Sherlock – Special – “The Abominable Bride” – Confusing at Times but a Powerful Message

Sherlock The Abominable Bride

      “The Abominable Bride” is an episode that is a bit unfocused but comes together at the end and never stops being fun. It more than makes up for the end of Season 3 and even the overall message of the internal mystery is powerful too and is timeless, which is something Moffat usually doesn’t cover in his episodes. I’ll get into more of the details later but this episode was a trip (in more than one way) and for non-spoiler thoughts, is well worth checking out.

      The episode was directed by Douglas Mackinnon and written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

Spoilers ahead

       The episode takes place in Victorian England where Sherlock is seeking to solve the case of the Abominable Bride who killed herself but has come back from the dead and is hunted down her husband and other evil men. All is not as it appears to be though as even the story is meta.

The Pros: Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful per usual, which one thing that has been true of even the weakest episodes of “Sherlock.” There is great use of freezing the frame and using the London fog to cast mystery and shadow and with it an element of horror which lended strength to the narrative both main and meta. Suzie Lavelle did a great job.

Soundtrack – The music continues to be one of the strongest parts of this series and plays into the mystery, horror and self reflection that really defines this episode and the series at it’s best when it is at it’s strongest. David Arnold and Michael Price did a wonderful job.

Dialogue – The dialogue is snappy, sharp and natural and fit the characters beautifully. This was an episode that didn’t drag because the writing kept things moving, especially in how the different characters interacted.

Characters – Characters have always been the strongest part of the show and the Special is a shining example of this. Though there are some glorified cameos I won’t really mention since I don’t really feel the cameos got exploration.

Mary – Mary is fighting for equality in England and she is the one who discovers the organization that created the Abominable Bride. It is wonderful seeing her front and center and I hope she becomes part of John and Sherlock and that they become a trio. Amanda Abbington once again does a fantastic job.

Moriarty – Andrew Scott is back, though it is only in Sherlock’s mind palace as we learn part of his plan was to trap Sherlock inside his head as he really did die and wanted to bring Sherlock down with him, like he did in the story of the Reichenbach Fall. In the end he fails to account for Watson though and it is his downfall as within his mind Sherlock is able to realize that Moriarty is not alive and that all of this was a ploy to trap him so that his final attack on the world could go forward.

Mycroft – Mark Gatiss is my favorite Mycroft and in this we see the tender side of his relationship to Sherlock as he was there to pull Sherlock out of his addiction and cared for him. We also see a fat Mycroft in the past (and how he looks in the stories and novels) which is a treat. He never stops being Mycroft though and we see him team up with Mary to help and protect John and Sherlock. Gatiss truly owns this role and he gets great character development this episode.

Watson – Martin Freeman’s Watson gets some wonderful character development in this as in the past we see that Sherlock uses how Watson sees him in order to solve cases and build himself up and that Watson truly is smart and has learned a lot from Sherlock. He saves Sherlock from his mind Moriarty and helps him wake up as well as solving the Abominable Bride case with him and his wife Mary. He is a great character as always.

Sherlock – Benedict Cumberbatch really owns this role and is a natural Sherlock Holmes. I really liked seeing his Victorian self solving the case and them actually dealing with the dangers of his addiction as it takes him going under to solve the case of the Abominable Bride and realize that Moriarty is dead but he put things in place in case that ever did happen. His arc is learning to accept help and letting go of his addiction to needing a case or drugs to feel alive. It’s very well done and Sherlock actually grows over the course of the episode.

Equality and Justice – The suffragette movement is addressed and the fact that some of them are using the Abominable Bride for justice against evil men. It’s really cool as it uses the sexism of Victorian society to show how far we’ve come and how far there is to go.

Letting Go and No Longer Alone – Sherlock’s arc is letting go of Moriarty in his mind and accepting his death and accepting the love from his friends….that his brother, John and Mary are there for him and that is how he can defeat and has defeated whatever has come his way. No longer the superhuman, he is now human.

Okay/Pro: The Ending – We know now that Moriarty truly is dead but he put something in place for when he does die and now it is up to Sherlock and John to solve it. I liked them talking in the past, it was some of the best John and Sherlock moments…and Sherlock did get some great monologues. I’m doing it as okay since it took Sherlock overdosing to get there.

Okay: The Bride – The organization the Bride is a part of is wonderful, but the bride is a plot device and never fully grows beyond it. She isn’t a bad plot device but a plot device is not a character. Lestrade had the same problem.

Lestrade – Graves does a good job with what he’s given but he’s just kind of there to give Sherlock the plot to solve. I would have liked to see more with him as he’s never given the chance to fully be his own character.

    This was a favorite episode and clearly showed that Gatiss and Moffat are back in their game when it comes to this show. I was disappointed with Series 3, especially in it’s treatment of Mary in the finale and how the kill was handled, as well as the villain being one note…but this got back on track. Sherlock has always been about the characters and this episode showed once more why we keep coming back to this show and what drew us to the stories of Sherlock Holmes in the first place.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): Healing, Redemption and Actions That Matter in a World Gone Insane

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Poster-Posse-1-600x900

       “Fury Road” is beloved by the critics for so many reasons. This film is the second film I’ve reviewed for 2015 and it blew “Age of Ultron” out of the water, and most of the action films I have watched. Rarely do you see a film that manages to mix philosophy, character development and action so seamlessly and mastering the art of showing and not telling. There are moments where history is told in a glance and where you see the character relationships change from the circumstances around them. Suffice to say, it is amazing that after 30 years away from his Franchise that George Miller managed to create the best film from that world yet.

     The film was directed by George Miller who was also one of the writers and producers of the film. The other writers were Brendan McCarthy and Nico Loutharis while the other producers were Doug Mitchell and P.J. Voeten.

SPOILERS AHEAD

     The story involves the capture of Max (Tom Hardy) and him turning into a blood donor for one of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) War Boys Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He is pulled into a larger purpose and freedom when Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with the wives of Immortan Joe to bring them to freedom and the Green Place. From here and Nux must make a choice and rethink their beliefs as does Furiousa when she soon realizes that there might not be a safe place for them to return.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! The vehicles are shot like their are mobile homes and living creatures and they have life to them as people use them to protect and to attack and each vehicle has distinct personalities. From the spiky vehicles that belong to the Vultures, and the other factions that follow Immortan Joe. John Seale did a great job.

The Action – This is an action film and the action is seamless. We see this mostly through the eyes of Nux who soon realizes his God Immortan Joe who conditioned him since he was a child to worship him cares nothing for his well being and leaves him trapped on the War Rig. We see him fight off the vultures and he is the first to attack multiple times as well as rescued by Max (due to chaining max to himself for his blood and later by the wives). It is through his eyes we see the insane see more than death and destruction and each battle shows how he grows and changes into someone who is willing to risk all for the good. The action doesn’t stop until the end but gives moments of reflection too.

The Soundtrack – Junkie XL did a fantastic job on the soundtrack! It is classical meets heavy metal with the right moments for silence too, such as when Furiosa finds her childhood home gone and everyone she knew dead and the intensity of the action scenes as cars explode and War Boys leap between vehicles to get at the wives and destroy Furiosa, Nux and Max. The soundtrack like the action doesn’t let up until the end. Also the War Boy playing the electric guitar that spouted fire was worked seamlessly into the soundtrack as he was the one playing it and whatever affected the guitar and him affected the music.

The World – The world is rich in this and the most fleshed out compared to any prior film. There is Immortan Joe and the Citadel, the Canyon Bikers, the Vultures, Bullet Farmer’s faction, the Mothers and others. It is a rich world so much at stake where in a moment the rest of the world could be destroyed by the factions seeking to survive or to destroy one another. This post-apocalyptic world leaves no room for hope yet in it hope is created through the healing and redemption of Max, Furiosa, Nux and the Wives. Within this world we see the Mothers who worship life countered by Immortan Joe and his cult of death where his drugged out warriors are taught that if they die for him they will be celebrated in Valhalla and live again.

The Characters – The characters are all rich and distinct and wonderful to see on the screen. I can’t think of anyone who did a horrible job as each character fit their role well and what happened to them changed relationship dynamics between factions and people. Whether it was Max no longer being guarded or the wives giving them all hope as each sought healing in their own way, each of protagonists was distinct and our villains were memorable too from their design to their horrendous actions and power.

The Wives – Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) is the leader of the wives and the who risks her own life to save Furiosa and Max. This causes conflict among the others but we see she was the one to get Max first beyond himself as she was risking herself and her child to make a better future and stop Joe. This is later picked up by Toast (Zoe Kravitz) and Cheedo (Courtney Eaton) who take part in the battle and help Nux to heal and find peace beyond his cult conditioning. They also struggle against their own desperation and find mentors in Furiosa and the Mothers who with their help and them taking the fight to Joe become the leaders of the Citadel and free the slaves.

Immortan Joe – Joe is a monster. He has a harem of breeder wives who he rapes and who he sets his army on because he sees them as his property. He has a great design with skull like teeth and tubes covering his lower face and we see that he has bought what he has sold his people. He believes he is a God and sings praises for his lost son when Angharad is killed when defending the War Rig. He cares nothing for the wives or his people and everything is for his glory and pride. Hugh Keays-Byrne does a fantastic job and his character is much more threatening than Toecutter who he played in the first “Mad Max” film. He’s developed a lot as an actor and he’s working with a far superior script.

The Mothers – The Mothers are awesome and are the group that Furiosa is a part of, sadly the world is gone and is now a toxic swamp but the Mothers still keep the seeds and give the wives peace that they have never had. They also fight to take the Citadel, with Valkyrie (Megan Gale) and Keeper of the Seeds (Melissa Jaffer) dying in the process. They are powerful and badass figures, riding motorcycles and covered in bullets. They adapted to the world around them and didn’t fall when the Green Land fell.

Max – Tom Hardy owns this role. He is clearly Max and like Gibson before him is the outcast pulled into situations out of his control where he comes in and acts as a protector and finally gives into hope before disappearing. In this we see him deal with his trauma and PTSD as the wives comfort him and Furiosa shares and understands his loss as we see her despair at everything she lost when Joe kidnapped and destroyed her family. They are similar and help each other heal by protecting the wives and in turn empowering them to fight. Much like past films though Max does not stick around as when the Citadel is free and Furiosa and the Wives are the leaders he leaves to continue his fight as the Road Warrior.

Nux – Nux is a War Boy who is devoted to Joe until he fails in capturing the War Rig and Max escapes. From here has to rethink everything which the wives help him to do. From here he becomes a hero and helps free the truck and in the end risks his life so that Joe’s forces will not retake the citadel. Nicholas Hoult does an amazing job. I really liked him as Beast in “Days of Future Past” and “First Class” but he is even better in this. His character drives the story as his redemption shows that even the broken can become more than their conditioning and even the most hated can be loved.

Furiosa – Furiosa is the primary protagonist and Charlize Theron owns this role. She’s the badass with the robotic arm who can take on multiple people at once but is still human and vulnerable. We see her break down when she learns the crow infested swamp was where the Green Land once was and her resolve when Max reminds them of the water at the Citadel and that they can still fight for the Green Land that does exist without traversing the unknown Wasteland. She is the one who keeps Max accountable too and trusts him even when he is holding a gun to her head and acting paranoid. She helps him find his humanity and he in turn saves her life with his blood as she had saved him multiple times. In the ends she ascends as leader of the Citadel and through her killing of Joe frees all the slaves of the Citadel arriving as it’s conqueror with the Wives now also as leaders.

The Struggle for Equality – This movie is all about the struggle for equality. Women and children are things and tools for Joe and he only sees how he can use others. It is the rebellion against that with the wives fighting for a better place and Furiosa seeking revenge for the Green Land Joe destroyed that help bring about freedom for every man, woman and child. There is sacrifice along the way too as Valkyrie, The Keeper of the Seeds, Angharad and the men who first traveled with Furiosa fall to the barbarians ruled by Joe or by selfishness who make up the Wasteland.

Healing and Redemption – Healing and redemption and their possibility is a major message and theme of this movie too. Nux is a thug but he is also just a boy who changes when his “daddy” leaves him behind and he realizes he was nothing to the man he saw as God. The wives help him to heal and accept him by only killing in self defense and he in turn fights for them because of their acceptance of him. He even is able to form relationships and fight for others and see Max as a human, not just a blood donor. Max and Furiosa find it through their shared pain and in it find hope, the hope that the wives always remind them of and the future they fight for…the unborn who don’t have to live in the hopeless world created by the monsters like Joe.

     I’ll be very surprised if I see a better film than this one this year. The soundtrack, cinematography, action, characters, world and story were all perfect and had a point beyond just explosions and cars. There was philosophy intertwined in the action and the actions that happen change characters and made them grow. This is what I think of when I think of the perfect film. The message is timeless the characters are amazing with Immortan Joe, Furiosa and Max being truly timeless. I can’t wait to see what George Miller does with the rest of the series he has planned. He didn’t come back to this series for 30 years, but when he did he made something that was truly memorable, powerful and unforgettable. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 6, Episode 13 – “Far Beyond the Stars” – The Ongoing Struggle For Justice and Equality

Ds9 Far Beyond the Stars

      “Far Beyond the Stars” is a masterpiece on so many levels and an episode where the trials and struggles of the 1960’s reveal themselves to sadly be just as true today. We are so far from the world of “Deep Space Nine” in not just our television but our science fiction books too, even if things have improved in some ways. This is an episode that has such a powerful point with some of the best writing and acting to come out of this series. The fact that Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) was also the director also lends more power to it when you look how focused on justice so much of Avery Brooks’s passion has gone towards post “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” On a final note before I get into the details, it is also a very meta and philosophical episode of Trek.

      “Far Beyond the Stars” was as stated above, directed by Avery Brooks with the teleplay by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler with story by Marc Scott Zicree.

     The story begins with Captain Sisko’s Father Joseph Sisko visiting the station as Ben is rethinking what difference he is actually making, as his friend died in a routine patrol of the Cardassian Border and the Dominion War looks as if it has no sign of ending. His father tells him he should think on it as he begins seeing people from the 1960’s before he is transported into the world of Benny, an African American Science Fiction Writer during the 1960’s where his story unfolds and realities keep colliding as they try to find out what’s going on “Deep Space Nine” as he faces the reality of the past in the life of Benny.

The Pros: Benny’s World – I love that they set in the 60’s and unlike the “Mad Men” version of the 60’s we get to see the lives of the middle class, the poor and people who aren’t of European descent. The world doesn’t pull any punches with every character being flawed and discrimination being widespread and enforced by the law. I’ll get into more of the details when I explore the characters though.

The Soundtrack – There is so much great jazz in this episode and so often the episode knows when to be silent, it isn’t standard recycled music and that really made the episode just that much stronger in the presentation and story.

The Characters – I’m only referring to the characters of Benny’s world in this instance since the only people really explored in Captain Sisko’s time are himself and his father. The characters of Benny’s world (played by the same actors who make salutes to their counterparts in personality and actions) are wonderful. They are distinct while still having the inspiration of “Deep Space Nine” (or vise versa as I’ll go into later).

Willie Hawkins – Michael Dorn plays the baseball player who shows us that it doesn’t matter if you are star athlete, housing ordinances are still just that and even though some whites want to see you play they don’t want you around (most housing ordinances weren’t ended until the 90’s and 80’s even). His way of dealing with it is flirting with everyone. His character is very confident and it’s fun to see. He knows he’s a star and Dorn does it very well.

Jimmy – Jimmy is a young African-american guy and friends with Benny and a bit of a hustler. The day he gets the opportunity for wealth the detectives Burt and Kevin murder him. They say it was for breaking into a car but based of their reaction of beating up Benny for even asking questions I sincerely doubt that. R.I.P. Jimmy. Sad thing is this still happens today. This scene is given more power given the actor plays Jake Sisko…Benjamin Sisko’s son in the series as a whole.

Cassie – Played by the actress who plays Captain Sisko’s wife Kasidy she is great in this as the woman who accepts discrimination (and Willie’s creeping) and wants to build a life that she feels is practical with Benny. To this end she’s working at owning the restaurant she works at and trying to get Benny to see it too. She’s super supportive of him and his writing though and takes care of him after the cops beat him up.

Kay Eaton – Kay is played by Nana Visitor who plays Major Kira and she is an author who writes under a name K.C. so people will think she is man. She is aware of the prejudice and inequality around her and can relate to Benny in that way. She’s more resigned than Benny though and doesn’t fight Pabst over the injustice of the Editors.

Herbert Rossoff – Rosoff played by Shimerman (who plays Quark) is the one person always clashing with Pabst (played by Rene who plays Odo) and is most vocal against the injustice of Benny’s story not being published and the editors shutting down the magazine for a month because of Benny’s black protagonist.

Douglas Pabst – Played by the actor who plays Odo, like Odo Pabst is all about the rules, even if they are unjust. He doesn’t care about injustice he cares about money and fires Benny when the Publishers choose not to run the stories. He isn’t even well intentioned he is all about the rules, just like Odo. He is the status quo and those who do nothing.

Benny Russell – Benny Russell is the one dreaming “Deep Space Nine” and the one being dreamed by Captain Sisko. He has victories like when Pabst accepts the story of “Deep Space Nine” being a dream. He is inspired by Delaney a gay African American writer whose story was rejected because his protagonist was mixed race. Benny the character is different in that he is working to be married with Cassie but his role becomes bigger after “The Preacher” reminds him of his role as a a symbol of the future and justice and making the story of “Captain Sisko” real by telling the story. This ends with him being put in a hospital though as he stands up to Pabst and cries out to be recognized as a human being.

Joseph Sisko – Joseph reminds his son Ben of how important it is to fight, which makes sense that he’d be the Preacher in Ben’s dream of Benny as he is calling Captain Sisko back to the struggle and making sure a just world remains or can come about…that life is bigger than those he has lost and himself.

Captain Sisko – Sisko is mourning the loss of his friend but after he dreams of Benny and realizes that Benny could have dreamed one another into reality realizes how important it is to fight and struggle against injustice, be it discrimination or the tyranny of the Dominion.

Honorary Mentions – Alamo (Dukat) and Combs (Weyoun) play corrupt detectives who are the ones responsible for killing Jimmy…and Meaney played a bumbling writer who liked robots. They weren’t bad characters but they weren’t explored some of the other characters were, which is why I’m giving them honorary mentions.

Easter Eggs – The Magazine they are writing for has “Star Trek: The Original Series” stories in it’s pages. Ranging from “The Cage” to “Where no One has Gone Before.” It’s a really cool salute to the past early science fiction as well as the ripple “Star Trek” created by it’s existence as a show during this time period.

The Meta Moments – The whole idea of “Deep Space Nine” all existing in the mind of Benny is very meta as “Deep Space Nine” existed in the writers who wrote the show. Benny is almost a stand in for them and the story they all sought to tell.

The Message – There are quite a few messages in this that stands out. The dreams of the present can become the dreams of the future and the dreams of the past remind us of what we still need and can accomplish. There is also the fact that injustice must be fought if anything is ever going to change and the power of story and how ideas can never die.

Representation and racism in the Past and Present – Delaney was an African-American Gay Black Science Fiction writer whose story was rejected by his racist publisher. Here is a great article that explores it and the lack of representation of people of color today: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121554/2015-hugo-awards-and-history-science-fiction-culture-wars

This article shows that Delaney’s story is still true in many ways today and it is certainly true on television and other forms media. Now I don’t know how much talking about it changes it, but sometimes it is the stories that do. Look at the influence “Star Trek” has had on the culture and with that the same potential other science fiction shows can have. What is the future we want to create?

The Potential Future – There will always be problems I think, maybe and hopefully not the same ones even if echoes of those same problems remain…but it is in our power to change them, for each generation to make those changes in how they live, the laws they make and how they and we treat our fellow human beings. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I hope for the future that “Deep Space Nine” represents.

Final Score: 10 / 10. One of the greatest stories to ever come out of “Star Trek” and still relevant to this day.

The Imitation Game (2014): The Dilemmas of War and the Life and Legacy of Alan Turing

The Imitation Game

       “The Imitation Game,” deserves all the hype and rewards it recieved. This is a film that manages to cover the dilemmas of war and the choices those in power are given in regards to how a war is handled to save the most lives, it deals with equality and prejudice as we see how Turing difference in personality leads to his isolation and also the homophobia of the government that leads to his tragic end even though it was his mind and actions that helped bring about a sooner end to World War 2. More on all of this though, later on.

     The film was directed by Morten Tyldum, written by Graham Moore and produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman and based off the story Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

      The story is that of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the story of how he broke the German Enigma Code during World War 2. It follows from when he is first taken on by Commander Dennisten (Charles Dance) to break the code and unfolds from there as he tries to construct a machine and connect with the members of his Team. When he becomes leader of his Team he takes on Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) whose abilities are doubted because she is a woman by society and the military. In the present Turing is telling his story to a detective on how the events of the war unfolded.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. Every shot looks like a stark photograph and captures Turing’s alienation and isolation from those around him and from there the times he is connected to others, like his friend and most likely first love Christopher. Oscar Faura did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – This is one of my favorite soundtracks, and I soon learned why. Alexandre Desplat who also did the soundtrack for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the two “Deathly Hallows” films and countless other great soundtracks did this one too. In this he also captures the internal isolation or pressure that Turing is under as well as capturing his soaring moments too and the claustrophobia of the War.

The Script – The script is great at showing and only telling when it needs to. We learn about Turing being gay during his wedding when one of his friends on the Team tells him he’s figured it out and that he doesn’t feel romantic attraction towards his fiance Joan. The dialogue is also quick, and when Turing and Joan have their sarcastic or quippy moments it is quite enjoyable, it also captures Turing’s very literal mind and his trouble reading expressions and figures of speech.

The Characters – For the most part every character gets fleshed out. We get to see the two sides of every person or at least get a better idea of why a character does whatever they do and what their motivations are.

Commander Denniston – Charles Dance is great in this role. He is the general who cares about his men and has fought in wars before. He distrusts Turing since Turing is agnostic on War and the need for it but accepts him when he figures out they’re trying break Enigma. He later tries to get him kicked out though but is stopped when Turing goes to Churchill and becomes leader of the Team, though he nearly loses everything again when Denniston tries to shut the machine down when it is running but not giving any information. His character is a lot like Tywin, practical and invested in the big picture who doesn’t deal well with things and people he doesn’t understand.

Hugh Alexander – Matthew Goode is great in this role. Hugh is the one person comparably smart to Turing and sticks to the old ways until Turing wins him over by finally including them all in trying to make the machine work. He threatens resignation when Denniston comes to shut down the machine and from that he and Turing become friends. He is a bit of a womanizer but a good guy.

John Cairncross – Cairncross is the kindest of the Team at first but we soon see this is two-faced when he threatens to reveal Turing as Gay when Turing finds out he’s a spy. He still works with them all though and shows that agenda a double agent might have, in this case the Soviets are the allies of the U.K. so why not get them information? MI-6 knows this and supports it we learn as Churchill has been too paranoid to get the Soviets information that would help them win the war against Nazi Germany.

General Menzies – The head of MI-6 and the one person who appreciates Turing besides Joan. I don’t know if he’s good since he’s making decisions that by their very nature are grey. He lies about the existence of Turing’s machine so no one will know they have a weapon in conflict and he has everyone burn the information tied the machine at the end of the film. He is all business but appreciates those who can keep secrets, which is my he makes Alan Turing a spy, knowing that he holds more secrets than many of his agents. Mark Strong is great in this role.

Joan Clarke – Knightley plays the other outsider who gives us the feminist perspective in all of this. She points out she can’t afford to be a jerk because she isn’t a man so no one will listen to her if she is one, where they are listening to Turing even though he can insufferable sometimes. She loves his mind and when he admits he’s gay she stands by him knowing they are only together as friends. It’s a touching scene and you get the idea they are both outcasts who have trouble connecting to anyone besides one another, Turing because of the loss of his friend and love Christopher and Clarke because she is not her expected role in the sexist British society.

Alan Turing – Cumberbatch deserved a nomination for this role. In the beginning he sounds like Sherlock but soon we get the distinct voice of Turing a very literal minded person who sees himself as smarter than everyone (which in most cases he is) and has to learn empathy for others (which Joan helps him with) when he experienced none from others minus Christopher growing up. He is all about solving puzzles, agnostic on the issue of violence and in the end helps end the war 2 years earlier. Sadly all he has is his work in the end as the Government chemically castrates him and this further isolation and alienation leads to his suicide. Turing story is that of a tragedy as he is a strange and brilliant man who did nothing wrong and was castrated only because he loved men. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those throughout history and modern day like him.

The Dilemmas of War – There are a few situations where dilemmas are presented. One of Turing’s Team Members discovers that Germans will be attacking an area where his brother is and if they warn the military they can be saved. Turing points out that if the Germans learn they solved Enigma it won’t matter, more men will die and they could still lose the war. Another dilemma was in constructing “Christopher” the Machine. The old way was saving lives using people and the more energy that was put into the machine the less time to try and break the daily changing code. Continuing the machine or going the old way and saving some lives was another issue presented of conflict during wartime.

The Message – The message is that of equality and how important is to be accepting of differences and that it is our differences that define us. It is powerful and you see the horrors that LGBTQ folks still face in the United States and areas of the world. They may not have been chemically castrated in the U.S. anymore but in many places it is still a death sentence and it is the prejudice that Turing faces that most likely lead to his suicide. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those who took their life because they could not find acceptance in love in this world because of prejudice and homophobia. So many great minds gone so early, just like Turing who was only 41 years old.

Okay: Christopher – Christopher is such an important character, Turing names his machine after him…but we never get to know him fully and he’s never fully fleshed out. This is one of the few issues that I really have with this film. I wish we could have gotten to know Christopher better beyond his brilliance and kindness to Alan.

The Cons: Historical Accuracy – The film takes some major liberties with Turing’s life which this article expresses beautifully. This is an issue for me in any historical biopic and is always a con…if your pouring a lot of money into a film, at least try to make it as accurate as possible since the story was great enough to be told in the first place.: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/03/the_imitation_game_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_the_new_movie_is_to_alan_turing.html

    This is a favorite film and deserves all the awards and praise it has received. Cumberbatch and Knightley are fantastic and the story has a message that rings true to this day. The ways we love, especially between consenting adults should be celebrated and not punished. This core message, the dilemma’s of war and Turing’s Life expressed, along with an unforgettable soundtrack, great cinematography and message make this a film that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Retrospect – The Losses That Drive Us

 Book_1_-_Volume_2

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” had a great Book 1. There was only one episode that I considered weak was “The Great Divide.” The rest of the episodes were at the very least good even if there were some things that could have been explored more. What made Book 1 “Water,” so great were the characters and their arcs and the themes that certain episodes explored as well as the overarching theme of the Book.

Zuko_begs

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The Track Team did a fantastic job with the soundtrack to the series of Book 1. From the ending theme, to the haunting sound whenever loss or death was faced or the drum beats during chase sequences…the music only ever added to the story.

The Animation – I really liked the animation for this show, it was one of the first things that drew me in as each character has a distinct style and the world is all the richer because of it. Bryan Konietzko and his team really did a great job on this series and Book 1 highlights this.

The Action – From the first fight with Zuko and Aang to the Siege of the North and all the smaller fights and duels inbetween. Every fight Zuko was in was one to see and seeing Katara become a Master Waterbender was great too as she continued to get the point of besting her enemies.

The Writing – The writing was amazing, this is a kids show and the characters were real as well as whether they were complex or static…the reasons behind what they did or believed were mostly explained. There was also so much showing rather than telling which made it so great.

The Characters – The characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” are amazing and we see that all of them are complex in different ways or at the very least compelling on their own. Whether it’s the strength of Suki, the wisdom of Iroh or the pride of Zhao we see characters who may not change but who give us so much in how they interact with Team Avatar. This even goes for the minor characters as well like Jet, Chief Amook and Master Pakku as well.

The Character Arcs – The character arcs of Book 1 are powerful and mean something. So much of it is dealing with trauma and growing from the loss. Whether it’s Aang’s abandoning his role to embracing it over the course of the Book and his learning responsibility, Sokka learning compassion, Zuko learning to depend on more than anger and Katara learning humility. These are just some of the changes that happen in our characters and their arcs.

The Themes – There are quite a few themes that Book 1 covers, genocide in the destruction of the Air Nation, colonization Earth Nation’s relationship to Fire Nation cities upon their land, equality and justice and the fight for it in relationship to Kanna and Katara in regards to the Northern Water Tribe and countless others in regards to justice and war and what it means to be good. This themes go throughout the series but are introduced really strongly here.

Gan_Jin_vs._Zhang

The Cons: Simplifying Cultures or Characters – “The Great Divide” was the worst at this which is why I used the image from it above, though the non-existent Northern Water Tribe politics and the existence of the character Hahn also fit this description. This was the only thing that really brought down this season.

ATLA 1 19

        The first season of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” ends strong and is solid all the way through. Throughout the drive from loss humanizes the characters as we see Aang deal with the loss of his people, Katara and Sokka with the loss of their mother and so much of their tribe and Zuko with the loss of his Nation. All of them are driven by these losses to try and write the wrongs as best they see fit, all the while striving towards good. They lose more in the process and all the while grow. The ending of Book 1 is one of the more tragic endings in any animated series and really captures what makes this series so great. Loss is never seen as something to be avoided when it is tackled and the important themes like genocide are at the forefront of the series and the First Book. If you like great animated shows, you won’t be disappointed by “Water.”

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with the weaker episodes.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 18 – “The Waterbending Master” – Fighting an Injustice

ATLA 1 18

     This is a great episode that does a good showing of how culture is not a justification for unjust laws. In this case Female Waterbenders can only be trained as healers in the Northern Water Tribe, it takes two women to change this and it is quite a struggle to get there.

      The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Michael Dante DiMartino.

       “The Waterbending Master” begins with Team Avatar captured by the Northern Water Tribe. From here they are brought in and Master Pakku trains Aang but refuses to train Katara because she is a woman. Also Sokka finds himself attracted to Princess Yue, who he learns is betrothed. Around this time Zhao plans his siege of the North and Zuko’s ship is destroyed by the Pirates. From here Iroh’s story unfolds with Zhao as conflict unfolds on the North Pole.

The Pros: Admiral Zhao – The guy is a bastard and glorious one at that. He knows that it will take a lot to break the North so he brings a huge fleet and gets Iroh to his side knowing Iroh is a victorious general. He also has a plan for how to stop the Moon, knowing that the Waterbenders powers are tied to the Ocean and to the Moon.

Admiral Iroh – Iroh is shown to once again be super sly as he tricks Zhao into thinking he is joining him willingly, when it was really to help Zuko to get to the North to capture the Avatar. His loyalty to Zuko never wavers and he keeps his cool around Zhao, never revealing his true loyalties.

Zuko – This episode shows that even a broken Zuko is one to be feared. His face is beaten and battered and he still fights on, forever driven to catch the Avatar, even if it means hiding on the boat of the man who nearly had him killed.

Chief Amook – The Chief feels like an actual character, we see his care for his people in their day to day lives we see his care for his daughter and his kindness as well to Team Avatar. He reminds me a lot of Katara’s dad in many ways.

Master Pakku – This guy is a pro because he is willing to change. His story is tragic as he loved a woman who did not have a choice in wanting to marry him, so she left. That woman was Gran Gran, it is Katara returning and fighting him to be an equal in their people and his finding her necklace that change him and help him to realize the reasons Gran Gran left…she had no choice so she made her own path…with her granddaughter, he has a chance to right the wrongs so that more women don’t end up leaving the tribe. It’s a really cool arc and though he is a harsh teacher, he is humanized when he finally accepts Katara.

Princess Yue and Sokka – These two are the young lovers, I think the reason they like one another, besides basic attraction is they listen to each other, they are also culturally more similar than Sokka and Suki which I think is part of what draws him to Yue. Yue also has a calm to Sokka’s energy making them Yin and Yang compliments. There story starts out as tragedy as she is already engaged to another.

Aang – Aang refuses to be trained by Pakku at first until Katara says he should and needs to and that his training is bigger than her. He later trains her in secret which leads to Council being called and Aang being trained once more as Katara is forced to learn healing. Aang never stops advocating for Katara and you really see how deep their friendship is.

Katara – Katara is the fighter than this and finishes the battle that started when her Grandmother Kanna left the tribe because she was betrothed to Master Pakku and did not love him. Katara explains why Kanna left when she has just finished battling Pakku and finally lost after a long fight. It is the fight from the past for choice and equality and in the present that finally melts Pakku’s cold and when he accepts Katara as a student.

The Message – The message is one of fairness and equality and shows that Avatar thankfully does not embrace Cultural Relativism. No culture is perfect and we should strive for justice and equality everywhere. It is this fight that Kanna begins and Katara continues that finally create the opportunity for equality among benders in the Northern Water Tribe. The fight is ongoing and begins with a subtle no or leaving or openly fighting as Katara does to Pakku.

     I really liked this episode, a lot. The message really shines through and if Avatar had gone all Culturally Relativistic I’d probably hate the show. The show stands for something and wrongs are never justified whether it’s the genocide of the Air Nation, subjugation of the different members of the Earth Kingdom or the sexism of the Northern Water Tribe. All these things Team Avatar fights and calls us to as well.

Final Score: 10 / 10.

Stardust (2007): A Fairy Tale of Love

Stardust

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, Neverwhere, American Gods and Anansi Boys and the Sandman Series are some of my all time favorite fantasy works which makes me somewhat worried by their eventual screen adaptation in film or television form. This film gave me hope that it can be pulled off well though, and this film made me want to read the book that it is adapted from.

“Stardust” was directed by Matthew Vaughn who was also one of the producers and screenplay writers. The other producers were Neil Gaiman, Michael Dreyer and Lorenzo di Bonaventura. The other screenplay writer was Jane Goldman. The fact that Neil Gaiman had a producer credit on an adaptation of his work was a good sign going in to the film.

“Stardust” is the story of two worlds a village called Wall in our world and the magical kingdom of Stormhold that is separated from the wall. The story begins with Dunstan Thorn crossing the wall because he is curious and meeting an imprisoned beautiful woman he shared a night with. Later a child Dunstan names Tristan is left at the wall and the story follows from him  and his journey to learn how to love and in the process discover the heritage of the world he is a part of when he crosses the Wall to catch a falling star for Victoria, the woman he is infatuated with. Around this time the King of Stormhold has died and competition to catch the falling star is on as a Coven of Witches also joins the hunt since a Star’s heart can grant eternal youth and life.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Narrator – Ian McKellen narrates the beginning and end of the story giving it a fairy tale feel and his voice is super memorable and worked wonderfully. I also would have been down with Patrick Stewart being the narrator too, but it was McKellen and he is great!

Cinematography – The Cinematography is amazing and really captures the fantasy feel, the best examples I can think of is the darkness at the wall, Captain Shakespeare’s ship in flight, the falling of the Star and the final fight sequence. All of these made it feel epic and worthy of being on the big screen. Ben Davis did great.

The Music – The music has a “Pirates of the Caribbean” feel which worked in it’s favor, as Sky Pirates appear at one point and the witches and older society it takes place in in our world and Stormhold add ambiance and tension to the world. IIan Eshkeri was the right guy for this film.

The World – I’m largely going to talk about Stormhold here but even the world of England presented is fascinating, as an old man guards the Wall to keep people from getting into Stormhold. Stormhold is a rich world full of royal intrigue, dangerous witches, stars that are living human beings and Sky Pirates. There is so much to love here and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all!

The Characters

Dunstan Thorn – The story really starts with him as he crosses the wall and spends a night with the enslaved princess Una. They have a great experience together as she is the experienced person who knows her world and he is the wide eyed idealist. We see him care for his son after too as it was the one thing she wanted from him since he couldn’t rescue her. We also see him support his son Tristan to cross the wall and gives him a Babylon Candle to do so. I wish we’d gotten more of old and young Dunstan. This is where this as a mini-series might have worked better. Ben Barnes (young Dunstan) and Nathaniel Parker (old Dustan) are fantastic in what time they have though.

Princess Una – Uses what little power she has to resist and gives a gift that protects her son Tristan from the witches. I really wish she’d been the one chosen to rule as near the end she’s the one helping Tristan and Yvaine fight back against Lamia and her coven. She was a great but underutilized character. Kate Magowan did well with what she was given.

Prince Septimus – Is an antagonist for most of the film and Mark Strong does a really good job with it as we see him off some of his brothers and try to capture the fallen Star. He is brutal but has complexity too as he works with Tristan in the final fight against Lamia and her coven. His biggest problem is he never brings enough men and he lacks any sort of empathy which is when he is helping Tristan near the end and when he dies it is hard to fully sympathize with him in any way.

Lamia – Michelle Pfeiffer makes a great villain. Her witch is the final boss of the film and deserves the role as we see her be the one with the highest body count at the end and it takes multiple characters to finally defeat her. We see a bit of humanity (even if it was possibly false) when she mourns the death of her Coven Sisters and goes super sayan for the final battle.

Tristan Thorn – He’s the generic hero but he does a good job at the generic hero. He realizes that he just like Victoria because she was attractive but didn’t know her as a person and that his time spent with Yvaine showed him what love actually is. He also goes through a great training montage with Captain Shakespeare and his crew. Charlie Cox is good in the role even if he isn’t great.

Yvaine – At times she needs to be saved, other times she does the saving. Her character is the fish out of water as she was cast out of the kingdom by the King before he died and so many factions are trying to get her it would have been easy to make her a plot device. Thankfully that didn’t happen. She also gets the final kill on Lamia when she goes Nova at the end as she and Tristan are sharing their love. Claire Danes was good.

Captain Shakespeare – This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Robert De Niro in. He plays a gay Sky Pirate and is fantastic! His character is written with respect as he shows the life he can’t show his crew to Tristan and Yvainne when he trains them how to capture lightning and to be self sufficient. He gives them cover stories and idealizes England as he’s heard stories about it. At one point he is revealed when he is cross dressing and Prince Septimus attacks, but it doesn’t matter as his crew always cared about him for who he is of which his sexuality is part of. He is my favorite character in the film and I’d watch or read a story just about his adventures.

The Message – Love – The message of love is great in that it is learning to love others and be open, honest and risk for those you care about…and to see beyond appearances. As Victoria was all about appearances and not connection, and Captain Shakespeare learned the appearance he put on didn’t matter as his crew loved him anyway for the man he was. It also expressed love knows no gender or sex and is greater than that. It’s caring for others and yourself and being a part of something greater.

The Cons: The Ghost Peanut Gallery – Every time a prince dies or someone who could become king they appear how they died and do commentary on the events going on. This got really annoying really fast and took away the drama that should have occurred when one of them died.

The Random Princes – There are a few princes who die or royalty who die who aren’t worth mentioning. They were there for comedic relief and failed at that, which hurt the drama of the chase for the crown and the drama with the witches.

The Side Characters – From the other two witches, to Lamia’s slaves and countless others…they don’t feel all that deep or interesting. They are pretty much background which would have served the story better if they were.

“Stardust” is a great movie and one I’d highly recommend. My hope is that future book adaptions of Gaiman’s work can be just as good if not better since the worlds he creates inspire the writing in my own. This movie had a great cast, great directing, music and cinematography and is well worth watching if you are a fan of fantasy.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.