Being a hero does not always mean wearing a cape or fighting off foes with superhuman strength. For some individuals they become the heroes of their own stories simply by demonstrating uncharacteristic bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. They face something horrifyingly daunting but pressing forwards nonetheless. That is the case for a determined young woman in Netflix’s original mini-series, Unorthodox.
The four part program packs quite a bit of drama and emotion into such a short viewing time. The story centers on Esty, a young woman residing in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York City’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Perhaps Ultra-Orthodox doesn’t do justice to the fundamentalist nature of her situation. Though the community exists in Brooklyn and the United States of America, she and other women have limited freedom and limited options due to the patriarchal nature of their lives. Her prison has no physical bars, but she is trapped by tradition and a sense of obligation that has been instilled in her for her whole life. The rabbi is the ultimate authority, and Esty enters into an arranged marriage as women are essentially relegated to being child bearers. Their sole functions are to increase the numbers of the community and keep their husbands happy.
In the current pandemic crisis, tensions are running high. This is true in a general sense as people deal with cabin fever and economic hardship, but relations are especially strained between conservative groups protesting stay-at-home orders and the government forces trying to account for the loss of life. There is a rising tide of anti-establishment sentiment based around the idea that individual freedoms hold supreme authority, not government edict. Though I did not start watching the mini-series Waco thinking of parallels between past and present, the 2018 show is strikingly relevant given current events.
Growing up in the 90’s I knew of the Waco, Texas siege and could remember bits and pieces of information I probably saw in the years after it, but it wasn’t until recently that I read about the full extent of the incident and the group at the center of the conflict. In short, a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians came to the attention of the ATF (bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) because of suspected illegal activities related to weapons. Their leader, David Koresh, painted himself as a prophetic and messianic figure leading his followers in what they believed to be the end times foretold in the Book of Revelation. Another point of concern for the ATF was that Koresh had taken multiple wives, in fact mandating that only he could have sex with the wives of those who had joined the group, and some of those wives were younger than 18.
For many of us growing up in today’s world, we are children of concrete jungles. We are more familiar with subways, skyscrapers, strip malls, and carefully manicured suburban lawns than forests. Venturing out into true wilderness is risky and incomprehensible by our cushy standards. Yet many years ago, this continent was not quite conquered. The West was once a vast place full of possibility; a place for adventure, for starting over, and for exploration. That is the world showcased in the film Hostiles.
Set in 1892, Hostiles portrays an America that is quite unrecognizable by today’s standards. The country was still recovering in some ways from the Civil War roughly three decades earlier. Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico were still territories. In New Mexico, Hostiles explores relations between Native Americans and the American army. Specifically, some sentiments in the country that have shifted to favor less harsh treatment of the native population. Protagonist Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) has fought many native groups for decades of his career with the army. One of the men he fought is Chief Yellow Hawk, a Cheyenne leader who has been imprisoned with his family at Fort Berringer for seven years. Orders have been given from the president himself to transport Chief Yellow Hawk from New Mexico to Hawk’s homeland, a valley in Montana, to live out his few remaining days.
What would happen if Jesus Christ returned to earth today? It is a philosophical question that some people may ponder as an interesting hypothetical debate, but Netflix’s new series, Messiah explores that in its ten episode first season. For those looking for an intriguing quarantine binge, keep reading!
The series opens with a mysterious man preaching to a crowd in Damascus, Syria as it comes under attack. A sandstorm envelops the city and deters the attack, and many people come to believe that the man is a prophetic figure responsible for miraculously saving them. Al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi), as he comes to be known, remains an enigma throughout the entire series. He never explicitly comes out and states, “I am the messiah,” and he likewise does not deny it. As he comes to the attention of CIA officer Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan) as a possible cult or terrorist leader, Al-Masih just becomes more and more of a mystery. He has an uncanny ability to read people and get into their heads, and every episode swings back and forth like a pendulum around one central question: Is this just a very convincing con man, or is he an actual miracle worker and the son of God?
You may have noticed by now that I am a fan of Netflix. That is partially because a number of years ago I cut the cord and realized paying $100 a month for cable that I mostly scrolled through was futile. More often, though, I find that Netflix seems to have a knack for either finding or producing compelling original gems, both in standalone movies and series that can entertain us for years. One of their most recent films, The Laundromat, provides an entertaining and horrifying glimpse into the tangled web of financial scams that spans the globe.
While the film often strikes a whimsical tone, it is an embellished and over the top version of events related to the very real Panama Papers scandal. In short, a law firm based in Panama, Mossack Fonseca, helped thousands of wealthy and questionable clients shelter money in offshore accounts and shell corporations. The intricate connections among individuals and dishonest businesses lead to a kind of domino effect that hit small businesses and individuals alike.
The name Stephen King is synonymous with horror, and for good reason. He is a master of suspense, world creation, and intricate plots. I am a huge fan of King’s novels, as well as some of his movie adaptations, so it should come as no surprise that I have also embraced one of his latest transitions to the screen, HBO’s series The Outsider. Even for viewers wary of horror, the series promises an invigorating ride.
The plot centers on the brutal murder of a child that initially seems like an open and shut case. The fingerprints and DNA of local teacher and baseball coach Terry Maitland (played by Jason Bateman) are found everywhere at the crime scene. Numerous witnesses and even video footage place him at or near the scene as well and point to him being the culprit. After his very public arrest, an impossible paradox comes to light: there is also footage of him 60 miles away at the time of the murder, and fingerprints to support that version of events as well. The question for detective Ralph Anderson (played by Ben Mendelson) then becomes much deeper and confounding: how is it possible Terry committed this crime if he’s on film elsewhere at the time of the murder? How could someone be in two places at once? And if Terry is innocent, is the real killer still out there waiting to strike again?
“There is only one god and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death. Not today.” This quote is from season one of Game of Thrones— while it is a completely different genre and even flavor of show— it can also be aptly applied to Netflix’s Altered Carbon.
From the first moments humans became capable of considering existential matters, like the future and the afterlife, we have wondered about how to circumvent death; with creams, chemicals, surgeries, or shamans we try and delay the inevitable march to the grave. In the Netflix series, Altered Carbon, a hypothetical earth is set several centuries in the future from our own, fantasy has become reality.
In this future earth (and the many worlds we have colonized), humans have achieved a measure of immortality, though with some caveats and twists. The entire essence of a person, the memories, personality, the very consciousness, can be copied onto a durable metal disk. At the age of one, these disks are inserted into every human’s body at the base of the neck. Physical bodies, what we think of as defining our identities, are in fact almost disposable and called “sleeves”. The durable stack can live on even if your body dies from old age or physical trauma, and you can continue living on in a new body. Being able to upgrade to a new form after each life has its perks, as might conversing with ancestors from generations past. Better yet, if you were extremely wealthy, you could keep uploading yourself into perfectly cloned bodies of your original self, achieving something closer to true immortality.
If you’re like me and have never tried psychedelic drugs, a fine substitute would be Netflix’s new original movie, Horse Girl. The film straddles different genres with pleasing, albeit confusing, results.
Horse Girl’s star, Alison Brie, plays the socially awkward young woman who works at an arts and crafts store. Brie—who has starred in Mad Men and Community—shines and stands in stark contrast to the glamour of some of her previous roles. Brie’s Sarah is socially inept and obsessed with a horse she rode as a child. While also making braided anklets and bracelets the way an eleven-year-old might.
Cracks soon begin to emerge in Sarah’s dull routine as her behavior and imagination begin to run wild. Initially, this seems to be innocuous, perhaps some kind of sleepwalking, until the incidents become more and more bizarre; Waking up blocks from home in the middle of the night with her pajamas on backwards, abandoning her car in the middle of traffic, and vivid hallucinations. These hallucinations are of alien abductions, and start to blur the line between make-believe and reality as she obsesses over whether or not they are in fact paranormal in nature.