Tag Archives: Healing

“The Punisher” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of PTSD, Trauma and Life After the War

       “The Punisher” is one of the best things to come out of the Netflix Defenders continuity. It is easily the furthest removed from the MCU in regards to super powers, super soldiers and a level of comedy underlying most of the other works…and it works because of it. At the end of the day this is a show that covers the consequences of war, PTSD and just how difficult the process of healing from trauma after war is. This is a beautiful show and I really hope it gets renewed for a Season 2. I have not read the comics so I’m not sure how true the characters are to their comic book adaptations but I found them to be the most compelling aspect of the show.

The series was created by Steve Lightfoot as part of the MCU.

The story Frank Castle uncovering the government conspiracy surrounding the death of his family as he must learn to trust as others like Micro the hacker and the DHS agent Midani who are also seeking to uncover truth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing! The closest thing it reminded me of was “John Wick” and the “The Raid” with how brutal the gun and knife action is. If you like action movies this is your show for this reason alone. Fair warning though, this gets brutal, very few characters come out of this not having done something bad.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the show and the reason you should watch it. I’m going to go into the 3 main leads and the most compelling villain as they are the ones who drive the action and it is their arcs that kept me involved in the show.

Dinah Midani – Amber Rose Revah does an amazing job as Dinah Midani a Federal Agent who is seeking to uncover the murder of her contact in Afghanistan, who she discovers was murdered by an American hit squad after Micro sends her the video. From here she has to confront the corruption within the government and her own agency to take down those responsible.  She goes from trusting many to trusting few as her life becomes a bit like the Punisher’s when she loses those close to her in uncovering the conspiracy and finds out those she trusted betrayed her.

Billy Russo – Billy Russo served with the Death Squad in Afghanistan with Frank Castle and was his best friend. He was also knee deep in the corruption and he is the man who works with Agent Orange to cover up the conspiracy and kill those who find out. He tricks Midani for a good portion of the show and almost tricks Frank. He is a character who was an orphan and has used his pain to detach himself from caring about anyone but himself. This makes him compelling as he does try to care as best he can, even though he’s a sociopath so in the end he only serves himself. In the end he is taken down, but not killed as Frank messes up his face and leaves him for the government to take in. After reading up further it looks like he is going to be Jigsaw, which I’m really interested in seeing if the show gets renewed.

Micro / David Lieberman – Micro like the Punisher is on the run from the government and believed to be dead by most people. His arc is revealing the conspiracy so he can be with his family again and also reminding Frank of his humanity and that he has reasons to live. They start out as adversaries as there is so much paranoia between the two of them but they work together as they both want the same thing, even though it takes Frank a while to realize that. In the end Micro does get to be with his family but there is an unspoken pain there given that he faked his death to protect them and that betrayal of trust is something that I don’t think he’s fully wrestled with fully.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher’s arc is finding a purpose beyond his pain and revenge. We see him when he is done and he is obsessed just breaking walls down. He doesn’t exist beyond reaction and it takes the conspiracy to pull him back in. He is the character who needs a mission and after his revenge is done he finds that mission again in the fake identity the government gives him and helping vets from falling down the mental hole of despair and trauma that he was in. What gets him there is a kid inspired by his actions who targets government and media where Frank realizes just how much influence he has and had as the Punisher and when he is given another chance to live he uses it so others don’t fall into the trap the young vet did. It’s a powerful story and him sparing Russo’s life means something given how clear his code was for killing bad people…it is his final turning point and when Frank Castle finally comes back.

When the War Consumes – Frank Castle the Punisher, the young terrorist vet Lewis Wilson (who is living in a fox hole when he gets home, and doing so voluntarily), Agent Orange and Russo…all of them are consumed by the war in different ways. Whether it is wanting to live it like Castle and the terrorist were or hiding it while still living it like Agent Orange and Russo who hid what it had done to them except for when it served their ends.

Finding Peace After the War – The main arc is Frank Castle becoming Frank Castle again and finding healing beyond what the war made him into (The Punisher). Lewis couldn’t find peace, he had to find a reason to fight, Russo and Agent Orange never left Afghanistan either as they kept their roles up even when they were home. In the end Frank like Curtis finds some semblance of peace and it is is facing his own pain and loss and the actions he did during the war and helping others to face themselves too. It is a powerful arc and theme and part of what makes the show so powerful.

Okay: Agent Orange – He is standard “Ends justify the means” baddy…Russo is far more compelling as a villain but he worked. He was privilege incarnate and he clearly relished being a baddy, which made his defeat so enjoyable when it finally came.

Karen Page – Karen is Frank’s contact through the series and at a few points needs to get rescued by him. I put her as okay for that reason. The role of journalism in regards to terror attacks is explored briefly but I felt that so much more could have been done with her role in this. She really doesn’t show up that much as Midani has taken over that major character role in the show. If it gets a Season 2 I hope we see more Karen.

The characters are the strongest part of the plot, as I knew Russo was going to be bad pretty early and long before his reveal, I also knew they would make him complicated as he fit the Mordo, Loki, etc…former friend villain archetype that Marvel likes to use. The plot is predictable, brutal and a lot of fun. So much of what drives the dynamic is you have all these characters who are paranoid having to learn to trust and that dynamic is what I loved most and can’t wait to see if the show gets renewed. I highly recommend this show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

 

 

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iBoy (2017): An Animesque Film That Explores Trauma and Healing

   “iBoy” is a decent film. It’s a made for Netflix film, which I’ve noticed has come to mean they are working with a limited budget, but this film makes the most of it by having a smaller cast, which leads to some great character exploration for our leads, as both of them are given arcs that have good payoff.

    The film was directed by Adam Randall, written by Joe Barton, Mark Denton and Jonny stockwood and produced by Gail Mutrux, Nate Bolotin, Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill and Lucan Toh.

   The story takes place in London as lonely teenage boy Tom struggles to fit in and find purpose. With prompting from his friend he goes out with Lucy, a friend and long time crush. Sadly he arrives when her house is being attacked and she is being assaulted by faceless gang members. When he runs they shoot him leading to parts of his cell phone getting lodged into his brain. When he wakes he finds he has developed powers and begins to hunt down the men responsible as Lucy works through the trauma of all she went through.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world feels a lot like Gotham as the gangs are pretty powerful in this and you get the idea that they own city, which is why Tom becoming iBoy makes sense. I could have spent more time in this world given there are only 3 characters who really get explored.

The Special Effects – The special effects are cheap but effective and I like how they show what is on the screens of phones when iBoy is hacking devices or noticing the world around him. It gives the world a cyberpunk feel.

The Main Characters – The three main characters who get explored are really what carry the film. Maisie Williams is the strongest actress in this, while the guys work but aren’t nearly on her level or have her range. They still do a decent job with what they have to work with though.

Danny – Danny is in with the gangs and is Tom’s friend…we soon see it is a false friendship by the end as he sell’s Tom out for money to the leader of the gangs and was the one filming the rape of Lucy at the beginning (it is implied anyway). I wish he’d faced some sort of justice, as everyone else in the film does.

Tom – Tom is the nerdy outcast who develops confidence when he gets superpowers. He is very much a Peter Parker analogue, and he works in that way as it is going full vigilante that leads to him forgetting Lucy, the reason he went vigilante in the first place. In the end he comes back though and works with Lucy as it is together they take down the gangs as he discovers his full power (he can turn himself into an EMP beyond just hacking tech. and manipulating electricity).

Lucy – Maisie Williams is an amazing actress, and thankfully she isn’t exploited in this as her rape by the gang members could have ended there and Tom’s story be the only arc since he goes vigilante. Instead we see her face her fear of going outside, trusting people again and she even confronts the monsters who did it and lets them live, showing she’s better than them and that she isn’t a killer. Her story is the strongest in the entire film and unlike a lot of animes where she’d just become an object to inspire iBoy she is a fully realized character.

Healing from Trauma – The film shows that healing from trauma and abuse isn’t easy and takes time. Both Tom and Lucy (who experience very different types of trauma) find one another and in the end Lucy is the one who really goes through healing as Tom just gets obsessed in his rage until the end. This is a process that is different for everyone, but I found how they expressed arc to be powerful and empowering as she takes control of her life again and empowers those around her and herself.

Murder versus Mercy – Murder versus Mercy is a huge theme in this as everyone who is bad (the gangsters) are all killers. iBoy gets close at times and it is his walking close to this that the film presents as a negative as Lucy doesn’t want him to lose his soul either.

Okay: Tom’s Grandma – She writers erotic fiction and her daughter was a druggie and she is worried about Tom…I wish all of these things could have been explored more as she doesn’t feel like a fully realized character.

The Cons: The Big Bad – The guy is a one-dimensional dude who just wants power. The only unique thing about him is he wants to use iBoy to get his money back and become even more powerful. It is implied he might be Tom’s dad but it doesn’t go anywhere. He was really a waste of a character…the lesser gang members were too outside of Danny.

  This is a film worth checking out if if you like cyberpunk or super hero films as it very much captures both those genres. In many ways ti feels like an anime, as the main character is a recluse who gets special powers whose drive is a love interest until his obsession becomes his drive (reminded me a lesser Lelouch from “Code Geass”). Maisie Williams was the best part of this film though as her arc of healing is actually explored and she isn’t just an object to inspire Tom and his motivation. They are partners and that is what made the film enjoyable as the villains are pretty weak and aren’t very fleshed out.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

Moonlight (2016): A Beautiful Exploration of Sexuality, Trauma and Healing

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      “Moonlight” is a beautifully crafted character piece that explores the sexuality and identity as well as trauma and healing. I got a feeling this is going to make my Top 5 Films of 2016 as it hits all right notes and the only real issue I had with it is it could have ended a few times but kept on going.

     The film was written and directed by Barry Jenkins and produced by Adele Romanski, Dede Garnder and Jeremy Kleiner. The story was also by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

     The story involves Chiron (also called “Black”) and his growing up with abuse from his druggy mother and the bullies on the playground who think he’s gay. When Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes him under his wing he gets temporary peace until he learns that Juan is the drug lord who sells to his mom leaving him alone again in the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is the poor deep south (Florida and Georgia) and it is in it we see the lack of opportunities that lead to some becoming druggies or dealing in drugs. It is desolate and real and fits the world and characters and is the world of poverty here in the United States.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful with the only times where it was annoying was when there was shaky cam (thankfully this only happened once or twice). Besides that we get stark scenes that illustrate the isolation of so many of our characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and full of deep and harsh string instruments that heighten the tension and illustrate the pain of the characters. Nicholas Britell really did a fantastic job.

The Characters – This is a character focused drama and is powerful at that. I cared about all the characters who got explored and I wanted to see what choices they’d make and how they’d change.

Juan – Ali once again plays a memorable complex character! This guy is one of my favorite actors at this point and I love how he is one of the first who tells Chiron it is okay to be gay and to be himself. He is a father figure until he is unable to accept the fact that he’s helping to destroy Chiron’s mom with his drugs and after we never see him again.

Teresa – Teresa is Juan’s girlfriend and one of the most supportive characters in the film. She is Chiron’s safe place and we see her doing all she can to make sure he has somewhere to call home.

Paula – Paula is Chiron’s druggy mother who thankfully gets out of it when they move as gets checked into rehab and tries to convince Chiron to stop the cycle as she apologizes for how abusive she was and how unloving she was, though she loves him now. She’s complicated and not a good person but she has a really powerful arc.

Kevin – Kevin is Chiron’s first and only love who he falls out of touch with after the bullies egg Kevin on to punch Chiron. For 10 years they don’t see one another and then we see that Kevin has a kid and got out of drugs and is a cook now. He shows Chiron there is another way and admits in his action he never stopped caring and loving Chiron….as Chiron finally finds peace with his lover.

Chiron – Chiron doesn’t speak for the beginning of the film and it isn’t until Juan and Teresa help him feel safe that he opens up and learns from them to care for his abusive mother and also to care for himself. His next arc is becoming hardened as after the bullies egg Kevin on to beat him up he puts the head bully in the hospital and becomes a rich drug lord like Juan. It isn’t until Kevin calls out of the blue that he realizes there is another way and admits to Kevin that he never let anyone else touch him and that he still loves him.

Peace in Self and the Quest for Healing – From Chiron’s mother seeking drugs, Chiron and Kevin finding each other, Juan finding Chiron…all of them are seeking healing and find it in relationship or in the case of Chiron’s mother escape. All of them at the end of the day just want peace because of how the world has hardened them.

How Trauma Changes People – Trauma hardens people, from Chiron’s mother getting into drugs to escape and bringing out her desperation on her son, to Juan’s inability to stop doing the drug trade and making money even as he is trying to help Chiron heal, from Kevin going to prison. Trauma hardens all these characters at different points.  There is so much toxic masculinity are characters are dealing with where beating someone up makes others accept you and being soft and quiet is a death sentence. Thankfully at the end we see Chiron beginning to find a way out of that cycle of trauma and abuse.

The Cycles of Abuse – One of the things we witness in this is the cycle of abuse, Kevin goes to jail after the bullies force him to beat him best friend/lover Chiron and later he ends up in prison. After he gets out he finds that Chiron has changed as the abuse from his mother and the bullies has hardened him too and he hasn’t experienced love since their moment on the beach.

Okay: The Endings – I would have put this as a pro if they had just had the final scene at Kevin’s restaurant. There was no reason for Kevin to go home and to put them at risk given Kevin is married now. It extended the final scene of them finding peace with one another a bit too long and was the only thing that kept this film from being one of the perfect films this year.

    This is a film well worth your time. If you want to see what life is for so many who have to live in the closet because others feel threatened by their sexuality…this film does a fantastic job exploring that. As a bisexual man I found it powerful and loved how each of the characters was more complicated than what they appeared to be. None of them were stereotypes, each had multiple dimensions and contradictions and it made their struggles all the more compelling as all of them were really just looking for peace or love from another.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Ending could have happened on a few occasions so that is the only reason it isn’t a 10/10.

“Elementary” Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot” – Addiction, Loss and Joan Watson’s Agency

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    CBS did a good job when they created “Elementary.” The only way it is in any way like BBC’s “Sherlock” is the fact that it takes place in the present…everything else is different. From Watson having agency and actually facing her past and helping Sherlock deal with his addiction, to us being given a show that tries to have individual mysteries that stand on their own. There is no arc as of the pilot, no villain is established…(unlike Moriarty established at the end of “Sherlock’s” Pilot and we see that the main people our characters are facing are one another and themselves. This is what truly makes it great.

    The “Pilot” was directed by Michael Cuesta and written by Robert Doherty.

      The story involves Joan Watson being assigned as the sober companion to Sherlock Holmes, per his father. Together they must deal with another and reach an understanding while solving a home invasion and disappearance.

The Pros: The Writing – The writing is awesome! Actions have consequences and we see Watson and Sherlock change over the course of the episode as they face issues within themselves and how they relate to one another.

The Soundtrack – Sean Callery created a beautiful soundtrack that captures the mystery of the show and also the stress of Holmes’s addiction. It’s a wonderful score and one I plan to use for writing later.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is amazing, just like in “Sherlock.” We get slow shots of action that show objects breaking as well as glimpses of scenes giving us a picture that is slowly put together over the course of the episode.

The Characters – Whether they are minor characters or major, all the characters in the pilot feel fleshed out.

Dr. Richard Mantlo – This guy is a great antagonist! He manipulates one his patients who has a sociopathic desire to kill red headed women and makes his wife change to fit the type…all of this so he can keep the money from the fortune. The man is just as disconnected as Sherlock which leads to a great contrast in how they relate to and treat others where Mantlo doesn’t care and Sherlock makes an effort.

Captain Thomas Gregson – Gregson is the American detective who helps them with the case and brings Holmes in as a consulting detective. He is a source of stability for both Joan and Sherlock as he is always laid back and is a calming present for both their anxieties. Aidan Quinn does a great job.

Joan Watson – Lucy Liu owns this role! In her we see that she is working through trauma too as she failed as a surgeon and that is what lead her to become a sober companion. Unlike other Watson’s she does’t put up with Holmes’s abuse and calls him out or leaves him which forces him to grow and change how he interacts with people so he doesn’t take them for granted. Holmes also helps her find confidence as she helps him solve cases through their conversing and she gives empathy to others that he only really gives to her.

Sherlock Holmes – Jonny Lee Miller plays a very intense Holmes. His Holmes took addiction to the fullest and is recovering from that. This makes him intense and rebellious (a very different but fun take) and leads to him having to relate to people as he doesn’t want to be alone after how he was burned in the past. To this end we see him learn to talk to others, specifically Joan Watson who he grows to respect over the course of the episode.

    This is a show that really did everything right. It took the essence of the source material and grew beyond it…it also remembered the core art of writing and the fact that actions have consequences and characters must change. There is no real problem with this episode but there is a greater problem I had with the series…after the Finale I tried watching Season 2 but I couldn’t get into the disconnected format, the lack of arc and with it the eventual filler that came is what turned me off from the show. In the future I will give the show a full watch and assessment, but for now I stopped watching it for a reason and I have no idea if Season 3 was able to become more solid and do less side quests.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. Only reason it isn’t higher is because it’s not really attached to the rest of the show, showing this series would have worked better as a mini-series not a 24 episode format.

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

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       “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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Departures (2008): A Masterpiece About Healing and What We Learn From the Dead

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This is my second time seeing “Departures” and I must say, it is just as amazing the second time around. Back when I was an undergrad in College I was part of a Japanese Program where we studied Japanese media, history, language and culture. One of the films that we had got to study was this film and back when I saw it it quickly became a favorite film.

The reasons it is a favorite are numerous and I’ll go into detail in the assessment but for the major things it gets right is the soundtrack, the cinematography, the complex characters and the theme. It’s truly a masterpiece that pulls you in.

The film was directed by Yōjirō Takita, written by Kundo Kayama and produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa.

The story is about Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) who loses his job as a cellist when the orchestra he is a part of dissolves and decides to move back to his hometown of Yamagata with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue). When he follows up from an add in the paper he finds himself in a job in which he prepares the dead for cremation and their funerals. Resistant at first he eventually comes around but finds that the job has alienated him from those around him and he must deal with his own hurt as his preparing the bodies of the dead has helped families deal with the loss of their loved ones.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Takeshi Hamada does a wonderful job with the cinematography on this film. Whether it’s the opening shot of a car driving through the snow filled fog, the burials and how they capture the pain and relationship the living have to the deceased or the alienation that Mika and Daigo at times feel from the world around them and each other. There is nothing but beautifully shot scenes in this film.

The Soundtrack – Joe Hisaishi was the perfect composer for this film. The use of strings and piano capture the themes of memories and loss that every character feels in this film and the theme song “Okuribito” is now a favorite.

The Characters – There aren’t any 2 Dimensional characters in this film. Everyone has motivations for doing what they do and no one is really a bad person. We see how complicated character relationships are through the choices characters make and also the regret the living feel based on how they treated the now deceased.

Yuriko – Yuriko is the secretary of the encoffining business and has a rich story. She is comfortable with working with the dead and has a lot of respect for the Boss as he hired her after the owner of the bar she worked for died. Her story is also tragic too as she abandoned her child for a man who wasn’t any good and now regrets it but fears going back to see her son, ashamed of how he might see her. For this reason she asks Daigo to see his father one last time when she learns his father died alone as she fears the same thing as well, even with the Boss and Daigo as her adopted family. Kimiko Yo gives a lot of depth to this role and her character might be my favorite out of all of them.

The Boss – The boss has another name but I’m going to refer as the Boss. Tsutomo Yamazaki does a great job in this role as the eccentric encoffiner. He lost his wife and prepared her body for cremation which got him into the business in the first place. He has a very honest approach to death and accepts that everyone dies at some point. This doesn’t stop him from being extremely respectful to everyone around him and having a certain interpersonal awareness contrasted with how unaware he can sometimes be. His final scene is giving Daigo the car so that he and Mika can go visit Daigo’s father’s body to see him for the last time. He’s very much the father Daigo never had.

Mika – Ryoko Hirosue plays a rich character who has an astonishing ability to grow and adapt. She leaves Tokyo to return to Daigo’s hometown even though she’s always wanted to travel and she eventually accepts Daigo’s job once she sees how much respect is given to the dead and how important his role is in helping families heal and move on. She also stands up for herself too and voices how difficult the move was and tries to change Daigo’s mind about his job twice before she finally sees what is it is like. It is also her action that makes Daigo realize he should see his father. She is one of the most mature characters in the film and Hirosue owns the role.

Daigo – Daigo holds a lot of pain inside of himself but is also very much a child still. We see this in his moments of joy with Mika and his full embracing of his job as an encoffiner when he finds he is good at it and what he is able to give the families in honoring those who have passed. His arc is forgiving his father and moving on from the world he left behind when the orchestra was dissolved. He still holds onto his music though and uses it to express his melancholy memories and what he’s shared. In the end preparing his father for cremation and remembering his face allows him to forgive his father for abandoning him and his mother. Masahiro Motoki is wonderful in this role.

The Departures – Every departure is powerful, from the first moment where he has to help move the body of an old lady who has been rotting, to every suicide victim he cares for, every child he buries and every old person leading up to his father. Each reveals an aspect of humanity from our cruelty to our love, which is why I’m giving the powerful departures their own section since they made that much of an impression on me and were fantastically done scenes.

The Transgender Women – One of the departures is of a transgender woman who cared herself because her family never accepted her becoming a woman. It’s a powerful scene and we see the Boss’s and Daigo’s respect for her that carries over to the family when they give her woman’s makeup and finally honor the person she was the entire time. It is this that makes the father realize just how horrible he was and get him to the point of accepting that he always loved his son and regrets his actions.

The Bath House – The bath house is a place that Daigo goes to and is friends with the couple who owns it and their son who went to school with him. When the mother dies it makes Mika realize how important the uncoffiner job is and that Daigo is doing important work for healing and where the son finally accepts that his mother is dead and how he never respected her wishes in regards to the bath house and her husband who believes he’ll see her again and we see that he is the gatekeeper at the crematorium. The scenes with him are the most powerful as he recounts their last days where they celebrated their anniversary with a party and how she had him heat the bath house before she passed which gave him time to deal with the loss when he returned.

Daigo’s Father – Daigo’s father died alone and it is realizing the sad life that his father lead that motivates Daigo to not be that. He forgives his father and the stone he gave to his wife when he shared the stone his father shared they press to their son as a reminder that their son will not be alone as Daigo was. It is a powerful scene and completes Daigo’s arc as a character showing he no longer holds the resentment and hate for his father.

The Themes – Everyone dies, but that doesn’t stop us from living or change how their lives shaped us and can shape us. We see this in the Boss reminding Daigo to eat since it is the only way he will keep on living and we see how the lives touched the living and changed the living in every scene of departure. Whether it was the City Council Member mourning his mother or the Father truly accepting the loss of his Transgender daughter. All of them feel the loss and realize how they hurt the person through their actions and how important that person was to their life, changing them in the process.

The Message – The message is that the dead can’t do anything to hurt you and holding onto resentment only hurts you. This message of forgiveness is throughout the entire film and comes to a final conclusion when Daigo gives his father’s body respect and from it is finally able to remember his one happy memory he shared with his father and realizes he misses the life they never got to share…and in this knows healing.

The Cons: Pacing – At times the film is a bit too slow, this helps if you have other things to do but it makes watching the film all at once difficult at times. It is a meditative film so if you go in expecting it to feel long, you will be fine. I hadn’t seen it for years so I’d forgotten how long it felt inbetween the moments of high drama and character and for this reason it was a con for me.

This film is a classic and highly deserves all the awards it has one. It reveals what death teaches us about ourselves and that the dead are always with us and from that we can heal and grow or we can remain in denial over what we went through with those people when they were alive with us. I really love how at peace this film is with death and that it doesn’t have one dimensional characters. All of them are so richly written and the music, cinematography and amazing acting make this a film that is truly unforgettable and one of the best I have ever seen.

We’ve all dealt with death and lost people who are close to us or touched us in some way. For me seeing this film reminded me again of all the friends and family I’ve lost and how those individuals touched my life and helped me grow in different ways. I carry them in my memory and heart each day I live is another day to remember them and how much they meant to me and to so many others. The dead are a part of us and we carry them with us in how we live our lives.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing – Season 1, Episode 38 – “The Birth of Queen Relena” – Game Changing Move

Gw-ep38-birth-of-queen-relena

Making Relena Queen of the World was a smart move on the part of the Romafellers, but I think they underestimate her new power and idealism. They are giving reigns to the person who was ready to kill Lady Une for killing her father, this was back when Une served the Romafeller Foundation since she was serving Treize who was completely loyal at the time. Suffice to say, this is a game changing move, though how it will change the game remains to be seen.

“The Birth of Queen Relena” was directed by Nobuyoshi Nishimura and Takeshi Yoshimoto and written by Akemi Omode.

The story begins with Duo moving on his with his life on the Colony but going to meet Quatre when his family is active again. They talk and Quatre hears that Trowa is still alive so visits the Circus to see him. Events unfold to where the Colony is attacked leading Quatre to defend it and this gets Trowa out of his amnesia as he rediscovers his purpose again. Shortly after the Romafeller Foundation crowns Relena Queen of the World.

The Pros: Duo – Duo has stopped being the God of Death it looks like, at least for now. Seeing a broken Trowa reminded him of building a life outside of fighting, which he is doing with Hilde. I’m wondering if he is still fighting Romafeller now or if he’s just moved on. It was still great to see him, though Quatre was not able to remind him of his purpose.

Noin and Wufei – Noin forgives Wufei and is the much stronger character. Wufei still can’t see past himself and refuses to join them in the fight against Romafeller and uniting all the pilots together.

Quatre and Trowa – Quatre saves Trowa’s soul and Trowa had saved Quatre’s soul. The moment he sees that Trowa is alive so touching. He cries and reminds him that he will defend him and of the cost he lives with everyday (being the reason for the amnesia and destruction of a colony). These two are great characters.

Treize – Treize is still the planner in the shadows. I’m curious what he is going to do now that Relena has changed the game.

Relena – Relena becomes Queen for the greater good, though I could see her subverting the role since she wants peace through freedom and not tyranny. Can’t wait to see what Queen Relena does.

Okay: Wufei – Still sexist, still stubborn and not able to listen to everyone. At least he has character traits, but still. He was the weakest part of the episode.

This was a great episode and I really like how they are setting things up! Will people listen to Relena’s abolishing of borders and will abolishing borders really do any good? How will the Romafellers seek to control her? What is Dorothy’s agenda? What will Heero do now? What role will the pilots play now? Very curious to see how things unfold from here.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.