs involve Ian developing courage and confidence in himself, and Barley taking responsibility and opening up about how he ran away from his dad on his death bed because he was so afraid. This arc ends with Barley finally getting to say good-bye to his dad and Ian getting his confidence and realizing it was from how his older brother Barley raised him that he found it. After this magic is back in the world and Ian is now a wizard as we see him use all the spells from Barley’s game…that are real life spells and not just cards.

Death and Saying Good-bye – Barley’s relationship to his dad is the heart of the story in that it is his trouble letting go that I think feeds off how he always trying to escape into games and getting into trouble. In the end he does get to say good-bye and we see how each of the family members are connected to their father in the final shots of the film. All the characters get to say good-bye in their own way as Ian is able to accept his dad’s death because his brother raised him in the ways he’d always wanted his dad to and like his dad he inherited his magic so part of him will always be carried on in Ian.

The Cons:

Action Over Character Moments – This is very action heavy film. This is largely due to it taking inspiration from a Dungeons and Dragons style quest. For this reason it never stops being fun but it also means that we don’t get to see the relationship between the brothers develop as much as it should. They have moments of conflict and opening up to one another, but the film needed more of that. This was a script where the action of the quest took precedent over the character moments at different points.

The Minor Characters – Besides the Manticore most of the minor characters aren’t very memorable. I didn’t care about the Pixie gang beyond them being antagonists. The cop characters are just kind of there, even though the Centaur is set-up to become the Lightfoot’s step-dad. This was a shame as we don’t really get any motivations of these characters. Another draft could have changed this and in turn brought the film to great.

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year, and I’m glad it rentable from home given all that is going on with Corvid-19. Please stay safe everyone. This film is about family and the relationships that define us. Hold those relationships close and know just how important you are to so many others both friends and family. If you get the chance definitely check out this film. I hope we see more original projects like this from Pixar in the future.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10 Really good due to the core Lightfoot Drama.