Tag Archives: Riz Ahmed

Opening the doors of perception: Netflix’s brilliant and undefinable The OA Part II

When season one of Netflix’s The OA aired back in 2016, it went by largely unnoticed. This was due to the network doing little to no marketing, fanfare or ads and it kind of just attracted its own little fan base without creating the whirlwind that say, Stranger Things has. It’s sort of a shame and sort of not, because it’s by far the best original content that Netflix has produced and one of the most intricate, challenging and cosmically investigative pieces of storytelling out there (with an emphasis on ‘out there’). Season 2 has recently aired, again with little hubbub surrounding it, and the leaps, jumps and creative epiphanies that series creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have made in the three years since are both staggering and revolutionary in the SciFi/fantasy genre.

Anyone who isn’t caught up should heed a spoiler warning regarding Season 1 right about here and stop reading as I’d like to discuss certain story beats. When we left our characters after the ambulance chasing cliffhanger of S1, we weren’t sure what became of The OA/Prairie Johnson when the school shooter got her and she seemingly died. S2 opens with a slow burn episode as we follow a gruff ex FBI private detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir, phenomenal) as he searches for a missing girl in a version of San Francisco that’s just a bit removed from the reality we know. This is the reality that Prairie has travelled to after dying in the dimension she came from, for the Movements related to near death experiences explored in the first season are a gateway to endless parallel dimensions and subsequent travel between them. Confused? That’s nothing, I’ve barely described the season opener so far. This new dimension is a fascinating one, full of futuristic tech, underground ‘games’ ruled over by an unseen force and even more intangible metaphysics that we got the first time around. Prairie is stuck in this new plane with Dr. Hunter Percy, the unorthodox rogue scientist played with startling compassion and chilling resolve by the great Jason Isaacs, who is just wonderful here in a role that lets him flex his talents. Prairie leaves her friends in the previous dimension behind to wonder where she went, including Steve (Patrick Gibson), Buck (Ian Alexander), Betty (Phyllis Smith), French (Brandon Perea) and Jesse (Brendan Meyer). The new reality thrusts her forth into a frightening situation with her old friends Will (Scott Brown), Renata (Paz Vega), Rachel (Sharon Van Etten) and Homer (Emory Cohen) the love of her life. It’s a ton of characters to keep track of, each playing at least several versions of themselves and there’s even more new additions that show up for this part of the story including The Florida Project’s Bria Vinaite and an appearance from Zendaya as a mysterious girl with ties to the forces around all of them.

Marling and Batmanglij are light years beyond most artists writing original content right now, their level of storytelling and drive is sort of unparalleled in the sense that they reach out to ask questions that are difficult in the context and boundaries of television, or any filmed medium. The first season hinted at life beyond death and took its time getting to the initial breach between worlds that might open up new possibilities. This season dives headlong into the implications and ripple effect of what came before, has no patience for laggers and hurtles along at a sonic pace, blasting us with ideas, emotion, tricky concepts, psychological labyrinths, new wave cyber software, bizarre biological phenomena, a rose stained glass window with untold power and a telepathic Octopus named Old Night. This is either a show that is ‘too weird’ for most who aren’t open to unconventional thinking or have no capacity for abstraction or it will be the favourite thing out there for those of us that eat this stuff up. Prairie says of her travels and revelations that she’s ‘looking for a border’ that’s hard to define, and the same can be said about the show itself. This isn’t something that is just SciFi or just fantasy or even both, it’s an organic piece that feels like elemental forces at work rather than constructed artifice spin for entertainment.

With this story, all the creative forces work together to open the doors of perception and stretch the nature of what is possible in storytelling. Brilliant characters abound who we care about, are funny and seem like genuine, fleshed out human beings, a specifically distilled visual aesthetic that Sci Fi lovers will go gaga for, fantastic original music by multiple artists including Danny Bensi, Saunder Juuriens and Van Etten herself, haunting complexity in narrative arcs and an overall desire to strive for something new, something we haven’t seen before and that may expand our perspective on the world around us, and those beyond. I’m hooked on this and can’t wait until we get a Part III.

-Nate Hill

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Ben Cahlamer

War.  Over the course of our history, we justify war to obtain that which we might not have access to, but need to survive.  In the eyes of others, we use war to protect the few resources we have from others. In the end, the more motivated group will overcome the meek.  For those standing up because it is right, it doesn’t mean that we must always bow down to the pressures of the powerful.  Sometimes, we find enough courage and conviction within our own morals to rightfully take back that which has been usurped. This is the basis for Gareth Edwards’ newest, but flawed entry into the Star Wars universe, “Rogue One”.

Word has reached the Rebellion that a cargo pilot defected with a message indicating the presence of a planet-killing weapon being developed by Imperial forces.  Wanting to authenticate the message, Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is coaxed into helping the Rebellion.  Joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), they ultimately undertake a risky mission to retrieve the plans for this weapon.

The story, written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta (“After Earth”, “The Book of Eli”); screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the “Bourne” series)  is fun, but ultimately flawed as it tries to develop new characters while remaining relate able to the existing universe.

It was evident that the intention was to create a dark, espionage-style thriller within two threads:  the first to assemble the team, while the second to actually commit the deed.  The challenge is that the story starts off so slowly and disjointedly that by the time we get to the second, more impressive hour, we simply shouldn’t care.  The story does tie up its own loose ends, but it also creates more problems than it actually solves.

The characters service the script effectively.  However, the majority of the character’s motives were demurred by the action-oriented narrative.  Felicity Jones’ Gyn clashed with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor.  Although their backgrounds are not similar, they do ultimately share the same path.  It isn’t until the second hour that we see Gyn become a leader.  Mads Mikkelson’s Galen was sharp; his purpose clear and he was able to parlay with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic:  their egos each got the better of them, but their paths and functions were also very clear.  Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is a fun character, his presence a welcome, if sometimes irritating diversion while Jiang Wen’s Bazel Malbus looked stellar on the screen, but his purpose was ill-defined.  Although he grew the most and had the most to lose, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook was the most essential of the supporting characters.  Forest Whitaker always looks great on screen, however here his character only serves as a bridge and ultimately, an ineffective bridge between the first and second acts, and while the levity was welcome, Alan Tudyk’s K2SO was a bit over the top becoming repetitive, even in the third act.

Fortunately, the wizards behind the camera truly work their wonders in most quarters.  Costume Designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon effectively bring us back into the Star Wars universe as does Doug Chaing and Neil Lamont’s stellar production design.

From the stages of Pinewood Studios outside London to multiple locations spanning Iceland, Maldives and Jordan, cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Foxcatcher”, “Lion”) really stood up to the challenges in front of him, giving the film the visual grittiness it needed while conveying the timeless sense of the space battles that have come to be a trademark of the Star Wars universe.  In a key scene, Fraser’s use of lighting serves to throw off the viewer just enough to allow the special effects technicians to do their magic making the scene that much more effective.

Continuing in the grand tradition of delivering a visual impact, Industrial Light & Magic’s work on “Rogue One” is, without exception, the highlight of the movie.  From traditional model effects work to CGI landscapes, John Knoll, who also served as one of the film’s executive producers, was up to the task.  Without going into too much detail, he and the talented folks at Scanline, Hybride, The Third Floor and Disney Research are to be commended in the look and feel of the movie.

Michael Giacchino provided a more militaristic score, using some of John Williams’ existing themes while largely creating new music for this adventure, which works effectively.

As brilliant as the technicians behind the scenes were, editorially, the pacing and tone of the movie fell flat.  It took no less than three credited editors, John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen to bring the full narrative into its final form.  In a slightly lesser role, Stuart Baird was brought in to massage it even further.  Where the script narratively fumbled, the editing could not recover it fully, washing out characters and moments.

“Rogue One” brings together two separate parts of the Star Wars universe in an interesting and diverse way.  Its darker tone is welcome however the jumbled narrative and editing bring it crashing down.  Despite it being fun, its flaws are too numerous.  It is Recommended.

Ben Cahlamer, an aspiring film critic, is a new contributor to podcasting them softly.  Although he spends his time helping hotels to price their rooms, he appreciates the finer nuances of films.  He has been an avid Star Wars fan since he was born, having seen Return of the Jedi on the big screen three times in 1983 and continues to look forward to the future.