“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

“House of Cards” Season 3 – Did Not Believe the Setup for the Fall

House_of_Cards,_season_3,_promo_image

        “House of Cards” Season 3 was another one of those seasons of missed potential. Kind of like the series of “Dexter” as a whole. There was a lot of enjoyable events that happened and the acting was fantastic, but there were so many thing narratively that just didn’t make sense and took me out of the story as well as the unbelievable changes that Frank and Claire went through as characters…changes that felt tacked on in order to create drama and didn’t fit the calm collected leaders we had seen them be prior. I’ll get into it more in the actual assessment, but this is the summary of some of the issues I had with the finished product.

    “House of Cards” was created by Beau Willimon and is one of the Producers on the series with David Fincher. There are a ton of writers and directors involved and when I do a lookback at individual episodes later (I think I will as the show is still great quality) I’ll give them the recognition they deserve. The series is also based off of the British series of the same name.

SPOILERS AHEAD

   Season 3 begins with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as President dealing with a Congress that is divided and cannot pass anything, along with his own party turning against him. With Claire (Robin Wright) nomination to the United Nations as a diplomat the threat of Russia is also a major threat. From here he must deal with these internal and the external threats of the press and political rivals as he seeks to pass America Works and his eventual run for re-election against the idealistic Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel).

The Pros: The Cinematography – The show continues to be beautifully presented and I really like how dark Washington DC looks as well as how trapped most of the characters are presented as feeling. The visuals are certainly on par with past seasons.

The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal continues to work his magic and gives us the dark drama of Washington. His sound is unique but I love it. It is great writing music and fits the theme of the Underwoods beautifully.

Heather Dunbar against Frank Underwood – The political arc in the run for the presidency and for the Democratic Nomination between these two is fantastic! Dunbar starts out as an idealistic politician who slowly becomes willing to work with those who have no moral qualms like Doug (who survived last season). Seeing these two face off should have been the focus of this season as she is a worthy rival and a compelling character who surprisingly wasn’t explored enough. She also reveals just how sociopathic Frank Underwood really is in how she pushes him to further desperation.

Doug Stamper’s Rehabilitation- This was done really well. Doug resists his addiction to alcohol and his obsession. He gives into his addiction when he feels abandoned by Frank Underwood (which felt out of character on Frank’s part) but we see him connect to his brother and work against Underwood with Heather Dunbar and later once again with Frank Underwood when he kills his obsession and gives over his soul for power again and leaves Dunbar.  The season ends with him once again Frank’s right hand man. Michael Kelly brings a lot of depth to this role.

Thomas Yates – Thomas Yates is a fiction author who Frank Underwood hires to write his story and to sell him to the general public. It is through Thomas we see how guarded the Underwoods are around others and one another (though this felt unbelievable in regards to the Underwoods this season). Still Yates was a great character, ex-prostitute and junkey who hooks up with the Nobel award winning journalist who is one of Frank’s major critics named Kate Baldwin.  He writes a story about how the Underwoods are power and their relationship is political (which I agree and disagree with) and that is when his story ends. He apparently helps Claire see that Frank only cares about Frank, which felt weak after all the exploration of the Claire and Frank relationship the last few seasons.

Middle East Conflict – The conflict takes place in the Jordan Valley and involves the United States trying to convince the United Nation to send peace keeping troops to the area to keep the peace. We see just how politically savvy Claire is on this when trying to get the different sides on the same table. It is successful for a while until Russia creates a crisis that leads to Claire losing her power and a return to the status quo.

Pussy Riot – This Russian Punk Rock band who is famous for protesting against the loss of liberty in Russia appears in this. They are handled much better than Russia is in my opinion and protest the Russian President’s visit with the Underwoods in the White House. They are later called heroes by Frank as another snub to Victor, the Russian President.

Heather Dunbar – Dunbar had a good arc even if she could have been fleshed out more…but this was supposed to be a show about the Underwood’s so the nature of the show hurt how her story is told. Still, her corruption was done really well overall this season. She’s a complicated person who realizes just how ambitious she is in the end and that she is willing to become Frank to get there. Elizabeth Marvel does an amazing job!

Okay: Kate Baldwin – This is a character who was ambitious and a noble reporter who sticks to her ethics (she won’t publish Yates’s story he wrote about the Underwoods because she is sleeping with Yates and it is a conflict of interest) but I never got her motivations fully.

The Cons: Russia and the United States/Victor and Frank – I get that they were trying to show how both men are after power for the sake of power and are sociopaths in touch with what the people want to hear in their nations but making it personal in regards to Claire and how Claire was handled felt weak. I also didn’t like how Victor was presented as an equal to Frank. This isn’t Littlefinger and Varys…not with how stupid Frank is this season and Victor isn’t much better. They are wrote to be brilliant but come off as really dense and unable to read people and situations. Maybe it’s an analogy for the actual foreign policies of said nations in reality?

The Frank and Claire Relationship – What happened? Season 1 and 2 establish that Frank and Claire are aware of the political ramifications of things and are willing to go the distance for the presidency and the United Nations because they know what they will do. In this one they did not. What happened? This season felt like the writers forgot about these characters and their relationship that was less romantic and driven by their shared desire for power and mutual respect for one another. None of that existed this season with the exception of the Mandala picture Frank gives Claire as a symbol of their eternal love…This is part of a bigger problem that I’ll go into next. In their rush to write Frank’s fall from power they’ve forsaken his relationships and his awareness in those relationships…

Frank Underwood and his Inner Circle – Claire Underwood, Doug Stamper, Seth Grayson, Remy Danton and later his alliance with Jackie Sharp. He gives them all the same speech that they are soldiers that must follow his lead or else they should get out of the way. Frank got hit with the stupid bat and it wasn’t because he was President since he had very little power as President because of Congress (which he didn’t plan for). This felt out of character because Frank values what people give him and they were all giving him a lot and her forsook that for no believable reason. He was just stupid.

Frank Underwood’s Lack of Plan – We see Season 1 his agenda to become the Vice President. He has plans within plans and is a Littlefinger type figure, in Season 2 we see his rise to become President and we see that he does have lines and is willing to stand for something when it serves the greater good in regards to the Underwoods and how they will appear to others in both cases he was shown to be good as the Whip and the Vice President…so what happened? He’s an incompetent President with America Works as his only plan. That isn’t the Frank Underwood from last season it’s just a dumb politician flailing.

   This is the weakest of the seasons, though when the series is taken as a whole it still stands. Maybe Season 4, if there is one can change the problems of this season, since the actors are still great as is the cinematography and music. There is still a lot of good even if this season felt like a house of cards. Where was the smart writing in regards to the Underwoods or what Frank planned to do when he was finally in power? This season had a lot of questions so it was hard to call it a great season. It had a lot of great ideas and the idea of a fall is good…but Frank Underwood has not been handled the way Walter White was handled. Heisenberg was King, Frank is President but feels like less than the House Majority Whip he was in Season 1.

Final Score: 8 / 10.

In the Loop (2009): A Brilliant Satire of the UK and USA’s Path to the Invasion of Iraq

In the Loop

I like the dry humor that comes out of the United Kingdom, especially when it is used to lampoon larger cultures or important issues. This irreverence towards authority ends up creating some pretty amazing satire of leaders and those under them as well as showing how flawed entire systems can be. This film is a critique of the system of the Invasion of Iraq, though it is never so blatant as to call the country Iraq and is more concerned with those underneath the Prime Minister and President, the soldiers making the narrative to war a reality. I’ll go more into what I mean in the assessment.

“In the Loop” was directed by Armando Ianucci who was also one of the writers along with Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche. It was also produced by Adam Tandy and Kevin Loader. It is a spin-off from the BBC Television series, “The Thick of It.”

The film follows different government officials in the US and UK government who are trying to promote or prevent the war after the Prime Minister of the UK and the President U.S. hint that war is coming to the Middle East. The main players being followed Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) who during an interview says that war is unforeseeable, which leads to the Prime Minister’s enforcer Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) telling him to toe the line. From here things unfold as Simon continues to go off script causing more conflict in both the U.S. and UK as parties seek to manipulate Simon to fit their agendas for or against war.

The Pros: The Premise – The world that this exists in is one where there aren’t consequences for breaking the law. In this world the worst consequences come from not towing the line. If you don’t tow the line you will lose your job. The world of “In the Loop” is one where everyone is selfish and only out for themselves and whoever above them they are working for…which ends up making it compelling in a way because it shows how broken the system is. People keep the march to war going because the President and Prime Minister want it, there isn’t any discussion on where and why, much like Iraq…because the ones at the top made the decision, you either go with it or get crushed by the wave. This makes it a great critique of the broken system that leads to so many unjust wars in the modern world.

The Comedy – The comedy is quick, sarcastic and brutal. This is best represented by Malcolm Tucker, who is cursing up a storm most of the times we see him, though the other characters are the same way in their dry wit. It is a lot of fun and the main reason to watch this film beyond the satire.

Liza Weld – Liza is the one who wrote the paper that is being used to go to war and being edited by folks in the UK and U.S. to make it look like it is evidence to go to war, when it is actually against war and has more cons listed than pros. She never gets the chance to stand up for the paper though as she is scared for her job most of the time and has no idea what her boss wants. She is a pretty great character though who manages to outlast the storm. Anna Chlumsky does great.

General George Miller – James Goldifini (of “Sopranos” fame) is wonderful in this role as the concerned but manipulative general who says he’ll stand by Karen and resign with her if the country goes to war, but is later seen to be two-faced when he doesn’t. He’s a calculating personality who doesn’t have fear.

Karen Clarke- Karen Clarke is the idealist with major stress problems. She is the one fighting the war path but loses in the process as the power players in the UK and U.S. work against her, leading to her resignation. Mimi Kennedy does a really good job.

Simon Foster – Tom Hollander (Cutler Beckett in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series) is the ponz who wants to stand up but doesn’t have the wit or brains to play the game. He is as reprehensible as the rest of the characters, as in the end he doesn’t care about the war, only about his position of power but he is fun to watch. He is someone who keeps trying to do something and be someone but in the end is just meat to be used by the much better players of the game. He is forced to resign by Malcolm Tucker at the end because of how he made waves and didn’t toe the line.

Malcolm Tucker – This guy is the biggest dick of the bunch and the funnest to watch. Capaldi is the enforcer and Prime Minister’s fixer which we see is complex as he has to do what the Prime Minster wants even if he’s against it. We see it when he caves to those going to war since war is what the Prime Minister wants and how he justifies it in saying, “It’s complicated.” He’s the corrupt government bureaucrat who knows how to get policy passed and done, even if it isn’t always legal. Peter Capaldi is a master in this role and it was great seeing him in it again.

The Message – Those in power will do what they want, even if lives are at stake with little regard for those underneath them or those whose lives they are affecting. Evidence and facts for the reasons to go to war become second behind the ideology and desire and towing the line becomes more important than transparency or actual justice. We saw this with the Iraq War and all the fake evidence to go as well as the major reason for invading being a lie and there not being any functional or construction of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Okay: The Minor Characters – Some of the minor characters are pretty forgettable. There is the intern who leaks Liza’s paper that is edited and used as an excuse to go for war, this is after he cheats on his girlfriend with Liza. There is his girlfriend who we never get to know, her boss who just likes listening to Opera and a few others. They also capture a bigger issue of everyone being pretty selfish pricks and that never being critiqued or called out.

The Ending – There isn’t much of an arc. The ending shows everything is pretty much business as usual, even if a few people have changed places or are leaving. This could have been powerful if we’d been made to care more about these people or see the consequences of what was to come in some way, or seen how they’d been changed by events beyond just being sad.

If you like political satire, the British Office or Peter Capaldi, chances are you will enjoy this film. I enjoyed it a lot even if I wouldn’t consider it great. It is clearly a spin-off from a show and at times feels like a very long television episode, which brings the quality of it down. It is still worth seeing though. This series also makes me want to see the tv series it came from. If the “Thick of It,” is in any way similar in humor and conflict, I think I’d enjoy it greatly.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. It’s very good satire.

Mobile Suit Gundam Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Gundam Rising” – The Consequences of War

Mobile Suit Gundam

“Gundam” is a huge franchise spanning multiple series, OVAs and movies, but the first one, “Mobile Suit Gundam” began in 1979 and lasted until 1980 and spanned 43 episodes. This is a series I’ve been meaning to watch as I love giant robots and politics and when they go together and have a larger message or messages, and have decent animation, well you’ve got me hooked.

The series was written and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and also writen Hajime Yataka and produced by Nippon Sunrise.

The Pilot episode “Gundam Rising” tells the story of Amuro Ray, a civilian whose colony is attacked by Zeon’s who are in a stalemate against the Federation who is constructing a Mobile Suit Gundam to combat the more powerful Zeon Mobile Suits. From here the episode unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the pilot:

The Pros: The World – The world is really cool, it takes place in the future in 2079 (0079 by the Calender in the episode) where the furthest colony of Zeon rebelled for independence and we are left wondering who is in the right as the Federation is seen as being indifferent in many ways and detached from it’s own populace. The war has come to a stalemate as both sides try to get the upper hand to end the war, regardless of the civilian cost.

Zeon – These guys are a great and complicated threat as of the first episode. We see Commander Char who is leading the attack to capture the Federation Gundam and he’s smart and involved as when a rookie causes the Federation to counter attack he joins the battle at the end of the episode to try and stop the mistake made from getting worse.

The Federation – This faction is protecting the colonies from Zeon but at the same time is almost a faceless military. Amuro’s father is the scientist who created the Gundam and we see him fearing more children having to become soldiers in the war, he’s the human face as the rest are just soldiers giving orders and reacting to Zeon.

Commander Char – This guy has a great design (red uniform, wears a hat and mask) and is the kind of enemy you don’t want to mess with. He is a strategist but also one who will fight for and with his men…making him a good and complicated antagonist.

Doctor Ray – Amuro’s father is one who invented the Gundam to end the war and so children won’t have to die in the conflict. He is the idealist who is unable to connect with his son, making him an intriguing character.

Okay: Amuro Ray – At this point he is sort of the everyday hero, there isn’t anything interesting about him. He is meant to be our eyes, but in the process he doesn’t have the chance to be shown to be that unique yet. We see the horror of war through his eyes, like when his friend loses her family and we see the fear as he get’s inside the Gundam and joins the fight since he discovered the manual to use it after the soldiers carrying it were destroyed in the Zeon attack. He is a character with potential. So not good or bad, just okay.

Fraw Bow – Is Amuro’s friend and has his problem, but we do see the possibility for character development as she loses her family in the Zeon attack. She is the one who keeps Amuro grounded as he is often lost in studying when we first meet him.

The Animation – Some of the animation is a bit shaky, which is a shame as the story is amazing!

Okay/Con – The theme song – The theme song is way to happy and in celebration of the Gundam, which stands at odds with the traumatic experience of war expressed in the episode. I hope the theme song changes later on in the series.

I want to see what happens next, so I would recommend this episode. Barring the theme song and the shaky animation at times it really is a solid story. It tells the story of the price of war and the ends people will go to end it which kicks off the story with the factions established and the beginning place for our heroes to grow from. I’ll be reviewing more of this show as well, just sporadically as I’ll be reviewing a few other things as well.

Final Score is 8.5 / 10

Battlestar Galactica Mini-Series Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1, 2 – “Night” – War, Politics, Religion and the Survival of the Human Race

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We continue Apocalypse Week with “Battlestar Galactica.” “Battlestar Galactica” is one of those shows that I will always come back to I think. The themes of religion, spirituality, history, politics, war and survival are handled so well that every time I watch the series I discover something new. I am of course referring to Ronald Moore’s re-imagining, I have not seen the “Original Battlestar Galactica,” but do plan on it at some point.

I still remember the first time I watched this episode and how excited I was at all the possibilities it offered in it’s stories and characters and the reality of the relationships and world it was already exploring. Very few Pilots manage to pull this off. I think what helps was a lot of the themes of religion, war, politics and purpose were explored by Moore in “Star Trek: Deep Space 9” but where DS9 was limited by being public television…there weren’t those limitations on “Battlestar Galactica” for better and for worse he could explore those themes fully.

“The story kicks off with history: The Cylons were created by the people of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol as a labor and military force. Approximately 52 years ago, the Cylons turned on their human creators and the Cylon War ensued. After an armistice was declared, the Cylons left the Colonies, ostensibly to seek a homeworld of their own.”

“The Colonials maintain an Armistice Station as a place where Cylon and Colonial representatives can meet in order to maintain diplomatic relations. However, the Cylons have never sent an ambassador. No one has seen a Cylon since the end of the Cylon War, over 40 years ago.”

This is done over the Cylons returning to the station and Six (played by Tricia Helfer) kissing the Colonial Representative before the station is destroyed. We then go to the different characters with Admiral Adama retiring the Battlestar Galactica and introduction to the main crew and characters…the main locations being Battlestar Galactica and those coming to Galactica via way of Caprica…the most important characters being Gaius Baltar who invented the security (and gave over the data to a Cylon Six he was sleeping with and didn’t know she was a Cylon) that the Cylons hijacked to destroy the Colonies and Laura Roslin who is the Secretary of Education who finds herself President (and recently learned he had Cancer) when the Cabinet is destroyed on Caprica. From here the story unfolds.

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Here is the assessment of the Pilot Epidodes:

Pros: The Music – In this instance the music was largely composed by Richard Gibbs and he does a fantastic job and creating tension with the creating of tension in battle and all the different feelings with the end of the world.

The World: Ronald Moore did a great job with his writers creating this world. There are 12 Colonies, 12 Cylons and such a diverse cast of characters from different backgrounds that we barely scratch the surface but are still given so much. We know about the last Cylon War, the silence of the Cylons and that they fear being destroyed again and are reacting as such. We also see the Cylons have an extreme belief in a single God while the Colonists are believe in many Gods. We see the military relationships between the civilians and government via Laura Roslin and the conflict in the military among the military through Lee and his father Admiral Adama and Starbuck and the XO Tigh. We also see the relationships and power dynamics between ships and Cylons a bit too.

The Premise: The premise takes the robots and nuclear destruction of humans but does something interesting with it…the robots are given humanity and reasons for what they do and we see conflict among the human factions…which rarely happens in movies that go this route (see “The Terminator Series”). This unique twist and adding religion to the mix with the Cylons being a believer in God adds more depth to a premise that is usually taken as pretty simple.

The Action: There are quite a few ship battles and a lot of destruction…from the nuking of Caprica and destroying of civilian vessels by the Cylons…to the battles between Vipers (Colonial) and Raiders (Cylons). It really drives it too since there is so much desperation. Each fight is a literal fight for survival, as humanity is far outmatched.

The Colonials – More on what I said above but very brief…the military, civilian and government relationships are really rich in this episode. We see different people and groups reacting to the end of the world and doing what they can to survive or help as many people as they can to survive or to fight. This is the group experiencing the apocalypse and the destruction of their worlds and lives.

The Cylons – There are 12 Human looking copies and over the course of the episode we meet 4. Spoilers being one of the main characters in the Colonial Fleet is in fact a Cylon. The new Centurions and Raiders look really awesome too. They have a sleek and deadly design.

The Characters – The characters and character relationships are the strongest part of this series, besides some of the messages so I’m going to say now that any character who gets exploration…isn’t a dull character. They are really interesting and intriguing and have great dynamics with others.

Admiral Adama – Edward James Olmos is one of the greatest actors for a reason. We see it in this with how he is a man dealing with finally having a normal relationship with his divorced wife, his son who died from him pressuring him to join the force and his other son Lee Adama (Apollo) blames him for all of that. He is the heart of the fleet besides Roslin who pulls the people together and fights to defend the human race when he realizes that they’ve lost the war after President Roslin helps him to see. He is the one who gives the lie of Earth to the Fleet to give them hope and reminds them that their lives are worth fighting for, as well as apologizing to Lee in regards to his son and their relationship. Starbuck the rebel fighter pilot is also like a daughter to him, contrasted with the fact that she hates the XO Tigh who is one of Adama’s closest friends.

Laura Roslin – Mary McDonnell is wonderful in this role as someone both empathetic and strong. She holds the civilians together and finds survivors to bring to Galactica. She is also the one who reminds Adama that they need government and structure so that the people can be cared for. She was originally the Secretary of Education, and also found out she has cancer at the start of the episode.

Gaius Baltar – James Callis plays an awesome anti-hero. Gaius Baltar is the scientist who unknowingly gave over the security information to the Cylons since he was sleeping with a Cylon Six model. You see his selfishness of the bat in that he cheats on her and is watching interviews of himself and when the bombs fall he is first thinking how not to take responsibility…but than we see him use his information via Head Six (A Six living inside his mind) to reveal who the Cylon Mole is on the ship. He also sticks up for an older lady when he could have taken her ticket given his past actions. His most telling statement is at the end. “I am on no one’s side.” This is his anti-hero character for a lot of the series, which gives him lots of room to grow. His character arc is what makes him one of my favorite characters, and the awkwardness of how Callis plays him.

Lee “Apollo” Adama – Has a thing for Starbuck, blames his dad for his brother’s death and his brother was married to Starbuck. His life is complicated. He is the idealist though and it shines through and also the one whose goal seems to be to get out of his father’s shadow and make his own path. We see this in how he advocates for government and Roslin to be respected and his confronting of his dad. For him the big thing was finding out Starbuck was the one who passed his brother when he should have failed, throwing their complicated friendship into jeopardy, just as he is beginning to heal with his dad. Jamie Bamber does great.

Kara “Starbuck” Thrace – She is the arrogant fighter pilot who truly is the best at what she does. She doesn’t put up with crap (largely from the drunk XO Tigh) and is willing to risk her life at the drop of a hat for others. She also has a lot of baggage via helping her lover pass flight school when he was unqualified and the fact that she loved his brother Lee. Her story is fascinating and I can’t wait to write more about it when I review more of the series later. Katie Sackhoff became unforgettable in this role.

Caprica Six / Head Six – They are two different characters but the same actress Tricia Helfer. Caprica Six loves Baltar even though he doesn’t love her and saves him when the apocalypse comes. Head Six could be Angel, Demon or Hallucination is what is implied at this point and has a mental and sexual relationship with Baltar. She guides and manipulates his actions for his and her gain. Both are great characters.

Sharon “Boomer” Valerii – Played by Grace Park, she is the one who is a bit of a rookie and the main savior of a lot of the people as she helps President Roslin when they meet up with her and the fleet later on. She is stubborn and quick to anger and also in love with Chief Tyrol. They have a secret relationship and a great dynamic as they play fight. She is great as the officer who finds her footing. Also, she’s a Cylon who doesn’t know she is. We see another model of her at the end of the episode in the Cylon Meet up.

Chief Tyrol – Major feeler type He is the guy who you see in his face when he loses crewmembers to a Cylon Nuke and the desperation of survival. He is good at his job and very no-nonsense. His relationship to Sharon also feels real.

Karl “Helo” Agathon – Helo is the guy who makes the noble sacrifice on Caprica. He gives up his seat for Baltar so that the human race will have a better chance at survival. He is also the one who helps Sharon find her cool. Tahmoh does great and I can see why fan reaction brought him back when he was supposed to die this episode.

Gaeta, Dee and Billy – These three are very minor characters at this point but good in what they do. They give us glimpses of humanity. Gaeta is the one who idealizes leaders like Baltar and Adama and with it has hope, Dee is the one who has lost but sees hope in relationship via Billy and through Billy we see the loss on his face and him trying to work as his family was destroyed in one of the colonies. Billy is Roslin’s aide and they have some good moments.

Leobon and Doral – Doral is the everyday press mole who poses the dilemma of imprisonment without evidence and Leobon is the fanatic who nearly kills Adama. He is the religious fanatic to the Cylon Cause that we see outside of Six. We see them at the end with a Sharon and Six too in the military base that the Colonials had escaped to temporarily before jumping into deep space.

The Choices – Should one stay to try and save all when the chance of annihilation of all is at hand? Should people be imprisoned without evidence if they are suspect in a war of annihilation? What people should be saved when facing extinction? What is a just war? These are all the questions and choices faced in the episode and part of what makes this such a great series, beyond all the characters.

This is one of the best if not the best pilot of a tv series I have ever seen. I can’t recommend it enough. If you like character dramas, moral dilemmas, politics and war this is definitely your show and this episode is a great introduction. Can’t wait till when I do a look back and review the rest of the series.

“So say we all!”

Final score for this episode is 10 / 10. One of the best sci. fi. and television show pilots I’ve ever seen.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Pilot – Emissary Part 1 and 2 – The Fallout of War and Occupation

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“Ironic. One who does not wish to be among us is to be the Emissary.” -Kai Opaka

The third week of the Star Trek Pilot Episodes Series brings us to “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” is one of my all time favorite Sci. Fi. shows. The themes it deals with (Religion, War, Occupation and Politics). The Episodes follow Commander Sisko  (the first Captain who doesn’t begin as a Captain) and his arrival at Deep Space Nine after losing his wife to Captain Picard as Locutus in the Battle of Wolf 359, the series was a spinoff of The Next Generation and you can see it with Picard leaving O’Brien behind to be Sisko’s Chief Engineer. We then jump three years forward to Sisko arriving on a broken DS9 and Post-Occupation Bajor, both places are wounded and broken a reflection of Sisko who is feeling the death of his wife that he has refused to face. It is a powerful opening and when Sisko arrives he meets all the players (the Ensemble cast, Dukat and the Bajoran Prophets).

Here is my assessment of the Episode:

The Tone: Unlike “Encounter at Farpoint,” “Emissary” starts with so much at stake. Bajor is at stake and Sisko and many others are in a new place they have no idea how to deal with, they could easily mess things up with Bajor or have another war with Cardassia. You can see this in the broken spaceship and broken Sisko who is still living the Battle of Wolf 359, it isn’t bright and happy…it captures the true realities of what people face, which is important to see so front and center on a show.

The Characters – DS9 is my favorite crew. There is Odo the only of his kind at this point (an alien shape-shifter and security officer), the everyman O’Brien (who has a history of bad blood with Cardassia having fought in the war), Quark (the first 3 Dimensional Ferengi, a practical bar owner), Garak (a former Cardassian spy), Jazdia Dax (the next Dax (Kurzon being Sisko’s former mentor), Bashir (the idealistic Doctor) and Major Kira (the former Bajoran Resistance Fighter) and of course Dukat (the former Prefect of Bajor, the man responsible for the occupation).

The themes: Occupation (a recovering government who is looked down upon by the Federation – Bashir’s “I chose the wilderness,” implying Bajor is the wilderness. Religion (the Bajoran orbs and Sisko being chosen as the one to speak for them (The Prophets are Bajor’s Gods and also Wormhole aliens), Moving on (Sisko facing the death of his wife Jennifer and choosing to live and help heal Bajor and the Station while dealing with his own healing).

The Ensemble cast – Not everyone who is a main cast member is a member of the crew, which you didn’t see in Trek’s up to this point with the exception of Guinan. This was perfect because it showed that the Federation was not perfect by giving those other perspectives. Not to mention that we have children on the station in the role as children (Sisko and Nog as examples). The set up was perfect and they had a great payoff. The Federation is important but not the only players…there are Bajoran, Cardassian, Civilian and Federation players right from the beginning.

Gul Dukat – The best villain in Trek. A complex baddie who is a charming meglomaniac.

Benjamin Sikso – Avery Brooks does a masterful job playing Commander Sisko, from dealing with the post Wolf 359 Trauma of losing his wife, his conflict with Picard and the station’s crew members and with the Prophets (teaching them about corporeal linear life forms and them teaching him how to move forward). There is a reason Captain Sikso (as he would be later) is my favorite of the Captains.

The ending – Sets the stage for later conflicts. Bajor is still going through political and religious strife as well as with the Cardassians and Federation. Sikso also has accepted his place and is able to resolve his differences with Picard on a professional level since he has finally left the ship where his wife died and is ready to command Deep Space Nine.

Okay – Some of the acting. You can tell some of them are new…none of them are as bad as Troi or Wesley though so I won’t put that in the cons. None of the actors are ever painful to watch and there are some good performances, but a lot of okay ones too.

Music – Isn’t memorable. Not bad, but not great. This would be standard Trek since TNG they got rid of their composer, at this point Star Trek only had stock musical varieties to try out that aren’t bad but aren’t good.

“Emissary,” is the best of the pilots. It establishes what the series will cover in full in regards to themes and establishes Dukat as the primary protagonist and the Prophets as one of the main people to shape the series (and even Odo as being the Outsider who was discovered around this area). All of these things that the Pilot establishes have payoff later, even receiving more good from TNG (O’Brien and later Worf), which only adds to the political and philosophical complexity of the show. I highly recommend this show for any lover of political sci. fi…it is here that you see many of the seeds and themes that Ronald Moore would use later in the new Battlestar Galactica. This is a show I’ve enjoyed watching since High School and don’t see ever getting old. “Deep Space Nine,” is the best of the Star Treks.

I would rate “Emissary” as 9 / 10. There are enough great themes, acting and writing to elevate over a simple good episode.

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