Alien: Covenant Review

2012’s Prometheus attempted to tell the story of the origin of the xenomorph that Alien fans have come to know and love. The film was met with mixed reviews to say the least, but I am among the people that didn’t love it, but also didn’t hate it with the same passion that is all too common online.

The film’s performances were its best asset. The visual effects were amazing, and there were some memorable creepy scenes. Prometheus asked a lot of interesting questions, but since it was setting itself up for a sequel, many of those questions remained unanswered.

The sequel has now arrived, taking place 10 years after the events of Prometheus. Colony ship Covenant is bound for Origae-6, with 15 crew members, 2000 colonists  and 1000 embryos in tow. After receiving a signal from a nearby planet, which scans show to be hospitable to human life, the crew decides to investigate the planet as a potential site for colonization. Of course, mayhem ensues as some crew members become infected and give birth to xenomorphs, or early prototypes of the xenomorph.

One Prometheus criticism that was rife on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) message boards (RIP), is that the scientists all made a lot of stupid decisions. I didn’t jump on that bandwagon as vehemently as some people did, but I could not deny that Covenant is definitely worthy of such criticism. In Prometheus, the scientists remove their helmets on an alien ship after realizing they can breathe the air. People thought that this was perhaps stupid since there could be other dangers. If you’ve seen the trailer for Covenant you already know one crew member gets infected when spores travel into his ear canal. Even before this scene comes along, I couldn’t help but wonder why there would be no precautions to wear helmets on a foreign planet at least until a variety of tests are conducted.

Maybe I could have excused the lack of helmets since the scientists already know the atmosphere is liveable. What I could not excuse was a scene where a scientist sniffs alien mushrooms and then touches them. He has gloves on, but doesn’t feel the need to back away when the mushrooms visibly release spores. He inhales them, and still doesn’t think to back away. In another scene, an alien bursts forth from a crew member, in full view of multiple armed crew members. While the alien takes some time to get its bearings, no one thinks to shoot it until it starts attacking. This kind of writing isn’t a “plot hole” as people love to say. It appears that “plot hole”, like “irony”, is a word that is often used incorrectly nowadays. Maybe there isn’t a specific term for what we see in Covenant, you could just call it sloppy writing that ruins enjoyment of the movie since a part of you feels like some of the characters bring it on themselves. At times, watching Covenant was like watching a slasher flick where the copulating co-eds decide to go investigate a strange noise. These moments are less prominent in the second half of the film, but they remain fresh in my mind.

I will also add that Covenant doesn’t answer all of the questions it asked in Prometheus, which was disappointing since it leaves some of the most interesting points of Prometheus moot for the moment. Perhaps another sequel will try to shed more light but suspense fizzles if it isn’t used just right. Additionally, Covenant also adds more backstory to the alien lore, which the more die-hard fans will either love or hate. I can cope with the new info, but it also adds more questions that remain unanswered.

On a more positive note, the performances give me something I am happy to remember.  Fassbender’s performance in Prometheus helped to cement him as one of my favourite actors, after his performance in X:Men First Class. Fassbender has since followed up Prometheus with 12 Years A Slave and Shame, further showcasing his versatility and talent. Here, Fassbender plays a marooned David, as well as Walter, a newer generation synthetic assigned to the Covenant. Walter is played with a southern accent, which slips at times and hampers the performance somewhat, although not nearly enough to ruin it. Fassbender is truly memorizing when playing David, and is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Fassbender is also supported ably by Katherine Waterston, who plays second in command Daniels Branson. Billy Crudup plays his role well as the newly appointed Covenant captain, Christopher Oram, but his character’s story arc is also a victim of the aforementioned sloppy writing. Aside from Branson and Oram, many of the crewmembers have little to no development or real charisma on screen. Danny McBride is decent in a more serious role, but is still pretty forgettable.The other crew members have few lines and the actors don’t manage to do much with their lines either. While the main cast are strong, the supporting crew offer some stifled dialogue that makes you lose interest when the action cuts to them.

I have never been one to criticize CGI as a whole. However, I do criticize CGI if poorly rendered CGI is used in place of models, animatronics, motion capture etc. Alien (1979) had more convincing looking creatures. Even more recent films that used CGI aliens, such as Alien vs Predator (terrible film, I know) had more realistic looking creatures than the ones we see here. Other effects, such as some of the sequences involving the ship also look surprisingly cartoonish. Fortunately, the action sequences are actually entertaining, with Fassbender offering another highlight in this arena. Covenant may not be a real horror film for Alien fans, but the franchise has always had its fair share of violence and disturbing imagery. There are few jump scares throughout Covenant, and we do get some genuinely creepy ones that linger once the film is done. Yet again, I feel like these moments could have been improved if the characters were getting attacked by something that looked like it was made of flesh and blood.

Overall, Covenant was an entertaining film that surpassed its predecessor. Fassbender alone is worth the price of admission and although I wouldn’t say the film is a return to form for the Alien franchise, it is close to being there.

Death Note: Whitewashing and Blackwashing Double Standard

Netflix’s Death Note is scheduled for a August 25th release, and online discussion of the film has increased with the release date drawing closer. When I voiced my thoughts on the casting of Nat Wolff as Light Turner (Yagami in the anime) on YouTube, one user asked for my thoughts on the casting of Keith Stanfield as L. At the time I did not realize L was being played by a black actor, and assumed L was another case of more whitewashing.

I have previously discussed the double standard in people’s reactions to whitewashing vs “blackwashing”. When a character of colour is played by a white person people are quick to argue that we shouldn’t focus on race etc. “Best actor for the part, it’s more marketable, it’s just a movie etc.” This is regardless of whether the film is based on a true story, like 21 or is simply a work of 100% fiction. Now, if a white character is changed to a person of colour people suddenly aren’t colour-blind. “Why does Hollywood keep changing the race of characters we love? Why are they pandering to minorities? This is so politically correct!”

I have previously discussed this double standard by using examples of whitewashing and blackwashing in different movies. Death Note offers the perfect case study of the double standard since we have a case of whitewashing and blackwashing in the same film.

1) Whitewashing is being defended for the most part, while the blackwashing is being criticized.

2) Race wasn’t a key part of either character’s identity in the story (e.g. not as important as Chiron’s race is in Moonlight)

3) Both characters are main characters

Firstly, Hollywood “panders” to white people when they whitewash. One of the most common defences of whitewashing by film executives and audiences is that white people are generally more marketable than people of colour. By using this excuse, audiences and film executives admit that they are guilty of their own “pandering”, yet no one has a problem with pandering as long as it benefits white people. This is despite the fact that white people are disproportionately represented in mainstream Hollywood films. Although minorities make up nearly 40% of America’s population, they only account for 1 in 10 lead roles according to a 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.

The underrepresentation isn’t simply due to a lack of minorities who want to get into acting, or some sort of talent deficiency among minorities. Productions like The Get Down and Straight Outta Compton demonstrate that there is plenty of minority talent that can shine if it is given the opportunity. This is what makes it even more frustrating when a role is given to a white person only because their skin is viewed as more desirable. Now I imagine that whitewashing defenders are quick to jump back to the marketability argument, which offers the perfect segway to discussing Death Note.

Anyone who has seen Keith Stanfield in anything will know that he is undeniably talented. Stanfield is also arguably more marketable than Nat Wolff. Nat Wolff’s fanbase is limited to YA content such as Paper Towns, while Stanfield has already amassed a diverse repertoire ranging from Straight Outta Compton, Get Out and his role as fan favourite Darius of Atlanta. The success of these aforementioned projects also shows that the presence of blackness is not guaranteed to lead to box office damnation. In 2015, people of colour purchased 45% of all movie tickets. Diversity won’t scare this segment of the population away. There are those who think Stanfield’s casting is indicative of a cashgrab for minority money, or political correctness. Let’s analyze the double standard though. If changing the race of L, like changing the race of Light, is just good business, why do people have a problem with it? Don’t people always defend whitewashing as a perfectly ethical business move?

The Departed is often used as an example of another American adaptation, that changed the race of characters from Asian to white (adapted from Hong Kong’s Internal Affairs). Like The Departed, people argue that Death Note has no obligation to keep the characters Asian since it is an Americanized story. Of course, I don’t mind the American location. American does not have to equal white though. People use the American argument to defend the whitewashing of Light, but for some reason that argument doesn’t apply for Stanfield as L. Maybe people want to know where Stanfield is really from? Light and L are both meant to be Asian, so if one race change bothers you, another should as well. Maybe you’ll argue Light and L don’t look Asian.

If you draw a stick person in a country such as America or England, people will generally assume the stick person represents a white person unless you add racial markers e.g. brown skin. When you read a book where the character’s race is not implied or stated, what race do you assume? White is often the default for people in many countries. In Asia, they would assume the stick person represents an Asian person if you draw one and if they are reading a locally produced book they would assume the character is Asian. When they create their animation, they don’t feel the need to indicate a character is Asian by adding stereotypical markers like slanted eyes and yellow skin.  The confusion arises when anime gets exported to countries that are not used to seeing Asians drawn a certain way. Despite the country of origin and names in some cases e.g Light Yagami, people still assume the characters must be white due to their skin tone and the lack of slanted eyes. Point being, those people are wrong. There were people who also assumed that Rue of The Hunger Games was meant to be white, even though she was described as having dark brown skin in the books. Assumptions do not always equal reality. Light is meant to be Asian, so Wolff is not the intended race, the same way Stanfield isn’t the intended race. If people can accept this fact, support Wolff and criticize Stanfield, then it is clear they just have an issue with Stanfield’s skin tone.

One particular argument used for Stanfield is that L is meant to be pale, since he doesn’t go out much. Basically, people are arguing that Stanfield won’t look like the character in the source material. What about the fact that Light is white and not Asian (or Asian-American)? Aren’t double standards fun?

Get Out

Note: Spoilers Ahead

After much delay, I finally got around to seeing a film I’ve heard nothing but good things about. I must say, the film lives up to the hype for the most part. Since the film was released a while ago I didn’t really feel like doing a review of it, which is why I want to sum up my thoughts on the film itself and move on to the interesting questions/issues it raised.

Firstly, the performances are all amazing. The only other film I have seen Daniel Kaluuya in in Sicario, and he was alright in that. The role was smaller and didn’t allow him to demonstrate the range we see in Get Out. It looks like things are looking up for Kaluuya since he also has a role in 2018’s Black Panther.

The Armitages, the family that Chris is expecting to join, are all outstanding. Caleb Landry Jones was particularly interesting as Jeremy, Chris’s prospective brother-in law. Keith Stanfield, probably best known as Darius on Atlanta, isn’t in the film that much but stole the spotlight when he was present.

Get Out works well as a comedy when it is intended to be comedic, as expected from Jordan Peele. However, it is also masterful as a horror film. The horror isn’t the type you would expect from a franchise like The Conjuring. There are no jump scares to be found. Instead, Peele forces an air of unease upon us that permeates most of the film. I was reminded of an episode of The Twilight Zone, where its strength lies in its ability to unsettle you and get your mind and heart racing. More importantly, it also gets you thinking.

Peele has described Get Out as a “very personal” story“. A friend at work pointed out that Peele has a white wife, and it is very easy to see Get Out as a satirical, cathartic reenactment of encounters with his wife’s own family. I forget the exact wording, but I remember a tweet that said Get Out isn’t about ‘hang that nigger’ racism, it’s about ‘I’m not racist because I have black friends and voted for Obama’ racism. I think that tweet is a perfect distillation of what Get Out offers.

The Armitages’ are a rich, white family who are openly welcoming to Chris when they meet him. The dad is quick to mention he voted for Obama and that Obama was the best president in his time. With this statement, the film starts to delve more into the issue of the fetishization of the black body. Jeremy is the one to bring up the idea that black people’s genetics make them superior athletes, expressing his own quiet disdain and envy at this fact. This stereotype is also brought up by the extended family, and the comments all bring back memories of comments I’ve head all through my life as well. I was recently involved in a Twitter conversation where @adamant919 had the audacity to call our supposed natural gifts “black privilege”. Funny enough, it looks like the user has since deleted his account.

This fetishization reduces the black body to something that is either a threat, a conquest or a toy. Get Out is one of the first films in a while that generally surprised me with a third act reveal. Initially I thought that Chris would simply be brainwashed into submission, becoming another Andre Hayworth via Missy Armitage’s hypnosis. It was genuinely chilling to hear the breakdown of the surgery that would be performed to turn the black body into a vehicle for someone else, reducing Chris to a passenger within his own body. The Armitages’s could easily do the same process with white bodies, but it is clear that they are appealing to a desire specifically for black ones. In Chris’s case, Jim Hudson only wants his eyes so that he can capture the kinds of pictures he envies Chris for. However, the groundskeeper (Walter), is being controlled by Rose’s grandfather. Walter’s role on the estate becomes more chilling when we realize it is an old white man reveling in what his new body can do. The infamous Walter sprint, which grandpa calls his “exercise”, becomes a man testing out stereotypes for himself.

Peele is currently being considered to direct The DC Extended Universe’s Flash film and I was hesitant when I heard this, since the role seems far removed from his skillset. After seeing Get Out and how it manages to combine satire, horror and comedy, I am sure Peele can find a way to handle any project that comes his way.

The Dark Tower Trailer

I heard about The Dark Tower series nearly a decade ago but only got around to reading the first in the series, The Gunslinger, earlier this year.  I was an avid reader of King’s other works and decided that with the movie coming out, the time was right.

After watching the first trailer it became obvious that the movie is not following the first book closely. A quick search online also confirms the film is taking parts from the first book, but also from books 3 and 4.5. In essence, this adaptation is its own amalgam of the series’ events. In short, I think the trailer makes the film look amazingly generic, but Idris Elba still motivates me to see it in theaters. If you haven’t watched Luther, I highly recommend it.

Before I get into the trailer itself, or the general plot of the series, I have to bring up something this film illustrates. As I have discussed before, there is a huge double standard when it comes to race-changing in adaptations for television and film. If you change the race of a minority (e.g. black, Asian, Indian, Native etc.) character, and make him white, people are quick to argue “best actor for the part, it’s not about race”, “it’s more marketable/relatable” or that they are “colour-blind”.  These criticisms come flying out whether the character’s race is central to the story or not.

Now, when a white character is changed to a minority, people suddenly aren’t colour-blind. They don’t like the “political correctness”.

Or maybe people avoid bringing right-wing buzzwords into the argument. They don’t like the fact that the character is not portrayed as described in the book. They’re not racist for saying the characters should be portrayed as intended. Funny thing is, these same arguments are thrown out to protest white-washing, but they always fall on deaf ears. The Hunger Games (2008) incident proved that people might even block out information that reveals a character isn’t white, since many “fans” took to twitter to complain about Rue being black (even though she is described as having dark-brown skin in the books). I have no doubt that some of the people criticizing this casting choice also supported the casting in The Last Airbender (TLA) and Ghost in the Shell.

Idris Elba is no stranger to this controversy since he also received criticism for his casting as Heimdall in the Thor series. Of course, Asgard is a fictional world but people say that Heimdall should be white since he is from Norse mythology. However, the fictional world argument was used to defend the whitewashing of Sokka and Katara in TLA, a world that the creators said was inspired by Asian and Inuit cultures.

Katara and Sokka were Inuit characters that were even drawn with brown skin in the show. Some people argue they must be white if they have blue eyes, but white people don’t have a monopoly on blue eyes. I have met a black man as dark-skinned as I am with blue eyes. Would you say he must be white due to his eye colour? Additionally, the blue eyes are a symbolize their water tribe affiliation. The same way the Earth Nation inhabitants have green eyes, and air nomads have grey eyes. In the film, we get two white leads (with a white grandma) mysteriously surrounded by Native American villagers.

Despite all these arguments people still defended TLA since “it’s just a movie”. Then The Hobbit added black EXTRAS (non-speaking actors) and people complained that black people didn’t belong in a world inspired by Ancient Europe. Point being, this double standard is nothing but a result of racism that people refuse to admit or to address. What they should really say is: “I don’t mind race-changing as long as it leads to more white people.” I am not saying that race-changing is right in either case, white-washing or vice-versa. I am just unsympathetic to cries of “blackwashing” since the concern for character integrity clearly doesn’t go both ways.

Moving on. The Gunslinger, focused on Roland’s perspective as he travelled through Mid-World, a world similar to the Old West, in pursuit of the Randall Flagg. Flagg is often referred to as The Man in Black and is also a villain in King’s novel, The StandThe Gunslinger does imply that this Old World is actually an alternate timeline or dimension. The film’s trailer seems to confirm this. Since the film doesn’t follow the first book alone, it will likely also contain spoilers for those who haven’t read up to book 4.5. Since I have only read book one, I also can’t judge how closely the film follows the plots of the other books.

With that said, some of the dialogue makes this film sound like hundreds that have come before. The line about protecting the tower so that both worlds don’t fall just screamed cliché. There is nothing wrong with the concept itself, it’s the delivery of it that can make it somewhat fresh, or downright stale.

Aside from Elba, I am excited to see Matthew McConaughey as Randall Flagg. I have yet to see Dallas Buyers Club but McConaughey was spellbinding as Rustin Cohle in True Detective. The biggest question mark is Tom Taylor, who’s character will apparently be the film’s true lead.

I find that slow-motion is sometimes overused in promotional shots, but I actually like its use in this trailer. Roland’s gun-slinging is a visual treat, but I am hoping it isn’t all that the film has to offer. I also hope that the film doesn’t go into 300 territory and give us battles where we see slow-motion more often than not. I am more excited about The Defenders than this film, but King and the cast will still motivate me to see it in theaters when it comes out in August.

 

 

The Defenders Trailer Review

Potential spoilers ahead for all Marvel Neflix shows: Daredevil (1 and 2), Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

The Avengers of netflix are arriving later this year, and Marvel recently released the first trailer for the team up series.

Firstly, I have to say that my excitement for the series was somewhat dimmed after watching Iron Fist. Although the show wasn’t as bad as critics made it out to be, it still fell short of the other series’ in my opinion. The acting ranged from great to hammy, with some actors struggling with some scenes more than others. Since Iron Fist is supposed to be one of the best fighters in the Marvel universe, the fight scenes were also a huge disappointment, with the best one trumped by almost any fight from Daredevil. The writing could also have been greatly improved to provide better villains and better plotting. Next to Mike Colter, Finn Jones is definitely the weakest actor out of the defenders. At least with The Defenders, Jones and Colter won’t be carrying the show. They’ll be supported by Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter.

When the series was scheduled to arrive before another season of Luke Cage I assumed that Cage would be broken out of prison. From this trailer it appears like that isn’t the case. We see Cage in public, riding a bus and still being referred to as Harlem’s hero. Perhaps he received some legal assistance from Matt too.

The first scene in the trailer remains my favourite. It isn’t action packed, but it is the perfect introduction for Matt Murdock’s character. It is also the first shot we get of two defenders together. Like the after-credits scene in Iron Man, where we first see Nick Fury, this shot of Matt and Jessica could be the start of an era.

The other character meetings appear to happen by chance, such as Rand and Cage. Since the characters all live in the same city, this bothers me less than it normally would but hopefully they’re not just bumping into each other on the street. One thing (among many) that bothered me about Iron Fist, was that Claire just happened to train at the dojo where Colleen worked, leading to her meeting Rand. Yes, same city, but Manhattan is a pretty big place and the characters don’t all live in the same area of Manhattan. It would make more sense for them to meet as they pursue leads on a new threat, such as Sigourney Weaver’s character, Alexandra.

Not much has been revealed about Alexandra yet, but she is likely involved with The Hand. Elektra died at the end of Daredevil’s second season, but her body was retrieved by The Hand afterwards. Now we know that Elektra will return, serving as The Black Sky, The Hand’s weapon. Unless the show will have two different villains, it looks like The Hand will be the main one for The Defenders.

We don’t see too much of the fight scenes so far, which is fine by me. Hopefully the fights are better than the ones we got in Iron Fist. While Jessica Jones and Luke Cage aren’t great martial artists, DD and IF are supposed to be some of the world’s best. I want to see that portrayed convincingly. If the actors get more than fifteen minutes to practice choreography, we should be good to go.

I was happy to see the interaction between Cage and Rand, since they have their own Heroes for Hires series in the comics. The moment Rand punches Cage is also a throwback to Cage’s own series, where a thug punches him and breaks his hand. It looks like Rand’s punch affects him a lot more than the thug’s did.

Many cast members from previous shows are confirmed to return for this series as well. We know Misty Knight is back, but Colleen Wing, Karen Page, Jerri Hogarth, Foggy Nelson, Trish Walker and of course, Stick are all returning. Even if their roles are relatively small, it does bring up the question of pacing. The previous Netflix shows were all thirteen episodes, but could have been shortened. Luke Cage in particular felt like it was dragged out via legal wrangling. We already know the main characters, so maybe The Defenders doesn’t need to be as long. However, we still have to deal with introducing the characters to one another and setting up their villain. I am hoping that the show doesn’t feel rushed or bloated between the team introductions, the conflict itself, plus appearances from other characters.

With all that said, I am excited for the show. I am hoping that it represents all the best things about the Marvel netflix shows. The great acting and action from DD and JJ. The great villains, with the exception of Diamondback any villain introduced in Iron Fist. The great supporting characters and the writing that isn’t afraid to eschew mindless “fun” in order to tell a good story.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle and James Bond

Note: Spoilers for Kingsman

I wasn’t sure how to feel when a Kingsman sequel was announced a while ago. While the first film was a pleasant surprise I was worried that a sequel wouldn’t be able to recapture the same level of magic. This is the main reason I refuse to see Bad Santa 2, even though the first is one of my favourite comedies. I was also more hesitant about the Kingsman sequel when I heard that Colin Firth’s character will return. While Firth was amazing in the role I was also worried that his resurrection would introduce some nonsensical plot point that tarnishes the impact of his death in the first film.

So, with those reservations in mind, I was still intrigued. Taron Egerton was amazing as Eggsy, and his performance in Legend also demonstrated that he is a versatile figure and one to look out for. Aside from Egerton, the sequel sports some other amazing cast members, including Pedro Pascal (best known as Oberyn in Game of Thrones). As much as I hate Channing Tatum overall, he was enjoyable to watch in the Jump Street series so I am hoping this role is geared towards his comedic strength. I checked out the first trailer and was immediately sold.

However, I detected a common sentiment as I made my way through the YouTube comments, which can be summarized as: “The Kingsman series embraces the fun of the old James Bond films. This will be so much better than those dreary Daniel Craig movies.”

Now, Kingsman has made it no secret that it set out to emulate the older, more fantastical bond films. Firth and Samuel L Jackson’s characters even express this explicitly in the first film.

I don’t have a problem with people wanting to embrace something fun. My issue is when anything that isn’t “fun” gets criticized purely for its tone. Maybe Harry is guilty of doing it here, but it is interesting to see that fans react the same way to the Daniel Craig Bond films. I have talked about this numerous times on this blog or in my YouTube videos, but normally it is in reference to comic book films. However, it is interesting to see this mindset also filter into other genres.

I am perfectly willing to embrace the outlandish fun of Kingsman, but that desire to embrace fun, doesn’t lead me to criticize other good films. “Fun” is not synonymous with good, and “serious, dark, gritty, dreary” etc. are not synonymous with bad. A film can be serious or dark, but also be good.

Quantum of Solace and Spectre were both disappointing, I will give you that. Personally, I loved Skyfall and Casino Royale. Yes, they aren’t “fun” Bond films. No over the top henchman or gadgets. However, that doesn’t stop me from liking them. That doesn’t make them bad Bond movies. I can like Kingsman, while also liking these supposedly depressing Bond films.

Casino Royale came along after Pierce Brosnan drove an invisible car around an ice fortress. It seems like people were all funned out and ready to have a more serious Bond. Now that Kingsman has whet their appetite for fun, Casino Royale becomes a terrible film.

Since when is something considered bad only because it doesn’t make us laugh and smile? Obviously this criteria doesn’t apply to “Oscar-bait” films, yet. Maybe in twenty years only “fun” films will be present at the Oscars. No more depressing exploration of issues or characters, just more one-liners and over the top action.

 

Extremity

Note: For anyone that didn’t know, I have become an avid comic book reader over the past two years. This adds to my list of traits that make me ridiculously desirable to women. This short piece on Extremity was intended for comicommand, since the site is not being updated for the moment (but will return) I am posting it here.

Image Comic’s first new comic of the year proves to be another promising addition to Image’s stable and comic book offerings as a whole. Writer and artist Daniel Warren Johnson (Space Mullet) brings a fictional world replete with warring clans. The main character, Thea, is a human female whose mother was killed by a clan known as the Paznina. In addition to killing her mother, they also cut off Thea’s right hand. Along with her hand, Thea loses her skills as an artist and a cornerstone of her identity. Johnson intended Thea’s dilemma to mirror his own fears of losing the extremity that makes him who he is.

The first issue introduces us to Thea, as well has her brother, Rollo and her father Jerome, the leader of their clan. While Jerome expects his son to be his successor, the first issue makes it clear that Thea is more likely to do so. In relatable fashion, Rollo is hesitant to engage in the violence that is needed to survive in their world. While he struggles to kill one man, his father wears a mask embedded with the teeth of fallen foes. Thea shows signs of struggling with violence as well, but is a much more capable warrior than her brother. Since her father acknowledges her skill, but is still insistent on Rollo becoming the next clan leader, it is likely that sexism plays a role in their clan’s hierarchy.

The final issue ends with Thea getting revenge on the man who cut off her hand, one of the first acts in an all out-war with the Paznina. Johnson made it clear he wants to explore how a family will develop under such circumstances, and it is clear that the members involved can’t get through one violent act after another without changing fundamentally. In this sense, the comic reminds me slightly of The Walking Dead, which consistently focuses on how people adapt to a new and harsher world. Of course, this isn’t unique to The Walking Dead. This question is central to most post-apocalyptic tales and/or tales of revenge. However, it is interesting to see it focus on a female character.

The artwork is aided greatly by the shading and colouring bestowed by Mike Spicer. The artwork itself is the weakest part of the comic in my opinion, but like any series, I want to read more issues before I pass a more definitive judgment on it. The dialogue can also be clichéd at times, and overly expository at others. The characters didn’t need to call each other “brother” or “sister” for us to know they’re related, more subtle cues were present in the comic’s pages. However, there were only a few lines that I had gripes with and they didn’t dissuade me from reading the next issue when it is available.

13 Reasons Why (Spoiler Free) Review

As I’ve said on my Instagram, I normally avoid high school shows like the plague.

  1. The acting is normally terrible
  2. The plots are normally very formulaic and focus far too much on love stories.

For those reasons I was hesitant to watch 13 Reasons Why. Aside from its constant promotion on Netflix I was actually most motivated to watch it due to Dylan Minnette, who was one of the highlights of Don’t Breathe. I figured that if he was in it, there would at least be one good actor in the film. Additionally, the subject matter is of personal interest to me.

I have not read the book that the series is based on so I can’t compare it to the source material, although the show follows the book pretty closely from what I understand. The story revolves around Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a high school sophomore who commits suicide. After her death, a friend begins distributing 13 tapes (recorded on 7 cassettes) Each tape contains Hannah’s perception of one high school colleague, who each serve as one of her reasons for committing suicide. The story is told from the point of view of Hannah’s  friend, Clay Jensen (Minnette).

Firstly, the acting was a pleasant surprise from all parties. I expected Minnette to be great, but every major cast member delivers. Some are stronger than others, but none of the actors came across as weak in my opinion, which was a pleasant surprise. Perhaps my standards were set too low since I didn’t expect much from the show, only rewatching will tell.

Another thing I loved about the show is that it does not shy away from all the rationalizations that are normally used to defend or downplay bullying and the suicide that sometimes results from it. Throughout the series different characters say that Hannah was far too emotional, too dramatic, or that the bullying she faced was no different than what other high school kids go through. Even Clay, who is portrayed as Hannah’s best friend at the time of her death, calls her out on her dramatic tendencies at one point.

The act of suicide and the tapes are clear signs that Hannah had some mental issues, but we also see Hannah’s behaviour through flashbacks. Some of her classmates deserve to be on the tapes far more than others. There are cases where she takes things too personally, where she lashes out. While some of the acts committed against Hannah are unquestionably cruel, some people may still argue that someone mentally stronger wouldn’t have committed suicide. Hannah isn’t portrayed as perfect or right in what she did, and I think that makes her character better. We see a conflicted person whose high school experience was tainted with numerous bad experiences, and let those experiences get the best of them.

The show has received some criticism for its portrayal of mental illness, specifically targeting the idea that more kindness can help someone who may have serious mental issues. To be fair, some of the acts Hannah experienced could not have been counteracted by a little more kindness. However, it is also true that many people who seemingly have numerous reasons to be happy still commit suicide. With that said, this criticism isn’t enough to ruin or diminish the show.

The show has also led to controversy over its graphic depiction of sexual assault and Hannah’s suicide.People who have contemplated suicide have been advised to avoid the show since it may encourage them to pursue suicide. It is true that Hannah does get more attention and sympathy after her death, but 13 Reasons Why isn’t afraid to call out the disingenuous attention someone’s suicide bestows on them. Clay Jensen does that masterfully below.

Additionally, Hannah’s death is not portrayed as a glamorous exit from her troubles. As someone who watches and writes violent material, I still found the suicide scene very hard to watch. A big part of my discomfort is that Hannah’s actions represent the actions of numerous other people. She hesitates before she does it. She is scared to press the needle to her skin and cries in pain when she finally does. There is no music, no ambient sound to distract from her pained cries. Things only get worse when her parents find her. Selena Gomez, who serves as an executive producer, was apparently in consideration for Hannah. I am very grateful that didn’t happen. Hannah is the central focus of the show and a weak actor in this role would have brought everything else to ruin.

There are two other scenes that are also hard to watch but I am glad that the show gave us an unflinching view of the horrors that can afflict teenaged girls, and the effect it can have on one who is already coping.

Throughout the series, Hannah’s flashbacks continue to fill in temporal gaps and ultimately complete a puzzle that connects all of the main characters. Characters we hate become characters we like, and vice versa. Just like real life, people’s true colours can contrast with the image the image they present publicly, creating figures whose two-faced nature makes it easy for them to say that Hannah’s tapes are full of lies.

From what I have looked up, the show has received some criticism for its pace. Clay doesn’t listen to the tapes in one sitting, generally going piecemeal throughout the series. However, I believe that this makes sense given his character. Clay is initially reluctant to listen to the tapes at all, not wishing to relive the pain of his friend’s death. He only becomes more invested in the tapes once they reveal truths that everyone else wishes to suppress. The other people on the tapes all take an active role in ensuring that the tapes stay buried, hoping Clay doesn’t go public with them. Although the tapes have questionable legal power all of the accused realize life will be easier if they remain buried.

13 Reasons Why is one of my favourite shows of the year and I am eager to see where season 2 leads.

The OA Ending Thoughts

Note: Obviously there will be spoilers for the entire series below. 
Between catching up on Suits, and following several ongoing series I was reluctant to add another show to my list. However, a friend recommended The OA numerous times since they knew that I write science-fiction (The OA straddles sci-fi and fantasy).

I didn’t look up any reviews before I eventually decided to start watching. I was relieved to see the show only had one season, meaning the time investment wouldn’t be as detrimental as some other series that I’ve been recommended (I’m looking at you Community).

The OA did have some moments of relatively slow pacing but I didn’t notice the slower pace since the show began on an interesting note. Knowing that the main protagonist came back from a seven year disappearance with the ability to see drew me in, and made me patient for the buildup. This is in contrast to shows like True Detective (season one) where the actors and rave reviews made me willing to wait for the payoff.

Since The OA had a relatively slow build, and left a lot of questions unanswered going into the finale I hoped that the ending would give us a strong sendoff. I don’t mind ambiguous endings, with Inception being one of my favourites, but this is one ending that definitely leaves some questions. A second season is confirmed so I am sure more answers will be forthcoming, but I still wanted to share my thoughts on the ending of season 1.

Throughout the season, there is no real proof that the story Prairie is sharing is entirely true. Of course, we see the events, but we could only be seeing Khatun, the captives and the NDE’s through Prairie’s own warped perspective. Similar to how we see most of Fight Club through on character’s warped perspective. The audience and the five are likely to believe Prairie due to the miraculous nature of Prairie’s reappearance and the restoration of her eyesight. One miracle makes us willing to accept others.

Leading up the final scene, it appears Prairie fabricated most of the events she shared about her disappearance. The movements, the other captives, all appear to be figments of her imagination. Her greatest companion, Homer, appears to have been dreamed up from a copy of Homer’s Iliad. Prairie also has books on angels and near death experiences, forming the backbone of the story.

The last scene involving the school shooting was all foreshadowed with one line from the Sheriff’s wife, which Prairie and Homer helped to heal of her ALS. After giving them the fifth movement, the wife remarks it “will save their lives”. Prairie then passes this onto the five, and they all understand what must be done when the shooter traps them in the cafeteria.

Up until this point, the movements were somewhat odd to say the least. The movements themselves reminded me of a haka but the added vocalizations, such as the hissing and spitting, added an extra air of “What am I watching”? However, all of that vanishes in this scene. The tension built up to that point, and the music all make the final performance of the movements an epic moment.

Of course, the movements themselves don’t do anything. They provide a distraction and still fulfill the promise indirectly. This moment made me wonder if there was some truth to Prairie’s story, specifically her kidnapping by Hap and the existence of Homer and the other captives. This appears to be the reason why the five, Steve especially, gain new belief in The OA when she is being carted off on the ambulance. It looks like Prairie’s life may not be saved, but the lives of her new friends, the other angels were saved. Additionally, Prairie’s collision with the one stray bullet strikes me as exceptionally bad luck, or a fortuitous NDE that will allow her to leave Earth and be reunited with Homer and the others in another dimension. Hence Steve’s plea of “Take me with you”.

Prairie addresses Homer in the very last scene of the season, but yet again if her mind is warped then she will see whatever she wants to see.

The books may have been ones she collected after her incident as a means of gathering information on her new reality and a sense of kinship with her missing friends. However, given what happened before, it looks like season 2 will shed more light on the fact that Prairie is not insane and that her story truly did happen, either in part or in whole.

The ending left me staring at the screen hoping another episode would begin soon, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. It can be a sign of something rushed or sloppy, but in this case I think it is a sign of something intriguing that is yet to be finished.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract Review

It is an understatement of epic proportions to say that the post-Flashpoint DC Animated Films have not lived up to their predecessors. Flashpoint, my favourite DC Animated film, was followed by Warwhich had very little going for it. Weak voice acting from a lot of the cast, weak dialogue, terrible characterizations for some characters (Wonder Woman especially) etc. The list of negatives goes on and the subsequent films did little to raise my hopes. Batman v Robin and Gods and Monsters were bright spots, which gave me hope that DC were climbing the ladder back to greatness. Then Justice League vs. Teen Titans came along, and sent my hopes spiralling into the abyss. The Killing Joke was a little disappointing, and could have cut the batgirl prelude, but was a pretty good film overall. Then we got a pretty forgettable Justice League Dark, not terrible, but nothing special earlier compared to works like Under The Red HoodSuperman vs The Elite, First Flight or even Assault on Arkham.

All of that to say, I made sure not to get my hopes up about this film.The Judas Contract (TJC) is an adaptation of the comic storyline of the same name, which I have not read. I can’t judge the film based on it’s accuracy to the comic since I have not read the comic yet and don’t want to simply Google comparisons since they’ll contain spoilers for the comics.

Overall, the film is a definite improvement over JL vs Teen Titans and War. Since the latter two films are my most hated DC animated films to date, that compliment isn’t saying much.

The most notable improvement in this film was the handling of Damian Wayne’s character. Since his introduction in Son of Batman Damian Wayne has been abrasive, stubborn, arrogant…in short, bratty. In Son of Batman, Batman vs. Robin and Bad Blood his more undesirable characteristics were also balanced out to create an anti-hero that was annoying at times, but not insufferable. Then JL vs Teen Titans undid any development the character previously received and pretty much made him Bart Simpson in a Robin suit. All improvements in terms of social skills, self-awareness, respect etc. were gone.

Spoiler: I was happy when Blue Beetle nearly killed him.

In TJC Damian is still a loner who is adjusting to working well with a team, just like his dad. He still has an attitude problem but he also looks out for his team and isn’t the petulant child we last saw in JL vs Teen Titans.

Damian, along with Beast Boy are the highlights among the Titans, with their dialogue and voice actors bringing the most life to their roles. Nightwing, one of my favourite characters, also gets to shine. We get to learn more about Starfire’s background, although she still just comes across as a two-dimension princess kindness for the most part.

The newest member, Terra, plays a pivotal role in the story and her story arc demonstrates how seemingly unsympathetic characters can still gain our sympathy. However, there is a birthday scene that was truly cringeworthy and reminded me of the DDR scene in JL vs Teen Titans.

I have to say that Deathstroke was the biggest highlight of the film. Aside from being one of my favourite DC villains, Miguel Ferrer does an amazing job as the villain. Deathstroke doesn’t have that many lines compared to some of the other characters, and his character mainly relies on charisma for the role. Ferrer brings that in spades and makes me overlook some of the weaker dialogue and relatively little screen time.

The other villians were somewhat forgettable in my opinion, and the final fight actually proves to be one of the duller ones. Bigger is not always better.

Overall, The Judas Contract was a decent way to pass the time, but still makes me miss the older DC films even more.