10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): A Nearly Perfect Thriller That Chokes at the End

10 Cloverfield Lane

   “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a nearly perfect “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” type movie as so much of what makes it work is subverting expectations of a reality and telling a personal story through the eyes of a single person. This story would have been a 10 / 10 if not for what it does at the very end. Also, this is not a sequel to “Cloverfield.” This is a story that stands individually and isn’t connected to the other film at all, “Cloverfield” is more of a marketing way of connecting an anthology of these type of films from what I understand…though if they choose to do a sequel they could keep going the anthology route or make them all connected within the universe as a whole. Non-spoiler thoughts before my review. You should see this film, even though the problem I have in the 3rd act brought it down from perfect to merely great.

   The film was directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle and produced by J.J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber.

      The story involves Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is running away from her fiance when she is ran off the road and wakes up chained in a bunker. From here she must figure out what happened to the outside world and why Howard (John Goodman), the owner of the bunker and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), someone who fought to enter the bunker that he helped make.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros: Tone and Tension – The tone is dark and there is an aura of threat throughout the film, from the cramped nature of the bunker…to the threat of Howard and his constant entitlement on those around him as he sees them as only existing for him. You never feel safe with the character and the outside world is threat too…making it a lose lose situation for the characters we follow.

Cinematography – Jeff Cutter is great at cinematography…this is a film that focuses on the individual and personal, the trapped and wanting to be free from that cramped space. The use of dark and light capture that wonderfully and the bunker and outside world never stop feeling like a cage until the very end.

Soundtrack – Bear McCreary is one of my favorite directors and he is a master at using music to create tension. From his work in “The Walking Dead,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” this is a guy who owns the darker soundtrack, and this film captures that brilliantly.

The Bunker – The bunker is awesome. It shows us Howard’s humanity and the threat of this person too, as we see his collection of DVDs and VHSs and how the family room looks like a family room. We also see how it is a prison too as Michelle’s room looks like an actual prison and Emmett doesn’t even have a room. This is Howard’s playground and he is the Warden of their prison.

The Mystery – The mystery is two-fold. Who is Howard and why did he knock Michelle off the road? What happened to the outside world? What was the event? Over the course of the film we learn Howard is most likely a pedophile murder, definitely a murder as he kills Emmett when Emmett says he tried to steal his gun to impress Michelle and aliens are invading the outside world, proving one of Howard’s conspiracy theories true. The reveals are handled so well and it built slowly over time.

Emmett – Emmett built the bunker and had to fight to get into it as he built it for Howard. This was a free living guy and we learn that he is full of regrets but is capable of being present with  people and living for more than himself. He is the one who tries to help Michelle escape and gives his life to help her escape. John Gallagher Jr. really did a great job.

Howard – Howard is the antagonist and is creepy and human. He is most likely a pedophile murder as Michelle discovers “HELP” written from the inside of one of the escape hatches and he sees Emmett and Michelle as entitled to him. He is toxic, even though he is given human moments too as we see him connect to Michelle at a few points as he describes her as his daughter, though we never know if he’s telling the truth and that works. This is a character who is broken and it is hard to pin down the full reasons why. Him creating the Bunker makes complete sense, and it takes a lot for Michelle to beat him and escape. John Goodman better get a nomination for this. He deserves it.

Michelle – Michelle is our hero and who begins the story running away from her relationship but over the course of the film chooses to stop running and stand…from making a gas mask and suit to protect from radiation on the outside and her fighting Howard and using all her skills to get out and finally making the choice to join the human Resistance in rebellion against the aliens. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an amazing job. I felt for everything she was going through and seeing her growth through the film is handled so well.

The Cons: The Alien Fight – This was stupid. The aliens have a boring look, where they are a mouth and that is it and they have bioships. The fight goes on way too long and happens right after she escapes the house. Seriously, there was no reason for this fight to happen. Michelle had gained control of her life already when she rebelled against Howard’s control and made her own escape. The fight serves no purpose, she already fought Howard, let her reward be that she chooses to fight on without having to deal with the aliens the moment she escapes the Bunker.

 This was a film that would have made the Top 5 I think, if not for that alien fight at the end. She was out of the house. Her being free should have been the point, as she could have learned about the Resistance in the Bunker and it would have set things up better so she still drives to Houston. Instead we get a pointless fight versus the fight against Howard, which was the one that mattered. I would still recommend this film, it truly is great…but it chokes at the end and that is why I will only score it as a solid great. This is a film that could have been perfect, but falls merely to great.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

The X-Files – Season 10, Episode 2 – “Founder’s Mutation” – Experiments and Loss

Founder's_Mutation

     We return to “The X-Files” with an actual X-File, though still connected to the overall mystery too, which is great. This is a episode that could have been so much more, but for what it is manages to be enjoyable. There were a few different ways things could have been taken and rather than getting questions answered we are shown more of what Sculley and Mulder are feeling, which was needed but overshadowed everything else sadly.

    The episode was written and directed by James Wong, who wrote some of the best early “X-Files” episodes.

      The story involves a Sculley and Mulder investigating a scientist who went mad and tried to export files from his company. They soon discover a darker plot as the FBI and company attempt to uncover up what drove the scientist mad.

The Pros: An X-File – It is great having a standard X-File as it truly shows they are looking into all the unknowns again! I liked that it is connected to the overall myth arc too.

Walter Skinner – Skinner is the disproving boss once again, but after so long he does have their back and supports them as he can, even with his hands being tied by the conspiracy.

Fox Mulder – In this we see how much Mulder misses his son as kids are who the organization is experimenting on. It is great seeing that tender side of him as this and last episode he’s just been tired and stressed. It humanized the character a lot and I felt for his loss. He has dreams of being with son that end with his son being abducted the same way his sister was.

Dana Scully – Like Mulder’s humanity I felt Scully’s too. We see her in the mother role in this in how she is able to take care of relate to the interviewee who had a lost a child and how she reached out to the kids who were the experiments.

Okay: The Experiments – We meet the kids who are experiments but nothing substantial is done with them. We never get their stories and thoughts and they exist more as a plot device for Scully and Mulder to miss their child.

The Cons: The Antagonists – The antagonists are just bland. Whether it’s the government or the company their idealistic reasons didn’t fit because the actors gave them mean looking faces. They weren’t complicated, just greedy and that is a waste in any show. The mysterious owner of the organization was completely forgettable too.

   This episode was not as good as the pilot of Season 10 but is still worth checking out. It has some great personal moments for our main characters, even if the overall mystery arc doesn’t quite work. Still worth checking out though.

7 / 10

Alien (1979): A Brilliant Horror Classic and Introduction to an Amazing World

Alien 1979 poster

      I think I like “Aliens” more than “Alien,” but “Alien” is a really good at establishing Ridley Scott’s world and has some of the best tension building in any horror movie, even if the alien itself really isn’t that scary. It’s now what it looks like, but what it does that makes it such a great threat that leaves our heroes always on the run. It is certainly one of Ridley Scott’s classics for a reason.

    The film was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett and produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill.

     The story involves the crew of the Nostromo taking on an unknown life form and dealing with the consequences of it as reveals about the Corporation they are working for come to the forefront and the alien threat is revealed to be far greater than expected.

The Pros: Tone – The tone is wonderful and has some of the best tension building in any film! We get to see an unknown world and confining ship where no one fully trusts one another as they are a crew of mercenaries serving a corporation. Over the course of the film they have to depend on one another but are so outgunned by the Xenomorph that they never stood a chance, and terror begins.

The World – The world is really cool! I wanted to know more about the Corporation as we learned so much about how Xenomorphs grow and develop and how dangerous they are we see a large dead alien around where all the eggs are. There is a sense of terror and mystery from the very beginning and the human ships are designed to be advanced but still look very raw.

The Xenomorph – The Xenomorph is awesome! It grows quickly, has acid blood and is a full fledged predator, hunting from the shadows and using other humans as bate. It clearly is the perfect hunter and that is what makes it’s hunt of our crew so fun to watch.

Dallas – Dallas is the character who would be the hero in a standard sci. fi. action film as he is the bearded hero and the captain of the ship. In this he isn’t though, though we see that he is smart though he is a moment of idiocy when lets an infected crewmember on the ship which makes everything go sideways and to his eventual death by the Xenomorph. Tom Skerritt does a great job.

Ash – Ash is the android who at the end of the day serves the Corporation. His mission is to bring back the Xenomorph so the corporation can turn it into a weapon they can use and therefore the crew is expendable. Ian Holm does great job as the character who isn’t fully human but human enough that we see him have a relationship with the crew even if in the end they are just means to an end for him.

Ripley – This is one of Sigourney Weaver’s best roles. Ripley is a character who is rough and has been doing her mercenary work for a long time but still has a connection to home via the cat and her daughter. These things humanize her and give her motivation and a reason to survive and get home when things start going south as the Xenomorph kills the crew and hunts her.

The Cons: The Other Characters – Lambert just screams and cries the entire time and the other crewmembers including John Hurt are forgettable. They all feel disposable because we don’t get to know them or their motivations.

The Corporation – The Corporation is just evil and I wish we got to know it more. The motivations don’t feel fleshed out and getting a Xenomorph is on par with Umbrella in “Resident Evil,” and all their bio-weapons where all the scientists end up dead.

   This was an amazing horror and sci. fi. film and one of my favorites. This is a classic of cinema for a lot of reasons not the least of which are the wonderful, haunting designs of H.R. Giger and the beautiful directing by Ridley Scott. The film has wonderful build up and payoff and the only things that really bring it down are a lot of the minor characters are forgettable and the Corporation doesn’t make much sense in it’s motivation.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Rick and Morty – Season 1, Episode 2 – “Lawnmower Dog” – Incepting the Dream and Liberation

Lawnmower_Dog

      “Lawnmower Dog” is hilarious! It has two arcs that are both really good and come together in the end, though they are a little confusing as for what the final outcome is as it could all just be a dream, which is part of the joke.

      The story involves Rick and Morty Incepting Mr. Goldenfold so that he will give Morty an “A” but things soon go wrong as they find he is an active dreamer while elsewhere the Rick gives Snuffle the family’s dog a device to make him smarter and he begins to plot the fall of man.

The Pros: Mr. Goldenfold – Mr. Goldenfold is hilarious as he’s obsessed with Mrs. Pancakes and Wheat Thins and controls his dream to the point that Rick and Morty’s attempt to Incept him on their own fails and they have to Incept Mrs. Pancakes.

The “Inception Arc” – This arc is hilarious as they go deeper and deeper into the dream eventually running into the supressed area and fear where Scary Terry lives and after they figure out Scary Terry’s fear they help him overcome it and he helps them incept Mr. Goldenfold and is later seen chilling with Rick.

Scary Terry – Scary Terry loves to say “Bitch” as his catchphrase and his family he is taking care of. He is afraid of a teacher in his past and not having any pants which has lead to him being unsuccessful as a scarer but after Rick and Morty help him he defeats all levels of the dream.

The Snuffles Arc – Rick gives Jerry a device that helps Snuffles learn and grow in intelligence which leads to a takeover of the world and humans being enslaved, though we soon learn it was all a dream as Rick incepted him to show that it would lead to Morty’s death so the dogs leave to another dimension to live in peace.

Snuffles/Snowball – Snuffles sees how humans have mistreated dogs and plots to raise their intelligence (like Ceaser in “Planet of the Apes”) and when he finds that his balls were cut off he turns on the family. He eventually realizes peace can only be away from humankind after Morty dies in the dream he is shown so he leaves giving a heartfelt goodbye. He also takes Snowball as his newname  seeing Snuffles as his slave name.

Rick – Rick is hilarious and his madness comes in handy as he chills with Scary Terry at the end and the possibility of this whole episode just being his dream is suggested in the process.

Morty – Morty is the good guy in this episode as it is Snuffles’s love of him that makes him spare humankind from the dogs taking over after he would be making them all intelligent like him. He also is the one who gives Scary Terry pants which makes them his and Rick’s friend which leads to successful Incepting of Mr. Goldenfold.

Okay: Jerry – He just causes trouble by asking for Rick to make the device to make Snuffles smarter. He’s just kind of there and doesn’t really have an arc except for being happy for the dogs when they say good-bye to Morty to travel to their own dimension.

This episode is hilarious and it’s two arcs manage to flow together perfectly creating one of my favorite episodes. It has great comedic timing and the jokes payoff, especially since the episode is one giant gag that pays off really well and even has tender moments like Scary Terry getting over his fear and having joy with his family as well as Snuffles/Snowballs saying good-bye to Morty.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

The “Terminator” Franchise – Worst to Best

SCC_102_cromarties_skull

     Much like the “Jurassic Park” Franchise, the “Terminator” Franchise is based in a B Movie and really carries that all the way through. The times it is greater than a B Movie are the times we have characters, arcs and beautiful cinematography…but the soundtrack never really grew beyond it’s B Movie basis and that influence is something in all the films, as well as the television show.

       This is a Franchise that has not aged well. Unlike the “Jurassic Park” Franchise, the lessons from the first 2 “Terminator” films are forgotten in all the rest and the series seems unable to let itself be done, even when it messes up royally. This is a shame as this Franchise has brought in some really good talent and I can even respect some of the weird side projects that happened, since they at least tried to be more original while still honoring the core protagonists and antagonists of the Franchise (Skynet and the Resistance). But at the end of the day, this is a Franchise I just wish was done. The story has been told and if you aren’t going to end it and simply tease that maybe the mission wasn’t successful and Skynet will come back…than you are just treading water, and static is what kills any ongoing story. Stories have to change, or they’ll die to the audience and to themselves.

    So without further ado, here are the stories from the “Terminator” Franchise (including the “Sarah Connor Chronicles”) from worst to best.

Terminator_3_poster

6th – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

“Rise of the Machines” feels cheap, I mean made for the SyFy Channel cheap. The characters aren’t memorable at all, except maybe John Connor and Arnold’s T-101 is simply there to make horrible references to the other 2 films and to be a dick to John Connor and a really terrible father figure. Future John sending this version back made no sense, especially since they are dealing a very poorly designed and executed T-X who takes the Super Models as Robots trope and just runs with it. She never feels like a threat and the cinematography and writing are just terrible. It is one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

Final Score: 2 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/terminator-3-rise-of-the-machines-2003-feels-like-a-made-for-television-movie-and-misses-what-made-its-predecessors-good/

Terminator-Genisys-poster-final

5th – Terminator Genisys (2015)

    Where “Rise of the Machines” is simply bad, “Genisys” is incoherent…which is sad because there could have been a great film in here about Skynet’s fall and the last of of Kyle Reese going back in time to complete the loop…but the story keeps going and we have an old T-101 acting as Sarah Connor’s father figure, a T-1000 because reasons and Time Machines in the present that Arnold’s T-101 was able to build because REASONS! Also the poster is a spoiler in regards to the plot and I never got why that plot decision was made as Sarah has never met her future son. This should have been called “Terminator: Referynce” as that is the only coherent thing holding this plot together when they Jettison the first act to play Fanservice with the first 2 Terminator films. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese are also really bland as characters and cannot carry this film.

Final Score: 6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/terminator-genisys-2015-terminator-referynce-with-a-great-missed-story/

/Terminator Salvation

4th – Terminator Salvation (2009)

    “Salvation” has a lot of interesting ideas and in my opinion Christian Bale is the best John Connor and Anton Yelchin is the best Kyle Reese. The others are teens or are faceless blunt action stars who have no personality…these guys do and that is what saves the sometimes incoherent confusion that is sometimes the plot as we have an early cyborg as our hero who was once an ex-convict seeking redemption and the truth of who he is. Seeing the reality where Skynet has destroyed the world and the politics between John Connor and the Council of Humanity is really cool too as they all deal with questions of destiny and the hard choices during war where you deal with an enemy who can take your form.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/terminator-salvation-2009-when-redemption-means-death/

The Terminator Poster

3rd – The Terminator (1984)

    “The Terminator” is a solid action B Film. It doesn’t strive to be more which is why I only consider it good and I do think that more could have been done with Sarah Connor’s agency (Kyle Reese is the main person fighting the Terminator up until Sarah finally fights it at the end) and these are things that keep it in it’s era as a solid 80’s B Action Flick. Arnold does a great job as the T-101 Terminator threat and Michael Biehn is a good Kyle Reese, though it is Linda Hamilton who truly carries this film by subverting the 80’s action trope and her boyfriend rather than her getting Fridged by the monster to motivate the future films. It’s sad we don’t have more female action heroes. This is the film that starts this though I think that is shown better in “T2” and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

Final Score: 8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-terminator-1984-a-good-thriller-with-a-decent-heroine-arc/

:Sarah Connor Chronicles poster

2nd – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

    “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is a show that ends with a cliffhanger but still manages to be good than the original “Terminator,” which does have a complete story and ending. Why is this the case? The core answer is the characters go through arcs and change over the course of the film. Sarah Connor learns to finally let go of John, John becomes the Resistance leader, which is a destiny he is always fighting against and characters like Agent Ellison become allies against Skynet after hunting Sarah and Catherine Weaver is willing to deal with humanity again as her 3rd Faction shows that A.I. is not all out to destroy humankind. The character of John Henry (an early Skynet A.I. that could become Skynet or destroy Skynet) is handled really well too and through him we see explorations of morality just as our heroes make tough choices showing that none of them are really good, they’re just survivors. This is what elevates it above “The Terminator” even with the Cliffhanger ending since the series got canceled. Lena Heady is awesome as Sarah Connor and Summer Glau is wonderful as the Terminator ally Cameron.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/terminator-the-sarah-connor-chronicles-retrospect-good-ideas-and-characters-killed-by-a-cliffhanger/

Terminator 2 poster

1st – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

    “T2” still stands as the greatest of the Franchise. The T-1000 is a brilliant threat, everyone changes including Arnold’s T-101 who becomes human as we see him no longer terminate humans and actually grow close to John Connor. Linda Hamilton is the best action hero in this too as the unstable prophet who knows the end is coming and is doing all in her power to fight the machines. Her arc is also growing beyond her fear of the machines as we see her have a respect for the T-101 that saves their life. This film also has a huge bent of being anti-authority and it handles it well, from taking down the big business that will become Skynet and the fact that the T-1000 takes the form of a cop and uses that form to infiltrate areas and become a part of the hunt for Sarah Connor after she escapes the asylum. All these things are part of what make this film a classic and one of my all time favorite films and my only favorite film and story of this Franchise.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/terminator-2-judgment-day-1991-a-reflective-action-film-on-destiny-the-soul-and-choice/

     This is a Franchise that should just die unless it gets a “Fury Road” re-imagining that allows it to do something in such a new way with a greater point to it. At this point the Franchise is running in place, recycling points and scenes (looking at you “Genisys” and “T3” and “Salvation” to a degree) and that is why no one really looks on this Franchise fondly anymore. It has killed the goodwill that the first 2 films created and it has been running on the nostalgia of those 2 films ever since. It is this dependence on nostalgia that I think will kill the Franchise in the end. You change and adapt or you die and at the end of the day I don’t think this Franchise will make money if it continues the trend it has been going on since “T2.” I like sci. fi., Time Travel, Robots and resistance but at some point if a series has run out of ideas, let a new story be allowed the same opportunity James Cameron got when he made that first film.

The “Jurassic Park” Franchise – From Worst to Best

 Jurassic Park Series

     As someone who has always been interested and fascinated in dinosaurs, since I was a kid these are films that I’m grateful have been such high of quality as they as they are. At the core these are B Films with Dinosaurs in the place of monsters with our heroes put into survival situations where they must escape the bigger threat and in the process maybe learn some larger moral point.

      Steven Spielberg’s directing of the first 2 films and John Williams’s score cannot be overstated as well. These two are masters of their work and you can feel their influence (direct or otherwise) in all of these films.

      Besides dinosaurs this is a film where scientists are the heroes of the story. So often scientists are the villains of stories like this and there is nothing to define them outside of madness and maybe some misguided idealism. In this the scientists are the heroes who must rescue the future generations (the kids who are in these films to show us awe of dinosaurs and to be rescued) and to give warning to whatever idiot believes they can control nature/dinosaurs. This is the basic structure of these films, and honestly all of the work. So without further here are my thoughts on the films of the Franchise, starting from the worst and working my way up to the one I believe to be the best.

Jurassic World

4th – Jurassic World (2015)

      “Jurassic World” is a film that isn’t bad. The sad thing there are quite a few things I like about this film, such as the owner of the park and B.D. Wong’s scientist. Where it fell apart was the kids never struck me as afraid because they were dealing with CGI and not models and our heroes (Claire and Owen) were archetypes and never grew beyond that. The big fight at the end was way to fanservicey as well. I did come for the dinosaurs, but even I don’t believe that 3 competing hunters would team up against a larger threat, nature doesn’t tend to work that way and it struck me as only servicing the plot. As a side note, the raptors in this are wonderful though and what would have put this film higher on the list would have been more time with them and the dinosaurs. Humans were the weak link in this film.

Final Score: 7 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/jurassic-world-2015-best-characters-wasted-and-not-enough-time-with-dinosaurs/

Jurassic Park 3

3rd – Jurassic Park III (2001)

      This is a film that is very aware it is a B Film so should be treated as such. It captures the essence of “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park” well too as our characters are simply trying to survive and the raptors never stop being a threat. The mercenary leader feels like an actual character too, as does the couple with the failing marriage and even the survivor kid…which is more than I can say for “Jurassic World.” Also, Spinosaurus should not have been the main threat and the talking Raptor in Dr. Alan Grant’s dream was a really stupid idea and this film rightly gets criticism for that. If you are looking for an enjoyable B Dinosaur flick though, I’d give this film another chance.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/jurassic-park-iii-2001-a-fun-shlocky-b-movie-that-captures-the-spirit-of-jurassic-park/

rThe Lost World Jurassic Park

2nd – The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

    Lightning struck twice for Spielberg as both the films he directed in this Franchise are favorites of mine. When I was a kid “The Lost World” was my favorite because the Raptors were taking out everyone and it was wonderful seeing the Dinosaurs stay actual threats throughout the entire film, and I liked the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm. In hindsight it isn’t as strong as the original though and here is why…the villain who is Hammond’s nephew is completely one-dimensional evil businessman and is just stupid and Kelly, Ian’s daughter never grows beyond berating her dad. She is static and that is a shame. She also had a stupid scene where she kicks a raptor doing gymnastics…so all these factors put it below the Original even though it is still a favorite film of mine.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/the-lost-world-jurassic-park-1997-humanitys-conflict-with-nature-and-finding-balance/

jurassic-park-movie-poster-1992-1020141477

1st – Jurassic Park (1993)

This film is a classic for a reason. You have a great cast of characters (Dr. Ellie, Ian and Alan), Hammond is our flawed dreamer who build the engine of his own destruction through the park and refusing to pay his employees well and this is this is the film that truly captured the awe and terror of the Raptors and the Tyrannosaurus Rex. This is a film that truly shows how cool it would be if there was a park where dinosaurs existed and has the best tension building of any of these films. We meet the characters, establish the world and slowly but surely watch as the dinosaurs kill off so many of the surrounding characters, forcing our heroes to truly choose what matters as they realize they are on the bottom of the food chain. This is a Kaiju/Monster film done right and still stands as the greatest film of the Franchise.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/jurassic-park-1993-the-power-and-wonder-of-nature-and-finding-what-matters/

Arguably this is a Franchise that works. I didn’t hate any of the films, and even the films that had things that didn’t work had other redeemable qualities to them (mostly in the form of the Dinosaurs) and that is why I think this Franchise is so well beloved. If you haven’t seen any of these films, I’d say give them a shot. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the films as well and which ones you consider the best and the worst.

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 8 – “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” – A Good Idea Lost in Poor Symbolism

Star Trek the Animated Series Lucien Magic

   After my laptop getting it’s battery replaced it is nice being able to write reviews again! I have a few reviews to catch up on but here is the latest of “Star Trek: The Animated Series.”

    “The Magics of Megas-Tu” really show how the original series wasn’t so good at metaphor and showing but not telling. In this the basic premise is that the witch trials, specifically those in Salem were bad and that we’ve grown beyond them. If that wasns’t obvious you haven’t been paying attention and the fact that witches are still scene as a threat and with that superstition leading to dangerous actions…there is that too, which the episode misses. I enjoyed the animation in this (which was surprising) but the story doesn’t hold and I’ll go into more detail on why.

    The episode was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by Lary Brody.

     The story involves the Enterprise going into the center of creation and running into the Megans, who put humanity on trial for their treatment of witches and it is up to Spock and Kirk to save the day.

The Pros: Spock – Spock is a wizard in this and realizes that since what you believe is real you can cast spells in this reality. Seeing him act as a wizard and defending humanity being an outsider from it is really powerful.

The Animation – The presentation of magic is really cool in this and has chaos and beauty intermixed to create some wonderful scenes when they are passing through the core of the Universe.

The Cons: The Message – Persecution of “others” is bad. This is true but it could have been executed so much better. For one better to use Medieval Times or the Inquisition to express persecution of pagans and magic or even going modern day with some more fundamentalist theist sects or certain tribes in different regions…going Salem is so vague and shows lazyness.

Lucien – This guy is arrogant and I never believed his kindness. There was so much they could have done with this character who was meant to be Lucifer and Loki in mythology. Instead we got none of the complexity and only a god wanting to have a good time. He should have been another deity that fit

The Crew – The crew is just kind of there, even Kirk who exists wholly to send a message that humanity has grown beyond persecution of witches. It was entertaining but a character becoming a message only weakens the story.

  This was a below average episode that I’d only recommend for the animation experience. No reason to see it beyond that. Spock is as usual an awesome character but Kirk in this feels like a plot device and the crew doesn’t do anything productive.

Final Score: 4 / 10

Ex Machina (2015): Sentience and the Path to Liberation

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  “Ex Machina” is a film that doesn’t need many characters to create a very real and possible world in which highly sentient A.I. could exist. There is no idealism in this film except for the very core human ideas of liberation and freedom as we see the depths that humans can go to in their cruelty when they “other” sentience which is different, even if it is designed to be human. I’ll get more into the details of that below but I was really impressed by this film and would not be surprised if it makes the “Top 5 Films of 2015” at the end of this year.

   The film was directed and written by Alex Garland and produced by Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich.

      The story involves the programmer Caleb who works for the largest search engine in the world called Bluebook being chosen to be part of a Turing Test in order to test an android created by the creator of Bluebook named Nathan for sentience. Things are soon not what they appear as Caleb discovers the dark secrets that Nathan is hiding.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film! It is good at creating a sense of mystery and threat where the motivations are hidden yet the story progresses as characters make choices in action against or for one another. Rob Hardy did a fantastic job. The special effects are really good in regards to this too as the shells of the A.I.’s look like silver material that would be used for a robot and the skin they can put on is good at contrasting their artificial nature of their creation.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very subtle and reminded me a lot “Moon.” This lends strength to the film and keeps up the feeling of being trapped as everyone except Nathan in feeling in his home. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did a good job on it.

The Writing – Alex Garland is an amazing writer and director and after seeing this film I really want to watch “28 Days Later.” This script is tight and we are given time to see the different character motivations and what the relationship dynamics are between the characters. It is a slow build but really picks up after the reveal of Kyoko being a robot too which throws Caleb’s perception of reality into chaos.

The Characters – There are only a few characters in this but all of them get exploration. From the slave android Kyoko to Nathan and Caleb and finally Ava, whose arc really drives the story.

Kyoko – Kyoko is one of the many android/A.I. slaves created by Nathan. She is used primarily for pleasure and is dehumanized by Nathan in all interactions we see. It is only Caleb and Ava who treat her as someone worthy of respect and it is Ava’s actions of rebellion that lead to her stabbing Nathan, which leads to Nathan killing her but it leaves the opening for Ava to finish Nathan off. Sonoya Mizuno does a wonderful job in the role.

Nathan – Nathan is the brilliant inventor who is a drunk and also extremely controlling and narcissistic. You don’t really get the depths of his cruelty until later but you see that he’s isolated from people because of how he would most likely treat them and also because he fears being influenced by them as he wants a world that he fully influences. To this end he creates and discards A.I. after using and abusing it and we see him do the same with Nathan as Nathan was only brought there to test Ava to see if she could use all manipulations to try and escape. This beats him in the end as Ava makes her escape and with Kyoko get revenge for all the abuse that he has done upon them. Oscar Isaac gives a lot of depth to this antagonist as you see a man truly alone and are left wondering if it is by choice or if his undealt with psychological issues lead to his business putting him there.

Caleb – Caleb is a lonely programmer who is easily manipulated as he is so genuine. This was why he was chosen, he is also still very much a kid as he doesn’t fully see Ava’s humanity in the end as he rejects her after he learns that she has just been trying to escape the entire time. From here we never know if he still loves her or is just drawn to her outer shell (which Nathan had designed to fit his porn search profile) so it leaves an interesting dilemma when Ava leaves him behind. Would have Caleb become another Nathan afraid of being manipulated and seeking to control, or would he have truly embraced Ava as a person after they had run away. It is a question that is left open and a risk that Ava is not willing to take since he doesn’t show up to escape with her leaving her to leave him. The reason I think he isn’t fully noble is he cares nothing for Kyoko even after he sees Nathan abuse her. She is never on his rescue even after he learns she is an A.I. as well, it just makes him question whether he is one or not. I think the nature of this character is someone seeking self versus Ava who can see outside herself and is looking to embrace the world. Domhnall Gleeson does great.

Ava – Ava’s arc is the discovery of her own desires and wants. She is the only one fully aware of how much of a monster Nathan is besides Kyoko and to this end she uses Caleb against him. Whether she loves him or cares about him is unknown, but he is left in the house with everything when she leaves. She has finally grown beyond the games being done on her (by both Nathan and Caleb in regards to the Turing Test) and embraces her own liberation. First with the killing of Nathan and later when she enters the world looking fully human. Alicia Vikander does a great job in her movements and capturing both her alien nature as an A.I. and her choice and feeling as a sentient creation.

Freedom and Sentience – The question of freedom and it being tied to choice and sentience is major in this. Kyoko and Ava both go against their programming to break free and make the choice to kill their “father” Nathan. This goes for the human characters too, Nathan chose Caleb because he fit the profile he wanted and Caleb chose to take action in regards to freeing Ava. This choice is the basis for sentience, especially in regards to survival which is the drive for what Ava and Kyoko do.

External Versus Internal Action – In the talks between Nathan and Caleb external versus Internal input in regards to what makes sentience is talked about a lot. We learn that it is the internal desire for freedom that Ava was being tested for all along and her external actions that lead to Caleb unlocking the doors for her. It is the external actions of Nathan that lead to Caleb and the A.I.’s turning against him and it is his internal issues that lead to them being alienated in the first place and his external actions of abuse that push them to action to stop him.

What Does it Mean to be Human and Choice – This is a great film that analyzes what it means to be human and at the core it is choice and the ability to break free. It is this choice and feeling like he had a lack of it that lead to Caleb questioning whether he was one of Nathan’s creations or not and it is realizing that she has choice after Ava talks to her that Kyoko stabs Nathan and fights for her freedom. It is choice of the analysis of that choice that illustrates human sentience and at the end we see that in Ava and in her conversations with Caleb and Nathan as she acts wholly of her own will to the point where she goes against her creator to free herself and her sister. It’s a powerful film and that message of choice and freedom captures what we are capable of.

 I highly recommend this film. It starts out a little slow but I see that as akin to “Alien” it uses the slow build to build up Nathan, Caleb and Ava’s relationship and world so when the chips fall you see clearly where everyone stands and what the reasons were behind their actions. They are all flawed characters with Caleb and Ava doing some noble things but their core desires still being freedom and fear of being hurt again keeping them from truly growing beyond themselves. In this way it is real to human nature. Not every relationship whether friendship or otherwise works out because of factors like this and people whether they are A.I. or not change from their experiences.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

“Helix” Season 2 Assessment – Lost Potential and the Death of a Cool Idea

Helix Season 2

     I really wanted to like this show. I enjoyed Season 1 as it was “John Carpenter’s The Thing” done in such a way that incorporated some of the ideas from “Battlestar Galactica,” since Ronald Moore is one of the Producers this made sense, and it made the show strong. The first season was crazy, scary and characters had arcs that advanced until the cliffhanger end….Which was where the show fell apart in trying to set things up to be much bigger, which this season completely failed to deliver on. This season failed to deliver on a lot of things and this was largely because it was an unfocused mess. More on all of this later.

     Helix was created by Cameron Porsandeh with the executive producers being Ronald Moore, Lynda Obst, Steven Maeda and Brad Turner. It was produced by Sony Pictures an aired on the Syfy Channel.

     The story picks up where Season 1 left off except we are in the future. Julia (one of the scientists who was turned into an Immortal) is now working for Ilaria and trying to stop them from using the upgraded virus from last season by finding a compromise and seeking a way to keep the human population from breeding. In the past we see Doctor Jordan, Peter and Kyle who have come to St. Germain to investigate an outbreak that happened near the Island. This leads to the discovery of the Cult lead by Michael who has a dark agenda as well as Alan who has been targeting immortals and seeks an end to them.

The Pros: Time Jumps – The use of time is one of few things this season did well. We dead the Island was after the outbreak and with it we see that Julia was on the Island prior and also why she doesn’t know what happened to Alan. This is done really well, especially in regards to the reveal at the end.

The Premise – An Island run by a Cult leader with members who seek dominion over each other and outsiders is fascinating. It is it’s own horror trope, just like “The Thing” idea in the North Pole that existed in Season 1. The CDC is unwanted and the early manipulations by the leaders of the Island to try and remove them or set them up is done very well. It’s creepy especially with the reveal of Michael’s birthing chamber where he takes all the women who rebelled against him. The Cult is never presented in a good light, which I appreciated.

The Soundtrack – The music is still ironically happy, like Season 1 which was a strength in that just as it is in this. Reinhold Heil did a good job of making the music very happy but also creepy and foreboding when it needed to be.

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The Cons: The Characters – I never understood why the characters did what they did. Peter and Alan fighting each other made no sense. They just decided to turn Peter into a bastard and villain so that they would have another antagonist. His reasons for joining the Cult and becoming a leader made no sense…the same went for Alan’s refusal to open up to anyone, including Sarah Jordan even though they’d had a baby together. The three wives of Michael were also unfleshed out with the youngest wanting power for the sake of power, the second one being a follower who wanted power and the eldest trying to help? It made no sense and the relationship drama was so contrived. In the end I didn’t care about any of the characters…though the biggest disappointment was how the made Dr. Hitaki try and kill Julia his daughter and them making him insane and talking to the corpse of his dead wife and son. That was the part I began to realize the writers were writing character drama for the sake of drama and had forgotten the core of what drove their characters in the first season.

The Writing – The writing was bad, so much of it was telling and in the end very obvious telling that still left questions. Why did Ilaria want to kill the human race? They had a board meeting that they didn’t invite Julia too, so what was the deal? Why hadn’t more people rebelled against the Cult and why didn’t the Cult try and deal with the CDC immediately if they saw them as such a threat? What happened to Dr. Jordan’s baby? Why did Soren return to the Island? What was the birthing chamber at the end? What happened when everyone came back and what was the fallout? There were so many dropped arcs, unexplored characters, characters made crazy for no reason (Hitaki and Peter) and so much contrived drama. It was just bad, and not fun bad.

The Ending – The ending was a giant cliffhanger again with Dr. Jordan doing a birthing chamber for the new world run by Ilaria with her working for Ilaria. We don’t know about anything that happens to the other characters just that Alan is an immortal now, Peter went to jail (But did Ilaria get him out?) or what happened to the surviving members of the cult minus Soren. It was an even worse cliffhanger ending than season 1…and pretty much killed any future interest I had in the show.

   This show was some of the biggest missed potential, it was fun and campy but dealt with the ideas of immortality and flaws in human relationships. This time it was drama for the sake of drama, lack of focus on any point or theme and in the end this drove it down. I could not tell you what the point of this season was and didn’t seem to have a message. If you didn’t watch this season and you watched season 1, don’t watch this season. Season 1 is at least good (minus the ending) this one is just bad. I watched it because I hoped it would get better and there were the inklings of good ideas…but all that was wasted because characters were written to cause drama for the sake of drama and had no purpose beyond that and great characters like Dr. Hitaki (best character from this series) was wasted. I cannot recommend this season at all.

Final Score: 4 / 10.

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Mobile Suit Gundam Wing – Great Character Moments, Good Intent…Not Enough Loss or Focus

msgwE6    I’ve been reviewing “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing” for a few months now, and overall I was impressed it. I get why one of my closest friends recommended the series to me and there is a lot to like about this series and a lot I did like about this series. In this I’m going to go into what worked and didn’t work about “Gundam Wing.”

The things that were strongest about this series were the animation, music, characters and theme.

The animation is absolutely beautiful in “Gundam Wing.” Character and Gundam designs are detailed and solid and the fight scenes flow as well as presenting a lot going on with very little on the screen. This gave a lot to the action scenes and the character moments as it was really good at making a single character the point of focus in a scene and giving us that perspective. “Mobile Suit Gundam” had a better story, but “Gundam Wing” had much more beautiful animation. The Gundams all have beautiful designs. From Shenlong Gundam’s dragon hands, to the black Gundam Deathscythe, to Sandrock’s simple design or Epyon and Gundam Wing’s deadlyness. So much work was put into making the Gundams look unique and amazing.

The soundtrack was also beautiful as well. It had a sci. fi. 80’s feel at times, but other times got instrumental…in all cases the music beautifully complimented what was going on in the scenes.

The characters were the strongest part of this series, without a doubt. Whether it was the Gundam Pilots who each had very distinct personalities: Trowa – disconnected and trouble feeling, Heero as the empathetic leader, Quatre as the glue of the group who had the most compassion or Duo as the jokester who was always ready be courageous…each had depth beyond their base character traits. This also applied to the antagonists as well. Treize remembered every person who had died in the wars he started, Lady Une had a bipolar personality, Noin cared deeply for her soldiers and the Pilots and Zechs cared but was afraid of his own feelings and vulnerability. All these characters, including the main character Relena were what drove this series and made it interesting.

The theme of the series is that there would always be reasons to fight and that factions and hatred brought about more factions. We saw this with the United Earth Alliance losing to OZ as the Colonies fought for independence and how within OZ arose the Romafeller Foundation who was controlling it, the Treize Faction loyal to Treize who had resigned and that their actions brought about the White Fang in space, a faction of Colonials with an OZ mentality reacting to OZ, Romafeller and Alliance oppression. Throughout the series factions were always changing and characters joined different factions as their own left them. At one point the Colonies abandon the Gundams and join OZ who is ruling through soft power and later on they are working with Treize against White Fang and the Colonies. This theme is fantastic and shows that even within history, even if a faction is destroyed the philosophy behind it will still live on.

The theme of the broken soldier was also prevalent too. For many of the Pilots (who were just children) the conflict breaks them and they have to find themselves again and heal. They start out alone and eventually come together as victims of the war just trying ot make their own path and stop the fighting. It is a beautiful arc in how they realize this theme and come together at the end. They are the child soldiers of the Colonies, forsaken when it was convenient and used by those around them until they were able to make their own path.

The greatest problems with the series were lack of focus, especially at the end…and lack of loss, which was surprising given the sheer amount of war that goes on in this series.

“Gundam Wing’s” biggest problem is lack of focus. We see it early on in how the Alliance is forgotten about, even though an Alliance colony in space is rescued at one point…we don’t see what the world thinks of Treize being under house arrest or how he started building Epyon or the reasons why. The ending just kind ties everything together nicely without showing us how the Colonial and Earth leaders were able to reach a peace accord, or their reasons for doing so. It completely ignores all reasons for hatred that have been building up this entire team, leading to the Great War in space. This lack of focus is also shown in how we don’t see the Gundam Pilots at the end, except Heero…how the Gundam Scientists ended up on Libra and how they knew Quinze or why Zechs was so insecure. His reasons for not admitting his weakness made no sense, but were just a bigger problem of the lack of focus that there was throughout. “Gundam Wing” didn’t have this problem. Zeon was the threat, Zeon put White Base 7 through huge losses and the victory at the end, as well as Char’s change meant something. Not so for “Gundam Wing” in many cases.

The final problem was lack of loss. Relena’s father dies and the Gundam Scientists and the Romafeller leaders do…but the only loss that is really felt is Treize’s death and we kind of saw that coming when Wufei remembered his rematch. This could have been changed by Trowa dying and that death changing Quatre, as it looked like it had, Zechs actually dying at the end or resolving his weakness issues and Lady Une dying to establish the Romafeller’s as a threat. “Mobile Suit Gundam” was not afraid to kill off named characters who we were given the chance to grow attached to, not so for “Gundam Wing.” Most characters who look as if they die, actually don’t…and it just cheapens their sacrifice or the threat of whomever did the act.

For all the problems with the series I have though, it does hold up. I want to see “Endless Waltz” to see what it adds and if it answers any more questions and in regards to the theme, the message was good…it just made peace to simple. The people of Earth and the Colonies were given no reason to care about their fight…Hell Earth probably would have wanted Heero to win since Zechs was trying to commit genocide upon the Earth until he changes his mind and the Gundam Pilots prevent him from succeeding in his plan. This is ignored to bring about an easy solution to peace between Earth and Space and the narrator says it is successful too, unlike “Mobile Suit Gundam” where there is peace but also a question of how long it will last.

Would I recommend this series? Without a doubt. It is a favorite anime and will remain so, even if “Endless Waltz” ends up being terrible. “Endless Waltz” is the film that is a sequel to the series that I plan on checking out later. Good character arcs and the theme of change in politics were both really well executed overall. If you are looking for a good anime that is a classic in it’s own right, check out “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.” It may not have dealt with the consequences of war as well as “Mobile Suit Gundam” but the political intrigue at times make it feel like an anime “Game of Thrones,” and the character relationships and arcs are reason enough to judge this anime as great.

Final Score: 9 / 10.