On NETFLIX’s suggestion, I started watching THE OA. I should research shows before I start, because after watching season one, I looked online and saw that the series was canceled after two seasons. The story had been intended for five. The first episode aired in 2016, so a while ago! THE OA was written by acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling. who also stars as the main character, Prairie Johhnson.
THE OA, streamable on Netflix is a scifi-paranormal story set in suburban Michigan (mostly). I’ve watched the first season so far…THE OA is rated R for nudity and though it is a minimal amount of sexual content, it is full frontal nudity. With that said, this story potentially appeals to the young adult audience. Many of the characters are in high school or in their early twenties.
First, the Short Review…
4 Reasons to Watch
- THE OA draws the audience in through character(s) and builds tension through mystery
- A number of interesting and atypical characters
- THE OA explores the intersection of the metaphysical and the spiritual by focusing on life after death
- There is a fairytale-like quality to the storytelling that many will appreciate
2 Reasons to Skip
- THE OA was canceled after two seasons. The writers had envisioned 5, so it ends on a cliffhanger
- This story tries to tackle “a story within a story” and is mostly well-done, but feels forced at times
The Longer Review…
There is much to appreciate about an ambitious story like THE OA that attempts to unearth human longing for the spiritual. I found THE OA to be gripping in how it asks questions about redemption while exploring the role of miracles in that redemption. However, the exploration is unsatisfactory when the overall story gets cut off by a platform like Netflix. The story arc was written for five seasons, the viewer only got 2. I call this phenomena, the Firefly conundrum, named after the much acclaimed scifi series, Firefly, whose cancellation was pre-streaming service.
Similar to THE OA’s cancellation, Firefly’s production was halted due to not enough eyeballs watching or what the television industry then called low “Nielsen ratings”. The show’s devoted fans were anywhere from perplexed to enraged by this cancellation, but what can you do? Ironically, interest in the series surged even as it was cancelled such that when it went to DVD, sales were so good, the producers realized they had made a mistake.
It was too late to go back and recreate all those episodes. Instead, the film Serenity was the attempt to bring the story to a close. Diehard fans felt that if the Fox network had been willing to take that extra risk and continue making episodes, Firefly might have become a franchise on par with Battle Star Galactica or even Star Trek.
Netflix is not the first or the only platform that cancels shows midstream, but I wonder if their current business model, where they suggest shows to people like me knowing the story has been truncated, creates bitterness in its subscribers. It’s like they keep loaning me novels and then stealing them away when I’m part way through. Pretty soon, I stop taking novels from them and become more careful. In the worst case, people like me leave Netflix until they decide there is a show ready in its entirety, then subscribe for a time. Or, subscribers take fewer risks and reject watching new/untested productions which means fewer of these interesting and new stories get made.
In this scenario, the indie film people, the new and fresh storytellers suffer as do those hungry for something different. The audience gets more of the same old ideas and drivel, that which is tried and tested, but not necessarily exciting and experimental. It is the age-old question about the arts and profit. Profit is a reality in Hollywood. Netflix does have to pay its bills (and shareholders), but taking fewer risks in stories means I’m more likely to stop subscribing at some point. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I might.
If you liked the television series LOST and you’re a fan of Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese (creators of DARK) you will want to log into to your Netflix account and start streaming 1899 now. With that said, I give warning, a second season was not renewed. For some, this will be a reason not to watch. However, I wonder if buzz about the show might result in the approval of a second season. I hope so because I really want to understand this world that falls into the category of mystery/paranormal/science fiction.
First, the short review
4 Reasons to Watch the series, 1899
- Excellent production overall, with creepy settings and period costumes
- Well-acted by a diversity of performers, many of whom are new to the American audience, though a few starred in DARK
- Lots of tension and mystery
- Claustrophobic and isolating setting. Ocean-going vessel all alone on the open seas (well…sort of alone)
A Longer Review
1899 is free to Netflix subscribers. Eight episodes make up the first season. I rate it R for sexual content and some violence.
Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese bring to the screen this mind-twisting mystery with a style that broods and draws in its audience. That style will be familiar to fans of Odar and Friese’s imaginative work in the time-travel story, DARK.
1899 opens with the main character, Maura Franklin-Singleton, played by Emily Beecham, waking from a nightmare. The viewer quickly learns that Maura is living in another century. The title of the series is a helpful reference point as are the period costumes. Maura is also aboard an ocean liner with hundreds of other passengers, on its way to America from Europe. She appears to be traveling alone.
From the first moment of the longer narrative arc, confusion about reality is introduced to the viewer through the character of Maura. Her nightmare before waking is a terrifying scene in what seems to be a sanitorium for the mentally ill. She is strapped into a chair and given an injection while the command WAKE UP jolts her out of sleep and into the “real” world. The audience, along with Maura, sense the nightmare holds a degree of reality as she views the red marks on her wrists, where in the nightmare, she was strapped to the chair. She quickly covers those up with her long, victorian sleeves, and heads to the ship’s upper-class dining hall. To add drama to this ship’s community at large, there is a large portion of underclass people living below deck for the duration of the cruise.
Waking from a dream becomes a thread throughout the story as other characters, some of her fellow travelers, experience dreaming and waking to the same command, WAKE UP. The stories of these characters are slowly woven together into a climax that truly surprises.
OKJA, directed by Bong Joon-ho, written by Joon-ho and Jon Ronson (from a story by Joon-ho) is yet another example of Korean film genius. This film is set in a speculative future (despite the film’s timestamp of 2007)…the scifi aspects of the story have to do with genetics. First, the short review.
6 Reasons OKJA Will Delight
- Streamable for free on Netflix, family friendly (I would rate it PG-13 for violence)
- Although there are Korean characters who only speak Korean (therefore, yes, you’ll have to read subtitles), much of this film is either visual narrative or the characters speak English
- Funny and Heart-warming (the creature created for this film is cute and compelling)
- Thoughtful perspective on the food industrial complex
- With the child protagonist on a grand chase/adventure and with compassion at its core, this story feels like Studio Ghibli in all the best ways
Lately, when I look for something interesting and fun to watch, I gravitate toward Korean filmmakers. Why? They are some of the best storytellers around and Netflix is committed to working with them/putting their work out to the broadest audience. Moreover, Korean filmmakers don’t seem fixated on US/European political issues, which bore me these days. OKJA does touch on the industrial food complex…a global reality that is political. In particular, OKJA explores how meat is produced and processed for broad human consumption. But don’t let that stop you from watching this interesting and entertaining film. I think the questions that arise from the film are worth thinking about for every person on Earth, whether a vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore. Kids watching this will also feel the implications of our “appetites”. It’s not a bad thing to help our youth understand that meat actually comes from creatures who live on this Earth with and among us. That’s a worthy conversation to have with our future leaders who will likely make choices for all of us about how we are to care for planet and creatures.
With an all-star cast, both Korean and US born actors inhabit this film. Stars like Tilda Swinton, Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead, Minari, Nope), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, The Batman, The Fabelmans), Yoon Je-moon (The Man Nextdoor), and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Donny Darko) inhabit this universe. The protagonist, Korean actress Ahn Seo-hyun, is fantastic as the stoic caretaker of OKJA. She is the studio Ghibli-styled determined child who will not give up on her friend. This story is as much about loyalty and friendship as it is about food politics. I loved OKJA and I hope your family does too.
THE LAST OF US, an HBO Max series is streaming now, but the release of episodes is drip…drip…The third installment arrived on Sunday (1/29/23) and now, like old fashioned tv watching, the audience waits a week, and so on. It’s an interesting choice that some streaming services have made, to hook viewers over a long period and keep them paying the monthly streaming charge. Does it work? I’ll comment more on that in the longer review.
If you’re a gamer, you probably know that the heart of this story is based on the video game, The Last of Us, an action-adventure survival horror game franchise created by Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic United States ravaged by cannibalistic creatures infected by a mutated fungus in the genus Cordyceps. The game is rated R for violence and some sexually explicit scenes. At this point, 3 episodes in, the series is probably between a PG-13 and R rating, for violence.
For Educators: In biology class, give the gamers among you a treat by validating their hobby and teaching a lesson at the same time. Show the first 2 episodes (that’s all you’ll need) to discuss the nature of a fungus.
Is THE LAST OF US worth watching and perhaps more importantly, would you pay for an HBO subscription for this series alone? I recommend this series, with reservations. Short and long no-spoiler reviews will explain why.
The Short Review…Yes, watch
- If you love end-of-the-world zombie stories, this one has a couple of new twists to love
- Cool monsters and fast unlike the mostly ambling creatures in The Walking Dead
- Well casted (also, actors with talent that aren’t in every other show you’ve seen)
- If you play this game/love this game…it’s a new and perhaps fun way to interact with the world
The Short Review…Meh…don’t watch, or perhaps it’s too early to tell
- Overall and so far, this story feels less compelling than The Walking Dead or even Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, which I just finished reading. You’re better off spending your time reading or watching something else.
- Beware of attaching to key characters because the chances of them dying are really high (for many viewers, I realize this is a plus)
- In episode 3, spent a lot of time with a couple of characters who seemed peripheral to the heart of the story. If more episodes are like this one, not sure if I’ll want to keep watching
- Lastly, this series alone would not warrant paying for an HBO Max subscription. However, overall HBO content for science fiction, fantasy and dystopian viewing is decent. For example, you can stream DUNE Pt 1 and I loved Station Eleven, a mini-series based on the novel. Click to read my review of Station Eleven. Those are just a couple of examples of HBO’s excellent content.
The Longer Review
The Last of Us game in numerous iterations, has received critical acclaim and has won awards, including several Game of the Year recognitions. As of January 2023, the franchise has sold over 37 million games worldwide. Strong sales and support of the series led to the franchise’s expansion into other media, including a comic book in 2013 and this television adaptation. So…there is a built-in audience for the series, THE LAST OF US.
That’s a good thing for HBO, but from game to screen…has it ever been done well? I’m not an expert on this one, but I can’t think of a really great film or series that emerged from a game. Pretty good or fun shows…like Tomb Raider…those I could cite, but great? I don’t think so. Does anyone want to counter me here? This series has potential to say something new about the post-virus world, or in this case, post-fungus world (not a spoiler by the way…scene 1 of the series shows a scientist surmising about what would happen if a certain type of fungus evolved and could take over the human brain/body.)
In three episodes, the viewer gets a sense of one post-apocalyptic region in the US, an area around Boston. There is an allusion in episode 1 and 2 to world-wide catastrophe. There is a huge time jump between 1 and 2. The outbreak takes place in 2003 in episode 1. The rest of the series looks like it will take place 20 years later in 2023, with flashbacks to fill in the gaps here and there. The fungus shows up first in Jakarta, Indonesia…but we learn in episode 3 that the fungus probably went global simultaneously because it was in the food supply, in something like flour or sugar. That idea is unique, moveover, the zombies are weird and fast and hard to kill (bullet to the brain seems to do the job, similar to other zombie narratives). The fungus infested monsters are portrayed in a fuller way in episode 2.
In the era of binge watching, it’s possible a series such as THE LAST OF US will draw in fresh consumers to HBO streaming, but my guess is it won’t. The buzz that drives everyone to want to watch Stranger Things, because of the “event” of binging the entire season and sharing that experience with millions of fans, that is absent from the HBO and other streaming services’ business model. FoMO associated with binge watching fuels the marketing machine for Netflix. Millions are driven to want a subscription. Some buy, maybe thinking they’ll pay for a short time, and wind up staying longer or forever. Others do pay for one month and then quit…which is better for Netflix than those who use or steal a password to get their fix.
I am feeling a little frustrated by the drip…drip model. I don’t binge all in one day, but I like to watch the same show night after night. I hate waiting a week. It’s probable I will lose interest or get fixated on another show. I can’t be alone on that. So, if you’re a binge watcher and you think you might like this series, you might wanna wait for another couple of months so you’ll have more content. Subscribe to HBOMax in May, an you’ll have a whole lot of Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon and perhaps the first season of THE LAST OF US
The third and final science fiction novel written by CS Lewis, THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, is touted by some as a fantasy novel. I hesitate to go deeper to explain why that might be, for fear of spoiling, but let’s just say that the story takes place on Earth, not in space, and one of the key characters who acts in a miraculous and decisive way to defeat the enemy, is a wonderfully fantastical character.
As I have talked with friends who have read all three, I get different answers about which is the “favorite” in the trilogy. There are individuals who love Out of the Silent Planet. I personally like it for its length…it is as short as a novella and a tight little narrative. Others love Perelandra. I appreciate Perelandra, but there are portions where reading was a chore. For me, THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH is the true novel. It is my favorite of the three.
The Short Review: 5 Reasons I Recommend THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH
- Compelling main character(s) both grappling with interior life, particularly with identity and faith
- A rich setting, a modern academic world and progressive (Lewis’ words) university leadership that feels creepy, yet familiar
- An amorphous and terrifying villain, well written and historically relevant
- In the midst of the horror, a comedic twist that feels like a Shakespeare switch-a-roo
- A companion novel to 1984. Many minds in this era of the 20th century understood the tyranny of government control. Lewis and Orwell were cut from that same cloth. Warnings that are relevant today and always.
For me, the young married couple, Mark and Jane, makes this story compelling in a way that is unique among the three novels in the trilogy. Jane is a crucial player and well developed. In the previous novels Lewis did not present the reader with a compelling female lead who was relatable. The Perelandra Queen is wonderful, but otherworldly. Jane, in this book, is utterly relatable. Her discomfiture with domestic life, her struggle with a husband who is caught up in his own professional world, felt deeply real. Mark is also real. Lewis highlights his hubris and insecurity, showing the reader how one might choose to align oneself with a horrific community. Mark’s longing for belonging, his hope for recognition are powerful human motivators and have the capacity to diminish the moral spine, especially if that spine is wobbly (as Mark’s is). Despite Mark’s poor choices, I got the feeling that Lewis, like the deity he knows and loves, has not given up on this lost soul. When Mark sinks low enough and faces the worst of himself, there is a promise of redemption.
THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH is a story with complex layers. The deeper conversation about nations and their “haunting” is a topic I will not cover in this review, but in case you’re wanting to understand more, an article in The Imaginative Conservative called America’s “Logres”: The Mythology of a Nation helped me muse on what might be the American Haunting. That conversation is a crossover of the spiritual and the literary and takes the reader deeper into the mind of CS Lewis and those who were writing in like spirit, JRR Tolkien being one of those writers.
DON’T WORRY DARLING is a feature-length film, streamable on HBO after a limited release in theaters. This film, produced and directed by Olivia Wilde, provides a semi-new twist on an old science fiction trope. I won’t say what that trope is in the short review, however it is likely to be sniffed out by the scifi fan. It’s pretty obvious. Also, as typical with HBO productions, the sex scenes are explicit and emotionally intense. I give it an R rating because of those scenes, otherwise, it might have been a film the whole family could watch and talk about. Ah well…
First, the No-Spoiler Short Review
5 Reasons DON’T WORRY DARLING is a fun watch
- Gorgeous highly stylized mid-century modern setting
- Beautiful actors
- The fashion and hair are worth the price of admission
- Eerie undertones and mystery that slowly ramp up tension
- Semi-cathartic ending
3 Ways DON’T WORRY DARLING missed the mark
- I’ve watched and read various versions of highly controlled utopias. The story trajectory of DON’T WORRY DARLING was predictable. Add a few cliches here and there…and its style begins to feel overwrought.
- This film tries to make a statement about marriage by catering to a type of male fantasy around men as providers and women as housewives/stay at home wives. It did not match up to others of this story type in complexity or power, like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
- I wasn’t convinced in the characters themselves, that Jack (played by Harry Styles) in particular, would make the choices he makes
Longer Review (beware of spoilers)
DON’T WORRY DARLING showcases the creative vision of director, Olivia Wilde, along with writers/screenwriters Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke and Katie Silberman.
In the film, Olivia Wilde puts to the screen a utopia in a Southern California desert, a place where beautiful couples live in a 1950s-like fantasy world. Think, Leave It to Beaver, but with racy sex.
Traditional roles underpin the community’s existence. The husbands work each weekday. The wives stay home and though some cleaning and cooking is required of them, they otherwise sip cocktails, take ballet lessons, swim, sunbathe and shop. Children are mostly absent with a few exceptions, but the overall picture is one of leisure and luxury. Hardly a problem exists until one of its female members (a secondary character) goes off the rails and displays what the leader of the community deems irrational, mentally disturbed behavior. The film audience knows that this woman’s rants are the beginning of an unravelling.
The main character, Alice (Florence Pugh) witnesses the suicide of the troubled woman, Margaret, someone she had considered a friend. In trying to help Margaret after she both slits her throat and throws herself from a rooftop, Alice is commandeered and quieted into submission by men in red jumpsuits who seem to police the community. After this, she falls under the treatment of the community’s doctor, is offered meds, and given electroshock therapy. The therapy backfires and causes Alice to remember her “real life”. Everything she is experiencing in this utopia is false, a virtual reality that her husband has committed her to, for reasons that were challenging for me to understand. In theory, her husband loves her and wants this ideal utopia for them both, but by the end, he is willing to subdue her himself, forcibly. My best guess is that he was wanting to give his wife a good life but could not in reality. In real life she is a surgeon, so some of the logic breaks down here because I could not figure out (on one viewing) how he was able to afford this virtual reality without his wife working. Possibly, the “work” he is doing each day is something illegal, and his secrecy about it is a trade he makes for a virtual paradise. However, he is basically imprisoning his wife and forcing her into an identity of his making. That is evil and perhaps Wilde is trying to show via hyperbole, how this can sometimes be the case in an actual marriage. However, the lesson feels forced to me as does the story overall.
Despite that, the film did entertain and I enjoyed the setting, clothing and hair, an artistic landscape with a story that almost measured up to the visual style.
OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, by CS Lewis came about as a result of a coin toss between JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis in the 1930s. The understanding between the two men; one side of the coin would mean writing a science fiction novel, the other side would mean writing a time travel novel. The coin was tossed, Lewis was assigned the scifi novel. Tolkien was assigned the time travel novel. Tolkien never wrote his. Lewis did, published in 1938, twelve years before Narnia. In fact, he wound up writing three books of science fiction. OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, which I will review here, was the first. This story is sophisticated, but there is no reason a YA reader or a very learned middle grade reader cannot take on this story. For educators thinking about assigning this book to a young person, a solid discussion on the story would make the experience a profound one.
The Short Review: 4 Reasons to Read OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET
- Superb writing and because this is CS Lewis, when you’re finished reading, your brain will have expanded
- Scintillating ideas that awaken the conscience…Plunge yourself into the mindset of a WWI veteran and a brilliant observer of history and soak in Lewis’ crucial critique of pre-WWII Europe
- Absorb Lewis’ Christian concept of God/Creator…the beauty and the moral implications
- Gain a vision for the power of fiction (imaginative science fiction in particular) as a way to change hearts and minds.
A Few More Details:
When Lewis and his friend and colleague, JRR Tolkien, both veterans of WWI, decided to toss that coin, they had been musing together about the sad state of fiction. They believed that the godless universe theory unleashed to some degree by Darwinists and proponents of the Hegelian superstate/superman, was giving rise to real beliefs (like eugenics which both understood as dangerous and evil) inside academia and government. More troublesome, these theories were making their way into fiction and infecting the broader population through story.
Americans fought in WWII and helped to defeat Hitler, so my nation (I am a US citizen) often forgets how the eugenics movement in the US was accepted and backed by some of our highest state actors, like President Woodrow Wilson. We in the US forget, maybe conveniently so, that we too were traveling on a similar road as the Nazis. This is how pervasive these ideas were and back in that day, they were considered progressive. It turns out, anything can be labeled progressive. A cautionary and hopefully humbling reminder to us in the 21st century.
Marxist ideology was also suspect in Lewis’ eyes. Both Marxism and Fascism preached an exercising of power where the end justifies the means. That idea was an abomination to Lewis and Tolkien, the rejection of which made its ways into the Lord of Rings trilogy, as it did into all of Lewis’ writings. As Christians (Lewis, an Anglican, Tolkien, a Catholic), they challenged the idea that the state has permission to sacrifice an individual for some greater good, not without that individual willingly giving up her/his life, soldiers willing to fight to defeat the existential enemy of a free state being one example of this proper sacrifice, something both of these men witnessed first hand.
In regard to reading OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, knowing a little 20th century history and philosophy definitely helps the reader enter into the world of Elwin Ransom, the hero of the story, but even without that knowledge, this is a fascinating and well written tale. Ransom, a philologist, is on a walking tour of rural England. He is kidnapped and taken to Malacandra (the planet Mars). What unfolds is a story about relationship and curiosity (Ransom’s journey) versus dominance exercised by violence (the journey of his kidnappers). The narrative provides a resolution that exemplifies the idea that there is a standard of justice that is literally universal.
This is my third time reading OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET (notice my beat-up copy in the image above…not sure it will survive another read-through) and after finishing the book this round, I found myself dreaming about grace and kindness and goodness while I slept…something that doesn’t often happen for me after reading science fiction before bed.
4 Reasons I recommend EVIE/JOE, The Short Review
EVIE/JOE is first installment of The Walking Dead’s anthology series: Tales of the Walking Dead. Basically all of these tales will be in short-form, focusing on different characters each time, contained in one 45ish minute episode. EVIE/JOE is set in The Walking Dead universe which means there is a lot of gore, so consider this a PG-13 or R-rated flick. It’s not for everyone! You can watch this for free on Amazon Prime and possibly YouTube TV…still figuring that out.
I loved this short, but I love zombie films/stories and maintain a special fondness for The Walking Dead version of a post-zombie reality. Why might you want to watch?
- Believable and likeable characters (played by actors, Olivia Munn and Terry Crews)
- Well-done shorts like this must be targeted in its “one thing” it tries to do well and this short succeeded in doing that
- A familiar world, where context needs not be explained
- Decent tension and a surprising twist in the end
The Longer Review
First, I’ll say a little about the short form. There are a few reasons I appreciate shorts like EVIE/JOE. One is that I find it pleasurable to see a story, beginning, middle and end in one sitting. As a kid I loved The Twilight Zone for this reason. Second, the short form forces the story-teller to focus. My family members have heard me complain many times about a number of the more recent Marvel Universe films when there are way too many characters to properly give them all meaningful story arcs with the overall effect feeling flat and superficial (and for me, unsatisfying). There are three characters in this story. Four, if you count the dog. Third, the short form draws in amazing actors who want the chance to play a different/unique character but without the huge commitment of the series actor, who has to put the rest of his/her acting career on hold while the series is ongoing. This was an issue for Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead).
You could say the same about “guest” directors/writers. One short attracts very interesting directors and writers. I’m assuming some of these artists are fans of TWD universe but see room to add to that universe. Their vision can be surprising and wonderful.
EVIE/JOE begins with Joe, a survivalist living alone with his beloved Doberman. When the story opens, Joe is rewatching a football game. Civilization as we know it disappeared over a year before (see the carefully placed whiteboard in the first scene). Joe lives underground and seems to have enough electricity and food to stay happy and alive, but when his dog becomes lame, he must carry him up to the ground to go the bathroom and eventually, a group of zombies attack. The pup is bitten, dies and is buried by Joe. The subsequent flashes of Joe become increasingly depressing. A new level of suffering has entered into his life. Grief around his dog’s death and the reality that there is no one and nothing to really live for pushes him to venture out of his hole and seek another survivalist, someone he had contacted at a date when communication outside his hole was possible. That is when he meets Evie.
Their relationship becomes the focal point and draws out the true characters of them both. Both are lonely. Both are searching. There is a question about whether or not they will trust each other and whether or not they will succeed in finding what they most hope for. Evie is a hippy, who learned how to survive. Joe is a true survivalist. Their banter is funny and revealing.
It’s pleasurable to see a new setting here as well (in regards to The Walking Dead). This is the Upper Midwest, primarily Ohio and Michigan. There is evidence of survivors and evidence of death. The zombies aren’t the primary threat, but they’re around. As the audience learns pretty quickly in The Walking Dead universe, the zombies are way less scary than the hyper-terrified humans. This story is consistent on that front.
Eventually, there is an ultimate choice…choosing sides, choosing to trust or not trust and there is a moment of facing death. EVIE/JOE will not disappoint if this is the humanity you’re looking for.
My son is visiting Wisconsin and after work, we are alternatingly choosing films to watch together. Two nights ago, we watched a horror flick he chose called Hereditary, which was decent, not awesome, but was made by the same film company that produced Ex Machina(which I loved and realizing now, I have never reviewed this flick on my site…must amend).
Last night, we watched 12 MONKEYS on Amazon Prime for $3.99. This film would probably be rated PG-13 today. No sexual content really, just creepy apocalyptic tension. And wow! This is still an awesome film and has aged well. Today, I asked my GenZ kid…What do you think? Would most GenZers like this film?
It’s been a while since I’ve watched 12 MONKEYS, but given my vague memory of it, I thought…might be worth the time.
One pleasure, as an older film fan, was to remember Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt remarkably in the same film. Not sure it happened in any other, but what Terry Gilliam delivered on the screen between these two, was close to perfection. This is possibly Brad Pitt’s finest acting and if you’re a fan, you’re gonna have to watch. A few images below underlie my point.
First, my Short Review: 4 Reasons You Want to Watch 12 MONKEYS
- Weird and dystopian tale, echoing Blade Runner in tone and style.
- One of Terry Gilliam’s masterpieces
- Possibly Brad Pitt’s finest acting
- Bruce Willis playing his iconic gritty and misunderstood character
- Great storytelling
Just cannot get enough of these scenes, shots of these two iconic men, culture-impacting actors for the last 30 years.
The Longer Review
Sometimes when you re-watch a film like 12 MONKEYS, you wonder how it’s gonna age. As an older person, you think (because you have experienced this before), was I impressed because of something slightly superficial and trite, or was this film truly great? With this flick, you need not worry. 12 MONKEYS delivers on so many levels. First, it delivers on weirdness of setting, including its gritty urban reality. My son (25yo), who has watched Blade Runner understood the dystopian aesthetic of this world. He even commented on the similarity. That, in and of itself, makes me feel I am doing my job training up my children. Second, 12 MONKEYS delivers on story. There is a clear protagonist, a vaguely enormous villain (that proves to be more personal in the final scenes) and enough mystery to keep the audience in tension. Finally, there is weirdness and surprise and the best aspects of science fiction where the perspective being put forward from one or two of the characters absolutely blows up the assumptions and values of the audience. And, if nothing else, respect these images…bizarre and gorgeous. Terry Gilliam is a genius.
Apple Plus released its third season of FOR ALL MANKIND this month. I have not viewed any of the 3rd season but I did watch all of 1 and 2 and loved them. What follows will be the short review and a longer review of season 1 and 2. If you’re convinced by the short review…start watching now. If you need a little more data, the longer review will give you a better idea of why this many hours of consumption might be worth your time. The show is rated R for a few racy sex scenes, but if your young person can handle that, the education piece is interesting. A bit of history can be etched out or explained as some of the “alternative” version comes across the screen. It’s portrayal of communist USSR rings true. It also captures something of the spirit of the age for each decade, especially the urgency around the space race of the 1960s.
The Short Review: 6 Reasons I Recommend FOR ALL MANKIND
- If you love alternative history narratives like The Man in the High Castle, you will appreciate this story
- If you love nostalgia settings and music, think Stranger Things, you will love being immersed in this story-world, which starts in the 1960s, but spans decades.
- Most of us appreciate great casting. FOR ALL MANKIND will not disappoint
- Top-notch production value, this includes the writing, the special effects and the acting
- Good pacing. A lot of action, drama and tension throughout
- A thoughtful story. A sprinkling of social commentary for our current time…some of that commentary I liked, some I felt was contrived, but the ideas are worthy of our attention
The Longer Review: (this review contains a couple of small spoilers)
The USSR and the US are in a space race in this alternative history, set during the cold war. The USSR has landed on the moon first, claimed it as territory, and has aims to build a military compound. This traumatizes the US as a nation. The first episode captures the feeling well as it feels like a gut-punch watching the Soviet flag raised on the moon and hearing the first words of the Russian Cosmonaut as he takes the first steps…The Walter Cronkite figure on the television news reports as follows:
The first man to set foot on the moon spoke just moments ago. “I take this step for my country, for my people, and for the Marxist-Leninist way of life. Knowing that today is but one small step on a journey that someday will take us all to the stars.”
FOR ALL MANKIND was created by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Outlander), Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi. They take the “what if Russia had landed on the moon before we did” scenario and create a similar history to our own, but with differences that intrigue. The writers, I surmise, are progressive in their leanings because progressive values make their way into the script and into a historically white male dominated NASA long before reality. Sometimes, it feels heavy-handed, like the writers are checking the boxes of gender and racial diversity. However, the results do make for a delightfully diverse cast.
In episode 1, the audience meets Margo Madison (pictured above, played by Wrenn Schmidt) at the beginning point of her NASA career where she is the only woman in the male dominated control center. By season 2, she emerges as NASA’s head.
By the finale of season 2, women, a couple of non-binary individuals (though they keep their gender preferences a secret), African Americans and even a Mexican female immigrant who came over the border illegally as a child, are recruited by the NASA of FOR ALL MANKIND. And who can say it might not have been this way had the US felt the pressure of its failure to land first on the moon? Also, the Soviets promote the first female astronaut, shaming the US for its lack of representation.
All the characters are well-drawn and most are courageous and longsuffering in various ways. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Hanna and Altered Carbon) plays Ed Baldwin, an astronaut with a big mouth who in a drunken state reveals to a reporter how NASA lost the space race because of an aversion to risk. He is punished for the reveal (taken off astronaut duty and given a desk job), but his words capture NASA’s very real dilemma. In order to stay equal to, or to get ahead of the USSR, risks will have to be taken. Many characters of significance will lose their lives to achieve the elusive prize of space dominance.
This is where the series gives commentary on current society as it poses the questions that plague our century…Who will dominate the future? US and free societies (in general) have dominated the global order since WWII, but that prize came at a great cost to many of our ancestors. We have inherited something hard fought, but that inheritance is being challenged and chipped away by those who see themselves as more deserving of dominance…and perhaps they are, but some moments in history, even national failures, have the capacity to motivate a new generation of warriors. That message shines through in FOR ALL MANKIND.