Tag Archives: Politics

“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

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3, Episode 4 – “Sphere of Influence” – Pantora versus Separatist Influence

Sphere of Influence

   This is a great episode! In this we see the complexity of both the Trade Federation and Pantorans and that neither people are pawns of anyone and both are dealing with the Senate and Separatist influence in whichever way they can, while still looking out for their own influence.

    “Sphere of Influence” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and written by Katie Lucas, Steven Melching and Drew Z. Greenberg.

    The story involves The Trade Federation’s blockade of Pantora and how Senator Riyo to find the kidnapped children of the Chairman as she gets help from Ahsoka and negotiates the tense situation in which the Senate is powerless to act and tries to learn who is behind the kidnapping as the Chairman and

The Pros: The Pantorans -The Pantorans take matters into their own hands with Senator Riyo and the Chairman finding the Chairman’s daughters through their own action. It’s an extreme moment of empowerment that shows the lengths the Separatists will glow to blackmail neutral parties onto their sides. I really like these guys and the Trade Federation as political factions being explored.

The Trade Federation – The Trade Federation is complicated. We see that some are firmly Separatists like Gunray and Sib versus the Ambassador who is still walking that line between Separatist and Gunray influence against being a member of the Republic and Senate.

Ahsoka  and Senator Riyo – Ahsoka is super active in this and her and Senator Riyo do a great job of finding one of the daughters and holding their own against the Trade Federation and in ending the blockade.

The Politics – The Politics are great in this episode as before we know the Separatist offer could have been real as they do have more influence with the Trade Federation and the Senate is inept. It is only through Jedi action via Ahsoka and Pantoran action that the daughters are saved.

   This is a great episode that shows just how complicated it can be to remain neutral in the middle of a giant war, especially when you are a planet rich in resources like Pantora. We also see that the Trade Federation isn’t stupid and at least some of the might be willing to learn from their mistakes and not fall into the trap of Gunray’s greed.

Final Score: 9 / 10.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985): Power Plays and Safeguarding the Future

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

      “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” was enjoyable but not great. I think a big reason for this is there isn’t a clear antagonist a lot of the time, way too many child actors which changes the tone and takes a lot of the dark out, which this film has. The Feral Children even don’t fully feel like Feral Children. They speak like they had an education, these are some of the things that took me out of it, even though Rossitti’s, Turner’s and Gibson’s performances are phenomenal and the story is enjoyable for what it is.

The film was directed, produced and written by George Miller and also directed by George Ogilvie and also written by Terry Hayes.

The story involves Max’s (Mel Gibson) arrival in Bartertown searching for his stolen supplies fifteen years after the defeat of Lord Humungus. From here he is pulled into the power struggle for control of the town between Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) and Master (Angelo Rossitto). He is asked to kill Master’s bodyguard Blaster (Paul Larsson) but after being asked to kill him in the ring and learning that Blaster is mentally handicapped he calls out Aunty Entity and is kicked out of Bartertown where he ends up with a tribe of Feral Kids looking for a Messiah and must stop their delusions and save Master and Blaster from Aunty Entity.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a power struggle in a post-apocalyptic town that an outsider is pulled into is a cool one. I also like that the antagonists aren’t wholly good or evil. They are each despots in their own way and both have a sympathetic aspect to them which helps drive the story.

The Power Struggle – I really liked the power struggle between Master and Aunty Entity. They are both compelling characters with Master being a small person who is best friends with a mentally handicapped man who is super strong who is his protector and helped him build the machines that provide energy to Bartertown, and there is Aunty Entity who controls the trade and is the law of the town and wrote the strange rules that govern the location and keep the populace sated in their blood lust. She wants Blaster taken out and Max almost fulfills it until he sees that Blaster was never evil nor Master wholly bad which leads to his exile as Aunty Entity takes over.

The Action – The action of course is fantastic! The most memorable action being the chase at the end where Aunt Entity’s forces are chasing Master, the Feral Children and Max who are on a train as they attempt to surround it and take it out and later when all except Max make it onto a plane and Max once again takes on the hoard giving the good characters time to escape and make a future.

The Characters – I liked the characters in “The Road Warrior” more, partially because they were just so much more compelling to see and there was more you could read into them. Here is is pretty concrete and depends too much on tropes, especially with the Feral Children not speaking like Children which took me out, besides the child actors, I did enjoy the characters.

The Collector – The Collector is the first we meet and he lets Max meet Aunty Entity after Max proves how dangerous he is. He is the one who measures and trades and is a slimy character. He is also connected to everyone in the town making him dangerous. We don’t truly see how dangerous though as Master and Aunty Entity take over once they are introduced. Frank Thring is great.

Blaster – Blaster is threatening and scary as long as you don’t see his face, but once his helmet is knocked off he is the most lovable character in the film and you see how deeply his friendship with Master runs as Master holds him when he is knocked out. He protects the kids too and has affection for Max for sparing his life. Paul Larsson is wonderful in this role.

Aunty Entity – Tina Turner owns this role and I wish she’d been given more to do than just lay down the law. She is in the final chase sequence but isn’t very smart as she unattaches the cart too early and Max rescues Master from her. She is honorable though and spares Max’s life as well as never actually killing him. She exiles him when he disobeys the laws of Thunderdome and she never kills Master as she wants to provide the energy so her people can live better. She is someone who was nothing before the apocalypse, but made the most of it to become the leader and ruler of Bartertown. She is the potential that exists in the new world, but also shows the ability of power to corrupt.

Master – Angelo Rossitto plays a character who is both bully and victim. We see him as a bully when he cuts the power before the attempt to kill Blaster by Max and later on we see him cradle Blaster and work with him in protecting the Feral children. He also salutes Max at the end for rescuing him. He is one of the brightest minds but he doesn’t do as much in his own escape as I would have liked. Gyro Captain used his machine a lot in the battle, while Master doesn’t use the Methane Factory much at all against Aunty Entity’s men.

Max – Mel Gibson is back and has “Braveheart” hair. When he arrives he is looking for the camels and supplies the Pilot stole from him but he is soon sidetracked when Aunty Entity hires him to take out Blaster. He succeeds but doesn’t kill Blaster and reveals her plan leading to his exile. From here he guides the kids out of their worship of the dead Boeing 747 pilot and through his fighting for them helps them bring about a better world, as Savannah the leader of the tribe mentions at the end. In this way his arc is similar to the arc “The Road Warrior” but with much less loss. Still great, but I hoped his character would change more. Maybe part of his point is his disconnect from others and sacrifice because he can’t live in any society? After watching more of the Franchise I’ll do an analysis of Max, might have to wait for the films after “Fury Road” though, no idea how that film and the future films will change him, if at all.

The Message – The message is safeguarding the future by dealing with the reality of people. The kids were the few good people left so Max risked everything to protect them, and with Master no longer being a bully they had a good person to guide them towards a new future. In this way he safeguards the future that the narrator and leader of the tribe expresses to us at the end. No matter how horrible the world may look, there are those worth saving who can make it better, and those people exist in each new generation.

Okay: The Ending – The action is great but their escape is too easy. The pilot who stole from Max has little to no reason to help them beyond survival and he changes from a selfish father to someone willing to risk everything for strangers. It struck me as too inconvienent and felt Spielbergian not like George Miller. Too whimsical and not enough crazy.

The Cons: The Feral Children – The Feral Children didn’t work. The idea of them worshipping a pilot who would return was cool and interesting but they didn’t talk like children. The Feral Child from “The Road Warrior” only barked, grunted and howled and it was only after he found civilization in the North that he could speak. This clashed with that, they felt fake and didn’t seem wild at all. The fact that none of them died also took me out, it just made Aunty Entity weak, especially after how the Humungus killed most of the cast from the last film.

The Pilot – He functions more as a plot device and is a different character from the Gyro Captain even though it is still Spence who played the Gyro Captain. He only exists so our heroes can make their escape. He is “The Eagles” of the Tolkienverse in this film and I wish they’d had a way to depend on their brains and working together to get out, especially since Master is supposed to be one of the most brilliant minds in this Universe.

The Tone – I really liked the dark tone that the movies have had, this one had moments of it but felt like a Spielberg film the moment we ran into the Feral Children Tribe as they were protected from all damage by virtue of them being kids and nothing bad happens to them. It took all the risk out of it and made it more of a family film, which clashed with the insanity, brothels and mortality of Bartertown.

This was a really fun film, though I have issues with how the Feral Children were handled and the tone though the power struggle and the main characters really carry the film for me. It is enjoyable and I would recommend this film, it was a lot of fun and though I don’t like it nearly as much as I liked “The Road Warrior” it is a fun different direction the series went in, even if I don’t like the direction (less death more child actors)…the world is still amazing. I am looking forward to “Fury Road.”

Final Score: 7 / 10