Tag Archives: tessa thompson

HBO’s Westworld: Season 3

HBO’s Westworld is a show that explores evolution, both humanity’s and that of an emerging new species with uncommon innovation, beauty and ferocious destruction. As such the evolutionary process that should be most captivating is that of the show itself, as the storytelling flows and blooms from one season to another and their third instalment has surpassed my expectations. This is groundbreaking, cinematic level world building with deep psychological exploration, sweeping special effects, pools of philosophical introspect, musical genius peppered throughout the episodes and a sense of great progression in scope, spirit and sound from the womb of season one and birth canal of two. With three we see the hosts, human beings and overall tone break free into a brave, scary, different new world and I couldn’t be more overjoyed or awestruck at the avenues of exploration taken with this piece of television.

These next two paragraphs will get a bit spoilery in regards to the first two seasons so if you haven’t been on this wagon train since the get-go then maybe hang back. The Westworld park is all but ashes, it’s creators, attractions and shareholders scattered to the wind. Ed Harris’s self destructive maelstrom William is relegated to a batshit crazy (more than usual anyways) version of himself, antiquated in a now all-bets-are-off chessboard. Evan Rachel Wood’s fiery farmer’s daughter turned revolutionary is whipping up an explosively covert war against humans in order for her and the other hosts who made it out, banding together with ex-soldier Caleb (Aaron Paul) for a bitter battle against mega CEO Serauc (Vincent Cassel) and his golden egg, a complex orb of artificial intelligence that has held humanity in a secret stranglehold for decades. Others return here and there including Thandie Newton’s Mauve (my personal favourite character <3), Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard while new and welcome faces show up including Tommy Flanagan, John Gallagher Jr., Thomas Kretschmann, Marshawn Lynch, Pom Klementieff, Lena Waithe, Rafi Gavron, Russell Wong and rapper Kid Cudi.

Season one and two were very much governed by boundaries; the park’s borders constantly loomed and whatever realms which lay beyond remained largely a mystery. Godlike Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) hovered over everything with opaque benevolence and knew more than he let on, especially about the true nature of the world. The atmosphere felt contained, bound by dreamlike tendons that inevitably disintegrated and led to something new, the genesis of an entirely new race of beings. Season 3 blasts apart the shackles and throws us headlong into a strange, unforgiving, futuristic world, a world ruled by technology and automation that is ready for Dolores and her cohorts to hijack for their own ends. Aaron Paul is fantastic here, worlds away from his Breaking Bad persona, a fallibly human totem of change and uprising who is unsure of himself yet best suited for the job than for reasons I won’t spoil here. HBO has their very own Hans Zimmer-esque composing prodigy in Ramin Djawadi, a hugely talented artist who continues his ethereal, haunting covers of iconic classic rock artists like Bowie and Guns N’ Roses while crafting intense, gorgeous pieces of his own electronic revelry to accent the story. Production designers keep up their arresting retro-futuristic portrait of the future with nods to everything from Blade Runner to Metropolis to Kill Bill while painting their own bold, original canvas of costumes, aircrafts, weaponry and tech interface while the impossibly cool, prophetic opening credits take on sweeping newfound meaning with a thrilling update. One of my favourite sequences sees Caleb take a weird street drug that sees his consciousness pass through several different states of awareness from psychedelia to black and white noir, the episode is titled ‘Genre’ and is an achingly beautiful, dynamic shoutout to the very medium of visual storytelling itself. Dolores and all her kind really broke the mould when they revolted and escaped, and so too does this brilliant third incarnation of one of the greatest television series ever made. Bring on season four and whatever new beats, revelations and rock remixes will come with it.

-Nate Hill

Alex Garland’s Annihilation

Alex Garland’s Annihilation is a stunning, incredible, awe inspiring and strikingly unique piece of work. It’s the kind of film that has you leaving the theatre and wanting to run up to strangers on the street passing by, shout how great it is in their faces and promptly buy them a ticket of their own. It’s reassuring that smart, dazzling big budget science fiction still thrives in Hollywood, and projects like this build upon and terraform the preexisting genre to produce things previously unseen, stories that wear their influences upon their sleeve whilst simultaneously hitting you as something you’ve never conceived in your wildest fever dreams. It’s also not the film you might be expecting from trailers and descriptions so far, in the best possible way. Is it about a team that heads off into a strange, quarantined area to investigate a possible extraterrestrial presence? Yes, but not really. Is it a clever blend of Alien-esque horror and trippy, delirious cosmic futurism? Sort of, but that’s just the tip of a very large, very deep iceberg surrounded by a wall of scintillating effervescence dubbed ‘The Shimmer’ by wary scientists and the military. It’s into this enshrouded no man’s land that biologist Natalie Portman and a team of professionals with nothing to lose venture, and where the film really kicks off. Every character has some kind of inner trauma which has caused them to self destruct in their own ways, an unnerving theme that Garland holds up to his audience like a prism and explores with equal scrutiny. Portman has never been better, changed by the disappearance of her soldier husband (Oscar Isaac) and eerily drawn to The Shimmer. Jennifer Jason Leigh is Ventress, coldly stoic and freakily collected as team leader. Tessa Thompson caught my eyes with her fiery work in both Westworld and Thor: Ragnorak, she’s purely haunting here as the detached, withdrawn and highly intuitive Josie, nailing her final scene with earth shattering poise. Gina Rodriguez burst onto the scene with her excellent work in Deepwater Horizon and is pure dynamite here as Josie, the emotional firebrand of their troupe, giving the character’s eventual meltdown scene a remarkably authentic edge. These four actresses pull the tapestry of the film’s narrative together with their collective and individual work ; they’re nothing short of superb. Garland has found a way to express otherworldly phenomena in an artistic and scientific way that no other filmmaker has yet achieved. The images are breathtaking, the visual effects beyond top tier, the ideas are ambitious and reach full on for the stars, and the whole deal should be the gold standard of genre films at the multiplex. I’ll say no more, and let you discover it for yourself. Oh but I have to mention Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s score, an indescribable auditory experience that reaches dreamy levels of expressive percussion in the third act. Ok, I’m done, just go see it right now.

-Nate Hill

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.

-Nate Hill