‘Mr. Robot’ Season 3 Lays the Groundwork for the Revolution

Mr. Robot
Season: 3
Platform/Network/Channel: USA Network
Episode Count: 10
Starring: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallström, and Bobby Cannavale

Perhaps the single most underrated, yet still iconic show of the post-Breaking Bad TV-scape is Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot. A show that, after a stellar freshman and understated sophomore outing, wrapped its third season at the end of 2017.  Much like HomelandMr. Robot belongs to the class of shows that was once at the forefront of pop culture for their initial seasons, but subsequently fell out of spotlight, and that’s a real shame because while Mr. Robot is a show about hackers trying to take down “the man”, it has a lot to say about socialization in contemporary late-stage Capitalism aside from the obvious revolutionary aims of its protagonists.

Elliot (Rami Malek) looks on at the result of his failure

**Spoilers ahead** Season 3 of Mr. Robot picks up immediately after the cliffhanger finale of Season 2, where Elliot (Rami Malek) was left shot and bleeding out by Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) after trying to thwart the next phase of “their” plan to blow up the building in the heart of New York City housing the final paper records of financial debt owed to E-Corp, effectively nullifying the conglomerate’s global power. We are quickly introduced to the newest player in the game, Dark Army-employed “fixer” Irving (Bobby Cannavale), and are just as quickly made aware of the narrative scope of season. Angela (Portia Doubleday) has declared her allegiance to the Dark Army, the Chinese hacker group lead by Whiterose (BD Wong), while Elliot’s sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) has been apprehended by the FBI and taken under the wing of Agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer). Upon recovering from his gunshot wound, Elliot and his dueling personality, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) begin to behave as direct adversaries, with the other actively trying to counteract the other. This tug-of-war plays a pivotal role in the course of the season, both narratively and thematically, as Elliot fights to stop the execution of “Phase 2” and the ensuing aftermath and implications of what comes after.

The first portion of the season (episodes 1 – 4) is very much reminiscent of the show’s understated second season, with a lot of time spent establishing character allegiances, motivations, and trajectories. Elliot and Mr. Robot, now antagonists to the other, cease to communicate with the other as they have for seasons past – Mr. Robot working with the Dark Army to destroy E-Corps’ debt records once and for all, and Elliot working to preserve the records. Darlene is forced to become a kind-of-FBI informant after the Dark Army murders her boyfriend and she is subsequently identified as the leader of fsociety. Angela fully commits to helping the Dark Army manipulate Elliot/Mr. Robot to Phase 2’s completion based on the misguided belief that Whiterose will right her mother’s wrongful death. Lastly, Tyrell Wellick, under delusions of grandeur, purpose, and the desire to reunite with his wife Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) and newborn son, falls out of love with Elliot/Mr. Robot and must find a way to circumvent the sporadic obstacles created by the bizarre duo.

FBI agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer) is seemingly the only agent in the agency that is on to the Dark Army’s involvement in the nationwide chaos

Episodes 5 and 6 sees Phase 2 in action, and it does not disappoint. Taking the series’ usual bold visual aesthetic to the next level, the entirety of episode 5 is filmed as a single continuous shot (ala Birdman) as we follow Elliot in his last ditch panic to stop the Dark Army from blowing up the E-Corp data storage center in the city, and with it all the innocent E-Corp employees unfortunate enough to be caught there. Meanwhile, as the Dark Army’s “distraction” comes to a head in the form of a riot inside of E-Corp headquarters, Angela digs deep and maneuvers her way through the deadly chaos to complete an essential task imperative to Phase 2’s success. Upon completing the covert task on behalf of the Dark Army, Angela, just now beginning to understand the gravity of her involvement, comes face to face with an Elliot who has just learned of her betrayal from his sister. Episode 6 returns to the show’s conventional structure as Elliot races against the clock to defuse the “bomb” at the storage facility while Mr. Robot periodically assumes control of their body and tries to prevent him from doing so, which plays almost identically to the climax of Fight Club where Edward Norton literally fights himself/Brad Pitt. At the last second, Elliot and Mr. Robot are able to come to a truce (via Notepad) and stop the impending explosion, or so they think as it’s quickly revealed that Tyrell, Angela, and the Dark Army had completely circumvented Elliot/Mr. Robot by instead blowing up the ~70 E-Corp data warehouses scattered across the country that Elliot had redirected the paper records to, in unison. Devastated by his failure, Elliot visits his psychiatrist and in a panic recedes into the recesses of his mind, leaving Mr. Robot at the wheel. Despite being willing to blow up a single data center, Mr. Robot is personally offended that Tyrell, Angela, and the Dark Army would dare act behind his back in “his Revolution”. Looking for an explanation, Mr. Robot confronts Irving (Cannavale), who delivers a bitter truth that each character is forced to cope with by season’s end: that Mr. Robot may be the architect the revolution, but no matter how brilliant he is, it will only ever succeed with the support of an elite like Whiterose, the very people he’s trying to expose.

The rest of the season primarily deals with the aftermath of episodes 5 and 6, and sees the return (and departure) of season 1 and 2 characters Mobley (Azhar Khan) and Trenton (Sunita Mani), who are detained by Dark Army enforcer Leon (Joey Badass), Elliot’s surprise protector from season 2. They are quickly framed as the ones responsible for the data center attacks and murdered. However unbeknownst to the bad guys, Trenton had a fail-safe for this very scenario that sends an email to Elliot with the information needed to reverse the initial hack that deleted the digital debt records in the first place that involves getting access to a FBI file network, effectively turning everything back to normal.

Irving (Bobby Cannavale) isn’t afraid to show he’s primal side when the situation arises

Angela suffers a complete mental breakdown in the wake of Phase 2, forcing Philip Price, E-Corp CEO and once-thought villain of the show, to eventually intervene and reveal his true identity as her estranged biological father, which will undoubtedly change the show dynamic moving forward. Darlene is temporarily shunned by Elliot for hacking him on behalf of the FBI and seeks redemption with Elliot by attempting to seduce agent Dominique DiPierro (I’ll call her Dom for short) in an effort to steal her work badge for Elliot to recover E-Corps’ data. Darlene almost succeeds but is caught just before she’s able to get the badge, forcing Dom to arrest her, which unexpectedly draws the attention of Agent Santiago (an undercover Dark Army operative revealed earlier in the season), who tries to abduct Darlene under Irving’s orders. Being the inquisitive mind she is, Dom confronts Santiago as he tries to slip away with Darlene and winds up getting punched out and thrown in the car too. Meanwhile, Leon finds Elliot in his apartment to escort him to the same secluded outpost that Tyrell was held in episode 2. There, Elliot reunites with Darlene and Dom as Irving and his entourage arrive. Irving orders Santiago to take Dom outside to the chopping block, presumably to execute her, but instead he uses the occasion to murder Santiago for his failures and establish Dom as the Dark Army’s new FBI mole. As Irving finishes up, another Dark Army operative present throughout the season, Whiterose’s right-hand man Grant (Grant Chang), arrives to personally carry out Elliot and Darlene’s execution. Irving and Grant share some antagonistic words, hinting at Irving’s deeper relationship to Whiterose than previously let on, before Grant enters the barn to tie up the final loose ends. However, things take a turn when Elliot makes a last second plea to Whiterose, who is listening through a microphone in the room, that he can do what the Dark Army has failed to: quickly transport Whiterose’s mysterious project around the world. Elliot’s plea works, and Leon swiftly kills all of Grant’s men before a stunned Grant yields and tells Elliot to “take care of her [Whiterose]” before shooting himself. Alive to fight another day, Dom grants Elliot access to the FBI system to retrieve the information he needs to recover E-Corp’s data, and in the final moments of the finale, he does just that.

Mr. Robot (left), Elliot (middle), and Darlene (right) await their fates

Mr. Robot has always been upfront with its anti-Capitalist message, but season 3 explores a new nuance seldom explored in popular media: the woes of an individualist economy. Our modern culture of individualism has its pros and cons. On one hand, people are widely encouraged to embrace what makes them unique from everyone else and decide for themselves how to live their lives. However on the other hand, the endearing, empowering quality of internalized existentialism has spawned a dark variant of individualism where begging for attention is mistaken for expression and one’s ego supersedes one’s empathy. There’s a reason why you can’t go onto a Facebook or YouTube comments section without witnessing a shit show of strangers trying to one-up each other as the smartest-person-in-the-comments-section – modes of production. That is, contemporary habits of socialization are directly determined by the underlying relationships of economic production, or to put it simply, the Capitalism that Elliot/Mr. Robot have set out to dismantle. But as we see in the last half of the season, our protagonists are not immune to the social vices they are trying to destroy.

In one of the final episodes of the season, there is a rare interaction between Mr. Robot and Philip Price, whom is also under Whiterose’s thumb and therefore privy to Mr. Robot’s intentions to destroy him and his peers. Still determined to expose the likes of Price and Whiterose, Mr. Robot threatens Price that, even though his first revolution was ultimately hijacked, he has no intention of quitting his revolution. Much like how Irving attempts to convey the futility of trying to change the status quo, Price dismisses Mr. Robot’s threat as the naive dream he sees it as, but goes the extra mile by sharing some wisdom as to the real reason why Mr. Robot’s single-handed efforts to save the world have and will continue to fail by the way he’s approaching it: his lack of leadership. Sure he has the help of Darlene, fsociety, Tyrell, and the Dark Army, but for the most part, Mr. Robot has always been in the “me-versus-the-world” mindset. It’s that egotistical impulse that prevents Elliot and Mr. Robot from cooperating throughout the first half of the season, henceforth causing the deaths of thousands of people and the ensuing fallout. It’s that egotistical impulse that even drive’s Elliot/Mr. Robot’s desire for a revolution, albeit a noble one. But noble or not, if Mr. Robot wants his revolution to succeed, he can’t treat it like a computer program and throw commands at it, he has to lead. And that means amassing a following.


‘Black Panther’ Harkens Back to Pre-“MCU” Blockbuster Filmscape with Nuanced Contemplation of Historical Consequence

Black Panther
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright

If you would have told me 10 years ago that a Black Panther movie would one day make more money (in one weekend) than a bonafide Justice League movie, I would have laughed out loud in your face. But lo and behold, the perfect storm has been brewing in those theoretical 10 years to actualize that “ridiculous” claim. Marvel Studios has influenced the modern blockbuster, perhaps more so than any other franchise in the history of the medium, with its episodic filmography sparked by the huge success 2008’s Iron Man. That first Iron Man film demonstrated that if executed properly, even an obscure property can become a household name. Four years later came 2012’s Avengers, showing what happens when a shared universe comes together – lots of money. And ever since, virtually every major studio has been chasing the success of the MCU with their own catalog of properties.

As an unfortunate result, the majority of blockbuster films (including several MCU films) have lost a certain thematic presence that made a lot of the pre-IronMan superhero films feel larger than life, and this is where Black Panther excels. Black Panther succeeds where Justice League, and the modern blockbuster in general, fails. The former has lot more in common with the prior-era superhero franchises like Blade (notwithstanding Blade: Trinity) and the Raimi Spider-Man films than with the typical MCU-fair, which, despite being consistently good, have stuck to a tired thematic structure. Black Panther (along with the last 2 MCU films Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming) is a truly special superhero film that not only achieves the missed quality of enchantment and wonder missing from current blockbusters, but also progresses the genre to a new level of artistic and cultural awareness.

T’Challa (center), Nakia (left), and Okoye (right) return to Wakanda for T’Challa coronation as the new king

Black Panther is directed by Oakland, CA local Ryan Coogler (FruitvaleStation, Creed) and picks up immediately after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where T’Challa/Black Panther’s (Chadwick Boseman) father was killed, leaving him to take his father’s place as king of Wakanda. T’Challa elects to apprehend the notorious arms dealer and enemy-to-Wakanda, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) as his first kingly act. However, unbeknownst to T’Challa, Klaue is allied with a mysterious soldier with a unique relationship to Wakanda, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Along the way T’Challa/Black Panther is guided and supported by his entourage of powerful women: his childhood love turned international spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), leader of the Wakandan royal guard Okoye (Danai Gurira), and his little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), the charismatic genius behind all of the fancy tech on display.

A lot has already been said on the merits of the film from it’s outstanding ensemble cast to it’s impeccable world building, so rather than regurgitate the common consensus, I want to instead talk about the central conflict between Wakanda’s history of isolationism and nelgect, T’Challa’s struggle to decide how to change Wakanda for the better now that he is king, and Erik Killmonger’s “radical” plan to fix the world. **spoilers ahead**

Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) having their first face-to-face in the Wakanda throne room

At the end of the second act of the film, it’s revealed that Killmonger is the half-Wakandan, half-African American son of N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), T’Challa’s father T’Chaka’s (John Kani) brother (so T’Challa/Black Panther’s uncle), whom his father murders in self-defense in the flashback at the beginning of the film. It is stated that N’Jobu worked with Klaue in the 90s to steal a cache of Wakanda’s precious vibranium, which was to be utilized to help liberate African Americans in the United States. However, despite N’Jobu’s insistence that the heist take place discreetly, and with Klaue being as over-the-top as we see he is, many Wakandans are killed in the process, warranting N’Jobu’s prosecution by his brother, king of Wakanda, and acting Black Panther, T’Chaka. N’Jobu at first tries to deny his involvement, but he is quickly ousted by his trusted confidant Zuri (played in the present day by Forest Whitaker), who N’Jobu believed to be an Oakland, CA local, but is actually a Wakandan spy. Devastated by Zuri’s betrayal, N’Jobu pulls a gun to kill him as T’Chaka turns to leave, but T’Chaka deflects the gun and drives his vibranium suit claw into his brother’s chest, killing him. T’Chaka and Zuri flee as a young Killmonger, who was just playing basketball with his friends outside, discovers his dad dead with claw marks in his chest. Out of fear of his people’s reaction to the half-blooded Wakandan, T’Chaka abandons the orphaned Killmonger in the streets of Oakland without as much as an apology. It’s this “Wakanda-first” mindset, which is understandably explained in the film’s opening exposition, that creates the villain Killmonger eventually becomes.

Even before learning the revelation from Zuri in the present day, T’Challa is already wrestling with whether or not he should take Wakanda’s foreign policy into a new direction now that he is king. Much to the argument of Nakia, Wakanda has an existential responsibility to help those in need around the world solely because it has resources to do so. The film’s first action scene sees Black Panther killing some African rebels to rescue Nakia, and in the process also saves a group of captured Africans. However, despite their delight of being the presence of the flashy Wakandans, it’s implied that if Nakia was not in their midst, T’Challa would have never rescued them from their dire situation. Wakanda’s deliberate inaction in a world filled with poor souls desperate for liberation from their respective oppressors and unfortunate circumstances is not just questionable, it is moral fraud.

Contrary to Wakanda’s historical insistence on secrecy and passivity, Killmonger, who has a legitimate bloodline to the throne, wants to take the country in the reverse direction and purpose the nation’s unmatched resources towards the destruction of the numerous institutions that have oppressed the less fortunate throughout history, specifically but not exclusively black people. Coming from the streets of Oakland, CA, Killmonger has experienced first hand the existential struggle of being black in the world and has dedicated his life to besting the “White man” by first becoming him: excelling in academia (studying at M.I.T), learning to take life as a US soldier, and engaging in high crime with the likes of Klaue. To him, every terrible thing he’s done is justified when weighed against his ultimate goal.

In many ways Killmonger is correct in his belief that violence is essential for meaningful change in the world to take hold, but it is not the sole means. Where Killmonger becomes a villain is in his desire for revenge against a world that has historically subjugated his people. That is, he does not want to just destroy the oppressor, he wants to become the oppressor. It’s that fine line between liberator and vindicator that separates a hero from a villain.

Killmonger prepares for combat against off-screen assailants

T’Challa too can see the validity in Killmonger’s worldview, and even refrains from trying to dissuade him from his course, but he also sees the dangerous, volatile nature of what Killmonger will onset. In this regard, T’Challa is also correct in his belief that vindictive violence will only exacerbate a violent world. However, it’s important to keep in mind that with Wakanda being a historically isolationist nation, T’Challa has never had to experience the adversity that every other black person in the world has. So while, he understands Killmonger, he can’t truly understand him. T’Challa does what he must to spare the world from an uncertain fate. In the end, **spoiler** Killmonger is ultimately killed by T’Challa, but in his final moments denies T’Challa’s offer to treat his injuries, instead choosing “death over bondage,” just as the Africans who jumped to their deaths from the slaves ships rather than live in chains. The fact that T’Challa even asks the question, proves that T’Challa can only sympathize with Killmonger, but can’t understand him.

Some people have accused this film of animosity towards African Americans in favor of Africans, as well as being suppressive of African Americans’ deserved outrage. And while those are interesting questions to raise against the film, I believe that Coogler says something else entirely with his film. The entire plot of the film signifies the historical and political dynamic of modern America. Just as the hundreds of years of Western colonialism and exploitation in Africa, South America, and the Middle East cultivated the wave of terrorist groups in the 21st century, it was T’Chaka’s lapse of character, in a single moment nonetheless, that created Killmonger and inadvertently led to the death and suffering of countless people. When a nation refuses to acknowledge the sins of its past, people like Killmonger will always exist to burn it down. T’Challa/Black Panther is the hero in this story because he does the opposite of that; he acknowledges the sins of past kings and instead of denying that those sins ever occurred, he internalizes them as the mistakes they were and actively works to correct them right now – something America has yet to figure out. Even after all of his impressive feats of action in the Black Panther suit, T’Challa’s most heroic deed takes place while outside of the bulletproof suit: his gesture of transparency in Oakland at the end of the film, which demonstrates exactly what makes him a great superhero, his morale constitution.

9.5 / 10

Tonya Harding Bio-Pic Sticks the Landing While Contemplating Truth and Socio-Economics in America

I, Tonya
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 hours
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, and Paul Walter Hauser

I was surprised to learn that prior to seeing this film, I had never actually ever heard of Tonya Harding, let alone the controversy she was at the center of in the 1994 professional ice/figure skating scene, almost certainly due to the O.J. Simpson incident taking place immediately afterwards, overshadowing it completely. But I was even more surprised at how timely the story ended up being to today’s crisis. I, Tonya chronicles the rise and fall of world renowned figure skater Tonya Harding and highlights yet another real-life instance epitomizing the fleeting sustainability of Capitalism as a culture.

Sebastian Stan (right) puts in a stellar performance as Jeff Gillooly, Tonya’s first husband and “accomplice” to the Nancy Kerrigan assault

I, Tonya tells the story of infamous Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) from her beginnings as a skating prodigy at 4 years old to her fame as the only figure skater to successfully complete two triple axels, a notoriously dangerous skating move, in a single competition, to her accusation, persecution, and lifetime banishment from the sport of figure skating. The film is put together like a quasi-documentary, where the main characters are presumably being recorded by a crew as they recall the events leading up to and immediately after the controversy surrounding Tonya Harding and company’s involvement in the physical assault of rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. Rounding out the cast is: Tonya’s hateful mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), Tonya’s first husband Jeff Gillooly (played surprisingly well by Sebastian Stan), and Jeff’s moronic friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser). Everyone here is on their A-game, but the heap of praise should be especially placed on Margot Robbie, who is continuing to prove herself a serious dramatic actress; she easily deserves a best actress Oscar nomination for the film. Sebastian Stan demonstrates that, even though he may be known for being a secondary Marvel character, he’s more of “Chris Pine” than a “Chris Hemsworth” – that is, he’s a pretty face that can excel in hard dramas. Allison Janney puts on her best Fletcher (Whiplash) impression and sells it perfectly. The all around strong performances primarily stem from the strength of the writing and the unconventional structure of the narrative.

Early on, the film introduces the idea that maybe, what these characters are telling us isn’t entirely factual, or are flat out delusions, which really opens the door for some creative and interesting characterization. For instance, a common topic in the film is the domestic abuse Tonya endures at the hand of her husband Jeff, whom both in the present-day footage, claim that the other is fabricating or exaggerating what really happened. Anyways, the film presumes to tell the true series of events and in doing so depicts Jeff as being a domestic abuser who grows to beat Tonya on cue by the slightest stressful confrontation. We spend the bulk of 2 hours watching Jeff beat on Tonya for frivolous reasons, and her occasionally man-handle him back, yet when Jeff’s friend Shawn admits to **SPOILER** intentionally setting the events in motion that led to Nancy’s broken knee, an FBI investigation, and Tonya’s eventual banishment from figure skating, Jeff holds himself back from rationally attacking Shaun the same way he attacks Tonya, for significantly lesser reasons. Jeff’s irrational judgment of who around him is liable for violence and who is not, is not only vivid characterization told by “showing” instead of “telling,” but also previews the film’s primary thread, or theme: truth in the socio-economic hierarchy of Capitalism.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) practices hiding a lifetime of adversity and suffering behind a crowd-pleasing smile

Tonya suffers a lot in I, Tonya. She suffers mostly in part because she is a woman, but she suffers more so because she is a women who comes from the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy. And mostly importantly she suffers because she refuses to fully assimilate to the conventions of the fame she threatens to garner. At a handful of points in the film, present day Tonya interrupts the story to point out a damning fact about Nancy Kerrigan, whom Tonya was accused of having hired a goon to break her knee before a competition. These scenes, while seemingly meant to incriminate or propose doubt in the validity of Tonya’s telling of what happened, to me, are actually a demonstration of how despite Nancy behaving almost identically to Tonya in their rivalry, Tonya is the one persecuted by the figure skating institution; because the reputation of the rebellious “redneck” in her justifies her persecution, admittedly because her image “doesn’t sell.” Tonya’s lifetime as a proverbial and literal punching bag by her abusive mother, her abusive husband, the stingy skating judges, the judicial system, the media, society, and by the end, a formidable roster of women boxers, serves as a microcosm for the perpetual oppression of the poor by a culture defined by potential-for-profit, and consequently a world where truth is a matter of prejudice rather than a matter of fact.

I, Tonya is a great film that suffers from some pacing issues early on, but quickly finds a compelling groove to construct an intelligent commentary on the inherent prejudice in American culture, while also being a good sports movie. Definitely check this one out when you have the chance.


‘Sicario 2’: the Birth of a Sub-Genre?

Over the historical span of the film industry, we’ve seen certain film genre trends come and go. For instance, the mid-20th century saw the prevalence of the western. The late-20th century saw the proliferation of macho-action films like Die Hard, Rambo, and Predator. Today in the early-21st century, superhero films and raunchy R-rated comedies dominate their respective genres. And almost all of these industry trends can be traced back to one or two early films that opened the existential floodgates for films of a similar make. The superhero mania as it exists today, which has taken over a substantial portion of the action/adventure and Sci-Fi genres, owes itself to 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man. The modern mainstream R-rated comedy continues to be made off of the initial success of the early American Pie films. By the initial looks of 2018’s upcoming sequel to the critically-acclaimed film Sicario, the unique sequel is positioned to do for the action genre what American Pie did for the comedy genre.

The trailer for the sequel to 2015’s drug war epic Sicario released not too long ago and with it a rise in collective interest by fans and non-fans alike. The unexpected sequel to the 2016 Oscar nominee has flown, for the most part, under the radar for the past 2 years when it was first announced. At the time, the studio revealed that the film would abandon Emily Blunt’s protagonist from the first film, and instead follow Benicio Del Toro’s show stealing titular character as he continues to battle the Mexican cartels under the guise of Josh Brolin’s task force. 

Sequels to quality films like Sicario are virtually unheard of for the very reason that typically, these films do not have mass appeal from a financial standpoint. That is, films like Sicario are made purely for the sake of the art, with no expectation of significant returns. However, considering the first Sicario film made roughly 3 times it’s $30 million budget, one could argue that a sequel is financially feasible. But all the capitalistic inspection aside, the contemplative and thematically esoteric nature of the narrative told in the first film does not seemingly lend itself to a sequel (franchise?). By the looks of the first trailer for Sicario 2, they may have pulled it off, and then some. And that “some” could be very interesting.


Firstly, we have to acknowledge that judging a film by its trailer should always be a dubious effort. We’ve all seen good trailers for bad movies and vice versa. But we’ve also seen good trailers for good movies, and the trailer for Sicario 2 is quite good. Now it’s perfectly possible that come June 29th, the films ends up being terrible; however, I’m more inclined to believe the film will be good due to screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water and Wind River writer) returning to pen the script. But at the same time, director Denis Villeneuve is not directing the sequel, so there is no way to know 100% at this point if the film will click with critics and audiences like the first one did.

With that being said, the Sicario 2 trailer is very fascinating. It sustains the same Oscar-nominated cinematography from the first, and with it the same brooding, contemplative tone and thematic personality that made the first one so good. Even more surprisingly, the film looks to be marketed as more of an action film instead of the crime thriller the first one was, if not only by nature of its identity as a sequel. The visceral violence of the first film has seemingly been expanded to embody a more confident genre category. However, when comparing the trailers of the first film and the new sequel, you will see that the former also implied a film with abundant action, which is not what Sicario necessarily ended up being. It’s very likely that Sicario 2 will not actually end up being an “action” movie per se and will instead follow thematic suit after the first film, maintaining a balance between jarring violence and intrigue. Regardless, the very existence of a major studio produced sequel to what was technically a violent “art” film is worth paying attention to because if it connects with audiences in way that’s reflected in the box office, we could be living in a new era of action film, or more precisely, a new niche within the action genre defined not by gratuitous violence, sex, and other shallow content, but by rich, contemplative narrative and purposeful violence.

To inject the typically oblivious action genre with the moral ambiguity and complexity commonly reserved for art house or “Oscar bait” films is not only a fascinating prospect, but a cultural necessity, especially in the current state of the world. As much as people would like to deny it, every film no matter the genre have an impact on how we, the audience perceive ourselves, each other, and the world around us. At a time when collective empathy, self-awareness, and accountability is in dangerously short supply and our supposed leaders have no intention of addressing such shortcomings, it is up to the arts to foster progressive, sustainable ideas that audiences can digest, wrestle with, and hopefully incorporate into their respective worldviews. As we see with movies like Get OutThe Shape of Water, and mother!, the mere act of subverting a film’s native genre effectively pulls audiences out of their established expectations and forces them to relearn what they thought they once knew, in the case of these films, about the horror genre or the monster-movie genre. Should Sicario 2 prove accessible and favorable with moviegoers while also maintaining the same level of quality and richness as the first one, there is a good possibility that the major movie studios will seriously start reconsidering the previously accepted content ratio of art to fluff for action movies going forward.

Or the film will come and go, and business proceeds as usual. [This is what happened lol]

‘Mother!’ is the Most Ambitious and Creative Film in the Past Thirty Years (and not for the Reason you may Think) – Part 1 of 2: (Non-Spoiler) Movie Review

Rating: R
Runtime: 2 hours 1 minute
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, provocative filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) has once again graced the limelight, three years after the release of his divisive biblical retelling Noah (2014) with yet another divisive feature that will, and has, upset a large subset of the film community. Like every single one of his previous films, Mother! pushes the envelope for conventional storytelling while also providing a cogent, visceral commentary on the historical identity of our civilization, the state of humanity’s collective self-awareness, and our relationship with the Earth, our home.

It’s impossible to say what Mother! is really about without going into specific, interpretive details. So without spoilers, Mother! follows a nameless couple, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, as a number of uninvited guests converge on their pastoral home, throwing their peaceful, paradise-like life in to disarray.

Jennifer Lawrence looks out, lonely and afraid, after a violent altercation leaves her separated from her husband (Javier Bardem)

Mother! is many things at once: a commentary on relationship politics, the consequences of fame, and the existential entitlement of mankind. But above all that, the one word that I feel best encompasses the message of the film is creation. Bardem plays a presumably famous poet on a creative dry spell whose past and future work drives the progression of the plot. Lawrence is Bardem’s much younger, trophy-wife who has taken it upon herself to rebuild his old home that had burned down some time prior. Both Bardem’s and Lawrence’s agency to create drives and motivates the plot in unexpected ways, and once the film’s “allegory” becomes clear, they both begin to also epitomize the truth of our global community.

In addition to his thematic poignancy, Aronofsky outdoes himself on a technical level. The camera work of Mother! is perpetually unsettling. The camera orbits around Lawrence in an uneasy, fluid-like form, creating an atmosphere of constant anxiety and dread. The sound design envelopes you, as if you too have the same spiritual connection that Jennifer Lawrence has to the house. Finally, the final act of the film, the “fever dream” as Aronofsky defines it, is a masterful exercise of technical staging, rivaling scenes like the climatic single-take battle scene from Children of Men and the infamous ending montage from Aronofsky’s second feature, Requiem for a Dream.

Mother! is guaranteed to inspire intense passions from both sides of the critical spectrum. For some, the film is nothing more than a ham-fisted allegory that was falsely advertised. For others, the film is an unexpected surprise that articulates narratively taboo abstractions as well as the root of the world’s current problems in a provocative and entertaining way. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, Mother! is a must-see experience solely on the grounds of the sheer ambition of the content.

Mother! is, in my opinion, the best film of the year (tied with Dunkirk), but not for the reason you may think. And while this article is rather scarce on the specifics of why I feel the film is so important, the explicit reasons will be detailed in the next part of my Mother! review.