The Shape of Water (2017): A Transcendent Romantic Fairy Tale

   “The Shape of Water” might end up being my favorite film of the year. This is a film that is beautifully told and reminds me of “Beauty and the Beast,” meets “Amelie” but with so much more going on than either of those stories. This is a film where every character, whether minor or major matters and out of it we get a compelling love story that is so much more. This is a story about characters who aren’t given a voice (both literally and metaphorically) finding their voice and from there, a level of transcendence or change within themselves or their situation. The cast was wonderfully done and for my non-spoiler thoughts…I can’t wait to watch it again. This is easily one of Guillermo del Toro’s best work, and given that he was co-writer and co-producer as well as the director, this story was clearly his vision and it is beautiful. Seriously, check this film out if you get the chance.

The film was directed, co-wrote and co-produced Guillermo del Toro, co-written by Vanessa Taylor and co-produced with J. Miles Dale.

The story follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works at a secret government agency with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and sharing an apartment with her closeted friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). Her world is soon changed when a government agent Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a mysterious “asset,” a creature who changes Elisa’s life forever.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is that of the 1950’s of the United States but with fairy tale, fantasy and sci. fi. elements…both in how the story is presented and the amphibian man being so central to the plot, as well as the abilities he has. It is also a world full of twists since spies and government agents inhabit this cold world universe and the secret lab where most of the action takes place.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. From Octavia Spencer’s Zelda, who is Elisa’s translator and calls out how bad their situation is (as the help no one notices or cares about them, just takes them for granted), Giles, who understands Elisa’s love for the creature and helps protect them and both rescue the creature from the lab and getting them both the docks. He is the narrator. Michael Shannon’s Colonel is unhinged and broken and is sympathetic in that, even though he never stops being a threat and monster. Elisa’s and the creature’s romance drives the story and it is awesome. I loved how confident Elisa is in her sexuality and her attachment to the creature as well as the creature’s humanity slowly being revealed as he opens up to her. Doug Jones once again owns this alien type role he is in. I can’t wait to buy this movie when it comes out.

The Soundtrack and Cinematography – The soundtrack has a fairy tale and jazz feel to it, intermixed with this dark foreboding when we are at the lab and the Colonel is on screen. The cinematography is amazing too, it reminded me of “Amelie” with the use of color contrasts but focusing in on Elisa’s perspective. Alexandre Desplat did a great job on the soundtrack and I loved Dan Laustsen’s cinematography.

The Romance – The romance is the main drive of the story and it is beautifully done. It starts with Elisa and the creature touching hands separated by glass, to her leaving him eggs, to eating in his area with him and teaching him sign language…to his rescue and eventually having to let him go as he dies not being in the salt water but has given Giles back his hair and healed a wound he caused on Giles accidentally. The romance is the core of the film and because it illustrates different aspects of the characters and the world they inhabit.

Surrealism and Fairy Tales – The Fairy Tale element is revealed most profoundly in the opening shot where Giles is giving the premise of a monster who turned two lovers’ world upside down…as we see a drowned how with Elisa floating, as if sleeping in the water. There is other imagery like this that gives the film a surrealist element and from that the fairy tale elements of the love story are given more power in their presentation. I love stories like this (“One-Hundred Years of Solitude, most Haruki Murakami, etc.) and this is one of the best presentations of this type of story.

Fighting Adversity and the Voice of the Voiceless – This is a film about giving voice to the voiceless in both the literal sense (our heroes being a mute and an amphibian creature who cannot speak), Zelda, who is black lady with an oppressive husband and Giles being in the closet and kept out from the wealth he once bad before as the marketing world just sees him as a has been. Each of them are trapped (the monster) or oppressed in different ways in a society that ignores them and it is the rescuing and finally freeing of the monster that Zelda finally speaks up against her husband and calls the cops on the Colonel, Giles fights and defends the monster and Elisa and Elisa transcends as she sacrifices herself to save the creature and her cuts she received as a baby are turned into gills, she is reborn by the creature and free to be with the creature, something that would have never been possible before. It is also her drive that helps the others to change their lives too, as she is directly fighting to system by freeing their “asset.”

Okay: First Act Goes a Little Long – The only real criticism I could find with the film is the first third of the film does go on a little long, but it picks up the moment the rescue plan is put into action by Elisa and after that, it doesn’t stop…and it does a good job setting up the world so I can’t put it is a con.

I highly recommend “The Shape of Water.” This film is going to make my Top 5 films of 2017 and if you are looking for a film where you will notice more each time around, as well simply enjoying a beautiful fairy tale that gives voice to the voiceless and has wonderfully compelling characters, who each get full arcs. I cared about where each their arcs were going, even the villain as no one was as simple as they first appeared to be. The film was all about layers and reveals, both in the nature of the characters and the creature and the payoff of their arcs. Check this film out, if you haven’t yet. Guillermo del Toro has done it again and I can’t wait to see what masterpiece he makes next.

Final Score: 10 / 10

“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

   If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – A Fun Adventure That Gives Justice to the Characters and Plot

Hellboy 2 Poster

        The blog is finally back! I’ve been on a bit of haitus since I’ve been moving to a new apartment, my sister got married this week and I had car trouble in Seattle and had to replace a flat, which took a few days. There are reviews upcoming, the first of which is this one that I’ve been working on. Enjoy.

       “Hellboy 2” is a lot of fun. This is a film that takes everything that worked about the first film and focuses it (with some of the same problems still around as well) and creating a few new problems. It is the better film though, as the characters in this are more memorable and Hellboy isn’t the only character driving the plot this time. Non-spoiler thoughts, check this film out if you like the Hellboy comics and enjoyed the first film.

    The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and produced Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin.

    The story involves Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the team working top the evil elf Prince Nuada from summoning the immortal Golden Army from ancient that nearly wiped out humanity before.

The Pros: The World – Guillermo loves the dark world of fairy mythology (see “Pan’s Labrynth”) and here he gets to show and express that love in the mythos on display. His world is fascinating and all characters look so real and alien. This is really him in his element as this film had some of my favorite character designs.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman once again creates a powerful score! This is a guy who specializes in dark fairy tales and that is what this Hellboy film is. he does a masterful job capturing the tragedy and loss in scenes and the soundtrack is worth checking out just for what it is.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning. While the last film was too dark at times this one embraces the dark but also the light to create beautiful contrasts in locations and characters, giving the film and otherworldly feel. Guillermo Navarro did a fantastic job.

The Introduction – A little Hellboy is being red a story by his adoptive father Trevor (yay, John Hurt is back!). It is a touching scene as we learn that fairys and humans lived in harmony until humans started destroying the land leading King Balor to create a Golden Army of magic. He regrets it all after the death toll rises and makes a peace treaty with humanity. His son leaves in exile as he wanted humanity wiped out and he and his daughter hide the pieces so the army may never rise again.

The Characters – The characters are what drew me into the world of Hellboy (though Hellboy isn’t as interesting as Abe of Krauss in my opinion) and they are the reason I will continue to see these films.

King Balor – The King is awesome and shuts down his son when his son tries to call for war again. It takes his son killing him for him to be stopped. I wanted more of this guy as he was a fascinating and powerful character.

The Goblin Smith – This guy makes a deal to save the life of Hellboy and we learn he was the smith who made the Golden Army and fears his creations. He brings Liz to the Angel and she makes the deal to bring Hellboy back even knowing it could lead to the end.

The Angel – The Angel sees Hellboy’s future and in it only destruction. She is a dark and haunting figure with eyes of a large cranium and great black wings. She has my favorite design in the film and if they make more I hope we see her again. She saves Hellboy’s life.

 Hellboy – Hellboy’s arc is learning to communicate with Liz and work on a team. He is by the end and has rubbed off on Krauss who rebels against the agency. His arc is cool as we see even though he is stupid, his heart is in the right place and he is a talented fighter.

Liz – Liz makes the choice Hellboy made last movie where he risks all to save her, she does the same this film. She is the one who has gotten control of her powers (I would have liked to see more of how that happened) and is the one helping Hellboy become responsible.

Abe Sapien – Abe has a character arc as we see him love and lose as he brings the crown to Nuada that awakens the army (and rightfully calls out Liz and Hellboy for doing the same thing). Sadly not all love works out as Nuala dies to save them all. It is a touching scene and we see how perceptive Abe is. I really liked his character after this film.

Prince Nuada – The Prince is in it for revenge and has a great design as a dark warrior. He trained for centuries and his plan nearly works because he is the only one who doesn’t love and only wants to control. Luckily he is stopped in the end by his sister, who it turns out was the only one who could unless the heroes were willing to kill her by killing Nuada.

Princess Nuala – Nuala should have got more screentime. We see she is compassion and a healer, while her brother is the warrior and she is shown to be wise as she knows that the war will only end in the destruction of all as the Golden Army is only built to destroy. She also falls in love with Abe and is lovely until she kills herself to stop her brother keeping up the theme of tragedy that pervaded the film.

Johann Krauss

 Johann Krauss – Krauss is awesome! He is pretty much immortal because he is living ectoplasm in a suit. This leads to him being both smarter and stronger than Hellboy and a better leader on all counts as he doesn’t depend on brute forcing his way through situations. He does see the value in it though and resigns from the agency with the rest of them as they are tired of being tools, given that Hellboy’s existence is shown to be just a tool for his father to cause the end of the world. All of them, including Krauss, reject that control.

Okay: The Ending – It is cool that Liz and Hellboy are going to be parents, the freeze frame for the final shot was a bit annoying though.

The Cons: Disposable Agents – So many agents die, they are basically red shirts and I feel the stakes would have been hire if they’d felt more like characters rather than disposable bodies.

The Prince’s Long Term Plan – What was his plan after humanity was wiped out? He never talks about it and it seems that the Fairy Realm is largely afraid of him. He lived only for revenge when he could have been so much more since he wanted to rule and killed his father to do so.

  I enjoyed this film much more than the first one largely because the side characters got a lot more exploration while still keeping the Hellboy mythos key with him being son of a Demon Lord. The price and cost of choices was explored really well too and using the Fairy World to do so was masterful since in mythology they are all about dealmaking. Krauss was my favorite character and his character growth was a big part of what made the film so fascinating outside of the great world and character designs that we’ve all come to expect from Guillermo del Toro.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 17 – “Captive Queen” – Asuna’s lack of Agency and Obviously Evil Villain

SAO Ep 17

   In this episode we find out who Leafa is in the real world and get to know the world of “Sword Art Online” better but also see that the problem at the start of this arc is still a major problem. Asuna’s in a cage with no agency and the villain can’t even be bothered to be compelling. I got a feeling this will be a problem through this arc.

    The story involves Leafa taking Kirito out for a drink and him learning that reaching the top is the way to beat the game as King Oberon will give the winner the ability to have constant flying and not have to rest. After this we learn that Oberon is really Nobuyuki and that he can wipe away the minds of the characters he controls like Asuna making the mission more dire.

The Pros: Leafa/Suguha – In this we learn Suguha and Leafa are the same person and that like Kirito knew “Sword Art Onlnie” she really knows “ALfheim Online.” She forms a friendship with Kirito pretty fast and teaches him how to fly without the controller and tells him about Oberon’s quest and that is what they all need to beat the game.

Asuna – Asuna threatens Oberon/Nobuyuki and fights him as best she can having no weapons and being in a stupid cage. She also watches the lock showing that isn’t remaining passive. I hope she gets to destroy him.

Kirito – Kirito is great as usual and we see how complicated his friendship with Leafa could become as she doesn’t know about Asuna. He’s very much the good guy in this and we see his protector instincts when he is with Yui as they are both trapped in the game. He is also the one who figures out that it will take a person from each race to reach the top of the World Tree or defeat the Guardians protecting it on the lower level.

The Cons: Oberon/Nobuyuki – Creeper is creeepin and threatening rape. Can’t wait till this character gets killed. Weak writing and weak character.

This episode was alright as Asuna did fight verbally even though she couldn’t physically. Still hate the fact that she needs to rescued and that is what is driving this plot, but the world of ALfheim online is interesting at least.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 16 – “Land of Fairies” – Adaptation and New Rules

Yui_and_Kirito_BD

     “Land of Fairies” is when we finally enter ALfheim online and Yui returns as well as being introduced to a pretty cool game that I would play. The world of ALfheim online is pretty complex and captures the modern MMO far better than “Sword Art Online” did. The character designs are pretty great as well.

     This episode begins with Kazuto meeting up with Andrew (Agil from “Sword Art Online”) meeting so he can learn more about the game and the screenshot. He promises to save her and enters the game as Spriggan due to it’s dark look and taking the name Kirito. He soon finds himself trapped in the game once more with none of his items but still all his skills. He is later pulled into a fight to protect a player named Leafa from the Salamanders and the story unfolds from there.

The Pros: Alfheim Online – The world is really cool. There is a giant moon and tons of forests and temples that make up the area where 9 different Fairies live and battle. It really is a rich world.

The Different Fairies – The fairies have different specialties, like Leafa’s race can heal, and Kirito’s race can use illusions. It’s a great dynamic and all of them compliment each other.

The World Tree – The World Tree is in the center of the game and at the top is where Asuna is being held captive. It’s far away and has lots of enemies to fight to reach it, showing that it is meant for the end game.

Andrew/Agil – A bartender in real life and a blacksmith in the game and an all around great guy. He has Kirito’s back and gives him the first information of what he’ll be up against in the game. “AndAndrew

Yui – Yui is back as the tear when activated made her a guiding PC who helps Kirito learn the basics of the game. It is great seeing her again too, even if she doesn’t have game breaking powers anymore.

Leafa – Leafa looks like Asuna’s avatar and is great fighter as she only loses when she is outnumbered and being targeted from a distance. She is tough and a great leader.

Kirito/Kazuto – It is a lot of fun seeing Kirito learn how to fly and fight and seeing that his stats transferred from “SAO” even if non of his equipment did. He has to start at the beginning again which is new for him but it makes it great too as he has to have an arc because of it.

This was a solid episode that makes me excited to see more of Elfheim online and meet the other Fairy races. The world is rich, well designed and the aesthetics are really cool. Leafa and Yui are both great characters as well.

Final Score: 9 / 10

The Dark Crystal (1982): An Amazing Dark Fantasy About the Quest for Balance

The Dark Crystal

      Whatever happened to making films with ornate puppetry? I miss the days where special affects were a detailed person in a suit or a giant marionette giving a truly alien appearance to something but also giving it an organicness too where people or the puppets themselves can interact with one another. This was a Jim Henson film and it truly is amazing. It is in this film I saw how from it sprung the animatronics and suits from “Farscape” and other works connected to the Jim Henson Company outside of the “The Muppets.” This film really shows what you can do and how powerful they can be as a medium to tell stories.

     “The Dark Crystal” was directed, co-produced and original story by Jim Henson, also directed by Frank Oz and produced by Gary Kurtz with the screenplay by David Odell.

      The story takes place in Thra, a fantasy world where a powerful Crystal cracked creating a perfectly good race called the mystics and a completely race known as the Skeksis. There was a prophecy made around this time that lead to the Skeksis to try and wipe the native Gelflings. They nearly succeeded in doing so if not for the Mystics taking in Jen and the Podlings taking in Kira. The story unfolds as Jen seeks to find the Crystal Shard and with Kira fulfill the prophecy and bring about a new world.

The Pros: The World of Thra – The World of Thra is a dark and fascinating world, where each culture and civilization is very distinct and has their own style and way of being. From the Mystics that are like Tibetan Monks with chants and a way of pacifism, to the cutthroat Skeksis who rule through might and the hidden Podlings who live hidden in the forest connected to nature and the nearly extinct Gelflings.

The Puppet Designs – The Mystics look like a mixture between a crocodile and a lemur, Gelflings look like an elf mixed with a cat, the Skeksis look like lizard-vultures and the Podlings look like tiny people. These puppet designs are amazing, but I wouldn’t expect any less from Jim Henson and Frank Oz as not only do the puppets look and feel real but they sound real too as the voices match up to the character designs really well. There are also the creatures, which all have an organic look to them, especially the Garthim, who look like a mixture between a large beetle and a crab.

The Voice Acting – Jim Henson and Frank Oz are masters of puppetry and the voice work behind it. Frank Oz plays the voice of the Witch

Equality of Heroes – There are two heroes, a man named Jen who was raised by the Mystics and Kira who was raised by the Podlings. Both of them are fighters and rescue one another in equal measure, more-so Kira at first actually, but Jen uses the purified Crystal to bring her back to life. She is the one who uses nature as a weapon as she learned how to communicate with animals growing up from the Podlings and Jen drives the story as the primary hero as he find the Shard of the Crystal and because of this is being chased by minions of the Skeksis.

The Characters – The  characters are very distinct in personality. Jen is the standard hero but he also hates too because the Skeksis destroyed his family. The Mystics are calm with Jen’s Master being the most calm and the Skeksis are all conniving and strategic, trying to one up one another and survive.

Balance – The overall quest of “The Dark Crystal” is the search for Balance. It was the Crystal getting shattered that made the Skeksis and Mystics become created because their original race had strived for power and control which made them unbalanced and lead to the annihilation of the Gelflings. In this their is balance in the end but also consequences. The Gelflings are still a dead species and we have no idea how many Podlings died in slavery under the Skeksis rule…also the Skeksis and Mystics are no more. Establishing balance lead to the formation of the original species and their leaving the planet in the hands of the Gelflings. It’s bittersweet, which I appreciated.

The Cons: Bland Jen at the Beginning – He is super bland when he first starts out and I didn’t believe his sorrow he felt when his master died. It felt too contrived and wasn’t expressed well. He gets better when we meet Kira but before that was a major issue I had with the film. This also took away from it a little as the bland elf-like hero (“The Hobbit,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Legend of Zelda”) who is an orphan is a pretty common trope and seeing it again made me a bit nervous at first going in.

Slow Start and Telling not Showing – The film starts out pretty slow which made it initially hard to get into it beyond how fascinating the world was. The telling rather than showing also detracted from it but fit the fact that in the end “The Dark Crystal” is a dark fairy tale.

Chamberlain – This is a Skeksis who attempts to become Emperor but is defeated. He tries to help Jen and Kira but it turns out it is only for his own ends. When he was exiled from his people I was hoping he’d change to show that not all Skeksis were evil slavers. Sadly the scene before he’s defeated has him trying to drink Kira’s life essence, so in the end he was wasted character potential making him a con.

   This was a great film and one of my favorites for sure! I have always been a fan of Frank Oz “What About Bob” and “Death at a Funeral” are two of my my favorite films. His voice work as Yoda and as many characters in this is also fantastic! Also this film really showed me that Jim Henson could do much more than humor. “The Muppets” are funny but this had drama and stakes and felt like a dark fantastical adventure, which was what it was meant to be. I miss the lost art of puppetry in films and hope it can come back, especially as this film shows you don’t need people to tell an amazing story with puppets and to create fascinating civilizations and creatures that are unforgettable.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 8, Episode 10 – “In the Forest of the Night” – Too Much Fantasy

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Since Moffat has become showrunner of “Doctor Who” after Russell T. Davies left there has always been an element of fantasy in his series. The strongest of this and the best version of it was Series 5 when Matt Smith was the 11th Doctor, and weakest was the series 7…Smith’s final season and one of the most inconsistent seasons that gave us a lot of the worst of Moffat’s writing and themes. This episode is not as bad as the worst of series 7 and would have been good if not for the ending, but because of the ending I can only call it okay. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

The episode was directed by Sheree Folkson and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

The premise is that the world has become overgrown by a forest that grew in a day. The Doctor doesn’t know why it happened and is left with Clara and Danny as they find that one of the Coal Hill Students Maehb maybe tied to the events and are left facing this new mystery and whether it is something good and temporary or a the signs of an invasion. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a forest overgrowing the world is a great idea! Especially since it adds a lot of mystery and in this instance plays into the human fear of the woods. Which we see in fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood both of which are made visual illusions to in the episode. There is a sense of danger and a sense of loss too given the events of the fairy tales.

Danny Pink – Danny is good at being the one grounded on being in the moment and looking after the kids to make sure they are connected. We see how this appeals to Clara even though she is so drawn to the excitement, mystery and adventure of the current circumstances. She assumes the Doctor can sort things out, Danny assumes nothing. We learn that this was due to his experiences as a soldier and he has no desire to repeat it given what he wants most is right in front of him (Clara). It’s a sweet moment and I liked how he was handled in this episode. Even with Clara lying about adventures with the Doctor and them even happening he is there until she can figure things out.

Clara Oswald – Clara is very much the companion in this episode, and she loves it. We see her separate herself from the Doctor at the end though when she asks him to run since if humanity will go extinct they will do so together and she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind. We see her attachment to Earth in this episode and her love of Danny even if she doesn’t know how to fully communicate her situation with the Doctor and being straight with them both. But she grows some in this episode which leaves things curious in regards to how her leaving will be handled at the end of this series.

The 12th Doctor / The Twelfth Doctor – The Doctor is interesting in this episode. We see him not being very good with children in that he isn’t very aware of them and is drawn in the most to the mystery. It takes a student being connected to the events for him to truly care and though he says he will stay with humanity he is rejected like he rejected helping humanity in “Kill the Moon.” I liked him in this episode but he couldn’t save it as there were other things bringing it down.

The Cons: Child Actors – Having one is bad enough, but this one had a bunch. They weren’t bad all the time but it make the threat seem so much less since it’s a family show…they aren’t going to kill a kid. This made the episode feel G when it was dealing with mortality, which was a shame.

Everything is Okay Again – I really don’t like how this series, especially when the episode has a kid (“Kill the Moon” again, and “The Caretaker”) try to keep consequences from occuring. The Earth doesn’t change and the Doctor talks about people forgetting. There was no point for the episode beyond it advancing the character arcs, which is a waste of a premise. “Kill the Moon” at least gave Clara reason to doubt and for a while was actually a great thriller so the concept was handled better. This one, not so much.

Everybody Lives – There are aliens that predate the Doctor in this episode and apparently they saved Maehb’s sister. “The Doctor Dances” did this so much better, because it was a war, there was consequences going on, there was despair and death so people living meant something. This corny ending gave nothing to the Whoverse and made Moffat going dark feel like a lie. Well, we’ll see how the final goes. Most episodes have been good but this ending is part of what’s wrong with Moffat. It’s too much fantasy, and not the good kind where magic is an element but not a magic reset button of entire character situations.

This episode could have been worse, the mystery was better than “Robot of Sherwood” at least and the character moments did improve the story. But they got to stop using child actors…I know this is a kids show but the original Star Wars didn’t have any child actors and was better for it. Kids can take dark, and some of the darkest Doctor Who (Series 1-3 on “Doctor Who”) were actually quite amazing. Fantasy writing shouldn’t be an excuse for not having stories without consequences. Happy endings should have a cost, or better yet be bittersweet.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10. Would be lower if not for Clara, Danny and the Doctor.

Sleepy Hollow – Season 2, Episode 1 – “This is War” – Coming Together Again and War’s Manipulations

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“Sleepy Hollow,” is one of the better television shows released in recent years. It takes the premise of the horror tale Sleepy Hollow and mixes with Biblical mythology (Demons, the Four Horsemen, etc.) while giving us the man out of time (Ichabod Crane) attempting to fight to prevent the apocalypse with his partner on the police force (Lt. Abbie Mills). Season 1 had amazing character development and exploration of the mythology which lead to “Sleepy Hollow” becoming one of my new favorite shows on television. I’ll do a review of Season 1, later…for now focus will be on Season 2.

“This is War,” was written by Mark Goffman and directed by Ken Olin.

Season 2 picked up where Season 1 ended with Ichabod buried alive, Abbie trapped in purgatory with the Demon who masterminded it all Moloch while Ichabod’s wife Katrina Crane is now prisoner of the Headless Horseman (the Horseman of Death), while War (Abraham, Ichabod’s son) is manipulating them to get the key to open Purgatory to let Moloch’s armies be released upon the world and start the Apocalypse. It is from here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Music – The music has a gothic, 17th Century feel to it intermixed with modern which fits the feel of the show. It also is good at going quiet when it needs to (like in Purgatory) to create tension and raise the stakes.

The Cinematography – Sleepy Hollow the town, and Purgatory are usually always dark and covered in mist creating a feel of the unknown about the place, which is perfect as we have a manipulated situation very early on in the episode showing that the characters and us need to be careful about believing what we see since it might be a lie.

The Characters – The Characters have always been the strongest part of the show, and that stays true in the Season 2 premiere.

Katrina Crane – Prisoner of the Headless Horseman who uses a necklace  he gave her in life when hew as Abraham to give the illusion of a head so he can communicate with her is powerful. He doesn’t love her since he doesn’t respect her love for Ichabod but it is complicated as you can see he has affection for her and she realizes that. She resists at first but in the end realizes just how trapped she is as the Horseman is undead.

The Headless Horseman / Horsemen of Death – We see how complicated and dangerous he is as he is more focused on getting Katrina than fulfilling Moloch’s wishes. I suspect that will cause problems for him later as he sold his soul to Moloch. Fascinated to see what they do with this character and his relationship to Katrina and to War.

Jeremy Crane / Horseman of War – Ichabod’s son who is also the Horseman of War manipulates Abbie and Ichabod to believe a year has passed and he’s a prisoner. He than gets them to reveal a key that Benjamin Franklin tried to destroy that can open Purgatory and that Jenny Mills knows where it is. He seeks her out and finds out where to find it. He nearly succeeds to but doesn’t due to Abbie and Ichabod managing to out maneuver him. The episode ends with him getting a gift from Moloch, a living embodiment of War, armor with a burning sword that he can control with his soul. Leaving his future plans to have more certainty for fulfilling Moloch’s will. He was the best reveal of last season and is still a much more interesting than Moloch. Love John Noble in this role.

Andy Brooks – John Cho’s character is once again seeking redemption as he uses what little of his free will he has to help Abbie contact Ichabod.

Jenny Mills – Is taken prisoner by War but manages to escape. Lyndie Greenwood is great in the role and we see her working with Ichabod to save her sister from Purgatory and stop War and his men from summoning Moloch’s army.

Abbie Mills – Abbie is top of her game in this episode as she finds out from Andy Brooks how to contact Ichabod which in turn leads to him finding her and them getting out of Purgatory, which destroyed the Key that Moloch and War were seeking. We have some great character moments too as she figures out the false Ichabod since he doesn’t say Left Tenant and instead says Lieutenant. It ends with her plotting with Ichabod and Jenny how to bring war to War and Moloch. Nicole Beharie is once again showing us why she she deserves this part and is one of the protagonists in television.

Ichabod Crane – We learn that he was mentored by Benjamin Franklin and despised him and we see him escape from being buried alive when he figures out he’s buried in sulfur and sets it off like a bomb to break out. After we see his loyalty to Abbie as he refuses to leave her in Purgatory as he and Jenny work to save her from Moloch. Tom Mison is once again great and it was wonderful seeing more of Ichabod’s backstory.

The Cons: No Captain Frank Irving – He turned himself in for the killings that the Headless Horseman did to protect his daughter, but we don’t see or hear from him. Given how great Orlando Jones is, I’d have preferred even a small scene with him and what he’s going through.

This was a solid episode and a great start to the new season. It makes me excited for what is to come…especially as I hope this season ends with the reveal of the next Horsemen and that we get 5 seasons so each Horsemen can be accurately explored…and maybe we can find Moloch is smaller compared to who is paying his checks. This show has so much it can do and I can’t wait to see what it does as it explores the mythology and universe that it is a part of.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great, just missing Orlando Jones.

12 Days of Doctors – A Count up to 12th’s First Adventure

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As a lover of science fiction, creative story and history…Doctor Who both the new and classic took to me pretty quickly. My first Doctor will always be the 10th Doctor with Tennant and Series 2 when Rose was his companion. It was episodes from this that pulled me into the new series and later into the old classic series.

Each of the actors was great at making the Doctor their own, while still remaining mostly true to continuity and core personality traits…though within those core traits certain Doctors emphasize more greater than others. Regeneration changes the Doctor even if he still remains the Doctor and it is fascinating how both the writers, actors and directors tackle this issue.

The things I’m going to be looking at most besides how good the story is and how well it is directed is the Doctors’ relationship to their companions. It is in this that you can really gauge how great a Doctor is as a person, even if the episode or movie sucks. Companions reveal the Doctors’ humanity and that is one of the most fascinating things about the show…besides the alien perspective used to show us the good and bad within our own natures. When the show is at it’s best…it can teach us about ourselves through showing rather than telling and inspire us to be better.

Since the regeneration of the 11th Doctor I’ve been looking forward to doing this (though not looking forward to the first 6th Doctor Episode “The Twin Dilemma,” or the Doctor Who Movie for the 8th Doctor). The rest from what I remember is very enjoyable and solid and some of these introductory episodes to the Doctors are ones I have not had the time to see yet. The episodes that I will be reviewing leading up to 12th Doctor and his pilot episode “Deep Breath,” are:

“An Unearthly Child” – The 1st Doctor

“The Power of the Daleks” – The 2nd Doctor

“The Spearhead from Space” – The 3rd Doctor

“Robot” – The 4th Doctor

“Castrovalva” – The 5th Doctor

“The Twin Dilemma” – The 6th Doctor

“Time and the Rani” – The 7th Doctor

The Doctor Who Movie – The 8th Doctor

“Rose” – The 9th Doctor

“The Christmas Invasion” – The 10th Doctor

“The 11th Hour” – The 11th Doctor

and ending on “Deep Breath,” for the 12th. I will not be including the War Doctor because the 50th Anniversary episode is an episode for another day, and he isn’t one of the Numbered Doctors, though he is a fascinating Doctor nonetheless. Now without further ado and in the leadup to the premiere on August 25th, “Allons-y!”

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Gandahar (1988): Relationships and the Ego

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“In 1,000 years, Gandahar was destroyed and all of its people killed. 1,000 years ago it will be saved and the inevitable avoided.” -The Deformed

“Gandahar,” is a french animated film created in 1988 and animated and directed by René Laloux. The film is based off the french Novel Les Hommes-machines contre Gandahar (“The Machine Men versus Gandahar”) by Jean-Pierre Andrevon a story I very much want to find an English translation to after watching this film. I watched it in French with English Subtitles, though I heard the English dub. is good. I just like to watch things in as close to the original as possible.

The film takes place on the planet Gandahar as the natives deal with a new threat of metal men who are destroying them. The primary protagonist is Sylvain sent from the Capital of Jasper on a mission from the Council of Women. It is from here the conflict unfolds.

Here is my assessment:

The Pros: The animation – The animation is fantastic. It flows, and the style is unique. I have not seen any animation like it before this, which makes me want to check out more of Laloux’s work. His work is colorful and surreal, almost like you are watching a dream take place.

The Factions of Gandahar – One thing that this movie did really well was creating unique cultures and people. Each of them is different and distinct and though they are inspired by tropes, end up being well rounded for a story that is essentially a sci. fi./fantasy fairy tale.

The People of Jasper – The people of the capital are ruled by The Council of Women who are lead by Ambisextra (what an awesome name!) The women do not wear shirts and let their breasts hang loose verses the men who are robed and in skin tight suits. It is is done in a non-sexual way too showing the alienness of the people. Also, Women Council’s leading is something that doesn’t happen enough, even in sci. fi.

The Deformed – Are you a group of mutants who have powers that allow them to destroy things with their mind. They were experiments by the natives and afterwords were cast out. Their distrust of the Capital is understandable for this reason…though they even help stop the Metal Men and become the rebels against the Metal Men. They are the ones who have a prophecy because of their powers that allowed them to glimpse the future. The prophecy is the one at the start, “In 1,000 years, Gandahar was destroyed and all of its people killed. 1,000 years ago it will be saved and the inevitable avoided.” It is this foresight that allows them to be such a threat to Metamorphosis and his Metal Men. Besides Ambisextra and Metamorphosis these guys were what kept me most interested in the film.

The Metal Men – Are ruled by Metamorphosis, a living brain (think Overmind from Starcraft) who wishes to live and does so by taking others energy and power and making them a part of it. The Metal Men carry parts of within them and have no sense of self. They are a great enemy faction being both like the Cybermen and the Borg but ruled by the Overmind. They are attacking from the future and the Door of Time that was built by Metamorphosis so he would have an infinite source of life to feed off of.

The characters – The characters are surprisingly deep and outside of the main character, pretty enjoyable to watch. Ambisextra is a badass leader and the head scientist who is Sylvain’s mentor is pretty cool too. He is the one who figures out how to kill Metamorphosis. Metamorphisis is great too…we see that he wants to die knowing that he will go bad, but only after he goes bad. He sends Sylvain in the past to do so. I kind of wish the movie had focused more on him. He drives the plot and is the most interesting person besides the members of the Deformed and Ambisextra. His death is pretty cool and reminds me of Hal’s death in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but more reflective than crazy.

The Message – The Message is pretty great, at first it seems like is going to go cop out, “Avatar,” “Fern Gully,” approach and make it nature verses tech…but it doesn’t since those who were changed end up being liberators and writing the wrongs (the Deformed) and though nature is used to fight, so is technology. The cultures are unique and more than simply tropes.

The key message is relationships though, just like the natives have gotten to the point of a give and take with nature while still being able to invent and live so do they eventually become in relationship with their rejected children the Deformed. It is the one who dominates and destroys and loses the caring that lead him to sending Sylvain in the future to destroy him. It is once all relationships are dead and tyranny reigns that Gandahar is destroyed, it is in relationship that the world thrives.

Okay: Sylvain – The main protagonist just isn’t all that interesting. He achieves his purpose of being our stand-in though. We see the world and characters through his eyes…I just wish we knew more about him besides his acceptance of the Deformed (we never see his people reject them which would have made his acceptance mean something), and his love with Arielle is sweet, but rushed. She exists primarily as a love interest and not much else.

The music – It is a mixture of techno and sci. fi. making it very 80’s but not very memorable. I wouldn’t seek out the music in this film.

I would recommend this film for anyone who enjoys sci. fi. and animated films. The animation is beautiful and the sci. fi. cultures and concepts are really well explored. The world is the strongest part of this story and Sylvain doesn’t hurt the story, even if he doesn’t help it. The message of relationship is key throughout and really important. The film feels like a Miyazaki film that way, but done with high sci. fi. It is for all these reasons listed above that it is now a favorite that I recommend.

My final score for this film is 9.5 / 10.