Archive for the ‘ Reviews ’ Category

A Review of the first season of FX’s Legion

By Kaleb Lyonnais

On March 29, FX premiered the first season finale of Legion, a television program about the character of the same name taken from Marvel Comics.  The eight-episode season was short but potent, distinguishing itself with creative use of special effects and a uniquely-unpredictable plot.

Legion is set in the same continuity as the X-Men movie franchise. The X-Men are a group of mutants, people with superpowers gained through random genetic aberrations. They were created in 1963 by Stan Lee who, after creating many other superheroes, was tired of writing origin stories for each character. David Haller, the mutant known as Legion, is the son of Professor X, the leader of the X-Men. However, with minimal references and no crossovers with the movies, anyone can understand Legion even if they have not seen the X-Men.

David is telepathic and telekinetic. Unfortunately, he is also schizophrenic, having hallucinations of strange voices and images. At the beginning of the season he believes that whenever he hears someone else’s thoughts, whenever he sees something fly across the room, or whenever anything inexplicable happens, that it is a symptom of his insanity.

As the story progresses David does not know if he is insane or if he has superhuman abilities. He must decide who he believes, the psychiatrists who want to treat his illness or the fellow mutants who want to train him to use his power.

Meanwhile David’s new friends, a group of mutants from the “Summerland” institute, are at war with Division 3, a government agency trying to control mutants. The mutants vs. government motif has been done in the X-Men movies, but Legion took the novel approach of focusing on telepathic deceit instead of combat.

Special effects are used throughout the series to portray these illusions, from monsters projected into people’s minds to entire fantasy worlds with different laws of physics. The producers stated that they aimed for a 1960s aesthetic, with bright colors and surreal scenes. The result is a memorable and palpable affect that provides continuity between the real world and the various illusions.

Much of the story is told in a non-linear order. Courtesy of another mutant, David and his new friends explore his memories. They visit many incidents where David’s power manifested, jumping from year to year. David’s memories have been corrupted, leading to an unreliable, convoluted search for the truth. Despite this complexity, the audience can follow the story easily as David tries to explain it all.

Legion‘s cast is small, allowing the audience to focus on the story instead of trying to keep track of all of the characters. David is played by Dan Stevens, who does an excellent job acting confused and uncertain without dehumanizing the character. Rachel Keller plays David’s love interest Syd, a woman with an intense aversion to physical contact (which, considering her ability to switch bodies with people she touches, is a reasonable precaution). Aubrey Plaza plays Lenny, David’s friend who dies the first episode, then makes recurring appearances as David hallucinates about her. Their allies/co-stars include the memory-exploring Ptonomy (played by Jeremie Harris), the body-sharing Cary and Kerry (Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder), and the leader of Summerland, Melanie (Jean Smart).

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the show is its portrayal of mental illness. David begins the series in a mental hospital where melancholy patients endlessly take pills from uncaring psychiatrists. Several times mental illness is used as a trick to convince mutants that they do not truly have powers. Even David’s real hallucinations (as opposed to the real events he thinks are hallucinations) are revealed to be the result of meddling by another psychic mutants. The series gives the impression that mental illness is a lie and that mental hospitals are traps for social outcasts.

Because of the unreliable narrative and layers of illusions, the plot takes turns that are nigh unpredictable. It is made clear to the audience that David is both telepathic and schizophrenic, but this makes it unclear which events are real and which are imagined. Every episode has a revelation about an seemingly-real character doing something unreal or a seemingly-unreal event launching a real plot line.

Legion has a unique style of storytelling and captivating special effects. Its characters have multi-faceted motivations and do not rely on stereotypes to fit into the story. The plot, while complex, flows smoothly and does not resort to patronizing the audience with exposition. It is an enjoyable show to watch and an excellent experiment in entertainment.

 

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A Review of Marvel’s Doctor Strange

By Kaleb Lyonnais

Last November, the latest in a increasingly-long line of Marvel movies premiered,  Doctor Strange. It was directed by Scott Derrickson and starred Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon turned sorcerer.

Doctor Strange had the usual Marvel mix of witty one-liners, clever-sounding jargon, fight scenes, and a staggeringly-arrogant protagonist. Unlike previous Marvel heroes, Doctor Strange is a sorcerer who fought not by punching his problems away but by warping reality.

The first act focuses on Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon known for performing operations on what other doctors call inoperable. He is also arrogant to the extent of only operating when it can bring him glory. In a instance of poetic justice, Strange damages his hands in a car accident. He is the only person capable of fixing his own nerves, but he can’t because his hands now shake to much to perform surgery.

With his career ruined, Strange turns to anything that might help him. He eventually finds a group who can help him, but only if he opens his mind to worlds beyond the one he knows. Studying under the Ancient One, Strange learns how to manipulate energies from other dimensions (which is a mouthful, so most people call it magic).

Alongside fellow sorcerers Karl Mordo and Wong, Strange defends the Earth from Kaecilius, a former student of the Ancient One who serves the apocalyptically-powerful entity, Dormammu.

The idea of a movie adaptation of the Doctor Strange comic book had previously been dismissed as unfilmable. Aside from featuring magic in a franchise otherwise skeptical of the supernatural, Doctor Strange has a habit of travelling to other dimensions. The original artwork by Steve Ditko is best described as sixties psychedelia crossed with an M. C. Escher drawing.

Doctor Strange overcame these difficulties using special effects that work seamlessly into the scene, from a semi-sentient levitating robe to bending Manhattan like a Rubik’s cube. The parallel dimensions are given such detail that they look real despite violating the laws of physics. The sorcery of this movie is astounding.

The portrayal of Dormammu, the dread of the Dark Dimension who wants to destroy Earth, was particularly interesting. Being made from other-worldly energy, the Dormammu is drawn in the comics as a strange-colored anthropomorphic fire. Although this works well in the comics, after the stunning effects in the rest of the movie it would be anti-climatic for the ultimate antagonist to be a flame monster. Instead the cinematic version was a ripple of darkness with an intimidating voice.

The acting is not to be overlooked. Cumberbatch did an excellent job portraying Strange’s journey from an selfish egomaniac to a compassionate hero. Other cast members included Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Benedict Wong as Wong (yes, the actor named Wong played the character named Wong), Rachel McAdams as Strange’s colleague and ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer, Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, and Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.

Doctor Strange was produced by Kevin Feige, who also produced every other Marvel Studios movie, but stands out by having minimal tie-ins. People who have never seen the other movies would have no issue understanding this one. On the other hand, the final scene (along with the mid-credits scene) set up other movies to reference this one.

At the box office Doctor Strange made $677 million, turning a great profit from its $165 million budget. Considering this, and Marvel’s love of sequels, Doctor Strange 2 is very likely. One character has already been set up to become the sequel’s villain, with many characters from the comic book ready to be added, such as Strange’s love interest Clea, the villain Nightmare, the aptly-named Mindless Ones and many others. In particular, Strange’s ally, Eternity, would be interesting to see in a movie, since Eternity is the manifestation of the universe.

With Marvel busy making other movies the earliest a sequel could be released is 2019, when Marvel has three yet-to-be-titled movies scheduled. In the meantime Doctor Strange is set to appear in Thor: Ragnarok in November, Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, and Avengers 4 (currently without a subtitle) in 2019. The DVD of Doctor Strange was released in February 2017; it includes previews for upcoming Marvel movies as special features. We hope to see the next Doctor Strange, along with many more Marvel features, hold up to this standard of quality.

 

The Jungle Book: Anthropomorphism At Its Best

By Michael Staudt

Rudyard Kipling wrote many fabulous novels throughout his career, yet this masterpiece is one of his finest. The novel The Jungle Book was published in 1894.

The novel starts with a man cub, named Mowgli, that is adopted and raised by a tribe of wolves. As the boy begins to mature, a tiger that thrived in the jungle, known as Shere Kan, decides to exile the human to a village nearby.

Mowgli is accepted at the suburb by a woman named Messua who believes that he was her lost son abandoned in the jungle. After denouncing unrealistic opinions about the jungle and its animals, Mowgli is thought to be a mad man.

When Shere Kan enters the village, Mowgli leads the predator into a ravine where the tiger is trampled by cattle. Following this act, the boy is exiled into the jungle to perish.

Overall, The Jungle Book was a very well written novel. Indian culture is expressed in the novel and several morals are written in a professional and entertaining way.

The perspectives that Kipling gives the reader are extraordinary as well, because he gives a point of view from the animal’s life and culture. His use of anthropomorphism, is astounding and charming.

For those who adore anthropomorphism and enjoy Rudyard Kipling’s writing, this is the perfect book!

1984: The Ultimate Dystopian Novel

By Michael Staudt

The novel 1984 was written by George Orwell and published on July 8, 1949. The main characters in the novel thrive in a country called Oceania. These characters include Winston Smith, a worker of the Ministry of Truth, his wife Julia, a member of the anti – sex league, Big Brother, the man who owns Oceania, and O’Brien, an officer of the government that deceives Winston and Julia into submitting towards Big Brother.

The government surveillance committee known as Big Brother contributes to the forming of an organization called “The Ministry Of Truth,” which produces the propaganda and news articles of the society.

When Winston commits “thoughtcrime” and sexual actions to revolt against Big Brother, he and his wife Julia are caught and arrested by the thoughtpolice. In the end, Winston submits to the Ministry Of Truth and Big Brother.

This novel is an excellent piece of literature because it describes the struggles society may face. This states the possibility of concealment and inaccurate information aimed towards a country from their federal government. The story also challenges the thoughts one may have about the innocence of government and societies around the world.

I extremely enjoyed the creativity and thought put into the book.  Overall I recommend reading this to challenge your perception of society and enjoy a fantastic piece of literature.

 

Review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Premiere

By Kaleb Lyonnais

Last week, die-hard fans watched a new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the first time in what felt like years (it was only a few months). The previous season ended with a sneak peak at the new one. This left viewers with two questions: who is this new director, and why did Daisy leave?

Fans of Marvel’s movies remember S.H.I.E.L.D. having been destroyed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A small group of agents continued working without government authorization for a few years, with Agent Coulson as director. Movie fans also remember Coulson dying in the first Avengers movie; the short explanation is that Nick Fury is a liar.

In the new season, S.H.I.E.L.D. has regained government sanction as the chief enforcers of the Sokovia Accords (the thing everyone was fighting about in Civil War). This came with a new, government-appointed director, but the only thing that is revealed about him is that he is paranoid.

The most exciting development of the premiere was the introduction of Ghost Rider. Characterized by his flaming skull, Ghost Rider is a difficult character to portray; he appears tawdry if the special effects are haphazard, but gaudy if they are overdone. This time the special effects were realistic and subtle, a credit to Computer graphics.

The plot was not particularly interesting; this episode mostly facilitated the plots of future episodes. Daisy, now inexplicably a vigilante known as Quake, was investigating something trivial when she found Ghost Rider. Old friends are trying to balance working for (or undercutting) the new director and remaining friends. Also, Life Model Decoys were invented.

The new season will certainly be interesting. The premiere did not answer any questions but instead raised many more. Fans can look forward to dramatic plotlines, exciting fight scenes, and more, surprisingly good, special effects.