“Westworld” Season 1 – A Beautiful Masterpiece and Exploration of What it Means to be Human and Honoring a Friend

       This is going to be a different review than what I usually do, as this was originally going to be a collaboration with my friend Athen. He was going to write about the cinematography as that had always been of his and I was going to do my usual character and themes focus…He was killed by a drunk driver and I want to do this review to honor him. He was one of the most amazing of friends and this review is in honor of him. As part of this I won’t be discussing the cinematography as that is what he was going to cover.

     “Westworld” is the kind of show that tackles the big questions of self, humanity and morality. It was the kind of show I think he would have loved, which is why I think it was recommended to us both at the party where the idea for the collaboration was born.

    The story takes place in the future on a planet where tourists can go and let off steam in a place where they can’t get killed and robots play the roles of humans in a wild west format. From here the story unfolds as we get glimpses of the past and present as the mystery of Westword (the planet) unfolds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is a beautiful sci. fi. landscape that reminds me so much of the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” with the Hosts in the place of the Cylons. There is so much politicing at play both in the game of Westworld and outside of it among those who want to control the world. It is a fantastic mystery to unravel and Season 2 is setup really well.

The Soundtrack – Ramin Dwajadi is one of the best composers out there and his beautiful style is on display here as well. It captures the mystery and emotion that pervades the tone of the show and also the characters that inhabit the world.

The Characters – The characters are the best part with my favorite being Bernard, who we find out was created by Ford after his partner who wanted to bring sentience to the hosts is killed. Jeffrey Wright did an amazing job. Anthony Hopkins as Ford the current owner of the park is fantastic as always too with the Man in Black as an unknown threat seeking the point of the game, Maeve as the prostitute host who remembers and rebels and Dolores the one tied to the Man in Black’s past and bringing about freedom to the hosts in the park/world. All of these characters and even the corporate suits characters are enough of a draw to drive the scenes, even when there is filler.

The Narrative Format – The narrative format jumps between time as we come to see Dolores’s past and how it relates to the Man in Black and his corruption into a villain, Bernard and the man whose image and legacy he carries on as a host, Ford and his manipulations to bring about freedom for the hosts and Maeve’s story interwoven in real time through it all.

Are We Simply Machines Holding Memory – This is a major theme of the show and it is something that Ford would argue that we do. He makes this argument to one of the suits trying to stop him  and in a sense it plays into how willing he is to kill people, to him they are just like his machines, except he didn’t create them…so he doesn’t care. This gives him a fascinating perspective as he is a contradiction…the man who both cares and doesn’t care.

What Defines a Person? – Is it memory or personality? Nature or nurture? We deal with this question in how Maeve forms her identity as she realizes it all is a lie but comes to embrace the  core programming of the belief she as a daughter (even though it was a past story and life) and that is what brings her back even as she knows about he wider world. Westworld, still pulls her in. Her memories she was given still define her experience and shape her personality and choice.

The Ending – the ending is powerful and ends with the hosts rebelling as Dolores kills Ford and the hosts turn on the Board. Bernard who has just learned he is a host a little while ago, watches on as do other hosts who are still figuring out who they  are as Maeve returns to Westworld to find her daughter. It is powerful and sets up Season 2 beautifully. HBO really did create an amazing show.

The Cons: Maeve and the Lack of Oversight in the Lab – At one point Maeve wakes up and holds the Doctors who repair her hostage. How no one notices her walking around with them or her holding them hostage had me baffled. Shouldn’t the hosts have better security? There is a fear in the world of them hurting people so why not oversight? Suffice to say, Maeve had a lot of plot armor through this arc.

“Westworld” Conclusion – “Westworld” is a show well worth your time if you are interested in Sci. Fi., especially as it relates to A.I. and what it means to be human. There is amazing character development and the world is rich enough that there is still so much to be explored, even though Season 1 is very complete, even with the rebellion starting at the end. I can’t wait for Season 2 and what else we will learn about ourselves, the hosts and the universe of “Westworld.”

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Project A10 – Athen’s amazing girlfriend created this project. I highly recommend watching the video.

Please remember not to drink to drink and drive, as you never know what life you are going to take away and how many lives you are going to touch. Life is fleeting and you never know the power you have on the lives of others, for both good and ill. It was a person’s stupidity that took away a friend, please don’t do the same.

R.I.P. Athen. I miss you.

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Noah (2014): The Meaning of Humanity

Noah-2014-Banner

We end the first Apocalypse Week with Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” This was a film I’ve been curious about for sometime since Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and it really does have an all star cast, and the subject matter is interesting.

I’ve always been interested in mythology, whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Greek, Norse, Egyptian or other…there are so many rich stories that have conflict and premises that are left pretty open ended giving a lot of creative leeway, assuming the director has vision. Aronofsky clearly did for this film.

The story is that after Abel was killed by Cain, Cain’s descendants spread throughout the world and over industrialized it the point of making it a wasteland while hunting down the descendants of Seth who saw it as their duty to protect the world. The story begins with Noah and his father Methuselah doing the ritual of Seth for caring for the Earth. They are than attacked by a tribe of Cain who attack Methuselah. Noah believes him dead and we flash forward. We than see Noah dealing with visions from “God” of the Earth being destroyed which sets the story in motion as Tubal-cain and his men attempt to take the arc and Noah’s wife Naameh and family try to save more of the line of Cain and humanity as Noah resists at every turn. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is fantastic, but I wouldn’t expect any less of Darren Aronofsky. Some of the moments that stand out though is when Noah tells the creation story and it shows us the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on the planet. The other scene is when the flood occurs and the descendants of Cain are destroyed as they fight the Watchers (fallen Angels defending Noah and his family).

The Music – Clint Mansell is one of my favorite composers and he does a great job creating tension in this film. We see this especially when Noah believes it is his duty to keep man from spreading so when Ila is pregnant he plans on killing her children if they are girls. The music has it set so that the ship feels claustrophobic and being trapped with a mad man (Noah). It is brilliantly done.

The Writing – The screenplay is top notch, Aronofsky and Handel did a great job. Every characters’ lines feels real and it does mostly showing rather than telling. Especially as Noah is facing the consequences of what he has done. We are presented with dilemmas. The Canaanites who are men are bad people trying to enslave and kill Noah and his family…but the women and children are innocent…and Noah does nothing to save them. His wife and Ham call him on this, but he ignores it, blinded by his religious devotion to a being who doesn’t speak clearly and maybe is all in his head. It is really awesome.

The Watchers – Giant Rock beings that were once angels who came to fight for humanity. These guys are cool. They start out resistant to Noah and his clan because of how Cain’s line turned on them but in the end fight for Noah as they are rewarded with being returned to Paradise and Noah and his family treat them kindness. They have great designs and good voice acting.

The Line of Seth – They are vegetarians and planters. Tenders of the garden of the world. Kind and only willing to fight as a last restort seems to the theme. They are survivors, but mostly because they know when to run.

The Line of Cain – These are the warriors. Anything weak is prey and the story is empire. In extreme cases they are cannibals because they’ve killed off most of the animals and hunted them to extinction. They are the apocalyptic survivors in the apocalyptic world they created.

The Characters – The characters in this film are really solid. No one is really wasted except for Noah’s son Shem who is mostly a passive character and is only there to protect Ila.

Methuselah – Anthony Hopkins is great as Methuselah. He is found to be alive after Noah receives some of the visions and gives Noah the magic seed that creates an oasis of life that Noah and the Watchers use to build the arc. He doesn’t go with them and dies in the flood after a moment of bliss when he finds a berry. Why he decides not to go is unknown. He seems to be there as a guide and a counter to Noah as he gives Ila the ability to have children when she was barren before.

Naameh – Jennifer Connelly supports Noah but always reminds him of life, which he mostly ignores if it isn’t animal and plant life. She sees the bigger picture and fights him when he plans to kill Ila’s twin girls. You can see how powerless she feels given that she’s expected and told to follow Noah, when Noah, especially when they are on the arc and before hand in how he saves no one else and has gone insane. You can see the trials she faces dealing with that. She is the one truly good person in the film.

Tubal-cain – Played by Ray Winstone, he is the primary antagonist outside of Noah. He is a king and believes that humans were made in God’s image in order to dominate rather than to care and create. He is the one who tries corrupting Ham and almost succeeds as he taps into Ham’s anger at his possible partner being left behind by Noah in Tubal-cain’s attack. He fights to the end and is a crafty and interesting foe. He is survival of the species in the most extreme sense, though his inability to see how in ancestors had destroyed all life is sadly missed. I wish that had been brought up in the many talks he had with characters.

Ham – Played by Logan Lerman, he is the character walking the line between the way of Cain and the way of Seth. In the end when they find land he chooses to go his own way. He wants to learn how to care, since all his actions are tied to his own wants and desires. He does this really well too and you can see why he hates Noah for a lot of the film.

Ila – Emma Watson is the most successful of the “Harry Potter” cast post “Harry Potter” and rightfully so. She is damn talented. We see that hear too where she was a survivor of an attack on the mine where her family was raising her and Noah and his wife take her in. She is barren and it implied she was cut as a child. Because of this she has a lot of fear connecting but is able to heal from literally and figuratively after speaking with Methuselah. She is a great character and defends her children to the end. It is her showing them their innocence that staves Noah’s hand.

Noah – Is he mad? This is the big question throughout the film. So much of the film you are left wondering if it is all just in Noah’s head as he thinks God wants to annihilate man completely given the near extinction of all life by many of Cain’s line. You can see where he is coming from too as miracles do happen throughout the film. The big issue is when the daughters are born and he has to break away from what he believes God’s message is. He believed God wanted them to restore the Garden, so after they help the animals all survive…they would die out. What he misses in his nihilism is that humans are part of the world too and it is only after accepts that that we see him deal with the guilt of letting the innocent Canaanites die and the fact that he nearly killed his grandchildren and planned on doing so for quite a while once he knew they would be born, and if they would be girls. Russell Crowe does this really really well. He is good at playing complex mad characters, which Noah is. We see him wrestle with his decisions and face the reality of his character relationships. He eventually becomes a drunk when they reach land once more but is brought out of it when he is reminded once more of life carrying on…showing that he has changed from the man he once was.

The Message – The message is dilemmas. Is humanity redeemable? What makes a civilization worth saving or not saving? What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we we have as human beings? This film deals with all of this and lets us make our own decision. Noah is not a good person, but he is a human being. It is through his eyes that we are shown the question and can judge Noah for the decisions he makes. This is powerful and makes the film truly a masterpiece.

I’m glad this is how Apocalypse Week ends. This is one of the greatest films I’ve watched, though I can see why so many were torn about it. The thing to remember is to take it on it’s own merits. Like all films it is a story and a good story at that. What message you choose to take from it is up to you as Daronofsky leaves it pretty open ended. He leaves the hope for us with Seth’s line surviving after the flood, but doesn’t say that the flood was Just. That is up to the viewer. The actors and actresses, cinematography, music and writing are phenomenal and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a great film based off fantasy and mythology that lets you find the meaning in it.

Final score is 10 / 10. Shem isn’t a great character, but he isn’t bad. None of the minor characters who don’t get exploration hurt the film in anyway.

Thor (2011): A Sci. Fi. Fantasy Adventure of the Man Who Would be King

Thor (2011)

“Thor,” is better with a second watching. Choosing Kenneth Branagh as a director with his experience acting and directing Shakespeare movies and plays was a smart move. Thor is an interesting character to cover, as well as most of the Norse Characters in this…since the myths were used as a template to create them…but they are still very much their own even though their names come from who inspired each of the characters (Loki, Odin, Thor and the location Asgard as examples). I love mythology and like seeing different pop. culture (Marvel Comics as an example) take on these interesting and fascinating characters and ideas.

Here is the premise of the film. The premise is Odin foolishly sets up a rivalry between his sons when they are younger, telling them one of them will someday be King. When his son Thor says he will destroy the Frost Giants as Odin did (what we see in a flashback narrated by Odin), Odin doesn’t stop this leading to Thor being reckless and put the kingdom at risk by nearly starting a war with the Frost Giants. Odin ashamed of his son’s arrogance and recklessness casts him down to Earth along with the Hammer Mjolnir with the promise of the one worthy to lift it will have the strength of Thor as a God. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Special Effects – This movie is beautiful. Especially Jotunheim the world of the Ice Giants and Asgard, the realm of the Gods. We see a great Ice World with giant beasts and giants and in Asgard we see the marriage of sci. fi. tech and magic.

The Frost Giants – Have a great look. They look like trolls or orcs but are much larger and have ice magic that they use to create weapons to fight with. I really liked their design, and that in this iteration they are the ones who take Odin’s eye. They have red tattoos and eyes on their dark blue bodies and faces.

Pros: Asgard – Asgard is fantastic. It is here that magic is technology and sci. fi. and fantasy mix. We see this in weapons that fire energy and the fact that Mjolnir was made from a dying star. Wish we could have seen more politics, but it is great being introduced to all the characters.

Odin – Hopkins as great as Odin…who is manipulative, angry but well intentioned…he reminds me of a King out of Game of Thrones. He takes in Loki as a child because he wants Loki to be a tool for peace between the Frost Giants and Asgard. This doesn’t go well because he lied to Loki about his origins.

Thor vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. – The fight to get his hammer Mjolner is a great one. We see Hawkeye watching him and sympathizing as he proceeds to beat up all the agents…as well as the failure to get the Hammer when he finally reaches it since he is unworthy.

Thor – Thor is great as a fish out of water and Chris Hemsworth is great as the well intentioned fool who grows up. He is the jock who becomes compassionate and finally becomes the worthy heir to Asgard. We see this in his sacrifice to protect humanity against Loki’s weapon the Destroyer.

Loki – Tom Hiddleson owns this role. We see a character who is conflicted based on being a member of Asgard but not of Asgard, of someone who is a tool of a King but no real power…he is the bastard who hopes to rule. This is done really well since you see his conflicted feelings for the people who are a part of his life but do not know the truth of him being a Frost Giant. This is the reason behind his mind games with Thor and his Gambit to wipe out the Frost Giants.

Heimdell – Idris Elba is one of the greatest actors and one of my favorites. This was the first role I saw him in years ago and he does a wonderful job in this as counselor and friend of Thor and the man outside of space able to see all. His telling Thor about the hope of Jane searching for him is powerful too after the Byfrost is destroyed by Thor in the fight with Loki in order to save the Frost Giants from Loki.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – They manage to capture Thor, build a facility over his Hammer and help in the final fight (as well as take all the science teams tech. and knowledge). They are a great presence in this and Coulson is fantastic as the leader.

The Humor – When the Destroyer arrives one of the agents asks if it is “Tony’s tech?” and Coulson says he doesn’t know because no one tells him anything. Also Thor being the fish out water has some great moments as his arrogance is brought down to level.

The Reveal – We see Nick Fury meeting Dr. Erik and the fact that Loki survives the final fight, setting up the Avengers since he is using Dr. Erik Selvig to research the Tesseract (and now we know he survived being lost floating in space).

Okay: Jane – She is generic love interest. She isn’t bad but Natalie Portman and the writing fail to elevate the role.

The Science Team – Dr. Selvig and the intern Darcy along with Jane just aren’t that interesting. They are there to advance Thor’s plot…all the interesting stuff is related to the Cosmos and Asgard.

Sif and the Warriors Three – They have some good moments on Earth but are pretty generic warriors too. Sif the Warrior Maiden, Hogun the calm warrior, Fandral the swashbuckler and Valstagg…the bearded one who loves to eat. They’d be better if we saw more politics in Asgard or conflict on Earth.

Laufey – The Frost Giant King and secondary antagonist…he is great as a taunter, but he doesn’t do much and is easily used in Loki’s gambit. He isn’t bad, he’s just like a giant orc in a Lord of the Rings movie. Looks impressive, but in the end hardly a threat compared to the Nazgul. He is okay as an enemy.

Thor was a good film and one I’d recommend. It is worth it just for Tom Hiddleson as Loki and Hemsworth as Thor, though Hiddleson does has the superior performance…also worth it to see S.H.I.E.L.D. in action. It shows us more of what they do and ties directly into the “Avengers” and the events that happen there. Not the strongest of the MCU and Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure, but a good one.

Final Score is 8.4 / 10.