“The Umbrella Academy” Season 1 – Great Character Arcs With More to Tell

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    “The Umbrella Academy” is easily one of my favorite shows. I read the original volume it is based on years ago and the show captures the zany characters and character relationships that made the book so memorable. Gabriel Bá and Gerard Way truly created a beautiful world and Netflix did an amazing job bringing it to the screen. The cast is fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2 to come out, given how season 1 ends.

The series was created by Jeremy Slater and Steve Blackman and as said above based on the comic series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story follows the members of the Umbrella Academy who were all born on the same day when 43 women around the world gave birth without any sign of being pregnant. The seven adopted by the billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves would become the Umbrella Academy. After years away his death brings them all back home and the apocalyptic plot unfolds from here.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography feels like a comic book. Color is made to stand out and some scenes slow way down, such as when Cha-Cha and Hazel are high on Klaus’s drugs and destroying a lab. The film is beautiful all the way through and focuses on characters the way a panel would. Craig Wrobleski and Neville Kidd clearly have an eye for their craft.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography keeps that comic book feel while capturing so beautifully how all the characters are isolated and outsiders. Gerard Way’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” and Morcheeba’s “Blood Like Lemonade.” This is a soundtrack that goes between so many styles of music while keeping an undercurrent of rock to it. All our characters are healing and going through trauma and the soundtrack expresses it.

The World – The world of “The Umbrella Academy” is amazing. You have the Commission in the future making sure bad events go according to plan and who want to end the world. There are the members of the Umbrella Academy itself and also the ones hunting them being the duo Hazel and Cha-Cha who are enforces for the Commission the way Five once was. The characters are what make this world and I’m curious to see what the show does with them moving forward.

Hazel and Cha-Cha – These two are one of the best parts of the show. Hazel is played by Cameron Britton and is fed up with the work of being a killer. Cha-Cha is his closest friend and fully devoted to the Commission. Mary J. Blige is amazing as her. Over the course of the series we see that even when they are set against one another by Five or the Commission we see there is always more going on. Whether it is regret from Cha-Cha for attempting to kill Hazel and vise versa or her rage at Hazel for moving on with another person. I hope that there story isn’t done as I really like these two.

The Umbrella Academy – The Umbrella Academy is the super hero organization created by Sir Reginald Hargreeves from the 7 adopted children who were born during the event. Each of them has powers and are used by Reginald to take down villains. I’m going to give special time to Five and Klaus as they were the most interesting and fleshed out of the characters, but it is important to mention the other members of the family. I’ll also be including the guardians that Reginald created for them.

Grace, the robot created by Reginald is the mother of Academy while Pogo is the Reginald’s butler and together they hold the secrets of what was done to all of the members of the Academy and how Sir Reginald died. Over the course of the series they go from being the most trusted by the surviving members of the Academy to in the case of Pogo killed for hiding Vanya’s power from her. They are fascinating characters and I wanted to know so much more about them.

Of the Academy members who I won’t be giving a special paragraph to. First there is Ben, the one member who is dead and can summon a tentacle monster from his body. He is still around though as his spirit talks to Klaus. There is Diego (whose power is the ability to hit anything with his daggers) who is a wonderful Punisheresque vigilante who deals with his trauma through rage but comes around the caring for the team and seeing them as a family again. There are Luther (the leader of the team whose power is physical strength) and Allison (the only character with a family outside of the team and one who controls people through suggestion) that love each other romantically and come to terms with that and how they’ve changed as people. Allison is also Vanya’s biggest ally and the one who was used by their father to hurt her the most and repress Vanya’s powers. Vanya is the one who believes she doesn’t have powers through most of the series. It is only through a creepy stalker who is manipulating her that she discovers how great her power is and kills him. Her power is energy both psychic and otherwise that she can channel through music. After the Academy turns on her and traps her she goes full bad and we soon learn is the one who causes the apocalypse leading the Academy to make a choice and time jump with her away from the end of the world that she caused.

Five – Five is the member of the Academy who can jump through space and time. Because of this he ends up going missing when he jumps and ends up in the future. Here he lives a full life working for the Commission before returning back to the present time and in turn appearing as the young kid he was once before. He is great as he is an old man in a teenage body so he doesn’t want to be with people. His arc is his coming around to his family and his work against the Commission comes to a head as at one point he works for them again as he secretly tries to stop the apocalypse and in the end he is the one who saves them all after Vanya causes the end of the world as they jump to a time and place we haven’t seen yet. His arc is also dealing with the fact that he’s seen how it all ends so wonders if it is set in stone and can’t be prevented. He’s dealing with the possible inevitability of the end and it changes his outlook as he fights against it.

Klaus – Klaus is the best character on the show and Robert Sheehan does such a fantastic job as him. Klaus’s power is that he can speak to ghosts and the dead and because of this Ben is with him counseling him. Klaus before the events of the show has been through so much abuse from Sir Reginald that his only escape has been through drugs and alcohol (he would be locked in a room with the dead as a child and was never let out). Because of this he is detached from everyone and his arc is his sobering up to the point that he can speak to their father and learn about why they were brought together. At one point he serves in the Vietnam War and loves a fellow soldier after he uses Cha-Cha’s and Hazel’s briefcase to travel back in time. He resists torture from the two of them and even manages to turn Hazel more to the good when he calls upon all those Hazel and Cha-Cha have killed. His greatest moment of awesome is making Ben corporeal which saves the Academy from an attack by Cha-Cha and the commission as Vanya is bringing about the end.

Family and Sibling Relationships – People aren’t perfect. People are dysfunctional and all of us are going through different trials from past hurt. “The Umbrella Academy” explores these relationships through the characters. We see Diego and his rivalry with Luther. Allison and her reaching out to and protecting of Vanya. Five being cared for all by all the others and the reestablishment of relationship after how long he’s been gone. We also have Vanya, who dealt with being the one without powers by doing a tell all book and how they all have to confront the hurt they’ve caused to each other that their father had brought down upon all of them. The family dynamics are fascinating and I can’t wait to see how they are developed further.

The Cost of Trauma and Abuse – All of our characters are survivors of Sir Reginald’s abuse and we see what it has done to them. They are cut off from another, escaping into drugs and alcohol (Five and Klaus) and in turn they abuse one another. The cost of trauma is constant and ongoing and we see hints of healing near the end but only after the characters have had those moments of honesty with one another on all that they’ve been through. I’m curious to see how the show explores this further as I feel like our characters are really only starting to face it and the consequences it has had upon their lives.

The Cons:

The Cliffhanger – In the end Vanya’s power wrecks the moon causing the apocalypse. Five realizes the only way out is to time travel with Vanya to prevent the end from occurring. As the city was destroyed they manage to make the time jump. This is a great cliffhanger but it is a cliffhanger, if the show had gotten canceled this ending would have sucked.

I highly recommend both the comic and the show. “The Umbrella Academy” explores trauma, abuse and sibling relationships in such a compelling way that even though I hate cliffhangers I was grateful that the show would probably get renewed. I want to spend more time with these characters and this world and I can’t wait to see where the story ends up. Definitely worth checking out for any fans of the super hero genre.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 A great start to the show, even with the cliffhanger.

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 22 – “Born to Run” – The Danger of Cliffhangers

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     There are a lot of good ideas in the Finale, but this is a show that could have still left things open and ended as a complete story…instead they took the full cliffhanger route, which leads me to believe they must have thought they wouldn’t be cancelled or they were really irresponsible with their story.

       “Born to Run” does accomplish a lot and we see how the events of the season have changed and shaped characters, but the plot holes and mysteries still bring it down, which I’ll get into more detail in the assessment.

     The episode was directed by Jeffrey Hunt and written by Josh Friedman.

    The story involves Catherine Weaver asking John and Cameron to join her while they plot to destroy John Henry and rescue Sarah Connor. Nothing is as it appears to be when Skynet attacks though and John Connor and Catherine Weaver take the Time Machine to the future to find John Henry.

The Pros: Catherine Weaver – Catherine Weaver knows Skynet is the enemy and now that the ball is in her court she does all she can to bring the Connors over to her side. We see her use her liquid skin too to stop a Skynet drone and later travel with John Connor into the future. I got to say I would have loved to watch that team up. She is a great character.

John Henry – John Henry convinces Cameron to help him as she gives him her chip so he can turn on the Time Machine to go to the future. I wish we could have got more, but I really like this character and the little time he is in the episode is enjoyable.

Agent Ellison – Ellison is able to stare down Cameron and deliver Weaver’s message on joining them and after the Weaver reveal he doesn’t go into the future, he stays with Sarah Connor on the other side to try and stop Skynet in the present.

Cameron – Cameron gives up her chip in order to save the future and it is the loss of her that motivates John to go with Catherine in the Time Machine. She is also hostile to Catherine’s offer, showing she remembers what Jesse told her about the T-1001 destroying the human crew.

Okay: Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is dealing with her mortality and at this point is afraid of losing what solid ground she has left. This leads her to staying behind with Ellison to fight Skynet in the present.

John Connor – John is motivated to go into the future to find Cameron, instead he finds the resistance member Allison and his father Kyle Reese. What this all means besides his joy remains to be seen…and we’ll never know.

The Future – Going to the future, one of the future is an interesting idea so I won’t put it as a con. Sadly it doesn’t work because of the Cliffhanger.

The Cons: The Cliffhanger – John meets his Father Kyle Reese in the future and no one knows who he is. All I had were questions, that isn’t how you end a season.

   This episode could have ended with the alliance between the 3rd Faction of Machines and the Connors and with them ready to fight Skynet and able to win as we have learned from this series, that is what was missing before…or the alliance could fall apart and the bombs fall showing the future can’t be changed…either would be better than the cliffhanger we received. They really should have done more myth building in the 22 episodes they received in their 2nd Season.

Final Score: 7 / 10

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Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010): An Amazing Satire of the Rural Horror Genre and Appearances

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“We continue comedy week with “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.” “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is brilliant. It is the intelligent kind of horror comedy that sadly does not happen often enough and does a brilliant critique of the assumptions the horror genre often makes about people, as well as even giving us a villain with a great motivation. There is honestly very little bad about this film, and I’ll get into the specifics why further down.

The film was directed and written by Eli Craig who came up with the original story, and the other co-writer of the screenplay was Morgan Juergenson. The film was produced by Morgan Jurgenson, Albert Klychack, Rosanne Miliken and Deepak Nayer.

SPOILERS ahead.

The premise of the story is that Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are heading up to the Appalachians to go to their summer home that they’ve been saving up for years. Along the way the run into some college kids who see them as dangerous hicks and treat them savagely when they treat to reach out and say hello. Miscommunication and death ensue when one of the college woman named Allison (Katrina Bowden) falls into the lake when the college kids are all skinny dipping. When Tucker and Dale rescue her, the unstable leader of the college kids named Chad (Jesse Moss) sees it as personal and seeks to destroy Tucker and Dale. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is brilliant! Take the guys who are rural country boys and are usually the killers in the wilderness (“The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” etc.) and make them the heroes! This was the smartest thing about the premise, also making Allison, who is a blond college student the smartest out of everyone was a great move too. She’s the one who gets past her prejudice and reveals Chad to be the true person filled with hate and the psychopathy. The premise works as well because we see a reporter killed by a scarred man in the cabin Tucker and Dale are going to at the beginning and early on Chad tells us the story of a massacre that happened in the hills setting the stage for the fear of hill billy killers.

The Soundtrack – Michael Shields and Andrew Kaiser did a great job on the soundtrack. I don’t like country music generally speaking, but it was used beautifully in this soundtrack.

The writing  – Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson wrote a script where characters actually change, has a message and a point and is hilarious. To achieve all these things is difficult in general, in a comedy, even more-so,

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, with foggy scenes, trees that look like spears and limbs and Tucker and Dale’s house looks haunted, as does the woodshed that appears later. The scenes are presented in such a way to create good tension too that only progresses as the stakes rise. David Geddes did great.

The Comedy – The comedy is wonderful dark comedy! The college kids all kill themselves trying to kill Tucker and Dale and most of what happens because of miscommunication because the college kids are so full of fear because of the warning from the cop and Chad’s horror story. This leads to them attacking Tucker and Dale who are fixing up the place and accidents ensuing from the forest and equipment around the house, like the wood grinder grinding one of the kids and a loose beam killing the cop. Tucker and Dale are powerless through most of it as they just want to Allison to be okay and to be left alone.

The Main Characters – All of the main characters are given a lot of depth and complexity making them a joy to watch. Beyond how well the script was, that was a big part of what kept me watching.

Chad – Chad is the sociopathic leader of the fraternity who was raised by his grandparents because his mother was institutionalized after the Memorial Day Massacre which is the horror story he describes of the hill billies who raped his mother and killed his father and their friends. It turns out his father was a hill billy too and this is too much for him to take as he filled with so much hate already. He’s never likable as he creeps on Allison all the time and uses people and only sees life as survival of the fittest. He is from the beginning what he hates most, a person ready to kill for no reason beyond enjoyment. He gets defeated but escapes and is the one who kills the reporter in current day when she’s exploring Tucker and Dale’s house. He’s officially become the monster and evil. Jesse Moss plays a good monster.

Tucker – Alan Tudyk has so much range! This film really showed it where he is the rural country boy who is all country and keeps trying to be all tough by putting his best friend Dale down. He is jealous of Dale’s and Allison’s friendship after Dale saves her life but after Dale and Allison save his life he is close to them both. He comes to respect them both and apologizes to Dale for how cruel he always was and tells him Dale should believe in himself. It’s a touching scene and after Chad takes off two of his fingers and kidnaps Allison.

Allison – I want to see Katrina Bowden in more films after this. Her character is sensitive and tough and is the smartest person out of everyone in this. She even makes progress with healing Chad beyond his prejudice before the remaining college kids ruin everything. She becomes Dale and Tucker’s friend and defends them to her college friends and in the end loves Dale. She has a great arc that is one of fear and uncertainty in herself to confidence and strength..just like Dale’s arc.

Dale – Dale is a large, shy and bearded guy who is the hero of the film. He has no confidence at first and could never harm a fly, and he never kills anyone either. He saves Allison two times and also gets saved as well and goes from a man with no confidence to someone who can stand up to Chad and fight him. He is smarter than he knows and stronger too and that’s what he realizes in his character arc. Tyler Labine brings so much depth to this role.

The Message – Don’t judge by appearances and always communicate and not give into fear is the main message in the film. All the kids kill themselves because they are trying to kill Tucker and Dale and never take the time to listen…and Chad is so full of hate he is unable to feel anything other than that. This leads to all the tragedy that ensues because the college kids didn’t take the time to get to know Tucker and Dale like Allison did. This is a great subversion of this trope in this type of horror movie too since it goes off the assumptions that you can’t trust rural country folk in the middle of nowhere and that all college kids are stupid. This film subverts all of that to create an amazing picture.

Okay: The Other College Kids – Most of the other college kids who aren’t Allison or Chad have no real motivation beyond having fun, which makes their deaths when they accidentally kill themselves (when they try to kill Tucker and Dale) just comedic. This is a shame as Allison and Chad get a lot of development and I wish the other kids could have too so their deaths would be tragic.

If you like comedy and films that are intelligent and have a point, you will probably enjoy this film. It is brilliant satire and dark comedy and has fantastic, writing, cinematography, music and writing. There is very little wrong with this film. I would check it out as the message is great at breaking down barriers between people, it has amazing comedy and a story that I could not stop watching. Definitely a favorite film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. One of the best comedies I’ve seen.