[television]one of a kind: a love letter to orphan black

As a lover of science fiction and a feminist, sometimes the sci fi landscape feels a little bleak. The boys club mentality holds on a little bit more stubbornly in this genre than in others. (For proof on even the fandom level just look to the levels of outrage over a female Doctor Who.) It’s a real life mirror of the continued misconception that women have little to no place in STEM fields. Somehow we are still not smart or logical enough by some of the old guard way of thinking. When fiction reinforces these misconceptions, it can be down right infuriating.

Well, boys club, meet Clone Club.

Orphan Black begins with Sarah Manning watching someone who looks exactly like her intentionally and resignedly throw herself in front of a train. Sarah being a bit of a grifter and con artist doesn’t miss the opportunity to grab the mysterious stranger’s purse and check her place out. She’s partially driven by opportunity and trying to figure out who a woman that could be her clone is. So does she find the beginning of the rabbit hole with, well, actual clones.

As the mystery unravels and winds the most important aspect of Orphan Black makes itself apparent. Family is the center of everything, especially the sisterhood of Sarah, Alison, Cosima and Helena.

Brilliantly portrayed by Tatiana Maslany, the four sestras stand at the center of the mystery and each possesses a strength that will see them through while they figure everything out. Sarah is street smart. Cosima is brilliant in science. Alison is organized. And Helena is a trained killer. All of them unapologetically embrace their feminine strengths, both tradional and non. Their biggest strength is their sisterhood and developing trust in each other.

Sisterhood and family are the very center of Orphan Black.

Surrounding the sisters is a network that becomes a family. Even the foster mother Sarah could never connect with becomes their strongest ally once secrets are out and walls broken down. Brothers, spouses, lovers, friends and partners all become part of the fold. It is the strength of that family that makes them strong enough to fight a powerful multinational corporation with government ties.

Also refreshing is Orphan Black doesn’t shy away from presenting women as also being cold, logical and unswayed by emotion. Rachel Duncan is another clone who is also a villain. She has no sense of loyalty to her fellow clones and only to the corporation that wants to profit off them. She is an experiment in her own way, but chooses to follow the path of greatest benefit to herself, regardless of consequences. Rarely are female characters written with any motivations that are not emotionally based and Rachel’s motivations are almost always logically based in her own self interest.

Orphan Black’s finale aired last weekend and it was an emotional thing. Certainly it’s rare that a show knows when to end and does so in such a graceful, unrushed way. It will be missed, but it was also a gift and a revelation. Here’s hoping it paves the way for even more science fiction stories with such strong, nonstereotypical women. Orphan Black did this while posing questions about morality, self determination and scientific ethics. It is a one of a kind show and it will be loved for a long time to come.

[film]the dark tower: review

There’s a moment when watching the Dark Tower where one is forced to consider how much the source material bears on the film. The Dark Tower is a sprawling (sometimes meandering) epic series of books with a lot of original ideas and more than a few execution errors. For all that it is an extremely loved sprawling epic series of books so anyone going into making a film version knew they had their work cut out for them to make those fans happy.

The bad news is this movie is not going to make those fans happy. I don’t blame them. The ties to the source material are tenuous at best. If anyone ever wants to hear my opinion of Queen of the Damned, I one hundred percent get watching something and wondering if the filmmakers even read the same book I did. The good news for you all is that all reports say the television series will be much closer to canon. So there’s hope on that front.

The good news is that as a film separate of it’s source material, it’s not a terrible film, if a bit of a formulaic one. The biggest issue it runs into is running time. Director Nikolaj Arcel tries to shove a whole lot of story into an hour and half of running time. Basically this gets translated into things that are touched on but never fully explored making it hard to be truly emotionally invested in the story or what happens to the characters.

Idris Elba’s Roland is perhaps the brightest point. Elba plays the line between lost soul, badass and straight man extremely well. Matthew McConaughey does well enough as the Man in Black. If anything I wish they had delved farther into his devil may care, quirky side that feels as if it’s only hinted at. Elba and McConaughey have good chemistry on screen together. Unfortunately Tom Taylor as Jake is fairly bland and while Jake is used as audience stand in he feels more like a plot device for most of the film than a full blown character.

My main complaint about the Dark Tower is the lack of female voices. It could be argued that Susannah doesn’t show up until the second book so therefore has no place in the movie, but there are many factors that don’t show up until later books that they included that the argument doesn’t entirely work. It does end up feeling a bit like watching dudes do all sorts of dude things. The two female characters with extremely limited screen and dialogue are pretty literally the mother and whore archetypes and that’s about it. In a film where very few characters have any level of depth, the women feel even more shallow than that.

For all it’s flaws, it’s an enjoyable movie. There are lots of fun moments and the action scenes are on point. It’s beautiful to look at and there’s a ton of fun King Easter eggs to keep your eye out for. I’d definitely say it’s a wait to rent however and skip buying it though.