Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018): Structure Hinders the Touching Remembrance

This is the first documentary I’ve reviewed and it is also one that is solidly good. Seriously, before I get into analyzing this film, go and see it. If you have any attachment to the past and having PBS’s “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood” as what you knew growing up, this film is worth it. Before I say anything else, this film is worth checking out for how it explores who Fred Rodgers was. A great documentary is hard to do, and this doesn’t reach the levels of great, good is as good as it gets.

The documentary was directed by Morgan Neville and covers the life of Fred Rogers, focusing on his story as told through the show and his relationship with the people on the show, as well as what lead him to PBS in the first place.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Beginning – The story starts out with how Fred Rodgers wanted to go into Christian Ministry and decided pretty early on that television would be the best way to do this. Before this he studied child psychology to inform his ministry and we learn about the early show he created with his wife before the creation of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

The Psychology of Fred Rodgers – One of the running themes of the show is the exploration of Fred Rodger’s psychology. This is used in the characters on his show as he grew up in an environment that looked down on showing emotion so he used his puppet characters to express his feelings. This became a way for him to actively listen as well as he would use the characters to form connections with the children he’d help on the show. The show expresses this with Daniel Tiger who is the shy part of Mr. Rodger’s psychology. He’s vulnerable and the show expresses that this is the closest we get to seeing the real man, though many characters say he becomes King Friday by the end of his career where he becomes gruffer and focused on his legacy, while still being the Tiger but the Tiger is now the King.

Love – One of the running themes of the documentary is that of love. Fred Rodger’s love of the kids he would visit or who would visit him as part of the show, love of his crew and the relationships he built there and his relationship with his wife. Each of these explores a different aspect of the man as for them he was a friend and sometimes even a surrogate father as his love was so genuine. One of the strongest stories is how Francois Clemens came out of the closet to Mr. Rodgers and ended up adopting him as a surrogate dad, even as he was living closeted for the show to keep it’s funding.

Imagination – The other theme is that of imagination. Mr. Rodgers never goes to the land of Make Believe and because he doesn’t go a whole world is expressed there created from imagination. This is a world with a royal family, living animals and humans who interact with them. Often he would use this world to tackle real world issues like the horrors of Vietnam and death as some of the plots involved characters sending messages of love, that lead to King Friday tearing down the wall he made separating himself from the Kingdom. I have fond memories of the Land of Make Believe. Seeing the work that was put into that magic was inspiring.

The Cons:

Structure – The structure of the documentary doesn’t work. There are times it really lags and some of the sections could have been much smaller while other sections, especially as they related to Fred Rodgers the man, could have been expanded on. In many ways this is a documentary about the show, and I liked that but in focusing so much on the show we miss out more on learning who Fred Rodgers was. How did his ministry inform his relationships? What was his relationship like with the people we’ve met in his old age? How was he like King Friday at the end? These are all questions that never really get answered beyond surface level. This isn’t a deep dive documentary, which would have made it great if it had.

This is a really good documentary that is well worth your time if you grew up watching “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood.” In this film you will see the depths of compassion and love this complex man had for humanity, as well as the creative mind that made a show that connected with millions over generations. I’m glad that this gets to be the first documentary I review for the blog. Check it out, if you have the chance.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

 

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Black Panther (2018): Seeking Justice in a Broken World

       “Black Panther” is easily one of my Top 5 favorite MCU films. This is a film that expands on the lore of the MCU, has great characters with amazing arcs, some of the best action and villains in any Marvel film. It also explores deeper themes of resistance and sovereignty adding up to a movie that is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole and produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), after “Captain America: Civil War,” as he takes the mantle as King of Wakanda but suddenly finds his world transformed as an enemy from Wakanda’s past upsets the status quo they’ve known for so long. This forces him and his allies to confront the past and what the choices they make will mean for Wakanda’s future.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

Wakanda – Wakanda is such a cool country. This is a Afro-Futuristic nation with advanced technology, hidden by a cloaking device that intermixes ancient tradition with tech. Wakandans are ruled by the King and a Tribal Council whose upholding of tradition drives the primary conflict in the shaping of Wakanda’s future. Each tribe differs in ideology, whether it is defending the King, the Border or trade. This world is rich and fully realized, each tribe is distinct and I wanted to know more about their histories in the foundation and development of Wakanda.

The Characters – The characters are definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this great film, with Boseman once again killing it as T’Challa. Whitiker is fantastic as the Tribal Shaman whose history is intertwined with Wakanda’s past sins. The other minor characters, like the tribal leader W’Kabi, also have intriguing performances as well. In many cases it is these characters prideful choices that drive the conflict that T’Challa must untangle. Below, I’m going to explore some of my favorite characters of the film, as it was who they were that drew me into the story the most.

Okoye – Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is Wakanda’s General and she owns this role. Not only does she one of the major focuses is some breathtaking actions scenes every action scenes, we see how important her role is for her as at one point following tradition has her on the opposite side of some of our heroes. She serves the Crown and Wakanda, and that is a complicated dance when T’Challa is believed dead and the sociopath Killmonger is now King of Wakanda. I can’t wait to see more of her in future films.

Shuri – Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister. She is one of the most intelligent characters in the MCU, as she is the inventor of the advanced technology of Wakanda, she is very much the Tony Stark of Wakanda.  Like Stark, she doesn’t care about tradition and is far more invested in the relationships around her and the beauty of discovery and invention. She has some great scenes, and like Okoye, she was one of the main reasons to see this film. 

Ulysses Klaue – Andy Serkis has a lot of fun as the weapons merchant who is almost Joker-like in how little he cares about anything. This is a guy who is selfish, and racist, and every reason why Wakanda is isolationist. He is an insane character and his chaotic and manipulative nature leads to some explosive conflict in the first act of the film. It is also great to see Serkis in anything. 

Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger might be one of Marvel’s most complicated villains. This is a boy who grew up homeless in Oakland when T’Challa’s father kills his father, who was connected to the royal family through blood. He is driven by revenge from this moment on, but also by a desire to help the oppressed, driven by all he has lost. Killmonger is also a complete sociopath (his body is covered in self-inflicted scars for every person he has killed), but that doesn’t stop him from being complex. You can see where he is coming from, even if his way of going about it is all wrong.

Isolationism and its Consequences – The main idea explored is isolationism and the consequences of it is the main theme of the movie. T’Challa’s father commits a grave sin to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the world and it is up to T’Challa to face the consequences of his father’s sins. As Killmonger reminds T’Challa there are Africans both on the continent and in the world that Wakanda left behind. Wakanda let great evils like slavery, apartheid and countless other atrocities take place, when they could have done something to fight it. The primary conflict within Wakanda is to become an Empire to help oppressed groups (Killmonger’s vision), or stay hidden and protect Wakandan technology from those who would use it for ill (T’Challa’s father’s vision). T’Challa’s arc is finding that balance between perspectives and owning the mistakes of the past…and it is beautifully executed.

Okay:

Final Fight -The final fight is fine but compared to the rest of the film comes off as weak, especially in regards to the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. The emotional setup earlier in the film does not add up to the payoff during this fight, and so much more could have been done with some of the locations.

Okoye and W’Kabi – These two are star-crossed lovers who are on opposite sides and leaders of their tribes. I wanted more with both of them as they are both great actors, but we never got to see them in love, it is only ever given to us through exposition. Fully fleshing out their relationship could have given us the perfect film. 

This is a film that had the Marvel problem only in that Act 3 was still a battle, and there were some plot holes that I wish had been expanded upon. Regardless, this is a film that is deserving of all the hype and praise it has been receiving. It really is that good and I can’t wait to see what else they do with T’Challa and the Wakandans in later films. This film has social awareness you don’t always get in action films and at the core it seeks justice in a broken world.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 One of my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you noticed something different about this review it is because I am now working with an editor! He is friend Brandon Cabusas and you can find him on instagram @brandoncabusas. If you need editing work, you should check him out.

“House of Cards” Season 5 – The Power Shifts

     I’ve been with “House of Cards” for a while now. This is easily one of my favorite shows out there, even though it did have a season I really hated. This is a season that plays on what made last season work and strengthens it further. This is the season where we see just how wonderfully awful the Underwoods are and how their quest for power does and doesn’t payoff.

The season picks up where last season left off with the Underwoods running against Conway in the 2016 election. The race is tight as the Underwoods prepare to go to any means to hold onto power and win the election.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Election – The election is fantastic as we see political dealings going down as Conway’s advisor Mark Usher is convinced to work for the Underwoods when they find the dirt on Conway after they successfully cause a political crisis by using one of their assets (a hacker) to cause panic across swing states. This eventually leads to a special election being called in one of those states where Frank and Claire rise to victory.

The Underwoods – The Underwoods are the main reason to watch the show. They are so corrupt and compelling as we see just how far they are willing to go to tie up loose ends and to keep in power. This season is a shining example of this and ends showing that even the Underwoods loyalty does not fully extend to one another.

Frank – Frank wins the election but the corruption of his rise to power becomes the forefront as the former president comes forward and people begin calling him out for the shady dealings and situations that surrounded him in his rise to power. In the end he decides to resign as his time in Elysian Fields (a secret society) showed him the true power lies outside the office of the President and controlling it, as Claire is left in charge as she became Vice President last season.

Claire – Claire is the better of the Underwoods as we see that she does not act out of spite and is good at building bridges between members of the party and opposition. Unlike Frank she doesn’t care about revenge, but can be just as ruthless (she kills her lover who knew all of the Underwood secrets), just holding power and this season ends with her as President holding Frank’s sins against him as she refuses to pardon him for his crimes, leaving him alone and under threat with her at the top, it finally being “her turn.”

The Rat Race and Cost of Power – Those underneath the Underwoods all pay the price in the end. Doug is alone and underground and as of the end of the season has not been pardoned for his crimes, Frank is just like him…LeAnn is dead with her former lover the hacker dead as she was loose end that was cleaned up and the government is in disarray as people seek to jump ship or find the Underwoods blackmailing them with their past actions. I really liked LeAnn’s character and her death for me was the strongest one since Frank’s murdering of Russo, who was also an actor and character I liked. This season was all about consequences and those consequences paid off with those who still hold power being isolated and those who trusted the Underwoods being just as isolated or dead.

Okay: Russia – Russia is the only one who can blackmail the Underwoods, but even he loses his asset, though we see that Claire’s adviser is working for him, so he isn’t out yet, but we don’t see what Russia’s agenda really is at this point.

This was an amazing season that gave us a major shift in power as we have seen Claire hold power but Frank’s unpredictability and secret agenda always detracted from Claire’s potential. Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey once again do an amazing job and I loved watching the power shifts take place…from Frank going to the private sector to control government and Claire using the power of the Presidential office to consolidate her power and agenda and with it shift power away from Frank. Where next season leads is anyone’s guess but this is show about their partnership which Frank left behind this season in his quest for revenge against those who had opposed him. I think he’ll realize this or he’ll fall as Claire has shown to be the better leader now on multiple occasions.

Claire Underwood 2020

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

Black Mirror – Season 1, Episode 1 – “The National Anthem” – A Political Nightmare in the Digital Age

  “The National Anthem” is at this point, my favorite episode of “Black Mirror.” This is an episode that shows the strength of public pressure in the media age as well as how the actions a person can take can lead to people turning against them and in turn forcing them to do the thing they least want to do. The episode is a political nightmare that shows both how quickly people move on from media events, but how when their is an ongoing crisis, how it can grab the attention of a nation and the world.

     The episode was directed by Otto Bathurst and written by Charlie Brooker.

       The story involves the unfolding of a political crisis when a young and popular Duchess is kidnapped, with the only demands for her release being, that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television. From here the crisis unfolds as the Prime Minister deals with the public and private fallout of the threat as they try to find the missing Duchess.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are really well written in this and don’t feel like archetypes, which is often a problem in short one episode stories like this. Every character is facing decision and choice. We have the Home Secretary trying to get an actor so the event can still take place and so they can get around it, you have the Prime Minister doing everything he can with the police and you have the wife doing all she can to keep her husband from doing the act. In the end it all comes to a head and no one really wins in the end except for the artist who created the event in the first place. Rory Kinnear as the Prime Minister and Lindsay Duncan’s Home Secretary stole the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and isolating, which captures the different levels of terror the government officials are going through. Everything is connected and as the media and gossip grows around the event we see further isolation of the characters from one another, forcing the event to happen.

The Power of Social Media and the Power of Public Pressure – The threat is done over youtube and the Prime Minister putting a gag order on the press just makes people question it as a cover-up and distrust the Prime Minister more. When the story is finally broke it goes out of control as we see his attempts to find the Duchess lead to the people turning against him as his use of an actor made him look like a coward and a press agent getting shot made him look like a dictator. At one point the Home Secretary even warns that his wife and family will be at risk if he doesn’t go forward with the act since he alienated the public so much. When he’s made his decision he doesn’t answer his phone when his wife is trying to reach him and we see how his duty as the Prime Minister was more important than alienating and destroying his relationship with his wife.

Social Media and Moving On – A year later the Prime Minister is popular and the press is just business as usual again. This was amazing that the public had already moved on from the horrendous act that the Prime Minister was forced to do…on the other side we see that things may appear peaceful in the public eye but his marriage is destroyed. He kept power and positive public perception but lost his soul.

  This episode achieved all it set out to do, had a great cast and fully explored the premise of how a nightmarish strange crisis would unfold in the digital age where public pressure can make a person capable of horrible things, since all it took was the threat of a person who was loved by the public to be under threat for the crisis to happen. I felt for all government officials in this, as well as the wife as in the end the choices they made were shaped by how others viewed and talked about them. In a way their agency was lost to the public will, which is in a way, what we ask of our public servants, as they represent us and our interests. I think this is a big reason why, a year after the event the Prime Minister was loved again. He’d done his duty to look out for the public good, and save a life, even though the act was nightmarish, immoral and wrong…and the cost was his family.

Final Score: 10 / 10

“The Expanse” Season 1 – An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Covers Politics, Identity and New Life

The Expanse

   “The Expanse” is the best show to come from the SyFy Channel since “Battlestar Galactica” and “Caprica.” Part of it is due to the rich political material they are pulling from the novels of the same name by James S. A. Corey. Also like “Battlestar” this is  a show that follows many different character perspective to unfold the political drama and mystery of what is going on, and manages to do a great job, while still leaving things open in regards to other mysteries that need to be solved. I seriously recommend this show if you are a science fiction fan.

   The series was created by Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus and based off the novels by James S. A. Corey.

    The story involves the mystery of the missing Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) as detective Joe Miller is seeking her out in a missing persons case and finds himself pulled into a bigger conspiracy. Elsewhere the crew of the Canterbury are drawn to a ship that Julie was last reported on and find themselves pulled into a much greater conspiracy going on between the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance), Earth and Mars.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Clinton Shorter is a great composer and the soundtrack manages to be one of the strongest parts of the series as it illustrates the mystery, the tension and the rising threat that pervades the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and reminded me a lot of “Battlestar Galactica.” So much was put into making this world feel lived and making sure the Belters, Mars and Earth each look distinct in the environments in which they live.

The World – The world of this universe is fascinating. We have the OPA who is fighting for Belter independence and goes to extremes to do so, we have the U.N. which appears benevolent but tortures is corrupt and is planning to go to war and Mars is a warrior people who protect our heroes even though they come off as fascists. No one is simple in this and all the factions and people get complexity.

The Mystery – The mystery of Julie Mao is really fascinating as through her we see how strong the OPA is and that Belter Independence will happen over the course of this show, the corruption of Earth and the power brokers like Anderson and Fred Johnson and the complexity and agendas they bring to the table as well as the new life form that Julie Mao is consumed by.

The Factions and Characters – The factions and the characters are the strongest parts of this show and really drive the action as everything is tied back to Julie Mao and through her eyes we see the good and bad of the factions and people within the galaxy fighting for freedom, power or control.

Belters and OPA – The Belters are a faction that is oppressed by Mars and Earth who take their resources and give them water and air in return. They are desperate and from the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) arose as an Independence movement. You get the motivations of them and see the complexity of Belter identity too.

Anderson Dawes – Anderson Dawes is the OPA representative on Ceres Station and shows us he is both noble and villain in how he interacts with Joe Miller. He is a true nationalist and I’m really curious to see what is going to happen with his character as he has a grudging respect for Miller and lets him go after he tries to kill him. He’s one of the few who knew Julie Mao. Jared Harris does a fantastic job.

Fred Johnson – Fred Johnson is a character drive by guilt as he ordered the destruction of a ship a bunch of miners took over after they were abused. This has lead him to become OPA and it is that which drives him and his actions as he knows Earth and Mars going to war will give his people freedom. Chad Coleman does a great job.

Dmitri Havlock – Dmitri is Joe Miller’s partner and is lovers with a Belter prostitute and is from Earth. He nearly gets killed by Belters but still is the idealist who think connection and talking can fix things. He’s a great contrast to the bitter Miller.

Detective Joe Miller – Thomas Jane is fantastic as Joe Miller! He feels like he’s out of a noir and it is his obsession and belief in Julie Mao that helps us learn about the OPA conspiracy and from that the Earth conspiracy and expansion plan as he is fired when he solves the case of what happened with Julie Mao and his boss is revealed to be OPA.

Mars -We see Mars through the eyes of Alex who used to be a pilot in the Mars military and the military vessel that captures the survivors of the Canterbury and protect them when the mystery vessel and faction attacks. In Mars we see honor and a people who maybe military but do not want war and dream of a planet that will be green and full of water.

Earth – Earth is the corrupt faction we see outside of the OPA as it is Earth factions that are creating the alien life form and it is the leader of the U.N. who is going to war. It is in Earth we see a past Empire trying to capture it’s former glory.

Chrisjen Avasarala – Chrisjen is great as a hardened diplomat who knows how to get into people’s mind. She isn’t an idealist but realizes that the future she has been trying to prevent is out of her control as it looks like Earth is going to go to war and has wanted to go to war. She stays to be an agent in the trenches to resist in her own way, though she does send her husband away for his safety. Shohreh did a great job.

The Crew of the Canterbury – The crew is the strongest part as each them compliment one another in different ways and we see how they act under pressure. They are one of the best parts of this film and truly drive everything that happens outside of Joe Miller’s investigation.

Amos – Amos is the unhinged member of the crew who is okay killing and will do whatever Naomi wants. He has the biggest kill count of the survivors and has an aura of dangerous about him so much so that even Naomi fears him. He is a good guy though and Wes Chatham does a great job portraying him.

Alex – Alex is the pilot and is one of my favorite characters as he is former Mars military and can be a coward sometimes. He brings a great perspective to things and his love of flying is always fun to see. Cas Anvar does a great job with this character.

Jim Holden – Holden is the main character who kicks off the conflict when he blames Mars for teh destruction of the Canterbury which triggers the OPA fight, Earth expansion and the creation of the new life form . Sadly he is the least interesting person on the crew as he is a Paladin type even when it puts people in danger.

Naomi – Naomi is awesome! By the end we learn she probably was or is OPA as she knows about the OPA tunnels in the station that the life form is consuming and she is the one who keeps a clear head and save the crews head on multiple occasions. Dominique Tipper is fantastic in the role!

The Finale – The final is powerful as the survivors of the Canterbury manage to get off the station before the alien life form consumes them all and we see that Holden and Miller are able to get their radiation treated. We are left with a sense of hope because they lived but powerlessness as we see this new life form growing and know that war is on the horizon.

Revolution – OPA’s revolution is going on as scheduled as we see it triggered by the framing of Mars and Earth beginning to overreach and expand. We see the reasons revolution happens to as the Belters are an oppressed faction that is barely surviving most of the time and lives by the whims of Mars and Earth.

New Life – The station that is being used for the experiment has the sentient bioweapon thing that inhabited Julie Mao and we see it kill the Earth Agent at the end…it’s cool that this is our introduction to a true alien life form and it is one that humanity created.

The Cons: Sometimes Wooden Acting – There are times when characters act (none of the ones listed above) and it comes off as wooden and artificial. In that way it does feel a little like a Sy Fy Channel show and that does bring it down.

The Motivation of the Scientists – Why are they creating new life and why is Julie’ Mao’s father find sacrificing her to create it? This was really unclear, especially as we see how many people they are willing to sacrifice to create this new life. Motivations of these guys are unclear.

   This was a great series that I highly recommend. The politics between Mars, Earth and the OPA are fascinating as heroes and villains are revealed on all sides and the overall mystery of the life that has consumed Julie Mao and consumes the agent at the end. This sets up a 4th Faction that isn’t aligned to any of the human ones as far as we know. What will come out of this, especially since it looks like Earth is going to be conquering sets the stage for the war that is to come. So much of the stage is set for wider conflicts and the main characters who drive the story have been explored in regards to their pasts and motivations which makes me curious how circumstances will change them further. This is one of the greats, now lets see if SyFy can keep it that way, rather than ruin it like the last chance I gave them with “Helix.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“House of Cards” Season 4 – Chaotic at Times but Recaptures What Makes the Underwoods Great

House of Cards Season 4

    “House of Cards” Season 4 recaptures a lot of what made Seasons 1 and 2 so great, while recovering from the mistakes of Season 3 and refocusing the Underwoods, while still taking the bad writing of Season 3 into account and not retconning anything that happened or the characters and how they change. Seriously, this was a really enjoyable season. This was a season of consequences and if it is the last we will get of this show I like where it finally ends up.

    Beau Willimon created an amazing show and it is amazing to see everything get back on track again and use the problems of Season 3 to some purpose.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal’s soundtrack continues to create great tension in this series and is easily one of the consistently great parts of this series. This was the series that got me into this composer in the first place and he continues to play on the dark and tension that so define this series.

The Cinematography – Tim Ives, Igor Martinovic and Eigil Bryld did a fantastic job with the cinematography once again. The visuals are great at capturing the isolation and paranoia of the different characters as well as the internal and external wars they all face.

The Politics – This is the heart of this show and there are some great political circumstances in this. From Russia holding back it’s oil and the U.S. sending a political refugee from Russia to China forcing Russia to deal with both of them, the election and primaries of 2016 and the war with ICO (The ISIS of this show).

The Characters – The characters are fantastic, and a lot of them complete their arcs in this season, which for me left them needing another season up in the air.

Catherine Durant – Jayne Atkinson is wonderful in this role as we see her character use her political savvy to keep herself from being stabbed in the back by Frank (after she learns that their support for her is a ploy for Claire to be nominated VP) but in the end Frank brings her in line as she got where she is through the illegal back door dealings that so define the way the Underwoods deal.

Leann Harvey – Leann is Claire’s second who helps her deal with Frank and eventually becomes both their campaign manager. She is an awesome character and shuts down Doug Stamper and his need ton control and blackmail. She’s one of my favorite minor characters and Neve Campbell is fantastic.

Seth Grayson – Seth is wonderful in this as we see him work with the Dunbar campaign as an out before he becomes fully loyal to the Underwoods again. He is a complex betrayer who in the end is fully in the boat with the Underwoods, he has a vulnerability and ruthlessness that makes him compelling.

Remy Danton and Jackie Sharp – Remy and Jackie are back and after Hammerschmidt compels him to come forward he and Jackie come forward with their relationship in order to bring down the Underwoods, as their character finally gets his redemption and out of control of the fear they have over others.

Victor Petrov – Petrov is back and Claire puts him in his place as we see that a lot of the control he claimed to have is much thinner as his people are suffering from his dying economy. He eventually realizes this and helps Claire rise to power as he respects her and Frank for their strength and power they come from. Lars Mikkelsen is fantastic once again.

Will Conway – Conway is the Republican nominee running against Frank and he is amazing. His “life” is all recorded and he has a beautiful wife and ttree kids and owns a google analogue that puts him high up on the search engine. He’s also a narcissistic and sociopath and is shown to be no better than Frank in how he treats others. Frank is actually shown to be the better person in the end as Frank and Claire are true partners, where Conway dominates and rules everyone he can’t fool with his charisma.

Tom Hammerschmidt – Tom is the reporter who pushes the house of cards to bring the Underwoods down. He’s a true believer and it’s in investigating all the deaths that he discovers how deep the Underwoods sins go. Boris McGiver is wonderful in this role and plays the genuine and awkward reporter really well who won’t cave to anyone. Sadly (but for the betterment of the story) the teeth behind his story get removed when the Underwoods declare war on ICO and use the fear of ICO to make people forget the truth that was put before their eyes.

Doug Stamper – Doug is seeking redemption on this as Seth and Leann are there for him to call him out on his controlling and fascist nature. This leads to him donating to the fund of a man whose never received a liver as he was knocked off the list so that Doug could save Frank. Michael Kelly continues to give threat and intimacy to this very dark role and I like that his character is seeking more as he is the most broken character in this series.

Claire Underwood – This season is all about how Claire deserves to rule. We see her negotiate a treaty with Russia and China and continue the Underwood power when Frank is in the coma. The Claire of Season 1 and 2 is in full force and Frank and his stupidity in 3 is finally done as they work together and even run together and President and VP against the Republicans. Robin Wright truly owns this role and she is part of what makes this show so fantastic.

Frank Underwood – Kevin Spacey is playing Frank as Frank is written out of the rut the writers put him in last season where he was only ruled by ego for self and not alliances and savvy and truly doing what it takes to dominate. In this season he starts doing that again and acting in coordination with Claire as they did in the beginning. Can’t wait to see what they do in Season 5 as he sets up ruling through fear as he brings full on war against ICO to distract from Tom’s article on the level of darkness he’s committed to get to where he is now as President of the United States.

Frank’s Coma Visions – The coma visions are haunting as we see Frank haunted by the people he’s killed and being hunted down. There is an element of violence and sex to all of it which captures the character and the show really well.

Means to an End – Claire and Frank are all about means to an end, both in their partnership and in how they rule. We got to see this again as they got over acting chaotic selfish stupid rather quickly, which in the end made this season great.

The Cons: Underwood v. Underwood – This was stupid, both of them were way to smart to not work together and help each other rise in power. Season 3 Frank is still around for the first few episodes though and they address this with him going into a coma after an assassination attempt from one of the journalists he wronged and from that he and Claire going for the President and VP together and back to the old partnership they had before.

Obvious Manipulations – Frank has some obvious manipulations that blow up into his face and this was the only writing issue that came up. His manipulation of his Secretary of State was a bit too obvious.

Getting Back on Track – The cons of Frank realizing that Claire is his partner and her leaving really wasn’t needed. They were both supposed to be smarter than that and seeing them acting stupid for drama to make this happen (the reason for having to get back on track in thef first place) was a con for this season. It shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place.

   It was really dealing with the filler and problems in Season 3 that slowed down the Season early on as the first 4 episodes were dealing with the consequences of having written Frank Underwood as stupid and not even having social savvy to deal with the partnership with his own wife, which had been a partnership in Season 1 and 2. All my cons nearly all directly relate to correcting those issues that were in Season 3 that had to be fixed in order to get on track. I highly recommend this season and if this ends up being the end, it will be great way to end it all…though I would like to see the Underwood Triumphant, which we are on the way to with them playing their nuclear option at the end, making sure that no matter how the chaos and fear unravel, they will come out on top. This season could have been the end, but I’m glad that the show was renewed for a Season 5. The Underwoods can still win it all.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

“Narcos” Season 1 Retrospect – Colombia, Politics, Drugs and a Powerful Story

Narcos Poster

     Netflix just keeps making gold…”House of Cards,” and “Daredevil” are already two of my favorite shows and now I must add “Narcos” to the list…though the fact that it didn’t end after this season is troubling. We are caught up to the year that historically Palbo Escobar died…where does the series go from here if it is going to take the 10 episode format? Do Murphy’s and Pena’s story really have that much steam left? Their arcs felt complete at the end of the story. Suffice to say though, season 1 is great with one of my few criticisms only being the ending.

     The series was created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro and directed by Jose Padilha.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves the Rise and Fall of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and the drama within the Medellin Cartel and the DEA agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) and what they and the Colombian Government do to bring him and the Cartel down.

The Pros: The History – The history that takes place through the 80’s of the politics and drama between the political groups and gangs in Colombia is fascinating, especially in relation to United States involvement as it is the United States backing of Pinochet which lead to the drug trade being exterminated in Chile but spreading over to Colombia when “Cockroach” escapes to the Escobar’s and sells them his trade helping them start their Empire. We also have the war between the Colombian Government and the Cartels and the United States and the different Communist movements in South America…it is fascinating and awesome and made me want to read and study more.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the beauty of Colombia and the dark underbelly of the gangs and the corruption in the government as well as the grey line our characters are always walking.

The Soundtrack – Pedro Bromfman did a wonderful job incorporating traditional and modern Colombian music to make this show truly about Colombia. We get personal moments and the gritty reality of all our characters through his amazing art.

The Characters  and Organizations – The characters are all flawed and have to make hard choices and the organizations have clear goals as well and all are a mixture of fear and idealism in order to meet their ends.

The CIA  and U.S. Government – The CIA is great as we have a military guy who is all about catching the communists but another agent played by Richard Jones who is always helping our guys go after Escobar and the Cartel. It shows how complicated it is especially as they walk a grey line of looking after their own interests but not losing the goodwill of the people. Ambassador Noonan is the one who has the most difficulty with that given the United States’s legacy in Chile next store.

The Communist Rebel Groups – The rebels are all based in idealism but are presented as being cut off from the reality of the people as they are willing to kill innocents to meet their end and still claim the high ground. This eventually leads to one of the leaders surrendering to Escobar to protect his men that the Cartel are killing off. M-19 is the one that gets the most airtime as their kidnappings bring the Cartel against them though Pablo Escobar eventually defeats and uses them to his own ends.

The Colombian Government – The government is in the Cartel’s pocket for a long time until the option of extradition comes up where the caught drug deals will be sent to a U.S. prison rather than the vacation and influence they’d have in a Colombian prison.

President Cesar Gaviria – Cesar is given a lot of tough choices and we see him eventually make peace with Escobar letting him make his own prison so that the bloodshed will stop. He isn’t a coward though and we see him avoid an assassination attempt and always walk among the people, calling the Cartel out for their crimes. He is definitely flawed but you see a man faced wit the dilemma of losing sovereignty and granting the U.S. more power or letting the Cartels have more power but have sovereignty respected.

Colonel Herrera – Herrera deals with the Escobar at first but becomes a mortal enemy after this rise as he becomes obsessed with him after an assassination on his wife and himself at a cafe. This eventually leads to him setting his men on Pablo’s cousin, ending in his death.

The Medillen Cartel – The Cartel is fascinating and the gangsters are complicated monsters as we see them humanized and love and lose and make hard choices in order to survive and to grow their business.

Gacha – Gacha is unhinged and is fun to watch as Pablo Escobar is able to keep him in line even as his killings of the politicians and prostitutes is slowly getting the government to act. He is the one who is all about taking what he wants, though he has a son (who is a monster like him) who he loves. He is eventually taken out by Pena.

The Ochoas – The Ochoas make a deal with the government and Cali Cartel to leave Pablo isolated which eventually leads to Pablo’s cousins death and makes it so the sister is no longer connected to the Escobars. They win in a way as they get the prison deal they wanted and stay under the radar.

Pablo Escobar – Escobar drives the story as we see he and his cousin but the Medellin Cartel making them some of the richest people in the world. Their bond is  core connection and it is after Pablo’s cousin is killed that he loses it and eventually kills the men he put in charge of the Cartel leading to an eventual assault on the Prison he made for himself in order to keep the government off his back. He rises and in the end his love of Colombia and desire for power and respect lead to his downfall as his escape from his prison cannot prevent him from the death that is already in the history books.

The DEA – The DEA like Escobar are the main drivers of the story as we see Murphy and Pena have to make difficult choices and sometimes act on their own and for or against one another in order to stop the Cartels.

Javier Pena – It is great seeing the Red Viper again! Pedro Pascal is one of my favorite actors and I’ve missed him since the only season he was in “Game of Thrones.” He plays a womanizer in this but he has a good heart as he looks after all of those he has a relationship with, even if it means his job and life. It is this love of the people that a lot of them reject as they see him as a DEA Gringo who only cares about American interests and not those of Colombia. He proves that assumption wrong on multiple occasions. He was my favorite character in this.

Steve Murphy – Holbrook does a good job as the mustached 80’s cop who gets hardened by Colombia and addicted to the chase and war. In the end it is his home as he is driven at taking down the Cartels as he no longer cares about his life and we see his detachment from his wife as she wants to return to the States while for him, this War is all he has as home and he has nothing in the States to go back too (his partner having been killed by the Medellin Cartel prior).

The Cons: Women Sidelined – Women are very much on the sidelines in this with a reporter being the few women with power. I get that this reflects the society, but even Pablo’s mother’s influence isn’t really shown. The exception I can think of is Connie Murphy but even she feels like a side quest to the main narrative and is only really in the story because of her marriage to Steve and she isn’t needed to drive the story.

Leaving the Story Open – Escobar should have died at the end and the point about violence always being there could have been. In the end Escobar wasn’t the point of the story, the point was Colombia and how it had shaped our characters are Murphy sees it as home even after his partner sold him out to the Cali Cartel to catch Escobar. This theme is powerful but is undercut by Pablo’s escape and not death in the final from the Search Bloc.

I recommend this story, it is overwhelmingly good and the few cons don’t take away from that. It is gives Colombia respect and also goes into quite a bit of depth with all the different players in the game that the Governments and Cartels played. I’d highly recommend checking it out, even as I’m worried about what Season 2 might bring.

Final Score: 9.3 ./ 10