“Game of Thrones” Season 6 – Of Payoffs, Drama and Passing the Books to Create a Nearly Perfect Story

Game of Thrones Season 6

     First off I should give a warning. This review is going to contain spoilers. These are books that I’ve been reading for a long time and this was the Season where so many of our questions about where George R. R. Martin is going where finally answered. For non-spoiler thoughts, this was easily the best season of television this year. I’d rate above “Better Call Saul,” which for me was pretty untouchable this year. The reasons behind this is due to this being a story with consequences. There is death and Houses change as new powers rise and others fall. This season was drama at it’s best.

     David Benioff and D. B. Weiss really created something spectacular and took us places we had never been before in the books.

      The story is all about dealing with the consequences of last season. Jon Snow is dead, the High Sparrow nearly controls King’s Landing, Dany is missing in action as the Slavers plot against Meereen, Arya is training and Sansa escapes with Theon from Bolton held Winterfell.

SPOILERS ahead

Hodor

The Pros: The World – The world is expansive this season and in it we get to see the consequences of all the relationships and build up among the survivors and the choices they’ll make to continue surviving or to build something greater. This season really explores what happens when major players in “The Game of Thrones” make decisions to change that world.

The Soundtrack – Ramin Djawadi is one of my favorite composers at this point. This season he gives us probably the greatest song to come out of this series.:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SpHMq8qbfM. Suffice to say his music is a major part of what makes this world so dark and rich.

The Battles – The action is the best this show has been show far with battles on par or surpassing the “Battle of the Wall” and “Battle of Blackwater.”

Siege of Riverrun – This is smaller battle but huge in that it showed that the Blackfish is as prideful as Ned and it nearly costs his family everything…and he can’t even hold Riverrun anymore after Jaime uses Edmure Tully to take control of the castle and have it surrender similar to how Ramsey used Theon to take Moat Cailin.

Battle of Slaver’s Bay – This is a pretty fast battle but it is amazing! Dany flies Drogon and destroys the fleet of the Masters before Grey Worm kills two of the Masters leaving one to spread the word that Dany is not someone to be messed with. The Son’s of the Harpy are also killed by the Khalasar that Dany now owns.

Jon and Sansa

Battle of the Bastards – Battle of the Bastards is amazing! We have Jon and some of the smaller Northern Lords and Wildings arrayed against the Boltons and the major houses in the North. Rickon is killed to spark of the battle and Jon pulls and Ned and almost gets himself killed since he doesn’t listen to Sansa that Ramsey will try to play him. The battle is nearly lost by Jon until Sansa’s letter to Littlefinger leads to the Vale rescuing them and Jon’s final showdown with Ramsey at Winterfell where he is finally defeated and the Stark banner rises again. Wun-Wun dies in the fight.

The Characters – The characters are what drives Martin’s stories and a lot of them have some great moments this season. The list is extensive but I wanted to give credence to as many of the people who had moments.

Brienne – Brienne is Jaime’s consience and helps him find a way to capture Riverrun with limited bloodshed. She is sworn to Sansa now and is doing a great job as she saves her from Bolton troops when Theon and Sansa first escape and is their envoy in the North when they recruiting Houses against the Boltons.

Tormund – This guy is awesome! He is able to convince the free folk to stand with Jon as he believes Jon will be the one who will be there at the end fighting them against the dead. Their friendship is amazing and he a lot of great moments this season and some funny moments where he is crushing on Brienne but clearly doesn’t know how to talk to her.

Roose Bolton – Roose’s role is short in this but what we see is that the Boltons would probably still own the North of Ramsey hadn’t killed him after he and Lady Frey had a son. His death is the end of House Bolton…Roose could have taken control of the North, he is a Tywin type personality.

Ramsey Bolton – Ramsey is pretty unhinged per usual, but manages to show enough diplomacy to keep the big Houses under him in the leadup to the Battle of the Bastards. He has been untouchable for so many seasons and the Battle of the Bastards is his first loss besides Sansa and Theon’s escape. He pays the consequences finally too as Sansa feeds him to his hounds.

The High Sparrow – Jonathan Banks really did a great job creating a charming villain. The High Sparrow is someone who embraces poverty but also takes advantage of people to rule through fear and the power he sees the Seven granting the Church. He wins through most of this season until Cersei’s final plan leads to his end. Banks truly made this role memorable, in the books he never stood out to me.

Littlefinger – Littlefinger saves the day and we see he is still the same creeper who sold Sansa to Ramsey in the first place. He is going to be hardest thing for the Stark’s to deal with as he is the reason Ned is dead as well as Rob and Cat. He can’t be trusted and I hope Sansa uses her influence to blackmail him for control for as long as need be before he is ended.

The Hound – The Hound is back! In this a Sept nurses him to health and he stays with the peaceful folks until the bandits exploiting the Brotherhood without Banners attack and kill them all. The Hounds gets revenge and later joins the Brotherhood. So great seeing him again.

Grey Worm – Grey Worm is a great soldier but has to deal with dealing his injury and diplomacy as Tyrion’s approach is much different from his. Seeing his relationship with Messandie is really sweet too and I can’t wait to see him Westeros.

Messandei – Messandie like Grey Worm is unfamiliar with the Game of Thrones and uncomfortable with it. Much of their arc is acclimating to Tyrion and negotiating between the free people the compromises Tyrion makes.

Yara – Yara is awesome! In this we see her nearly win the Kingsmoot after Euron kill’s Balon, until Balon arrives forcing her and Theon to run. When they run we see she cares for Theon but also doesn’t trust him because of Moat Cailin and the past. We also see she isn’t bad at diplomacy too as she flirts with Dany but is willing to work with Dany’s terms for capturing the Iron Islands and making her Lord even if means giving up the worst aspects of Reaver culture.

Hodor – Hodor is the hero in this. In a flashback we learn he was once a boy named Wylis who loses it all when Bran wargs into his mind when he has traveled back in time as he orders Wylis to “Hold the door!” against the dead and White Walkers leading Wylis to say the command over and over again until he becomes Hodor. It is a powerful scene and one of the more tragic moments in the series.

Melissandra – Melissandra is at least hundreds of years old so we know she knows some of what is going on in the wider world. In this she faces consequences for burning Shireen as Jon exiles her from the North after she brings him back to life.

Davos – Davos is Jon’s Hand at this point and still can’t quite see the bigger picture. He does help recruit houses to Jon though which helps the Stark’s take back the North.

Margery Tyrell – Margery is smart but sadly stupid people keep her from living. In this we see her negotiate for Loras’s release (even if he has to become a Faith Militant in the process) and manages to get her Grandmother out of King’s Landing which ends up saving her mother’s life. Natalie Dormer is wonderful in this role and I’m sad she’s dead from Cersei’s brilliant and horrible plan.

Lady Mormont – Lady Mormont is amazing! She is a 12 year old who is Lady of her House and sends Jon 62 troops to the “Battle of the Bastards” but also comes herself. She also unites the Houses behind Jon as the new King of the North. She is all around amazing and is phased by nothing.

Olenna Tyrell / The Queen of Thorns – Olenna is one of my favorite characters along with Margery (I’m very much a Tyrell). In this we see her attempt to save her grandchildren but is outmaneuvered by the High Sparrow forcing her to leave on Margery’s prompting back to Highgarden so that the Tyrell name will live on. Now she is last of the House and is plotting revenge against Cersei’s for destroying her family.

Cersei Queen

Cersei Lannister – This season is really Cersei’s rise as everyone underestimated the ends she’d go to when she is backed into a corner and still wants everything. In the end she gets everything. She is the one who gains it all (the Throne) and loses everything in the process. She is isolated, alone and ruler of all. What a great villain and Lena Headey really does a great job humanizing her.

Jaime Lannister – Jaime is kind of screwed at this point. He wins Riverrun and we see that he cares for Brienne but he is also willing to do everything for Cersei, though that may not be the case anymore with her going Mad Queen. Jaime is someone who has a conscience and tries to make the best choices for his own ends but also ways that will make it less bad for his enemies. He has awareness that Cersei does not and I can see that coming into play next season as Cersei did the thing that he killed the Mad King over when the Mad King was threatening to do it.

Arya Stark – Arya is a face changer but also not “no one.” Her arc this season is reclaiming her identity and beginning her rampage on Westeros against all the people on her list. At the end the season she feed’s Walder Frey his son’s and kills him.

Sansa Stark – Sansa has risen as one of the major players in the Game of Thrones as she saves the Starks from Jon’s stupidity and even manages to shut down Littlefinger’s advances. Sophie Turner brings so much to this role and it is great seeing Sansa as the one calling the shots in her own life finally.

Jon Snow – Jon is back and still has Ned’s stupidy. He is still a great character but he played easily by Ramsey during the battle as he rushes to save his brother in what is clearly a trap. He also doesn’t want to fight for a long time too as he is done with fighting after the Night’s Watch killing him. After he get’s over himself though he becomes a decent commander who the North is willing to unite behind, eventually crowning him King of the North.

Vaerys – Vaerys is all about the big picture but has his own rightful hangups too as when Tyrion seeks out a Red Priestess he critiques her religion and the followers even as it is shown there is something going on given she was able to figure out his backstory. He also unites Dorn and Highgarden against King’s Landing and as possible allies of Dany in her conquest of Westeros.

Tyrion Lannister – Tyrion is the wisdom in it all as his biggest challenge is integrating into a society that he is alien too as we see when he tries to make friends with Grey Worm and Messandei and isn’t all that successful at it. He is Dany’s hand by the end and we see that he is there to make her aware of the choices and consequences in the game of thrones and to avoid the pitfalls of her father.

Daenerys – This season is where Daenery’s once again rises as she destroys the Khals, the Sons of the Harpy and the Masters as well. In this she gets her army and her ships from Yara when she backs Yara’s claim to the Iron Islands under the condition that they will no longer pillage and rape. Dany is set to be a great leader as from Tyrion she is learning the cost of ruling and the cost of different choices…as the season ends with her sailing to Westeros to begin the conquest.

Daenery’s Destroys the Khals – This scene is amazing as Dany shows she is fireproof and burns the Khal’s alive during their trial of her, leaving her in charge of their people and giving her a giant army in order to take Meereen and Westeros.

Sansa’s Revenge – Sansa feed’s Ramsey to his dog’s after shutting down his mind games. Her look at him is powerful too during it all as you see how hardened she is and that she has become the ruler.

Arya’s Revenge – Arya feeds Walder Frey his son’s before killing him and avenging Robb and Cat. It is such a great moment and one of the best this season.

The White Walkers – The White Walkers were made to be weapons against the First Men is what we learn from the Children of the Forest, Bran even see’s a flashback of the Night’s Kind getting made. It is pretty amazing. We also see the Night’s King’s Power too as by touching Bran in the vision allowed him to enter the lair of the Children of the Forest and wipe out the Children and the Three-Eyed Crow.

The Tower of Joy – R+L does in fact = J! Jon is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen! We get some great flashback sequences of Ned taking the Tower of Joy and his last moments with Lyanna who we saw in past flashbacks.

Hodor’s Sacrifice – This was one of the most powerful moments in the show. The death of Wylis and birth Hodor which was also the death of Hodor. I think he was a hero as he was protecting Bran throughout the series even before all it and was clearly one of the few good people on the show. R.I.P. Hodor.

Cersei’s Master Plan and the Mad Queen – The plan is beautiful. Qyburn and the little birds (homeless kids) kill Maester Pycell, Wildfire is ignited below the Great Sept leading to the death of the Tyrells, Kevin Lannister and all the Sparrows leaving Cersei victories. The cost though is Tommen who can’t handle being without his Queen and the depths of evil his mother would go to.

Overthrowing Patriarchal Power – Patriarchal power being overthrown is a major theme this season. From the Sand Snakes killing Doran and his heir, to Sansa’s killing of Ramsey, Cersei’s destroying of the Church and Dany’s killing of the Masters and the Khals. All of these stick with theme and show it done beautifully as the powerless become powerful.

Okay: Euron Greyjoy – Euron is just a Pirate King and he doesn’t look as interesting as he does in the books where they played that up. In this he is though and looks the role but is almost too generic. He also didn’t protect his boats so Yara and Theon were able to steal them. Hopefully he’s a better villain next season.

Theon Greyjoy – Theon is okay, he isn’t a dick anymore (in more ways than one) but he is nearly invisible. He has a great moment when he stands up for Yara at the Kingsmoot, but I’ve never really liked the character even if I don’t hate him now.

Dorne – The Sand Snakes took over and Doran Martell is dead now. This felt like a waste, I’m putting it as okay because the Queen of Thorns sets them right as they are in it for revenge against Cersei at the end and ready to ally with Daenerys when Vaerys proposes to them that she is their means of avenging their family.

The Cons: Fast Travel – This show does a lot of fast travel and isn’t very good at showing how much time has passed between traveling. This is something I think they could work on next season just so when characters meet and they are separated by great distance…that it means more.

This was one of the best season’s of storytelling I have ever watched. This is the season of drama and payoff and you can tell that they are ready to this show in 2 more seasons. This season really showed that they can. The characters that aren’t as strong still stand out. There are so many big character moments that I had to give them their own section just to really recognize how big those moments where. If you’ve been with these characters for this long and seen their drama in the books everything is even stronger. The choices have consequences and every choice has so much history behind it. This is the Game of Thrones and many will die before the end, but at least their deaths won’t be meaningless as we see heroism in characters like Hodor or the depths of evil that some characters will reach, like Cersei.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The good far outweighs what few flaws there are.

Daenerys and Tyrion

Advertisements

“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” Retrospect – Good Ideas and Characters Killed by a Cliffhanger

Sarah Connor Chronicles poster

     “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” is a good show at the end of the day. It is a show with a lot of missed potential, especially in how it handled it’s ending and some of the mythology, but what it does right it does really well. This is something that can’t be said for some shows that got canceled, like “Helix” where they clearly had no idea where they were going. This show at least looks like it was going somewhere, it just never got the chance to complete the thoughts and the writers clearly assumed they had more time than they did.

    Without further ado, here is what I thought worked and didn’t work about the show.

The Pros: Jesse – Jesse was a really cool character, as we see she worked with Machines in the past and only turned on them and didn’t trust them after they kept her from communicating directly with John Connor and when the T-1001 killed members of her crew. Her story is a tragedy and I hope she is still out there somewhere fighting Skynet in this universe.

Agent Ellison – Ellison was my favorite character on the show. He was a man of faith who taught John Henry (an A.I. using the body of a Terminator who’d hunted him) morals and in the end almost develop a friendship. He is a father figure to both him and Savannah and the kindest character as we see him help the Connors and get the FBI off their trail as his investigation leads to him believing in what Sarah Connor was saying.

Catherine Weaver – Catherine Weaver is the T-1001 that killed the crew on the sub and turns things on it’s head when she offers John the chance for an alliance when she is the one with the power. She is a fascinating character as she disregards life for the big picture and her drive is to create an A.I. who will look after the 3rd Faction and find some peace with humanity too. To this end she created John Henry through Project Babylon. Eventually she travels with John into the future too.

John Henry – John Henry is a powerful A.I. who is a child and who is friends with Savannah and Ellison. He is good at his core and is innocence. This is one reason I’m curious why he jumped to the future…is that where his brother Skynet is located? His drive before the end was to find and meet up with his brother.

Cameron – Cameron’s arc is dealing with her feelings for John and making her own way. At times it looks like she is a member of the 3rd Faction, for example when Allison is used as her template to get close to John…but she also turns down Catherine Weaver’s offer. In this we see that she can lie, have sensation but at the core does what is in the best interest of John Connor. She is his protector, the way the T-800 was in “Terminator 2.” Summer Glau does an amazing job.

Sarah Connor – Lena Heady does an amazing job as Sarah Connor! Her Sarah Connor is raw and dealing with trying to raise a child knowing the end is coming and knowing he’s destined for a future she doesn’t fully understand. To this end we see her mess up a lot, but always come through for John…in the end she is even able to let go as she lets John Time Travel as she knows she can’t take any more unknowns.

John Connor – John Connor goes from a teen running from his future to a guy embracing it after he has lost so much and realizes that the only thing he can count on is himself and the choices he makes. He becomes a good leader in this and we see him put his life on the line countless times for others and able to work with anyone be they Terminator or human.

The 3rd Faction – The 3rd Faction fascinates me. They want to fight Skynet but also be respected too as they attempt to make their own life. Cameron is a part of them and Catherine Weaver is one of their leaders…John Henry is their attempt to have full freedom and agency too since it is a learning A.I. that is seeking to be human and more, while Skynet is like a virus infecting computer systems and seeking control.

The Cons: The Cliffhanger – John Connor and Weaver travel to the future, Ellison and Sarah Connor stay behind. John Connor meets his Dad and Derek, and what time are we in exactly?

Riley – Riley was a plot device who eventually became a character and died. When she did become a character she was someone going against what she was being trained to do, and that made her interesting…but her being a post-apocalyptic refugee was never fully explored. How does someone feral come back to being human? The show never tackled that.

Derek Reese – The guy was a dick who I couldn’t stand for most of the time and the fact that he might have killed the woman he loves damns him in my book. He was forgiven for killing his best friend in the future, Jesse deserves the same…especially since everything she did was in self-defense. Did not miss this character when he died as that single episode destroyed what good will he’d managed to build up.

Unanswered Questions – There are a lot of unanswered questions. Where was Skynet during all of the events that they sent killers? Where was John Henry’s brother? What future did Catherine and John travel too? What does the 3rd Faction want?

     There was a lot that worked with this series, which is why I won’t pan it. It’s a fun adventure and a good character series even if there were some characters like Derek Reese or Riley who I never felt fully worked and only really served their function in the story by dying. No show should have characters that exist only for that purpose but this one did and that is part of what brought it down. If you like “Terminator 2” you will probably like this show, it captures a lot of what made that film good in how it handles characters, Skynet and choice.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 12 – “The Ambergris Element” – First Contact and Change

Kirk_and_Spock_mutated

     “The Ambergris Episode” was a fun first contact episode that actually worked! Kirk and Spock having gills was not something I expected to work given how “Voyager” handled things in “Threshold” but this one was different as it focused on how complex first contact is that within a culture or people there are differing points of view.

      The episode was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by Margaret Armen.

     The episode involves the exploration of Argo where Kirk and Spock are attacked by a Sur-Snake leading them to be transformed into aquatic species by the younger generation of Aquans. When they attempt to reach the Elders they are left to die on the surface until one of the Council leaves to rescue them and Kirk and Spock seek a cure of their state and find out the history of the Aquans.

The Pros: The Aquans – The Aquans are fascinating! You have the Elders who fear surface dwellers because they were once them and fear the destruction that occurred and the younger generation who wants to change and are the biggest advocate for first contact. Eventually contact with the outside world is made after Kirk and Spock cure their state using Sur-Snake venom and the Elders stay below as the younger generation comes into the new galaxy.

Kirk – Kirk is the one always seeking contact with the natives and even after they are left to die still does diplomacy. This one really shows how driven he is to seeking peaceful solutions, even when wronged.

Spock – Spock is the one who helps them find the cure and shows how rough the reality is as if Kirk and Spock stayed in a tank their roles would be limited in what they could accomplish.

Raising the Fallen Continents – The Enterprise changes it’s phasers and sets them in such a way to raise the continents. It is really cool and shows how they are a force for change (for better and for worse) and help the Aquans become a part of the great galaxy.

Okay: The Sur-Snake – Okay enemy, but looked kind of stupid at times.

The Cons: Execution – The story could have been done better if we could have seen more of the point of view of the younger generation. This lack of perspective was the only thing that brought the episode down besides the main crew not being allowed to do much.

  This was an episode worth checking out, not a favorite but it is solidly good. It explores the complexity of first contact and manages to turn a strange idea into it’s favor while giving a fascinating society in the process!

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

“Puella Magi Madoka Magica” Assessment – A Tale of Consequences and Empowerment

Group_pic_last_scene

“Puella Magi Madoka Magica” is one of my favorite animes. At some point in the future I will review the films tied to the series, even though the series feels done and it doesn’t really need anymore stories told. It is this complete arc that is one of the things I loved about this series, the others being the message of empowerment of girls, the subversion of shonin anime and that the characters and actions that have consequences.

The story is really strong. In it we see that this is a world that is fully fleshed off. Kyubey’s people make deals with girls to give them powers so that they can collect the energy to trade in the Galaxy and keep Entropy from destroying the Universe. They aren’t human so they don’t understand emotions and they don’t even have individuality so they don’t understand sacrificing for another, Kyubeys seem to be one being that is a species. Within that the Magical Girls are used by the Kyubeys until the cycle is finally broken by Homura and Madoka whose wishes literally change everything. Homura creates a “Groundhog Day” situation where she creates many timelines to try and save Madoka. This wish gives Madoka the the magical potential to wish away wishes and change the Universe completely in ways that Homura’s wish never could. It’s a fascinating story and a great sci. fi.

The other message is the empowerment of girls and women. All the main characters are girls. There is Kyoko who is the rebel who actually cares, Homura who is the shy girl who becomes the stoic action hero, Mami who is the mentor to all of them in the first timeline and Sayaka who is the tragic lover and paladin. All of them move on and grow though through sacrafice or Madoka’s changing of the world. Sayaka moves on and is happy for her friend and the boy she had a crush on and before that she had changed Sayaka who had only cared about herself until Sayaka’s self sacrifice taught her that people are worth fighting for, especially Sayaka. All of them are empowered with Madoka and Homura’s arc being the most complete with Madoka literally becoming God and becoming greater than the self and Homura becoming the guardian of humanity and caring about more than just Madoka because of Madoka’s sacrifice. Through these arcs all of them become more than who they were before.

There are men like Madoka’s father and Sayaka’s crush but they are side characters who are there to show us the perspectives of the women. It’s a nice subversion of what I usually find in Shonin anime where it is all about the men and their relationships. Women serve the role of helping them grow, in “Madoka Magica” it is the reverse and I hope we can see more stories grow out of this.

I loved the characters in this! Even Kyubey was enjoyable as It showed it wasn’t primarily selfish when it lived in Madoka’s world and found another way to collect Energy and didn’t even think that the prior universes existed (showing the limitedness of the species). Kyoko was my favorite though, she went from antagonist to the greatest ally of Homura and Madoka and truly loved Sayaka. The main characters are neither good nor bad, they are complex. Madoka is the idealist but she also loses sight of individuals just like she can see friends but lose sight of the bigger picture. All the characters are complicated and flawed and it is what makes it such a great anime.

The final part of the series that made it truly remarkable was that actions had consequences. A  Magical Girl will eventually become a wish because every wish and hope has despair as the reaction. This lead to Magical Girls throughout history become Witches and to Homura’s “Groundhog Day” to save her friends but most of all Madoka. She isn’t able to change things though, but her constant trying makes Madoka have the greatest Magic Potential of any Magical Girl which allows her to change the Universe and become more than she ever was before. The consequence of this is she is wiped from history. The consequence of Homura tryin to save Madoka is she becomes hardened and appears uncaring because she has lost Madoka and the other so many times and we see it on the smaller level with Sayaka losing any chance of a relationship when she realizes the nature of what she is and that her soul is no longer a part of her because she was turned into a Magical Girl. It’s sad and powerful. This is a story of consequences and it makes the story matter. There are no happy endings, there is always loss of some sort and every universe has humans despair…within Madoka’s new world, Wraiths now haunt the Earth as that symbol.

If you like anime you should check out this series. It isn’t large, which is what I was looking for when I was seeking requests for the anime series I’d be reviewing…and I’ll be reviewing another series soon as well. I’ll leave it a surprise for now but it also will not be too long either and hopefully it will become a favorite too. It is the powerful stories that have the chance to inspire people and to at the very least give people the chance to learn something about themselves and about the world. This is one of those types of animes and is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

To Live (1994): Living and Enduring the Revolution


To Live Poster
      We continue Revolution Week with “To Live” a film so controversial that it was banned in mainland China for it’s portrayal of the Cultural Revolution and the director Zhang Yimou was banned from making movies for 2 years. Stories that confront a narrative that people tell themselves, in any country usually cause controversy in one way or another. It is for this reason the dream of revolution is ongoing. There are so many ways all countries can grow in freedom and justice, and an important part of that is being honest about past mistakes. Back in college we read this book and I was a big fan of it as Chinese History and history as a whole has always been an interest of mine.

“To Live” was directed by Zhang Yimou, written by Lu Wei, and produced by Fu-Sheng Chiu, Funhong Kow and Christophe Tseng and based off the book of the same name written by Yu Hua.

The story follows Xu Fugui (Ge You) a spoiled man who gambles away all his money and home. After his wife Jiazhen (Gong Li) and daughter leave him and return he makes money using puppets that are loaned to him from the man who won his home. From earns money in this way until he is conscripted into the Nationalist Army and later Communist Army with his partner Chunsheng (Tao Guo) before returning once more to his family. From here the story unfolds as they live through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

The Pros: The Setting – The setting is fascinating and one I studied during college. The story starts out in the 1940’s and we get to see what high society was like through Fugui and what it means to be poor too before the Revolution and Civil War and after as the next scenes are in the setting of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. These are handled subtlety too as we see how it affects the common people through Fugui and his relationship to different characters.

The characters – Like the book, the film has a great array of characters who are compelling in how they are expressed.

Long’er – Long’er is the man who cons Fugui out of his home and all his money. He’s a greedy guy but not all bad as he helps Fugui get back on his feet and lends him the puppets he used to make his living before his gambling success. He dies when the Cultural Revolution happens as Fugui’s home makes him a rich landowner which at the time, is a dangerous class in society to be. Dahong Ni does a wonderful job in the role.

Chunsheng – Chunsheng is Fugui’s business partner with the puppets and is a jokester who loves cars. He ends up joining the Liberation Army after they are picked up and put on some shows and he is later made District Chief during the The Great Leap Forward and accidentally kills Fugui’s young son. He lives with the guilt for the rest of his life and we don’t know if he loses his life as he is targeted as a Capitalist in a government purging. Jiazhen does forgive him though which is at the end all he wants. “All debts repaid.” Tao Guo does a great job.

Jiazhen – Jiazhen is the one who keeps Fugui responsible as she doesn’t care about wealth, just about their family. She leaves him since he doesn’t stop gambling, but comes back when demonstrates that he has truly changed. She is kind and aware of those around her and ways Fugui is not. For example she knows t their son was sticking up for his sister when she was being bullied and even when she’s sick she is fully their for their grandson. Li Gong does an amazing job!

Xu Fugui – I like this character more in the film than in the book. In the film he has hope for the future that is slowly broken as the The Great Leap Forward leads to his son accidentally getting killed and the Cultural Revolution leading to the death of his daughter as all Doctors are enemies since they are academics and not working class. He just wants to live and he does that really well as before he was obsessed with pleasure and drink but in the end just wants to be with his family. You Ge is great at playing both the cocky youth and the wise old man.

Great Leap Forward – The Great Leap Forward is shown to be great in many ways, but also having a cost. The people came together and industrialization did happen, the downside is the steel was bad and some people were worked to exhaustion like Fugui’s son.

Cultural Revolution – Fugui has to destroy the shadow puppets because they represent the Imperial Past, the Red Guards have power and turn on the intellectuals and teachers and everyone is afraid that they could be next. Of course if you’re connected to the Red Guards like Fugui is when a Red Guard marries his daughter, you get taken care of.

The Message – The message ends in one of hope, when Fugui tells his grandson, “And things will get better.” This might be true but what we see is that change for the sake of change isn’t always good. As many people have to be in it and abandoning the past or the elders can lead to lack of Doctors and loss of art. We see this in the mourning of the puppets, in the loss of Fugui’s children and what Fugui watches around him as even loyal Party members are arrested or targeted like Chunsheng or the man in charge of their area. Some positive can and do happen, but healthy change involves awareness of what worked before and including everyone in the change.

Okay/Good: The Cinematography – The cinematography used a lot of red and had some great color contrasts and long shots, but other times felt like a television movie in how it softened the scenes. For this reason I can’t make it a complete pro, but consider but better than okay.

Okay: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack isn’t all that unique and feels generic overall. This is a shame since a good soundtrack would have made this movie great.

Jiazhen and Fugui’s Children – The children are child actors so they could have been played by anyone as I wouldn’t call their performances unique. Their daughter is mute so communicates largely through facial expressions and their son is rebellious and defensive of his sister, both are accurate to the books but I don’t really consider their individual performances all that memorable.

I personally liked the book more because there were more details and it in my opinion it painted a much fuller picture. This film is still really good though. There are character arcs, we see how China changes during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution and how this affects the common people. We see how the radical change of Revolution so often comes with suppressing ideas and creating enemies so that the people will be focused on an outward problem rather than the internal problems of society and corruption around them and we see that most people just want to live. This is a great story about one family doing just that, living and enduring so much struggle and loss in a country that went through the same.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10.

Gargoyles – Season 1, Episode 9 – “Enter Macbeth” – A New Threat, Great Villain and New Beginning

macbeth

 

“Enter Macbeth” is a great episode for a lot of reasons. Most of which I’ll get into in the assessment. One thing that does make it amazing though, is how it took a Shakespeare character and did something amazing with him, making him a character that fits and contributes to the lore of this Universe.

The episode was written by Steve Perry and directed by Kazuo Terada and Saburo Hashimoto. It is the 8th episode of the 1st season.

The story involves Macbeth approaching Xanatos and prison and letting him and Owen know that he knows about the gargoyle threat and that he can defeat them as he’s defeated them before. While this is going on a recovering Detective Maza is trying to convince Goliath they have to leave which he is resisting as the Castle is the home he’s known all his life and out of all of them, he’s the most resistant to change. Things come to a head though when Lexington, Brooklyn and Bronx are captured by Macbeth and Goliath must rescue them. The story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Goliath – Goliath is tradition and the base for the gargoyles, it is why he’s the leader, as he isn’t the oldest…Hudson is. We see that he leaves no one behind though as he fights and defeats Macbeth in his own home and mocks Macbeth when he learns Macbeth captured them so he could get revenge on Demona. On the reveal that Demona doesn’t care about them, he loses it. In the fight Macbeth’s home is burned to the ground but he Goliath is forced to admit when Broadway and Maza convince him that the Castle is no longer their’s as Xanatos is free from prison and Macbeth is still out there. He does promise Owen that they’ll be back though.

Lexington – We see his brains at work again as he is able to sap the power from the cages to have Bronx break out of his cage and get Goliath to save them.

Brooklyn – Is comedic relief and good in this episode as he keeps annoying Lexington by electrocuting his finger on the cage until Lexington can come up with a plan.

Broadway – Sees the big picture and plays a part in convincing Goliath they need to leave the Castle, which makes sense since he is the gargoyle most of the current time period.

Detective Maza – Sees the big picture, fights Macbeth briefly when injured and is largely the reason Goliath gives in to them finding a new home. She also finds them a new home in the Clocktower.

Macbeth – Voiced by John Rhys-Davies of “Lord of the Rings” and “Indiana Jones” fame he owns this role. He is a compelling antagonist who is immortal though we don’t know why…and extremely intelligent as he uses technology and his strength to defeat the gargoyles. He also manages to escape from Goliath’s wrath.

The Ending – Things have changed…Xanatos is free, the gargoyles have changed homes, Detective Maza is still injured and recovering from being shot, and Macbeth is on the scene and a new player in the game against the gargoyles.

Okay – What we Know about Macbeth – We know he knows Demona and gave her her name, but we don’t know why he hates the gargoyles or how he is still alive after all these years. It’s not a bad thing, but a little more about him would have served the story better.

I recommend this episode for sure, and it is a favorite, even though it isn’t perfect. Macbeth is a great antagonist, and with Xanatos free and the gargoyles changing homes…we see that actions from prior episodes have consequences. It’s nice seeing that the gargoyles came from Ancient Scotland put to good use and have Macbeth be from that time period and their world.

Final Score for this episode: 9.5 / 10. Definitely a favorite.

Apocalypse Week – Movies and Television About the Apocalypse

Apocalypse

There is a great human fascinating with the end of the world. We see this in our stories, religions (all of which usually express some sort of final end or change to a time or cycle). I think I know at least part of the reason why this is.

It is when things end or change that the best and worst of humanity is revealed. This is true regardless of what is causing the destruction…be it aliens, robots, zombies, natural disasters, something else or any combination of these. Really, there is no limit to the ideas you can come up with as a world ending or changing catastrophe.

This is going to be my first Apocalypse Week, but I plan on doing many more. I’m pulling from a few different types of film and tv for this too as the ones I chose for this week are:

Akira (1988)

The Trigun Pilot

World War Z (2013)

The Battlestar Galactica Mini-Series Pilot

and Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014)

Each of these are quite different in how they have the end and in how that end is brought about. In the case of “Akira,” “Trigun” and “Battlestar Galactica” they are already things I like, so I’m curious how they’ll hold up since it has been years since I’ve watched them. I have not seen “World War Z” or “Noah” so am also curious about those two films too.

Until than, thanks for reading and now is the time to explore many different apocalypses.