“The Orville” Season 1 – A Show That Draws Inspiration From the Best Aspects of “Star Trek”

    “The Orville” is a show that only exists because of how much of a fan Seth MacFarlane is of “Star Trek” and Fox knowing just how great the cultural impact of “Star Trek” has been that a show that pulls full inspiration from it (while having it’s own tone and lore) and not get sued. What do I think of the show? I think the humor doesn’t always work but I love the drama and the characters. Seth MacFarlane put a lot of love into this show and it was perfectly cast in regards to the characters and their roles…and I can’t wait to see where the show is taken next.

The story involves Ed Mercer being given the chance to Captain the Planetary Union ship known as the U.S.S. Orville. He soon learns his ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson will be his First Officer as they must sort out their issues as the new crew faces the drama of one another and the wider Universe the Planetary Union inhabits in the 25th Century. 

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is a lot like “Star Trek” but a bit similar to our reality in that rather than the vague spirituality of Trek, everyone in the future is an atheist if they are part of the Planetary Union or any future person. There are countless aliens, most are humanoid (like “Star Trek”) but the Union is strong but not the strongest. The highly religious and zealotesque Krill are and they are a fantastic enemy in the episodes they come up in. Most of the episodes are solving dilemmas though, whether it is finding ancient ships and a civ. on board, interacting with a bronze age people that advances rapidly, or passing into 2D space. Like “Star Trek” this is a universe rich with possibilities.

The Crew of “The Orville” – The crew is overall amazing. I’m giving certain characters special treatment though, because they stood out to me and will mention some other notable things in this summary. The characters are complicated, you have Doctor Claire Finn who is woman who chose single motherhood because she wanted to be a mom and could have kids without needs a spouse or partner, you have Lt. Commander LaMarr who hid his intelligence because in the colony he came from it was looked down upon, but in turn becomes the Chief Engineer on the ship, you have Bortus who fights for the right of his child to choose his own gender in a species that has only males and a few others who I will go into deeper into the review of the show. The least notable is Lt. Gordon Malloy who is comedic and good at being a pilot and that is the extent. He isn’t complicated.

Alara – Alara is one of my favorite characters. She is the security officer on the ship and comes from a planet where her gravity is heavier so her species is stronger than most. We learn they also as a culture look down on military and similar professions as they see it as below their intellect. She went against her parents to join the Planetary Alliance and because of it holds herself to an impossible standard, and we see it when in an episode she faces her worst fears and the worst fears of her crew members and succeeds. It is a powerful episode and reaffirmed why she is one of my favorite characters on the show.

Isaac – Isaac is from a race of artificial non-biological beings who believe themselves to be the most superior life forms in the galaxy. Isaac joined in order to learn about humankind, and is our Data stand in. His arc is him learning how to care for humans and organics beyond just studying them and it is handled really well. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes.

Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson – The main arc that drives the story is the relationship between Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson. They are divorced after Grayson cheated on Mercer with a blue alien. We later learn the alien can make anyone fall in love with him when it is going through mating and that might have been what happened. There are a few false starts and with each friendship grows between them but Grayson cuts it off in the finale when she realizes that their love is causing Mercer to do things he wouldn’t have usually done as a Captain that put him and others at risk so they cut it off. It is touching and the arc is fun.

The Secular Future – The future is won by science and I loved it. This is a future where humanity has myths still but they mostly come from television shows and past knowledge, as far as we know there isn’t supernatural and there is no religion to speak of beyond the Krill or less advanced species and it usually comes up as a problem. Seth MacFarlane wrote this and it shows, and for what its worth as a secular agnostic humanist, I enjoyed this future greatly. Like “Star Trek” it showed a world not defined by religion but by even deeper ideas of self.

Exploring Dilemmas – One of the great things about “Star Trek” that “The Orville” does well is the exploration of moral dilemmas. Be they dilemmas of culture and technology (justice by “likes” and “dislikes”) the agency of a person within in a nation in regards to their family (an all male species forcing a newborn born female to be turned male and her choice being taken away, and this species if a major player in the Planetary Union) why there are rules for first contact (Kelly sets off a religion on a planet that exists orbiting through universes when she heals a little girl with her technology)  and countless other dilemmas where crew-members have to make choices where there isn’t always a clear answer.

Okay: The Humor – The humor is good at times but falls short on others when it has characters like Lt. Gordon going on away missions, when all he does is jokes, or Lt. LaMarr grinding on a statue on an alien society and no one on the crew being briefed on how the culture they were down studying worked as they searched for scientists who had gone missing…The humor made these stories that were largely solidly written otherwise, to go down in quality. Cheap laughs are not the way to go. When the show nails it, it is amazing, but it wasn’t consistent.

The Series Arc / The Episodic Nature of the Show – The show is largely episodic with the only consistent arc being Ed and Kelly working through what their relationship is now. I would have preferred more of an arc with the Krill, they do still a giant Krill warship in the last episode the Krill are in but it doesn’t go anywhere after that. That was missed potential that made the show not really get the great exit it deserved, since it really did have a great entrance. Solidly good show, but not great.

This is a show that if you are a fan of sci. fi., “Star Trek” or Seth MacFarlane, you will probably enjoy. This is easily the best thing he’s ever done by miles and I’m glad the show was renewed for another season. Where he chooses to take the show remains to be seen, as it could remain like TNG and TOS and largely remain episodic with some powerful episodes along the way, or it could go the way of DS9 and later ENT and give us some powerful arcs that payoff on a personal and galactic scale. I’m all for finding a good medium inbetween as well, arc episodes and bottle episodes together. As someone whose missed “Star Trek” since it went off the air and all we had were movies, this and “Discovery” made this Trekkie happy. If you like “Star Trek,” you should at least give this show a chance.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Humor often time hurt the drama and lack of an overall arc kept the season from greatness.

 

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Logan Lucky (2017): A Critique and Celebration of the Southern Culture Through an Amazing Heist

   “Logan Lucky” is a great film. This is a film that will probably make my Top 5 at the end of the year and gives us some amazing performances, as well as having a great larger point as it critique and celebrates southern working class culture through the lense of West Virginia and a NASCAR Heist. The only real downside to this film that I  can think of is the lead up to the heist has a few scenes that drag and I felt the Robin Hood message should have been so much bigger than the two families who are a part of it. Given how much this film critiques Southern Culture (even as it is celebrating it) it doesn’t really address the elephant in the room. The elephant I’ll address further down in the review.

The film was directed Steven Soderbergh and written by Rebecca Blunt and produced by Channing Tatum, Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson and Reid Carolin.

The story involves Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) planning a heist after he is laid off from his construction job due to a limp he received during his football days. This leads him to teaming up with his Iraqi War vet brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) as he plans to steal from the NASCAR speedway so he can still have a future with his young daughter, who is moving away.

The Pros: Rules of the Heist – The planning of the heist is meticulous, as we see that Jimmy has the 10 rules of robbing a bank (which 3 times has be sure your on board, expect the unexpected). This is wonderful as we see the chaotic elements come in (bringing in more people on the job) and how they deal with it in different ways. I also bring this up because the action of the heist and payoff are tied to these rules and each outcome or part of the plan brings in new elements that raise the tension. Also Joe Bang is key to it all and Daniel Craig is amazing as this threatening, yet charming crook.

The Working Class Struggle – One of the major themes of the film is the working class struggle. Clyde is an injured Iraqi war vet who runs a bar and gets harassed by patrons because of his injury, Jimmy loses his job because of an injury during the time he was a football player (when it had never been an issue before), their sister Mellie is always being harassed by Jimmy’s ex-wife’s husband and the Bangs live on the outskirts of society. They are smart but are nearly invisible to those around them.

Big Business and Corruption – We see a lot of examples of big business and corruption in the South. From Jimmy’s boss letting him go for cost cutting reasons, from the NASCAR owner who harasses Clyde for having one arm and how the FBI isn’t able to do their investigation all that well because the race course wants to hide the fact they don’t know how much money is going out of the track, showing that all the unchecked money has them probably making far more than their ledgers show (part of what the heist is working around). We also see it in the prison and how the Warden uses his guards to abuse the prisoners and his focus on making everything seem fine to the outside, even as an emergency could be occurring.

The Cons: The Unaddressed Racism and Payoff – This film takes place in West Virginia and so much of the class difference is tied to race, this is true everywhere in the United States but especially in the South were laws were passed to keep African-Americans from opportunity. Jim Crow wasn’t that long ago and it can still be felt today. Hell we had Nazis and Confederate flags in Charlottesville not to long ago. The KKK and Neo-Nazis and those who may sympathize with their ideology due to privilege or class have always been around and been the ones keeping what Jim Crow did in place even after. Racism doesn’t just go away when a new law is passed. Given the Robin Hood nature of the film and that it is correcting wrongs through the heist this could have been handled better minus the only African-American character being unnamed and getting no character development beyond helping cause a riot in the prison to help with the heist.

This is a film that has great character development and payoff. I’m not going to spoil anything, because you should really see this film. A lot of characters who are horrible and corrupt find themselves with less, while our strapping heroes have payoff in their character arcs and what they want in their lives and also among one another. There is comradely that we did not see at the beginning of the film. This is a film where our heroes start out as isolated players and by the end are cohesive team that the antagonists always underestimate because of their working class backgrounds. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough given that my only critique is that working class should have meant more than white (especially in the South) and that even though we get a good bit of class justice, outside of a single scene with a character from the prison, there is no racial justice to be found in a setting that once had slavery and Jim Crow.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. So close to being the perfect film. Still one of my favorite films of the year though.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – A Fun Adventure That Gives Justice to the Characters and Plot

Hellboy 2 Poster

        The blog is finally back! I’ve been on a bit of haitus since I’ve been moving to a new apartment, my sister got married this week and I had car trouble in Seattle and had to replace a flat, which took a few days. There are reviews upcoming, the first of which is this one that I’ve been working on. Enjoy.

       “Hellboy 2” is a lot of fun. This is a film that takes everything that worked about the first film and focuses it (with some of the same problems still around as well) and creating a few new problems. It is the better film though, as the characters in this are more memorable and Hellboy isn’t the only character driving the plot this time. Non-spoiler thoughts, check this film out if you like the Hellboy comics and enjoyed the first film.

    The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and produced Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin.

    The story involves Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the team working top the evil elf Prince Nuada from summoning the immortal Golden Army from ancient that nearly wiped out humanity before.

The Pros: The World – Guillermo loves the dark world of fairy mythology (see “Pan’s Labrynth”) and here he gets to show and express that love in the mythos on display. His world is fascinating and all characters look so real and alien. This is really him in his element as this film had some of my favorite character designs.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman once again creates a powerful score! This is a guy who specializes in dark fairy tales and that is what this Hellboy film is. he does a masterful job capturing the tragedy and loss in scenes and the soundtrack is worth checking out just for what it is.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning. While the last film was too dark at times this one embraces the dark but also the light to create beautiful contrasts in locations and characters, giving the film and otherworldly feel. Guillermo Navarro did a fantastic job.

The Introduction – A little Hellboy is being red a story by his adoptive father Trevor (yay, John Hurt is back!). It is a touching scene as we learn that fairys and humans lived in harmony until humans started destroying the land leading King Balor to create a Golden Army of magic. He regrets it all after the death toll rises and makes a peace treaty with humanity. His son leaves in exile as he wanted humanity wiped out and he and his daughter hide the pieces so the army may never rise again.

The Characters – The characters are what drew me into the world of Hellboy (though Hellboy isn’t as interesting as Abe of Krauss in my opinion) and they are the reason I will continue to see these films.

King Balor – The King is awesome and shuts down his son when his son tries to call for war again. It takes his son killing him for him to be stopped. I wanted more of this guy as he was a fascinating and powerful character.

The Goblin Smith – This guy makes a deal to save the life of Hellboy and we learn he was the smith who made the Golden Army and fears his creations. He brings Liz to the Angel and she makes the deal to bring Hellboy back even knowing it could lead to the end.

The Angel – The Angel sees Hellboy’s future and in it only destruction. She is a dark and haunting figure with eyes of a large cranium and great black wings. She has my favorite design in the film and if they make more I hope we see her again. She saves Hellboy’s life.

 Hellboy – Hellboy’s arc is learning to communicate with Liz and work on a team. He is by the end and has rubbed off on Krauss who rebels against the agency. His arc is cool as we see even though he is stupid, his heart is in the right place and he is a talented fighter.

Liz – Liz makes the choice Hellboy made last movie where he risks all to save her, she does the same this film. She is the one who has gotten control of her powers (I would have liked to see more of how that happened) and is the one helping Hellboy become responsible.

Abe Sapien – Abe has a character arc as we see him love and lose as he brings the crown to Nuada that awakens the army (and rightfully calls out Liz and Hellboy for doing the same thing). Sadly not all love works out as Nuala dies to save them all. It is a touching scene and we see how perceptive Abe is. I really liked his character after this film.

Prince Nuada – The Prince is in it for revenge and has a great design as a dark warrior. He trained for centuries and his plan nearly works because he is the only one who doesn’t love and only wants to control. Luckily he is stopped in the end by his sister, who it turns out was the only one who could unless the heroes were willing to kill her by killing Nuada.

Princess Nuala – Nuala should have got more screentime. We see she is compassion and a healer, while her brother is the warrior and she is shown to be wise as she knows that the war will only end in the destruction of all as the Golden Army is only built to destroy. She also falls in love with Abe and is lovely until she kills herself to stop her brother keeping up the theme of tragedy that pervaded the film.

Johann Krauss

 Johann Krauss – Krauss is awesome! He is pretty much immortal because he is living ectoplasm in a suit. This leads to him being both smarter and stronger than Hellboy and a better leader on all counts as he doesn’t depend on brute forcing his way through situations. He does see the value in it though and resigns from the agency with the rest of them as they are tired of being tools, given that Hellboy’s existence is shown to be just a tool for his father to cause the end of the world. All of them, including Krauss, reject that control.

Okay: The Ending – It is cool that Liz and Hellboy are going to be parents, the freeze frame for the final shot was a bit annoying though.

The Cons: Disposable Agents – So many agents die, they are basically red shirts and I feel the stakes would have been hire if they’d felt more like characters rather than disposable bodies.

The Prince’s Long Term Plan – What was his plan after humanity was wiped out? He never talks about it and it seems that the Fairy Realm is largely afraid of him. He lived only for revenge when he could have been so much more since he wanted to rule and killed his father to do so.

  I enjoyed this film much more than the first one largely because the side characters got a lot more exploration while still keeping the Hellboy mythos key with him being son of a Demon Lord. The price and cost of choices was explored really well too and using the Fairy World to do so was masterful since in mythology they are all about dealmaking. Krauss was my favorite character and his character growth was a big part of what made the film so fascinating outside of the great world and character designs that we’ve all come to expect from Guillermo del Toro.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10