The Grandmaster (2013) Written by Wong Kar-wai, Zou Jingzhi, and Xu Haofeng Directed by Wong Kar-wai
Ip Man was a Cantonese master martial artist, specializing Wing Chun. He would go on to become the teacher whom Bruce Lee studied under, but this film focuses on his ascension to becoming a grandmaster and his fall from grace during the Japanese occupation. The film begins in the 1930s when Gong Yutian, the grandmaster under whom the southern and northern schools united announces his retirement. He chooses Ip Man as his heir in the south and Ip goes through a series of challenges to prove his worth. Yutian’s daughter Gong Er feels her family has been dishonored by losing this position and sets out to defeat Ip. She loses but a friendship begins that is cut short when the Japanese invade. Ip loses two children to famine and starvation while Gong Yutian faces betrayal at the hands of former students. The rest of the film tries to incorporate way too many events in Ip Man’s life that it ultimately becomes hard even to keep track of what is going on.
Gravity (2013) Written by Alfonso and Juan Cuarón Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Dr. Ryan Stone is on her first space mission, helping to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope’s capabilities. Matt Kowalski is on his final mission, commanding this one. Everything is going smoothly until a defunct Russian satellite is shot down, creating an ever-building cloud of fast-moving debris, more and more satellites getting caught up in the wave. Stone and Kowalski are sent hurtling through space and have to master control of their will and stifle panic in an attempt to survive. With the clock counting down until the debris makes its next pass, the two astronauts must make their way to the International Space Station to have even a chance of making it back to earth.
Uncanny Avengers Volume 4: Ragnarok Now Written by Rick Remender Art by Steve McNiven, Salvador Larocca, and Daniel Acuna Uncanny Avengers Volume 5: Avenge the Earth Written by Rick Remender Art by Daniel Acuna
The Apocalypse Twins hold Earth in a massive crisis. They have slaughtered a Celestial using a weapon Thor was tricked into forging centuries earlier. They have resurrected fallen heroes and villains to create their Horsemen of Death. They are holding Scarlet Witch hostage to use in their effort to destroy the Earth and create a new world for mutantkind. Havok, the brother of the mutant terrorist Cyclops, uses his role as team leader to try and redeem the family name as well as stop the impending end of the world. Kang the Conqueror, the man who shaped the Apocalypse Twins into the beings of evil they became, is now a target of their wrath and uses his time travel abilities to visit and recruit various figures from possible futures.
Written by James Ward Byrkit & Alex Manugian
Directed by James Ward Byrkit
Emily arrives at a dinner party at a friend’s house where conversation quickly turns to the historic passing of a comet over the United States that evening. Reports are coming out of people’s smartphone screens spontaneously cracking, and one party guest has a brother who is a physicist and warn that strange electromagnetic phenomena could occur. Everything goes wrong with the power shuts off, and the guests notice one house down the road as the only building with any light. Two people go to investigate, and things get stranger and stranger. A lockbox is found at the other house with numbered photos of all the party guests. As tensions rise so does paranoia, and the people gathered that evening begin to turn on each other.
Utopia Series 1, Episode 6 (2013) Written by Dennis Kelly Directed by Marc Munden
“Who We Are, Who We Become” is my unofficial title for this final episode of Utopia’s first season. Jessica Hyde has brought the manuscript to the runaways, and now it feels like all the pieces are coming together. But throughout this episode, we see characters either confirming they are who we always thought they were or revealing a turn and surprising us with their actual role. It’s the sort of surprise overload you would expect for a series finale of this sort of program. The paranoia is amped up, and bonds are either shredded entirely or strengthened through trust being revealed as earned.
Utopia Series 1, Episode 5 (2013) Written by Dennis Kelly Directed by Marc Munden
An easy unofficial title for this one: “Deals.” And this is a title that works on multiple levels. The easiest is that much of this episode addresses the fictional Deal’s disease that has been spoken about during the series. Becky’s father died from it, and now she fears she inherited it from him. Each character is also making deals with people they probably shouldn’t but are forced to as an act of survival. As we push into the finale, we see alliances crumbling, new ones forming, and everyone being pushed further to the brink.
Utopia – Series 1, Episode 4 (2013) Written by Dennis Kelly Directed by Marc Munden
As I have come up with unofficial titles to these episodes so far, I feel compelled to do so with this one. It’s a toughie to pinpoint the exact theme on this chapter, but I think I would go with “We Become What We Hate,” as the episode features many characters crossing that line and playing The Network’s game. People become killers, they engage in manipulation, and they find themselves struggling to survive. Relationships definitely begin to fray, and we see that our group on the run may not be able to hold together for much longer.
Utopia – Series 1, Episode 3 (2013) Written by Dennis Kelly Directed by Marc Munden
The unofficial title for this episode? “Loss of Innocence,” as the episode opens and ends on children directly in the line of brutal cold violence. In fact, the opening scene of this episode received over 50 complaints and was aired just a month or so after the shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I would never argue that this start is meant to be light or easy to get through. The creators most definitely intended to unsettle the audience. And this is a weird wrinkle I have noticed in audience’s perceptions of media as of late. If the film or television show or other form presents an uncomfortable or unsettling situation, then it is immediately perceived as if the creator is explicitly endorsing a destructive action. This mindset is highly corrosive to understanding and appreciating art. The creator is not always reflected in the creation, most of the time not at all. If anything, the cold open of Episode 3 is the creator making an undeniable statement about the horrors of such events, particularly when we look at the turn for Arby in this scene, when he stumbles upon the child cowering in the gym.
Utopia Series 1, Episode 2 (2013) Written by Dennis Kelly Directed by Marc Munden
Episode Two comes out of the gate ready to lay the first real building blocks of the series mythos. We are introduced to The Network, a Cold War-era response by the West to Soviet Bloc countries building up arsenals of chemical weapons. The obvious question after learning about their existence would be, why are they still around then? That answer is not laid out in any sort of clear way this chapter, but their new agenda is hinted at. Outside of the core “gang on the run” cast, we have the background story of the Ministry of Health’s purchase of Russian flu vaccine coming under scrutiny and then a very convenient outbreak in the Shetland Islands. This helps flip the script on the government incompetence story and turn the Ministry into forward-thinking heroes.
Utopia Series 1, Episode 1 (2013) Written by Dennis Kelly Directed by Marc Munden
The first time I watched Utopia I knew I was going to have to binge watch the whole thing. It is rare that a television series in this polished, this sure of itself, and this damn good. Utopia gets dark, incredibly dark and it lets you know that from its opening scene (more on that in a minute). And it is a profoundly relevant show still five years out, talking about big ideas that are continuing to cast doubt on the future of humanity. Instead of framing this concept huge from the outset, the creators keep things small and intimate. The characters are where the story of Utopia starts and stays throughout its all too short run. And when you get to the end, you won’t forget those characters.