'Interstellar' Review + Heavy Spoilers

There are so few directors in Hollywood who are as ambitious as Christopher Nolan. And make no mistake, 'Insterstellar' is an ambitious film. It's also a beautifully flawed film and a pale shade of the film it's attempting to emulate, '2001: A Space Odyssey." The film begins sometime in the mid or late 21st century, perhaps 50 or 100 years from now. The world of 'Interstellar' is set in what looks like the American dust bowl of the 1930's. (I read somewhere that Nolan used actual footage from the Ken Burns documentary, 'The Dust Bowl.') 'Interstellar's world is in climate collapse and the earth's soil can no longer support it's population. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a widowed farmer with two young children and an aging father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). He's also an accomplished pilot and an engineer.

Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here.
Professor Brand [to Cooper]

We learn more about Cooper's dying world through a parent/teacher conference between Cooper and the school principal (David Oyelowo). This is another thing I liked about 'Interstellar,' accomplished film stars were cast in even the smallest roles. Film stars like Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Red Tails) are just one of the cameos. The largest cameo comes much later in the film.

We didn't run out of planes and television sets. We ran out of food.
Principal [to Cooper]

Back to the parent/teacher conference--Cooper's daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) is considered a disruptive influence because she brings an old textbook to school that acknowledges the moon landing.All of the modern textbooks have been changed to reflect the world's "new" history. The revised history books claim the moon landing was a hoax to bankrupt the Soviet Union. NASA itself has been decommissioned, which may as well be the case nowadays. Seriously, what has NASA done lately? At least the ESA (European Space Agency) tried to land an unmanned spacecraft on a comet. That's incredible. NASA is living off 50 year old glory. But I digress, so the entire educational system has been reorganized so that dreamers refocus their attention on this world, not traveling to the stars.

We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.
Cooper [to himself]

It's for this reason that Cooper's teenage son, Tom (Timothee Chalamet) is denied access to college and told that he needs to be a farmer like his father. Things are so desperate and farmers are in so much in need, that there aren't even MRI machines anymore. That's how Cooper's wife died. She had a cyst in her brain that went undetected. To cheer everyone up Cooper takes his family to a baseball game. It's here that we learn that the film is not set in the dust bowl of America, but in rural New York or perhaps New York proper. The Yankee's baseball team is now akin to a local high school with small bleachers. It's at the baseball game that we see a horrible dust storm overtake everyone.
Our destiny lies above us.
Cooper [to himself]

Back at the house, the "ghost" of the house is making noise and throwing dust around in strange ways. Despite what her teachers think, Murphy is an exceptionally bright girl, but she is convinced that the ghost is trying to communicate with her. She starts to take notes of how many books the ghost knocks off the shelf, which her father discovers is a binary code. That's not the only weird thing happening at the farm. Geocaching farm equipment and a agricultural drone, all hone in on the farm, as if driven there by some unseen force. It's this unseen force that reveals a set of coordinates that Cooper and Murphy follow.

We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us. 
Professor Brand [to Cooper]

They find a secret NASA base run by a skeleton crew that includes Anne Hathaway (Dr. Amelia Brand), Wes Bentley (Doyle), David Gyasi (Romilly), William Devane (Williams), Michael Cain (Professor Brand and Dr. Brand's father), and a sassy emotive robot named Tars (voiced by Bill Irwin). Professor Brand explains to Cooper that humanity's only hope is interstellar travel, which Cooper, as well as the audience, knows is impossible.
This world's a treasure, but it's been telling us to leave for a while now. 
Cooper [to Professor Brand]

Traveling within our own galaxy is hard enough. It would take 180 years just to get to our own sun, whereas the sun's light reaches earth in eight minutes. Proxima Centuri is the closest star system outside of our galaxy. It's also a red drawf with about 500 times less brightness than our own sun. It would take 167,000 years to get there. This is why interstellar travel is essentially impossible. Organic beings simply do not have lifespans long enough to make the trip and traveling at light speed is equally impossible.

Murph I love you, forever. 
Cooper [to Murphy]

"Theoretical physics" ENTER STAGE 1. Traveling at light speed may be impossible, but travelling vast distances through wormholes isn't. Although the most likely scenario would be that the spacecraft would be completely ripped apart, but this is fiction, not a documentary, and to be fair, an actual physicist (Kip Thorn) did come up with the concept for this film. And Nolan's brother and co-writer, Jonathan Nolan studied for several years at California Institute of Technology just to get the science right. So clearly these guys know their stuff, so the sciency bits of 'Interstellar' are actually quite intriguing. The problems emerge when the film departs from science and jumps into boiler plate scifi-movie-stuff, like time traveling through black holes. I mean, come on? If a human being or anything a human being made were to get anywhere near a black hole they would be flattened into pancake batter.

Everybody ready to say goodbye to our solar system?
Cooper [to the crew]

So the NASA scientists tell Cooper about a wormhole that simply "appeared" near Saturn 48 years ago. Dr. Brand believes an alien intelligence put it there and may have also guided Cooper and Murphy to NASA's secret lair. Professor Brand predicts that earth will succumb to starvation and suffocation, as all of earth's crops are falling to blight (a disease that typically just strikes tomatoes and potatoes). The last Okra crop has just been destroyed by blight and humanity's last remaining crop, corn, will soon be next. As blight grows best in a nitrogen-rich environment, earth is slowly being strangled of oxygen. Again, this seems a little shaky on the sciency end. I'm not saying that earth is not likely to face an ecological disaster--that is totally possible and unfortunately likely. I'm saying that they could have come up with something more fearsome than blight. Any atmospheric scientist could tell you that blight would not likely be able to suffocate the earth. If you wanted to invent an environmental disaster, take your pick, but blight wouldn't be one of them.

Potentially habitable worlds right within our reach.
Doyle [to Dr. Brand]
Professor Brand explains to Cooper that humanity's last hope is finding a new planet to call home. NASA has already sent probes and other spaceships through the wormhole and have discovered several habitable worlds. The problem is picking the right one in "time." It takes several years to reach Saturn, then space travel itself will cause time dilation. Geez, another physics term to explain. I hope I'm explaining this correctly. High school physics, don't fail me! Time dilation occurs with space travel. For example, when astronauts leave the earth they are orbiting the earth faster than earthbound humans. Thus, upon their return to earth they are a few seconds younger than we are. Well, if you multiply that distance by millions of light years, then a father could theoretically be the same age as (or younger than) his children when he returns. Hence the setup of 'Interstellar.'

Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
Professor Brand [to Cooper]

Cooper has long felt unappreciated as a farmer and former NASA test pilot, so he jumps at the chance to get back in the cockpit and pilot Endurance, which is the fourth interstellar spacecraft to go through the wormhole. Unfortunately Cooper's decision devastates Murphy. She never really forgives him even years later. Cooper is joined by Dr. Brand, Doyle, Romilly, and two robots that look like small versions of the monoliths from '2001.' It's an interesting take on artificial intelligence. The crew are placed into hypothermic sleep chambers, which is a nice touch. From what I've read online, the sleep chambers are hypothetically possible. Such a sleep chamber would put them into a hibernation-like sleep, called "torpor." It would lower their body temperatures to 90 F (32 C), which reduces their metabolism, caloric intake, and slows muscle atrophy. Then it's wormhole time. What I've described above are the best parts of the film. It's at this point that the film starts to lose it's cohesiveness, which is somewhat surprising.

We have a mission.
Doyle [to Cooper]

You would think the best part of the film would be when they actually land on an unknown world, but it's not. It's certainly dramatic, but problematic. The first planet they land on is water world near a black hole. Now I'm not a physicist, but if a planet is near a black hole named Gargantuan, that can't be a good thing. Not only does the planet have crazy tidal issues (like 500 feet/152 meter tides), but there's some crazy time dilation stuff happening here. Please don't ask me to explain it, but it has something to do with the theory of relativity. The gravitational pull of the black hole causes a time dilation for anyone landing on the planet. One hour on this planet is equivalent to seven years on earth on earth. It's here that the lovely Wes Bentley (Doyle) predictably becomes a red shirt and not even in an interesting way. Needless to say things go wrong, so when Dr. Brand and Cooper return to their space craft, 23 years have passed and poor Romilly is still faithfully waiting, somehow not insane.

You can't just think about your family. You have to think bigger than that. 
Doyle [to Cooper]

The most interesting thing to happen in this part of the film is the introduction of Matt Damon as Dr. Mann. Dr. Mann was a revered NASA scientist who piloted one of the first shuttle missions. He landed on a desolate ice planet, somehow lost his crew, and went a little cray cray. He knowingly transmitted false information about the ice planet to lure the other astronauts in. Mann knew that if he transmitted the correct data, that the planet could not support life, that there would never be hope of rescue. IMO, the other astronauts should have known from the moment they touched down that the planet couldn't support life, but whatever. Dr. Mann tries to kill Cooper, succeeds in killing Romilly, and then manages to accidentally kill himself when he tries to unsuccessfully dock with Endurance.

Love is the one thing that transcends space and time. 
Dr. Brand [to Cooper]

Meanwhile on earth, Murphy and Tom are all growed up as Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck. Murphy is still the embittered woman she was when she was 10 years old, only now it's not so cute anymore. In her spare time between pouts, she works at NASA herself with Professor Brand. They are working on an equation to help humanity leave earth en masse, which isn't explained very well. Cooper recognized that the entire NASA facility was actually a humongous terraformed space shuttle, which I assume would have difficulty clearing the atmosphere. It takes quite a bit of energy for a lone space shuttle to clear the atmosphere, let alone a biosphere of some sort. Still, although it's hinted that the earth's population is much smaller due to starvation, I still assume that the vast majority of the population would still be left behind..but it's not explained...

We've always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible.
Cooper [to himself]
When Professor Brand dies, Murphy realizes that that Professor Brand knew that there was no hope of solving the equation, and that plan B (which was was to transport fertilized embryos to a viable planet), was the true plan all along. I'm still a little unclear about this. If plan B was the plan all along, you would think that mission control would have sent a few more of us women folk, since I assume women will still be the ones to birth 'dem babies. So either Anne Hathaway was going to be a very busy girl, or that was another thing not explained properly.

If we find a home, then what?
Cooper [to Dr. Brand]

Endurance doesn't have enough juice to make it to the third planet and go back to earth so Cooper has to give up on ever seeing his children again. Cooper and Dr. Brand decide to send Tars the robot into the black hole to transmit data that could help the people on earth figure out the calculation needed to leave earth. Supposedly, the only way to figure out the equation is to gather data on gravity from a black hole. Ok, just go with it.

I'm not going to make it. 
Dr. Brand [to Cooper and Doyle]

It's a particularly desperate move anyway because as most people know, even "light" itself cannot escape from a black hole, so I doubt sound waves or other forms of transmission could escape either, but it's worth a try to save the human race. What I didn't understand was why Cooper decides to take a portion of the ship and jump into the black hole too? I didn't understand this part, unless it was just for plot development. If Tars is already going into the black hole, then why would Cooper break away and go into the black hole? Who knows?

Those aren't mountains, they're waves.
Cooper [to Dr. Brand]

But it's convenient and unlikely that Cooper falls into the black hole and isn't immediately crushed to death from the immense gravity. Cooper is pulled into a "tesseract," or a fifth dimension, and the singing group is no where to be found, but the "alien" beings are. It's akin to what Dave got pulled into in '2001,' but less spacey. In the fifth dimension Cooper appears behind his daughter's bookshelf. Cooper was the "ghost" communicating with his daughter years earlier. Time is relative here. The alien beings (who are future humans) exist outside of space and time. Similar to '2001,' they are lifeforms that have evolved past the three dimensions. Had the "aliens" interacted with Cooper in a different manner it wouldn't have been as bizarre. If they can survive black holes, then why couldn't they communicated with Cooper while he was safely aboard his ship? This leads me to my earlier point--time traveling through a black hole is just so cliched and kooky.

This is not about saving my life, it's about saving the human race.
Dr. Mann [to Cooper]

Whilst in the black home somehow Cooper is able to relay the equation to Jessica Chastain-Murphy. As soon as he does so he ends up floating in space near Saturn 50 or 60 years later. Luckily for Cooper, humans are orbiting Saturn and getting ready to jump into the wormhole. They also conveniently find Cooper minutes away from death. Cooper is reunited with his daughter, now in 80s and near death (Ellen Burstyn). Cooper never asks about poor Tom, and he spends like 30 seconds with his daughter, who tells him that she doesn't want him to watch her die. She encourages him to fly off to meet Amelia at the other planet. The end.

Decide between seeing your children again and the future of the human race.
Dr. Brand [to Cooper]

Overall, I really enjoyed the first half of 'Interstellar,' I thought Nolan set up the first half of the film very nicely, even with the crazy "blight" stuff. I also enjoyed some of the spacey and metaphysical bits. The philosophical aspects of 'Interstellar' didn't bother me like it bothered other people. I actually like spiritual scifi films, so I'm not quite sure where 'Interstellar' went wrong or if it did go wrong? Maybe it's one of those films I just need to see it again? I guess my problem with 'Interstellar' is that it over epxlains in some areas, and doesn't explain enough in others. It also takes a few predictable turns. Yes, we get it space travel is dangerous, but did Nolan have to predictably kill off the only other characters of the shuttle crew who were NOT McConaughey and Hathaway?

Well, we got this far, further than any human in history.
Dr. Brand [to Cooper]

There are also some serious audio problems in 'Interstellar.' Or was there? According to Nolan, this was done purposefully? This makes no sense to me. If Nolan wanted the dialogue to be ambiguous, he could have done that with actual dialogue, not with most of the audience vocalizing a simultaneous "huh?" There was one scene with Michael Cain and Jessica Chastain that was completely inaudible. I've seen countless Cain films and I've seen all of Nolan's films, most of which include Cain. I've never had a hard time understanding Cain's thick Cockney accent...until now.

Maybe we've spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory.
Dr. Brand [to Cooper]

Another problem with the movie is the music. I personally like Hans Zimmer's minimalistic musical style, which has worked well in the 'Batman trilogy and 'Incpetion,' but it doesn't work so well here. Zimmer was clearly giving a nod to '2001: A Space Odyssey," which was cool. There is an "churchy/organ" chord played throughout the film. Again, it's a cool homage to '2001,' but it should have been coupled with more.

We find a way Professor, we always have.
Cooper [to Professor Brand]

The brilliant thing about '2001' was that it was ambiguous. Kubrick never bothered to explain anything to the audience, but he still followed the science meticulously. This fits in well with Kubrick's style, as Kubrick was a visual director. He told stories visually and wanted to provoke an emotion from the viewer. It's the reason that '2001' felt very spiritual to me, even though it was written by a staunch atheist (Arthur C. Clark). 'Interstellar' tried to be both a Kubrickian film and a "hard scifi" film.
We're still pioneers, we barely begun.
Cooper [to himself]

There's also a bit of confusion between hard and soft scifi. For those unfamiliar with the terms: "soft scifi" refers to science fiction stories that lack scientific focus. Think 'Battlestar Galactica' and 'The Walking Dead.' 'Battlestar Galactica' is set in a scifi world, but the show's focus is not science fiction. They never explain how the "FTL" (faster than light) drives work, nor do they need. The scifi world is merely a backdrop to the story. "Hard scifi" is the opposite. 'Interstellar' is somewhere in between. It tries very hard to be a hard scifi film, but it gets a little lost along the way.

Your daughter's generation will be the last to survive on earth.
Professor Brand [to Cooper]

Ultimately, 'Interstellar' is a love story between a father and his children, but it doesn't find the right balance between the scifi, the philosophical, and the love story. That's my main issue with 'Interstellar,' it's a good film, but I kept saying to myself...it could have been so much more. Overall, I recommend seeing it in theater. It's a beautiful thought-provoking film, with an intriguing story, fine acting, and good special effects. It's just not what I had hoped it would be, but it certainly had an awesome trailer!

Happy Halloween | American Horror Story Review + Spoilers

The visage is unrelenting. I am its slave. 
Edward Mordrake [to Ethel Darling] in American Horror Story

Happy Halloween scifi fans. 'American Horror Story: Freakshow' just wrapped up Halloween with a funky two-part episode, Edward Mordrake Part 1 and 2. Thankfully 'American Horror Story' always gets talented guest stars. This week's guest star was Wes Bentley ('American Beauty' and 'Interstellar'). And if the original 'Hunger Games' film didn't convince you that Bentley could rock wacky facial hair, then 'American Horror Story' will give you no doubt. Bentley plays a ghoulishly handsome, semi-corporeal ghost, Edward Mordrake, who has been summoned to haunt the 1952 freak show of Jupiter, Florida. But Edward isn't there to just haunt, he also serves as clever segue into character development. Edward compels several of the performers (who haven't received much screen time) to tell their individual tales of woe. It's a convenient plot twist, but it works.
You must be candid. If you lie it will know. 
Edward Mordrake [to Ethel Darling]

Mordrake is based on a real person and has his own tragic past. Mordrake was once a dashing English Lord who happened to have another face on the back of his head, as "hideous as the devil," according to bearded lady Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates). Despite his deformities, Edward was a brilliant musician and poet, which made Edward's fate even more painful.
He tried to kill it. Many times and in many ways. 
Ethel Darling [telling Edward's tale]

The demon face would speak to Edward and make him do things. Edward tried to rid himself of the demon face and even attempted to drown the face by laying down in a bathtub. Eventually Edward went mad and was institutionalized. The demon face took control and helped Edward escape, where he took refuge with a freak show. Not finding relief, Edward killed every member of the troupe, then committed suicide. Now Edward has been condemned to the confines of a carnie ghost story.
And then...he'd take a bow.
Ethel Darling [telling Edward's tale]

It's in Ethel's ghost story that the Florida freak show learns that Edward Mordrake is the reason that no "freak performs on Halloween," lest they summon forth his elegant spirit. If any freak has the audacity to perform on All Hallows Eve, Mordrake will add a "pure freak, corrupted of flesh, befouled of soul" to his "coterie of freakish companions." No one knows where Edward takes his companions once the face decides whom to take.
There was no one like Edward.
Ethel Darling [telling Edward's tale]

In order to determine which freak will be taken, Edward makes them relive their darkest hours. The demon face feeds off "pain, regret, the delicious moment when hope is lost, the sweet bleeding of a broken heart." The writers really pulled out all the stops this week. The dialogue is exquisite. It's probably one of the best episodes 'American Horror Story' has had in a while. Last year's 'Coven' ran both hot and cold. 'Asylum' was just cold...and dreary.
I've been a star for decades.
Elsa Mars [to Dot and Bette]

Par for the course, Jessica Lange (Elsa Mars) plays the grand dame of the show, it's epicenter (rightfully so). The casting of Jessica Lange is the one of the few times I will admit that Ryan Murphy knows what he's doing (as far as casting is concerned). Elsa is the ringmaster of this quaint little freak show, with a woefully misplaced superiority complex. In her mind, her career has been overlooked because of fellow German actress Marlene Dietrich. Even now, when the aging entertainer finds herself in the middle of a backwater rural Florida town, running a freak show, Elsa still believes that she will be a famous film star one day. Not caring about the Halloween night superstition, Elsa performs (and nails) a Lana Del Rey song "Gods and Monsters," and Edward is summoned. Bring out the fog maker and the eerie green lights y'all, it's on. Yes, yes. I know it's a show set in the 1950s, and a character is singing a modern song, but just go with it. 'American Horror Story' has never taken itself seriously. Neither should you.

Questions must be asked, as indelicate as they may be.
Edward Mordrake [to Ethel Darling]

Mordrake pays Ethel a visit first, perhaps because she told the sordid tale and has a sense of reverence for him. Edward is much less polite to his other potential victims in the second half of the story, but the scenes between Ethel and Edward are touching and sincere. One would almost believe Edward to be kind due to his treatment of Ethel, but we of course know better. By Edward's request, we get a glimpse of Ethel's former life with Dell, her ex-husband and current strongman, played by Michael Chiklis and we find out that Ethel is originally from Baltimore, which explains the weird accent Bate has been cobbling together.

I have fallen and this backwater ain't the worst of it.
Ethel Darling [to Edward Mordrake]

Bates is a master of accents, if 'Delores Clairborne' and 'Misery' are any indication, so I'm not sure if she's doing incredibly well or if she's butchering it. The accent aside, Ethel's backstory is heartbreaking. We learned in the second episode that Dell tried to kill their young son, Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters), during a fit of rage. This of course prompted Ethel to leave Dell.
I'm a lady and then some. 
Desiree Dupree [to little girl]

After a 30 year separation Dell and Ethel are unhappily reunited when he and his new hermaphroditical three-breasted wife, Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett), show up looking for work at the freak show. Speaking of Angela Bassett, this is my primary complaint about the show thus far. Where is Angela? According to IMDB, she's in most of the episodes this season, so hopefully the writers will give her more to do than be Dell's eye candy. I will say that I do like the whole 'Carmen Jones' vibe she has going.

Ethel's night with Edward reveals that it was Dell who convinced her to give up her successful vaudeville act for an unsuccessful theatrical one, which subsequently landed her at the freak show. Dell isn't known for his smarts. At some point Dell and Ethel were so broke that Dell arranged for people to pay to watch Ethel give birth to and hold Jimmy, their "monster baby," who was born with ectrodactyly dysplasia otherwise known as "lobster claws." This revelation is Ethel's lowest point. She realizes that Jimmy has been exploited from the moment he was born and it's devastating. You're not sure if Ethel's sad tale of desperation and regret causes Edward to show her mercy or maybe she just isn't evil enough? Either way, Edward moves on to deeper waters and leaves Ethel alive and breathing.
He needs some guidance. Preferably from a man.
Ethel Darling to [Dell Toledo]

One of the weaker plot points this season is the introduction of Emma Roberts (Esmerelda) and Denis O'Hare as a couple of grifters. We don't get to see much of O'Hare's character, but Esmerelda shows up at the freak show for a job as a fake psychic. Evidently love triangles haven't gotten old, so the writer's have decided to throw in a love quadrangle between Jimmy, Esmerelda, and Bette/Dot (the resident Siamese twins, played by AHS veteran Sarah Paulson). I like the actors, but I wish they were given more to do and more to work with. It's early on in the season yet, so I hope the best is yet to come.
I can hear another song now. The future.
Esmerelda [to Elsa]

In the other corner of our horror story, Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) is on a rampage: killing toy store clerks, teens in lover's lanes, and kidnapping frightened children. His secret hideout is an abandoned school bus deep in the woods. His hideous mask hides a deformed jaw that makes the mask look tame. Twisty is up to no good again, stalking a little girl who is terrified of clowns. He soon follows her home to abduct her bullying big brother, adding another member to his bus brigade. One of the writer's is clearly a fan of 'Halloween' (the original 1978 version). See below for the comparison between this shot with Twisty versus Michael Myers. I posted a link a few weeks ago about how the Clown Association of America wasn't happy about Twisty the Clown. Clearly 'American Horror Story' is doing something right.

Twenty year old spoiled brat (Finn Wittrock) is having a rampage of his own. He kills small animals, scares young children, and is the killer clown's new BFF. Dandy's nemesis is none other than Patti LaBelle herself, his mother's feisty maid, Dora. His indulgent mother Gloria Mott is played by 'American Horror Story' alum (Frances Conroy). Unlike Gloria, Dora doesn't indulge or particularly like Dandy. She knows that he's dangerous, but she also fancies him a coward. She dares him to kill her when has the nerve to point a knife in her direction.

There's another 'Halloween' homage after Dandy flips out over the Howdy Doody costume that Dora makes him. Gloria may indulge Dandy's every whim, but she cannot stop the curfew hanging over Jupiter, Florida. Ever since the killer clown started his rampage, the whole town of Jupiter is house arrest. When Dandy doesn't find enough entertainment at home with Gloria and Dora, he seeks out Twisty.
Curfews are for the poor people. 
Dandy [to Gloria]

Perhaps my favorite scene in the two-part episodes was the scene between Mordrake and Elsa. Mordrake is still on the hunt for his pound of flesh when he visits Elsa's tent. Elsa mistakes Mordrake for an admirer. Mordrake plays along at first, then dresses Elsa down like no one else could. His companions strip Elsa of her dignity and remove her wooden legs.

I am here to take someone to the other side. Perhaps you.
Edward Mordrake [to Elsa]

Edward demands to hear her darkest hour, which takes us to the underbelly of 1932 Berlin. Elsa was a struggling actress and a prostitute (and a dominatrix). Some of the Berlin scenes are a little too gruesome for my taste. It's here we learn how Elsa lost her legs. She was drugged and brutally mutilated by people she trusted. Mordrake and his demon face have finally found their freak in Elsa. Right before he kills Elsa, Mordrake hears the sound of sweet music played by Twisty the Clown. Elsa is spared. Twisty is not.

I've gone into great detail about the episodes, but something should be said about Wes Bentley's performance as Edward Mordrake. His performance was an example of subtle perfection: the delivery, the accent, the facial expressions were flawless. I've seen Bentley in several films, 'American Beauty' of course, 'The Claim,' 'The Four Feathers,' 'The Hunger Games,' but I hadn't seen him in a film in which he could show his chops. It's strange, but 'American Horror Story' allowed Bentley to really flex his acting muscles.
Don't stop now. We came for a show.
Edward Mordrake [to Twisty the Clown]

Bentley has publicly admitted that he struggled with drugs for the majority of his career. Which is kind of amazing when you think about it. I don't care about, nor do I engage in discussions about actor's personal lives, but I'm pretty impressed that Bentley could come back from that. He's been quoted as saying he used to only take roles to get him through his drug habit. Now he's getting roles in Christopher Nolan films, which is huge. I think it takes great personal strength to overcome and continue to struggle with these addictions. This is one of the reasons I admired Philip Seymour Hoffman so much. Yes, he did succumb to his struggle, but as Bentley has said, "sobriety is an ongoing process." And as my father would say, "the proof is in the pudding." Bentley shines in this series. We can only hope he returns for more ghastly fun next year.   
Perfect in it's monstrous imperfection.
Edward Mordrake

Another standout was John Carroll Lynch ('Zodiac' and 'The Americans'). Lynch as Twisty the Clown is so good that you scarcely remember he's acting...always the mark of a master. When Edward finally unmasks the the killer clown, we find out that the clown isn't as fiendish as he first appeared. Twisty was once just a simple minded circus clown who loved to entertain children. He was unjustly accused of molesting children by jealous carnie folk. Twisty never recovers from the accusation and is run out of town. When his mother dies he is relegated to living in the abandoned bus. When he cannot make a living selling junk toys, he tries to kill himself, which leaves him horrifically scarred and insane.

Remove your mask. Tell me your story.
Edward Mordrake [to Twisty the Clown]

After four episodes of silent murder, Twisty's voice is finally revealed. In Twisty's mind he was saving children. He killed the shopkeeper because he threw Twisty out of the toy store and accused him of hurting children. He killed the boy's mother because the mother was mean to Twisty in the toy store and Twisty wanted to save the boy from chores. Twisty killed the teen boy in lover's lane so he could kidnap his girlfriend to babysit the children he kidnapped, etc. Edward and the demon face are most impressed by Twisty's scarred and simple mind. Their search is over. They have found their freakish companion.

I have met many a craven killer, many a sniveling coward in my time,...but you have caused 
the demon to weep. 
Edward Mordrake [to Twisty the Clown]

'Fury' Review - A Lesson in War Movie Cliches [Spoilers]

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent."
Wardaddy [to Norman] in 'Fury.'

Set in the waning months of World War II, 'Fury' starts with serene moment: A lone soldier is riding on a white horse through the fog. It's only after the fog dissipates that you notice that the soldier is riding through a battlefield strewn with damaged and abandoned American Sherman tanks. The soldier doesn't get far before another soldier ambushes and kills him. The killer is Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), who soon joins his compadres in their dilapidated (but still functioning) tank, nicknamed "Fury"--frantically being worked on by mechanic and missile loader, Grady (Jon Bernthal).

Pitt of course plays the anchor role of the steely eyed weathered veteran who has fought on two continents. Rounding out his crew are Bible Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Pena), and a recently deceased unnamed soldier. Wardaddy takes his crew back to base and tells a disappointed young Lieutenant (Xavier Samuel) that none of the other tank crews survived. As the Lieutenant gives orders, some of the other Sergeants gruffly joke that the Lieutenant isn't even old enough to shave. This is a common cliche in war movies. A young, inexperienced, lieutenant is sent into the field to command a weary battle hardened, strong-willed Sergeant. The Sergeant always knows best and the young lieutenant never lives long. This proves to be the case in 'Fury,' but Wardaddy is more complicated than he appears to be.

Were it not for the prevalence of so many war movie stereotypes, 'Fury' could have been a great film. Director David Ayer ('End of Watch' and 'Harsh Times') did an admirable job depicting the horrors of war and 'Fury' did something that most war movies do not, it showed the heroes of the film doing some "not" so heroic things, such as killing a surrendering enemy combatant begging for his life or holding a few pretty German women hostage after capturing a small German town. One of the best scenes in the movie is when the brash and ruckus tank crew interrupts Wardaddy's makeshift love nest with coarse joking and savage war stories. Had 'Fury' continued down this path, this would have been a unique film. But alas, shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The most prevalent war movie stereotype in 'Fury' is the "new guy" cliche. In 'Fury,' the "new guy" is Percy Jackson himself, Logan Lerman (Norman). Countless other war movies have had their own "new guys," In 'Saving Private Ryan,' the new guy was Upham (Jeremy Davies). The "new guy" is typically used as a gateway for the audience and gives the viewers someone to relate to, as the audience is in essence the "new guy."

The "new guy" cliche typically has built-in conflict with the resident "old guys" and the lead veteran. Almost as soon as Norman arrives, Wardaddy isn't happy about it. Wardaddy's name alone should indicate why. Young Norman is from the the typing pool, has no combat experience, and has never been in a tank.
Norman's trial by fire starts almost immediately. Norman's first task is to clean up the remains of the soldier he is replacing--not a pretty sight. Things go downhill from there, as Norman gets brutally schooled by Wardaddy. The tension between Wardaddy and Norman is one of the most compelling aspect of the film. It's also another well-known war movie stereotype. The "new guy" always attempts to retain his humanity during the first half of the film, only to transform into a killing machine during the second half of the film. It's a little unrealistic. It's kind of like the guy who takes one sword lesson and automatically becomes an expert.

Similar to the "new guy," every war movie needs "the preacher." Admittedly, I find the conflict of war and religion to be thought provoking, but I wish war movies would mix it up a bit. Thankfully, 'Fury' makes "the preacher" character (Bible Swan played by Shia LaBeouf) semi-interesting. No one finds this sentence more shocking than I do, as I am "the opposite" of a Shia LaBeouf fan, but this was perhaps LaBeouf's best role in years. Amazingly, 'Fury' will remind people that LaBeouf can actually act. It's easy to forget whilst watching crappy 'Transformer' movies and weird sadistic films like 'Nymphomaniac.' LaBeouf's bizarre public behavior hasn't done him any favors either.

All that aside, LaBeouf shines in this film, albeit in a cliched character. Bible Swan is the tank's gunner and probably kills more people than any member of the tank crew. If this sounds familiar then you will recall that Barry Pepper (Private Jackson) was the quintessential "preacher"/sniper character in 'Saving Private Ryan,' but LaBeouf's character takes it a step further. Bible Swan may brutally kill men on the battlefield, but as soon as the fighting stops, he prays with and offers comfort to dying enemy soldiers. It's a good reminder, that even enemies can treat each other like human beings. Again, had 'Fury' focused on some of these contradictions, rather than lazily relying on stereotypes, 'Fury' could have been one of the best films of the year.

As someone who is herself "ethnic," I am not criticizing diversity in films, quite the contrary. However, I'm getting a little tired of the stereotypical "ethnic friend." Why can't Hollywood write non-stereotypical characters who just happen to be non-white? Ultimately people are people. So writers--please write the character like you would any other person. One good example is Adam Beach (Ira Hayes) in 'Flags of Our Fathers.' Unlike Gordo (Michael Pena), Beach's character is fully developed  with a distinct personality and presence. Whereas Gordo is the epitome of a stereotype: a one-dimensional feisty Latin tank driver with an attitude and little dialogue, who irritates Wardaddy by occasionally speaking Spanish in the tank.

Perhaps the worst war movie stereotype is the creepy "rapey" soldier, played here by Jon Bernthal (Grady Coon-Ass). Grady is openly misogynistic and cringe worthy at times. It's never more evident than when he threatens to rape one of the young women in Wardaddy's custody. It's good for the ladies that Wardaddy is gentlemanly enough to threaten to kick Grady in the teeth. Grady reminds me of the Telly Savalas' character (A.J. Maggott) in 'The Dirty Dozen.' However, I have to give Ayer (who also wrote 'Fury) a little credit for giving Grady at least one tender moment, in which he admits that he's not a good man, but would like to be. I understand that soldiers can be rough around the edges. My father is a Vietnam combat veteran and is still a little rough around the edges, but this war movie stereotype needs some freshening up.

It's not long after this awkward scene that Wardaddy and crew are sent into harms way again. Which brings me to both the weakest and the strongest point of the film. The film essentially becomes "Saving Private Ryan...with tanks" and descends into blatant 'Saving Private Ryan' mimicry. Similar to 'Saving Private Ryan,' Wardaddy decides to "hold this ground" against an onslaught of 300 German soldiers, despite their tank being knocked off its tracks by a landmine. It ends as you would expect...exactly as 'Saving Private Ryan' ended.
In addition to the 'Saving Private Ryan' ripoff,' there were a few scenes that made absolutely no sense. Not once but twice, two members of the tank crew poke their head out in the midst of enemy fire and the obvious happens. Seriously? Couldn't they have died in a more noble manner? Are you telling me that these men who have survived four years of tank fighting, don't have the wherewithal "not" to poke their head out when being fired upon?  This is one of the first thing my father always told me--when the bullets start flying "HIT THE DECK." At least one of the character's gets taken out by a sniper--that I could understand. Were it not for the final scene between Wardaddy and Norman, the ending wouldn't have been redeemed.

Overall, it's a decent war movie, but not for the squeamish. Lastly in closing, I haven't really thought much of Pitt since I was a hormonal teenager in 1994 with a 'Legends of the Fall' poster on my wall, but I have to admit that Pitt was kinda hot in this film. He has a nice shirtless scene. Sorry, this may or may not be a reason to see this movie, but it certainly made the time pass. Ultimately, 'Fury' may not be for everyone, but it's a film that I could watch with my dad. We see two types of films together, westerns and war movies. So anytime I can spend time with him I'm going to take it.

Directed by David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, and Logan Lerman.
*** 3 stars out of 5