Wow, this looks great. Aliens arrive with an imposing presence. It’s up to humans to try in some way to communicate with them to learn what they want. I’m intrigued.
WATERLOO is one of my favorite movies. This Soviet-Italian film is nothing short of astonishing. It was directed by Sergei Bondarchuk and produced by Dino De Laurentiis in 1970. It presents the events leading up to WATERLOO and the battle itself. Rod Steiger nails his portrayal of Napoleon, while Christopher Plummer is superb as the Duke of Wellington. About 15,000 Soviet soldiers and 2,000 cavalrymen reenact the battle with excellent historical detail.
If you’re a history buff and haven’t seen this one, you should check it out however you can. Here’s the History Buffs review:
PREACHER (AMC), produced by Seth Rogen and based on the comic series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, tells the story of Jesse Custer, a criminal who came home to follow in his father’s footsteps as a clergyman in Annville, Texas. Custer is possessed by a spirit that escapes from Heaven, which gives him the power to compel people to do his will simply by talking. Custer is joined by Cassidy, an Irish vampire, and Tulip, his ex-girlfriend and ex-partner in crime. Custer tries to understand and use his new power, which leads to plenty of unintended consequences.
I haven’t read the comic (I know, I know, I’m a bad nerd) so I got to enjoy the show as something entirely new, the way I experienced GAME OF THRONES.
I loved every minute of this show. For me, the characters, acting, sets, direction, action, quirkiness and spiritual questions were all spot on. I was completely hooked by the end of the first episode.
Particularly interesting to me is the theology of the show. It presents God as real and something worthy of belief and worship without being sappy and silly. Something very hard to do in art. Consider Dean Koontz’s THE TAKING (spoiler alert). The apocalypse arrives, and almost everybody is slaughtered in horrific, sadistic ways. But the main characters find out it’s God culling the earth, so it’s all a-okay. They’re smiling at the end, knowing God loves them. The message: Sadistic genocide is horrifying until God does it.
Contrast approaches like that with James Morrow’s stunningly brilliant TOWING JEHOVAH, BLAMELESS IN ABADDON and THE ETERNAL FOOTMAN. In this trilogy, God wills himself to die. A sea captain is hired by the Catholic Church to tow his giant naked lifeless body across the ocean to colder regions to help preserve the body. Along the way, the crew falls into existential despair and give into their animal urges because hey, nobody’s watching, nobody cares. In BLAMELESS IN ABADDON, a judge who’s dying of cancer sues God’s corpse for allowing evil in the world. In THE ETERNAL FOOTMAN, God’s body decomposes, and his skull flies into the sky to become a second moon, reminding everybody they will one day die and that there is no eternal life. As a result, humanity starts dying of existential malaise until one man creates a new religion around humanity itself and its achievements, its great monument a giant human brain.
Also consider THE LEFTOVERS. In the book/HBO series, 2% of the world’s population simply disappears. Three years later, people still search for closure, meaning, a way to move on. The world’s ending very, very slowly due to existential angst. Nagging everyone is the idea that God rejected the people who were left behind, that this giant impossible miracle happened that can’t and possibly will never be explained.
PREACHER similarly takes a very intelligent and accessible view of humanity’s relationship with God. People want to love and serve God but don’t know how. People and their lives are complex, and often the right thing to do is elusive. Trying to do the right thing often backfires. People who have done evil wonder if God really forgives them. Custer stubbornly affirms his dedication to God in the face of clever denunciations of God’s existence or, if he does exist, the job he’s doing running the universe. (spoiler alert:) A character at one point asks God why bad things happen to good people. God answers with platitudes and says, was that helpful? The character smiles on the verge of tears and says, yes. Then she adds: But why? As God didn’t answer the question, just as he didn’t answer Job either in the Bible.
PREACHER is brilliant, quirky viewing, and I’m looking forward to devouring Season 2 next year.
“Warriorrrrrs, come out and play-ee-ay.” –Luther, leader of the Rogues
Thirty-six years after THE WARRIORS stunned audiences with its brutal story of gangs in New York City, ROLLING STONE reassembled key members of the cast for a reunion and a final subway ride to Coney Island, their turf. Get the story here.
Okay, here’s the cheesy sci-fi setup: When a woman named Angelica kills herself, she gives “birth” to a cluster of people who are psychically connected. Eight people around the world suddenly find themselves able to connect emotionally, take over one another’s bodies, and communicate. A nefarious organization sees this sister species of humans as threatening and ruthlessly hunts them down.
What follows is something of a masterpiece.
A creation of the Wachowksi siblings (who gave us THE MATRIX), SENS8, a Netflix original series, is done well on just about every level. The eight characters are richly drawn. They each have a particular ability that is something of a tragic flaw in their own lives but is occasionally extremely help to others as they face their challenges. Even minor throwaway characters who show up in a scene or two are given terrific dialogue and are played to the gritty hilt by good actors.
The theme of the show appears to be life’s a pageant, and we’re the players. The settings, which span nine cities in eight countries on four continents, are always beautiful, often taking us into local festivals and celebrations from the Fourth of July to the Ganesha Chaturthi. There are terrific setpieces such as each of the characters remembering their birth during an orchestra playing in Iceland; the show takes its time exploring the many facets of life. The characters interact with each other in touching ways, showing the beautiful side of human nature even as they each deal with its dark side in their personal lives. While extensive ruminations shared by the characters sometimes drags the show, the tension is always building, and there’s plenty of action. By the end of the first season, the antagonist is well defined, and pretty potent as a villain, and the eight sensates, now fully aware of who and what they are, have formed a strong union.
One of the things I like about the show is its matter-of-fact treatment of gay characters and visuals that might make some people uncomfortable, such as a baby crowning during delivery. The show often seems to say, this is life, deal with it or go watch something else that doesn’t make you feel icky. In particular, I like the way gay characters are treated. They’re not flamboyant stereotypes, nor are they misunderstood but noble souls, they’re just people who happen to be gay, so what.
Another thing that’s impressive about the show is the way it’s shot. The story unravels across cities and continents, and often scenes show characters interacting with each other in multiple locations at once. It’s just incredible–the production company basically travels from city to city, and the actors act out all scenes in that particular city before moving on. When you stop watching and think about it, the amount of planning and editing required boggles the mind. Whether you like the story or not, the overall production is a work of art.
Two thumbs up for Sens8, which I’ll be watching again when season 2 rolls out either later in the year or in 2017. It’s science fiction, but it’s much, much more than that.
Recently watched BEASTS OF NO NATION, a Netflix original film adapted and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and based on the book by Uzodinma Iweala. The film stars Idris Elba, one of my favorite actors going back to the first time I saw him in the British vampire series ULTRAVIOLET, and Abraham Attah, who plays Agu, the main character. Elba does an amazing job as the Commandant, but Attah, wow, that kid can act. I loved the film.
The story begins with a family living in a village in an unnamed African country. The village is in a buffer zone protected by the Nigerians during a civil war. Agu is a clever boy making his way, while his father, a local school teacher, works hard to help the refugees pouring into the area.
When one side of the conflict enters the buffer zone, the Nigerians leave the village helpless. Agu’s mother and younger siblings are able to flee to the Capital, but Agu remains in the village with his father, older brother and grandfather. Government troops enter the village and slaughter the inhabitants, believing them rebels, and Agu flees into the jungle.
Agu is captured by a battalion of rebels led by the Commandant, who indoctrinates him and teaches him to fight. He becomes a child soldier, forced to kill.
The film is amazing. The characters come across as flesh and blood people, and their plight is heartbreaking. The politics surrounding the war seem confusing, but that’s because they are, they’re essentially meaningless to Agu. Just groups with acronyms that believe it’s “their turn to eat,” their chance to run things. His reality is limited to eating when he can, fighting when he must, and what the Commandant tells him is reality.
The life of the guerillas is one of hardship, filled with endless marching, fighting, rape and genocide. They wear fantastical uniforms and function something like a cross between a professional army and a cult.
Familiar tropes appear in the film, such as an aid worker driving into a refugee camp surrounded by cheering children looking for a treat, or a UN convoy passing an army of savage-looking guerillas. But the tropes are reversed, they seem strange and out of place, as we’re seeing them from Agu’s point of view.
By the end, we realize the Commandant is using the soldiers, and the rebel government is using the Commandant. The rebels need to commit genocide to win, but the more successful they are, the more they need to please the world community, which means jettisoning the Commandant and potentially leaving the soldiers liable for war crimes.
Gradually, Agu realizes there’s no noble cause, no father figure in the ruthless Commandant, and no justice and revenge–only endless atrocity, cruelty, hardship and political maneuvering by the powerful to line their pockets. After he leaves the war, he realizes his childhood is gone, and doesn’t know if he can even rejoin humanity.
This is a film simple and powerful in its storytelling, brutal in its violence and realism, and moving in its depiction of children used as soldiers in a horrifying civil war.