Category Archives: Reviewing Shakespeare

My reviews of anything I feel needs reviewing (films, books, ect.)

Three BBC America Shows to Break Your Heart

I’ve been gone a long time, and for that I am truly sorry. But here is post full of things to distract you from my lack of being around so long. This year BBC America has broadcast three shows that are really, really good at not only getting you way too invested in the characters, but are also good at breaking your heart into little pieces. Not only that, but they are genuinely brilliant shows. So, here they are:

The Hour

Series 2 aired this past year, but Series 1 is also good. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after Series 2 despite writer Abi Morgan having won an Emmy Award for writing the series. The Hour takes place in the 1950’s and revolves around a team of journalists making a new show called The Hour, a weekly news show produced by the BBC. It’s “the hour you can’t miss.” Leading the team is Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), a brilliant journalist who is a pioneer in her field simply for being a working woman in a time when women didn’t really work in high positions or have respect. Also working with her is her long-time friend Freddy Lyon (Ben Whishaw), who will stop at nothing to dig out the whole truth for a story and then some. There’s Hector Madden (Dominic West), the host of the show who isn’t so much a good journalist as he is a good face for the camera. There’s also quite a few other characters who get to share the spotlight, and their lives are also examined in the context of the news program they’re putting out.

And what a news program it is. The first series deals with post-World War II Britain and the fight in Egypt over the Suez Canal. The government, who owns the BBC, tries to stop The Hour from broadcasting anything too controversial, while Bel and Freddy uncover a story that could reveal uncomfortable truths about the nature of government. The finale is an awesome commentary on the interplay between government censorship and the media, and is still relevant today. Series 2 examines police corruption in London, at a time where the country is spending huge amounts of money on defending against a nuclear threat that might not come, while in the city crime runs rampant and the owner of a “gentlemen’s club” has police in the palm of his hand.

All of these are fascinating issues on their own, but they are added to some very well-done character developments as well. Bel and Hector have an affair, and Hector’s wife, Marnie, has to find a way to deal with it. Freddy loves Bel but is convinced she doesn’t love him back, and Bel won’t admit that she might feel attracted to Freddy. Various other characters go through life changing events, and they all still have to put journalism at the front of their minds because that’s what matters. As Freddy says of Bel, “cut you to your core and you’ll find news running through your spine.” Journalism and personal matters conflict with each other, and it is these conflicts that give the show some of its most heart-breaking scenes. The end of series 2 and, by extension, the end of the entire show, is definitely something that brings on tears and feelings of mourning what could have been.


Broadchurch is a new show, currently having just finished its first series, about a crime taking place in a small Scottish town on the seaside. A young boy named Danny goes missing in the middle of the night, and detectives Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Coleman) are forced to work together to take on the case. Adding to the tension is the fact that Hardy took the job Miller wanted while she was on vacation. They find Danny dead, murdered at the beach, and soon the whole town is wondering who did it. And the town is small, so everybody knows everybody. Except for Hardy, who is the only stranger. Miller finds herself in a strange position by being one of the leads on the case but also extremely close to the affected family.

The show is heartbreaking in that there are scenes that ring very true to grief and desperation interspersed with what one might think of as traditional police procedural proceedings. It’s got a lot more emotion than your average cop show, because the crime is so close to many in the police department and because everyone knows each other in the town–the only outsider is Hardy. There is a lot of time taken to show Danny’s family grieving, how his mother is recently pregnant, the father keeping a secret, and the teenage sister not knowing how to cope. Throughout the show it is revealed that almost everyone has secrets, and they were kept secrets for a reason, and relationships are strained, even at a time when people need those relationships the most. Hardy has a big secret, and it’s one that makes him desperate to finish the case despite his failing health and conflicts with Miller.

So there’s all that ongoing emotional stuff, but the end is really the thing that will break you. There is a twist–we find out who Danny’s killer is. But finding out isn’t satisfying. Instead it breaks everything, devastates the town, and tears relationships apart.

Orphan Black

Time to add some science fiction to the list! Orphan Black is a great example of excellent writing and acting and great execution on the part of the directors. If you’re looking for good, realistic science fiction that’ll have you emotionally invested in everything that happens, this is it. Which is good, because science fiction often tosses aside emotion for plot. Not so here.

Orphan Black starts with Sarah Manning, a con artist of sorts who returns to New York after some time away with the intention of taking her daughter, Kira, from her foster mother and going to live a better life. While at a train station she sees a woman who looks just like her kill herself by stepping in front of an on-coming train and, on a whim, Sarah takes her stuff. She finds out that this woman is named Beth Childs and that she’s a detective with a nice apartment and, importantly, a lot of money. But when Sarah impersonates Beth, she’s pulled into a trial at the police station where she finds out that Beth had been suspended for shooting a woman while on duty. But that’s not all.

Beth has also been in contact with a woman named Alison. And then Sarah, as Beth, meets a woman who looks just like her but is killed almost immediately. She finds out, through a meeting with Alison and a scientist-grad-student named Cosima that there are multiple clones of her running around. They all look exactly the same (but different, given styles and hair stuff and things like that) and are all played by the brilliant Tatiana Maslany. They also have different personalities: Alison is a high-strung soccer mom, Sarah a tough city girl, and Cosima an enthusiastic and quite hip science enthusiast.

They find out that one of their clones, Helena, is trying to kill them because she’s been told that she’s the original. And then they find out that they all have monitors who take medical examinations from each of them while they sleep, and make sure that they don’t become “self-aware” so to speak. Basically, they are part of a huge unethical science experiment. And as they unearth more about who created them, where they came from, and why Helena is so disturbed, they find a lot of things that point to their lives being in serious danger.

And the heartbreak? Well, it comes from these women finding out that they are clones, science experiments, for the most part. But there is also how it affects their relationships. Cosima falls in love with her monitor. Sarah’s involvement in finding out about her origins puts her daughter, Kira, in danger, because none of the other clones have had children and therefore, if their creators find out about Kira, she could be experimented on and worse. Helena’s story is sad for a lot of reasons, because she is the one that’s gone so far astray that it seems impossible to bring her back into some semblance of a family. The series finale takes all of this into account: the relationships, the stakes for each of the clones, and what it means to be a clone, and brings it to a devastating climax.

So there you have it: emotional journalism, emotional police procedurals, and emotional science fiction. Three things that often sacrifice emotion for plot, and the BBC managed to make all three of them in a year and make them heartbreaking. But that’s okay, because all three are brilliant television and well worth watching.


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Review: The Ocean At the End of the Lane

So I finished The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman today. And…

I understand that it’s awesome and it does give me a lot of feelings of nostalgia and memory and the descriptions are exquisite and it evokes a lot of emotions, many of them bittersweet, some of horror, some of happiness, and some of sadness.

But I don’t understand how so many people have been so vague about the book, saying that’s it’s fantastic but indescribable, like, I don’t know, like it’s some sort of near-death experience or something. It is fantastic but it’s far from indescribable. I just described a bunch of emotions right above this paragraph. And there’s an actual plot which shouldn’t be ignored.

There’s a boy who meets a young girl and her mother and grandmother and they’ve been around for a Long Time and when he encounters some unkind spirit of sorts the girl and her family must help save him. Years later the man remembers when returning home from a funeral, so there’s a lot of memory and nostalgia involved.

It actually reminds me a bit of It by Stephen King in the sense that adults don’t remember their childhood until they return to their childhood homes because what happened there was so incomprehensible that it’s better to forget when you can. The difference between the two is that Stephen King’s book focuses more on the horror and the story. Gaiman’s book is less about the story, I think, and more about the impressions memories leave: certain emotions, certain scents, certain visuals, certain tastes. There’s a lot of specificity that comes with newly remembered things, and I like that kind of writing better. I think a lot of Gaiman’s style also comes from the fact that the majority of the story takes place during childhood, and children think differently than adults. Looking back on childhood is different than looking back on adulthood.

Gaiman’s book actually reminds me a bit of Spirited Away, where the protagonist enters this fantastic world and forms wonderful memories after undergoing some terrifying trials and then has to leave, the only difference being that in Gaiman’s book the protagonist forgets until he returns. (Then again, we don’t know the fate of the protagonist of Spirited Away-maybe she forgets a bit, too.) Both end on a bittersweet note, and both provoke strong emotions in me of longing and sadness and happiness and loss. Both are cathartic, because both of them remind me of ways I’ve felt in my own life, having amazing experiences and having to leave them behind.

Ocean makes you think about memory in a lot of ways. Many of the memories in the book are focused on taste, and smell, and feeling. My own memories tend to be more about visuals–I remember certain times in my life by recalling a visual from it like a picture, which becomes a film in my mind going on and on. Sometimes the film seems like a documentary, extremely real and factual, and other times it seems hard to distinguish from a dream I might have had because the memory is so faded and altered. Sometimes I associate certain memories with music, especially travel memories. Rarely do I associate memories with scents, but there are a few-the sharp scent of cologne my dad wore when he drove me and my sister down to my grandmother’s house early in the morning, which gave me a headache and made me even more tired. The musty smell of my grandmother’s apartment, full of cats. But mostly, my memories deal in visuals. Which makes sense-I am a visual person.

And that’s what I like about Ocean At the End of the Lane. It has a plot that’s good if you just look at it by itself, but at the same time it has impressions and emotions that evoke your own thoughts about memory and nostalgia and the emotions you associate with them that is impossible to separate from the story.

It can be explained. There’s the plot about the young boy, there’s the emotions the book evokes, and there’s why it effects readers so much.

In other words, it’s a very good book. It’s small, but it makes up for size with an ocean of quality. (Pun intended.)  Image

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Review: Iron Man 3

If you’ve seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you’ll know that director Shane Black took some of the sensibilities from that film and put them in Iron Man 3. And that’s a good thing. You get tons of comedy along with really great dramatic moments, and some dark themes, and even some dark comedy. If you haven’t seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you need to go watch it now. It too stars Robert Downey Jr. Also watch Iron Man 3 because, well, it’s a great film.

Okay, I’ll start off by saying that Iron Man 3 isn’t technically what most people (i.e. critics) would say is a good film. It’s a good superhero film, sure, but its plot is messy. There’s a lot of spectacle, and some details get lost in the mix. If you think about it too hard you’ll have a lot of “How did that happen?” and “Why did they just gloss over that?” ect, ect. But in the end that isn’t what really matters. What matters are the characters.

People love Marvel films because of their familiarity with the characters. If you don’t know who Iron Man is, well, I don’t know what you’ve been doing in the past few years but it certainly hasn’t been paying attention. The Marvel franchise is good about building characters that are more than just their superhero identities, and incorporating that into the films. Iron Man 3 is an exceptional example of this. The film is about Tony Stark’s journey to come to terms with who he is, and whether who he is is good enough without being Iron Man. After all, for the past three films featuring Stark, he’s gotten more and more intertwined with his identity as Iron Man.

Considering that the main focus of the film is Tony Stark’s character development, I’d say that Iron Man 3 did a fantastic job. We even get tons of action and comedy to add to our enjoyment, but it isn’t pointless. The film starts out with Stark building more and more Iron Man suits, as well as coming up with technology to be able to call the suits to him with just a few gestures through sciency things (don’t ask me the name) implanted in his skin. He can’t be without the suit. And he can’t sleep. And he has panic attacks about the time when he almost died in space during the Avengers.

This is interesting, this concept of having panic attacks. Superheroes don’t usually show that kind of weakness. Yet here we have Tony Stark having panic attacks in restaurants because he broke a crayon, or outside because someone mentioned New York. We see his nightmares. We see how his obsession with protection nearly harms Pepper. And for a superhero film that’s pretty deep. It isn’t new for Marvel, but it’s good to see them continuing down this route. Many films don’t acknowledge the pasts of superheroes and how it might affect them (except the newer Batman films, which are great) but here we see that Tony Stark was definitely affected, and both from the writing and Robert Downey Jr’s acting it comes across as realistic.

Tony’s journey throughout the movie is to move past this idea that he needs the suit to protect him and the ones he cares about, and to come to terms with what happened in New York. His challenge comes in the form of the Mandarin, a terrorist who causes chaos from behind a camera, going so far as to threaten the President. And as far as terrorists go, he’s pretty successful. But Tony has to stop him.

The Mandarin doesn’t make it easy. He destroys Tony’s house. Tony gets stranded in a small town with a damaged suit, which is his worst nightmare. The only person who can help him fix it? A little boy named Harley whose father has left the family and who also likes fixing things. He and Tony bond, sort of, through fixing the suit, dealing with the bad guys, and pulling no punches. Tony doesn’t shy away from Harley’s troubled family, and Harley doesn’t shy away from Tony’s issues with New York. In fact, Harley reminds Tony that he’s awesome without the suit because he’s the one who built it-he’s a mechanic, and that’s where his main talent lies. He fixes things.

So Tony gets to fix this situation. He fixes the suit. He goes to Miami to rescue some people with Rhodey (Don Cheadle.) He ends up infiltrating the mansion where the Mandarin is supposedly hiding. And this scene is awesome because, for the first time in forever, we get to see a real answer to the question posed by Steve Rogers in the Avengers-what is Tony Stark without the suit? The answer is that he’s a badass who can invent weapons out of household objects and infiltrate a mansion like a boss. He’s really competent, and that’s all on his own. He uses a combination of his genius and his fighting ability to succeed in getting into a mansion. And I love that there was a scene like that in the film, because sometimes we forget about Tony being awesome aside from being Iron Man. And he really shines here with his ingenuity and kick-assness.

But he’s not the only one. Pepper also gets to shine in this film. Pepper, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, has always been a character I liked for her strength. We need more female characters like her. And I like that her strength lies not in shooting guns (although that’s cool, too) but in the fact that she’s patient, that she can deal with Stark, that she doesn’t run from danger but she also doesn’t take crap from anybody. She stands up to others, and to Stark. She deals with the other antagonist of the film, Killian (Guy Pierce) quite nicely. She supports Stark but she also lets him know when he’s gone too far and needs help, and when he’s putting her in danger. And, well, Stark tries to save her, but she ends up saving him. Needless to say, there’s some awesome amounts of Pepper in this film.

And then there’s JARVIS. The AI system hasn’t really been too prominent in previous films, but here he (?) gets a lot of interaction with Stark. He also has more of a personality built on wit. He matches Stark, and is involved enough with the action that, for the first time, you get to feel like he’s actually a character and get a glimpse at how Stark must feel-like JARVIS is a sassy but very helpful friend that one would be sad to lose. Stark has an interesting relationship with his machines, like a father with his sons but also like a friend, and Iron Man 3 luckily expands a bit more on this.

The bottom line: you should see Iron Man 3. There’s great character development, and realistic portrayals of being human. You also get drama and comedy and lots of action. You’ll notice I didn’t talk much about the Mandarin or Killian. That’s because I want you to see for yourself, not because I just had a major oversight about the other two main characters in the film. And besides, I have to leave a little bit of mystery, otherwise why see the film? Besides for the awesome dialogue, comedy, dramatic tension, and killer development, and the action sequence with tons of Iron Man suits and explosions. You see where I’m going with this? See it.

But really, it’s good. This film lets us know that Tony Stark is a man, and human, but still awesome, and we need that reminder. Like Stark, the audience tends to become a bit too wrapped up in the Iron Man persona, and this really helps show that while Iron Man is Tony Stark, Iron Man is not all Tony Stark is.

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Holiday Entertainment

It’s that time of year! Namely, the time of year where everyone is home for the holidays and gets bored and needs stuff to do. Having been doing lots of stuff recently, I have some recommendations. And I hope that my recommendations are worthy.


A lot of noteworthy films have come out this year in theaters. Currently out and really really good movies that you should see are Life of PiLincoln, and Skyfall. Coming soon movies that look really good are Les MiserablesThe Hobbit, and The Impossible. Basically, it’s just been a really good year for movies. Life of Pi is a story about a boy who is stuck at sea in a lifeboat with a tiger for nearly a year, and uses beautiful imagery and storytelling to make a fantastic film. Lincoln has some very good actors and keeps your attention even though you know what’s going to happen. Skyfall is the best of the newer Bond movies, focusing on Bond’s relationship with MI6 when the new villain threatens the organization. Coming out, The Hobbit looks stunning and Peter Jackson is a great director so, hopefully, it will be a great movie. Les Mis also looks good but could go either way. The Impossible, the true story of a family vacationing during the 2004 tsunami, is heartbreaking and has gotten good reviews in Europe, so it’s worth checking out.

If you happen to have theatres that show older movies from earlier in the fall, then you should definitely attempt to see Cloud AtlasLooper, and Argo. All three movies are huge accomplishments in storytelling and are innovative, unique stories in their own right. Looper didn’t really get a lot of advertising so I think quite a few people missed out, but if you like gritty, realistic sci-fi and time travel then this is your film. Cloud Atlas also missed out on an audience due to people not knowing quite what it is, because it’s six wildly different stories in one film, but the film is beautiful and shows how humans are all interconnected through six amazing different story lines. Argo is still playing in a lot of places because it’s the fantastic story of the Iranian hostage crisis.

Or you could catch up on the various super-hero movies, good in their own right, that have come to a conclusion this year. The Batman trilogy of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises is a dark and exciting take on the Batman story and well worth watching. If you saw the Avengers, or want to see it, it’s worth also checking out Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America because they are all entertaining and provide insight into the various characters. Lastly, the new Amazing Spider-man came out and Andrew Garfield good in the part, so it’s worth a watch.


There’s lots of good television to watch or catch up on as well. I recommend, highly, The Hour, which tells the story of a BBC news program in the 1950’s that strives to tell the truth. Journalists Bel, Freddie, and Hector have to go up against the British government in order to give a true look at what’s going on in the country during the beginnings of the Cold War. The show has some amazing acting and storytelling, and also makes quite a lot of good commentary on journalism. Series 2 is airing now.

Doctor Who is coming out with a new Christmas special, introducing new companion Clara. If you haven’t seen the first half of series 7, in which Amy and Rory left, now’s a good time. It starts off questionably but gets going by the third episode to end spectacularly. If you haven’t watched Who before, I’d suggest starting all the way with 2005’s Series 1, with the Ninth Doctor, and working from there. It’s quite a fun ride.

Sherlock is not coming out with anything knew, but with both lead actors starring in new films, it’s worth checking out for anyone who hasn’t watched. It’s a modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories that is compelling and fantastic. There are two series out, and they both have cliffhangers that leave you wanting more.

For Shakespeare lovers, BBC came out with a series entitled The Hollow Crown over the summer, featuring the plays Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V. Some fantastic actors filled in the roles, with Ben Whishaw as Richard II, Jeremy Irons as Henry IV, and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal/Henry V. It’s well worth checking out if you want to see an extremely well done take of Shakespeare’s histories.


As a student who doesn’t get too much time to read, I can only recommend a few, but I can promise you that they are good. First, I’d like to recommend Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell–if you can’t see the movie, definitely read the book before it comes out on DVD. It’s six vastly different stories nested within one another that show how, ultimately, we are all connected.

For the history lovers out there, Chinese Lessons by John Pomfret is a good look at what communist China was like after the Cultural Revolution, told through the eyes of the author when he studied abroad in China shortly after the country was opened to students from the West, and includes the stories of several fellow classmates he met that, against all odds, ended up going to university with him.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh is the story of a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh trying to make their way through life, trying to get clean and failing, and ultimately trying to find a way out. It’s a good book with interesting narration (phonetic, in the style of a thick Scottish accent) and a great movie adaptation that also shouldn’t be missed.

If you like Game of Thrones or are a fan of the BBC series Merlin, or simply like tales of knights and magic, read The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This novel tells the story of how King Arthur became king, how Merlin taught him to view the world and then continued to be his friend during kingship, and how Arthur’s marriage and kingship fell apart. It’s epic, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking. Read it.

I hope that everyone has a fantastic holiday and gets to do a lot of fun things before next year eats up time again.

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Passion vs A Safely Guarded Enthusiasm (Review of The Deep Blue Sea)

Every once in awhile a movie comes along that is extremely relevant to some issue in my life, whether it be internal or external. I watched The Deep Blue Sea after I was questioning the benefits of falling in love, and the movie resonated with me more than it would have if I’d not been post-breakup. As it stands, anyone who’s ever taken a risk for the sake of something they were passionate about has a lot to gain by watching this film, if only because it asks the question: Is passion worth the risks it comes with?

Movie poster for The Deep Blue Sea.

The Deep Blue Sea takes place in 1950’s London, and Hester (Rachel Weisz), a young woman, starts an affair with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a young former military man. Why? Because she’s bored with her husband (Simon Russell Beale) who, despite being a perfectly good man, doesn’t give her the sort of passionate relationship she needs. And Freddie does, because he’s passion incarnate.

However, Freddie can’t love Hester the same way she loves him. He does what he wants, he needs a life full of action. He’s never really gotten over his military days and he can’t commit to the sort of relationship Hester wants. They don’t love each other the same way, and it’s a problem. The bottom line is this: Hester needs the stability of love her husband can provide, but wants the sort of passionate, volatile love that Freddie gives. And it’s, as Freddie puts it, lethal.

Literally, because when Freddie forgets her birthday, Hester has a breakdown. She hates herself. She writes a letter addressed to Freddie, telling her that what’s happened isn’t his fault, and attempts to kill herself. Her need has been unfulfilled. She doesn’t succeed, but Freddie finds the letter anyway, and he tries to end the relationship because he feels like after driving someone to kill themselves, he can’t move forward. Hester wants the relationship to continue, she doesn’t want to go back to the dull, if comfortable life she lived before with her husband. But Freddie can’t get past how the relationship has affected Hester, so he insists on leaving.

This film resonates because it deals with something we can all relate to: wanting to be passionately in love with someone else. But the film, unlike many love stories, asks the question of whether that passion is worth it. Passion comes with risk; with passionate love comes passionate hate, and sadness, and regret. There is backlash. Passionate feelings are volatile ones, prone to imploding at any second, as Hester and Freddie’s relationship does.

So what does a person do? Freddie can’t commit to anything and he’s always on the move, so he leaves the country and moves on. Hester is stuck with her despair, wishing that the relationship could go on, because she can’t go back. Other characters give advice; Hester’s mother-in-law tells her that passion always leads to something ugly and that a guarded enthusiasm is safer, but Hester disagrees. Her father, a paster, tells her to go back to her husband. Hester can’t bear the thought of doing that because even though it’s morally right, it isn’t what she wants in her heart.

And what do we get out of it? The film doesn’t take a stance: it doesn’t tell us that passion is good or bad. We can see how much happier Hester was with Freddie, but we can also see how devastated the relationship makes her feel. She feels everything, the good and the bad, more deeply because with Freddie there is more of everything, whereas with her husband there is hardly any feeling at all. Freddie is open and emotional; her husband is repressed.

We see both sides of passion: the intense love that makes life worth living, and the intense despair that makes life worth giving up. Repression vs passion incarnate. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to how Hester ends up at the end, but also left to take away our own thoughts of passion. We could go on living a comfortable life, and always be, at the very least, free of any emotional ills, but unsatisfied. Or we could go for the passion and love everything with such an intensity that we could burst with joy, but at the same time risking the crash and burn of despair that follows should anything go wrong. Which life is better?

That is for the viewer to decide, based on their own experiences. But passion, at any rate, is certainly something worth thinking about. And The Deep Blue Sea is the perfect film to see those thoughts played out.

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Review: Cloud Atlas (Film)

First things first-the book Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, is amazing. You should all buy it and read it. And read it again.

Second, the movie is also awesome, and you should go see it. I’ll not say much about the actors in this review-they all did a great job, playing multiple roles, and definitely brought what was needed to each character. No, the interesting thing about Cloud Atlas is not the acting so much as the directorial choices taken.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Cloud Atlas, the book, is a story in six parts-six different stories nestled within each other, each told split in half except for the sixth one. It works like this: First we read half of the journal of Adam Ewing, a lawyer from San Francisco sailing in the Pacific. Then we get half of the story of Robert Frobisher, a young man who becomes the protege of an old musician and writes his masterpiece, told in letters to his lover, Sixsmith. Next, the first half of a story about journalist Luisa Rey’s investigation into the faults of a nuclear power plant and the people who want to kill her rather than risk her exposing the truth. Then, half the story of Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who gets in serious trouble and ends up in a nursing home, and tries to escape. After that, half of the story of Somni 451, a ‘fabricant’ or synthesized human built for the sole purpose of service (slavery), who becomes enlightened and involved in a movement to stop fabricants being treated like slaves by ‘pureblood’ people. Finally we are told the story of Zach’ry in a post nuclear-winter world, on the island of Hawaii, where he meets a ‘prescient’ who gives him a view of the outside world and how humanity has destroyed (and will rebuild) itself. And then, in the second half of the novel, each of these stories finishes itself.

David Mitchell himself said that if the directors of the film were to adhere to the format of the book, the movie would suck. The movie, as is, stands at three hours long, which is actually pretty modest considering that it tells six stories that each could be movies in and of themselves.

The directors did something rather amazing with each story–they found common threads in different parts of each story and then intercut scenes that shared similar themes, essentially allowing for each story to parallel the others, emphasizing the message that in different places, and even in different times, humans are all connected. Now, having read the book, I didn’t pick up that the stories paralleled each other down to the smallest of scenes, but the directors painstakingly worked to point this out in every sequence. We get scenes of love from all six stories put together, scenes of escape from all six, scenes of longing and desire, scenes of freedom. Each sequence, rather than telling one of the six stories, unites most or all of the six under a common theme. And for a movie about lives being connected, this is a genius move that works far better visually and emotionally on screen than the books’ format would have.

And even though there are six stories, you feel keenly for each one. Each story involves a life being changed, sometimes for the better, arguably all for the better. Each story is satisfying in its own right. And each story makes you feel like, although they are all vastly different, they are also the same–that even in different situations people experience similar emotions and revelations and desires all across time.

Another interesting decision on the part of the directors was to have actors take on multiple parts, so that somewhat familiar faces would be in each story, further driving home the interconnectedness theme. Actors play different genders, races, possibly even species (if the Devil can be called that). Some people feel that the race-bending of actors is controversial, especially given that no male Asian actors were cast, so all of the male Asian parts were played by white males. However, as the theme of the movie is interconnectivity, and there are a number of races still represented within the main acting pool, I find it interesting rather than offensive that the directors chose to show that if humans are interconnected, and possibly even reincarnated, that they didn’t have to stay the same race or gender. And reincarnation was a possibility thrown out there. This gender/race changing of actors does show that no matter who you are, you could just as easily be someone completely different. And in the end, we’re all human, so it shouldn’t matter. At least not in the message that the movie-makers are trying to tell us.

A few other notes of the less philosophical kind: the visuals are stunning. We get treated to vastly different settings: a ship in the middle of the Pacific, 1970’s gritty San Francisco, Edinburgh and Cambridge, a futuristic, sprawling neo-Seoul, and a post-nuclear Hawaii. All very well done, all visually pleasing. There are some graphic elements to the visuals as well-the movie certainly deserves its R rating and doesn’t pull punches. They show a man thrown off a building hitting the ground in a burst of blood (highly unexpected, movies usually cut away at that point, and this elicited gasps from the theatre). They show one man painstakingly slicing another’s throat open. People are shown shot in the head, complete with aftermath. There is nudity, and sex. And yet all of this makes everything more real, emerges us more in the story. Not only do we get the beauty, but we also get the full harshness of the world as well.

The music created for the film is fantastically beautiful, which is almost a necessity, considering the film’s title is also the title of what is supposed to be a fantastic sextet composed by Robert Frobisher, the young musical protege. The sextet itself is full of emotion and longing. It’s not a happy piece, but it is a resonating one. And the rest of the music is wonderful as well.

The music also serves as transitions between stories, or as the link that ties each story together within a sequence. There are also voice-overs, which most of the time are excerpts from the book, where most of the stories are in some variation of first-person (through journals, letters, storytelling, or interviewing) and these work fantastically as well, to transition or to link if the narration has a theme that is common to everything else. For a film that must skip around more than most other films ever would, the transitions are done well, coherently, and generally feel seamless, like they were meant to be rather than slap-dashedly thrown around.

I highly recommend going to see Cloud Atlas. It differs from the novel, but in a good way. Indeed, not only in structure, but also in some of the stories–you might find that while some of the stories have taken away certain things, or changed certain things, none of them feels any less resonating than their novel counterparts. Indeed, some have even more emotion. The film is successful in showing that no matter where we live, or when we live, humanity is connected by common emotions, desires, situations, and types of people. Even if you don’t believe in reincarnation, the thought of humanity being connected by anything is a comforting one. Cloud Atlas will make you feel strongly, whether it be joy, despair, horror, excitement, anger, awe, or all of the above. Any film that can elicit that kind of emotion is worth seeing.

Other info:

Cloud Atlas is approximately 3 hours long. It’s rated R for language, nudity, and graphic depictions of violence the likes of which you’ve probably never seen before. Also beware overwhelming emotions.


Filed under Reviewing Shakespeare

Review: The Hour and Current Journalism

Journalism is in the air! This is the general feel of BBC’s show The Hour,

Bel (Romola Garai), Hector (Dominic West), and Freddie (Ben Whishaw) are the three main journalists on The Hour.

which follows three journalists-Bel, Freddie, and Hector-as they put together a show called “The Hour” to report on current events. The series takes place in the 1950’s during the Suez crisis, and the show, which promises to be breakthrough journalism, struggles to uncover the truth behind Britain’s involvement in Egypt.

There are a lot of personal conflicts in the show, as would be expected of a drama, but everything in the preceding five episodes builds up to a finale that is not only personal, but is also full of commentary about how journalism works and how journalists are limited.

Bel is the producer of this new show, and Freddie and Hector are reporters. There is a constant conflict at work between all three of them-finding out the truth behind stories and keeping your career as a respected journalist. As they report on the Suez crisis, government officials keep a close watch on the show, and in the last episode go so far as to dictate what the show can and cannot air.

The real issue comes when Freddie, the young, investigative journalist of the lot, decides to investigate the death of Ruth Elms, a childhood friend involved in shady activities. The government claims her death was suicide, but Freddie believes it is something else, and he investigates. This leads him close to finding out certain truths about his government, spies, and the way international politics work. This also has the government on his tail, forcing him to stop his investigation before he finds out anything too damaging.

Freddie is constantly finding stories that challenge his government, and this is why he becomes the focal point for government agents. Bel must decide whether to indulge Freddie and allow his stories on air, at the risk of her career, and Hector, as the leading anchor, plays a large part in deciding just how these stories are transmitted. All three of their careers are on the line.

And then Freddie finds out that Ruth Elms was killed by the British government because she knew of a plan for British spies to assassinate Egyptian president Nasser in order to end the Suez crisis. Bel allows him to put Ruth’s father, Lord Elms, on air, where he reveals that the government is hiding things from the public. Even more daring is Hector’s decision to let Freddie interview Elms, because Freddie, unlike Hector, pushes his interviewees harder, and he gets Lord Elms to admit, on national television, the implication Ruth Elm’s death has for the honesty of the British government and what they hide from the public to keep the public from revolting.

And then the government shuts the program off.

Bel is fired from her job as producer. Freddie and Hector’s careers are as good as done. The government is furious.

And this episode is still relevant today.

Perhaps there is not a crisis going on, but journalists are always asked to take their sources at their word, and to be objective. This is how new journalists are taught to report–without opinions, without subjectivity, without questioning their sources. Yet sources have biases-as The Hour demonstrates, the British government is biased towards the British government, truth be damned, and that goes for any government.

Journalism is changing. People are becoming more aware of a lack of questioning sources and want that changed. Independent news programs challenge the information they are given, and dig deeper, in the hopes of finding something closer to the truth. Journalists are beginning to understand that what is regarded as professionalism-objectivity, by simply reporting what they are told-is not always what’s best for their audiences. There is a difference between what sources what the public to hear, and what the public needs to hear, and more and more journalists are starting to report what the public needs to hear.

There is still objectivity in the newsroom. There is still the tendency to report straight from the sources’ mouth without questioning what is being said. But that may very well change as journalism changes and as people become more aware of how the media works. And although subjective reporting can be a career-risk, it can also be worth it, in the end, if only because a more truthful story is told.

One could say that for the journalists of The Hour, their journey into truth-finding ends unhappily. Their show is ruined, their careers are as good as dead, and they are watched by their government. Yet, as Bel and Freddie walk out of the darkened studio Freddie tells Bel that they have another story to write.

The moral of the story is, journalists should be more willing to dig deeper for the truth, because there will always be an audience willing to listen.

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Filed under Reviewing Shakespeare, Thinking Shakespeare