Chernobyl (warning, spoilers ahead!)

On HBO, there’s a miniseries called Chernobyl. I’ve always been fascinated by that event, and was hesitant to see a dramatization of it, thinking they would miss too many key facets of the story. Little did I know how wrong I would turn out to be.

I didn’t they be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but here we are.

I didn’t they be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but here we are.

Tonight is the series finale. I’ve been completely enthralled since episode one. Not only is it cinemetically impeccable, the storytelling is just as nuanced as it needed to be to capture not only the direness of the situation, but the aspects that specifically revolve around living behind the iron curtain.

Chernobyl hasn’t once flinched in showing the heavily Soviet problems of burying a problem, at the expense of human life, to avoid being called to task by the Party (and, by extension, the threat of the Gulag and secret police). From the get-go, this has been a theme of the show: people who realize the almost incomprehensible devastation of the Chernobyl core explosion, set against Communist bureaucracy. When pieces of radioactive graphite from the explosion are littering the ground, and the engineers are repeating this fact, their boss immediately tells them that they did not see the graphite on the ground. His fear of the state is so much, that he discounts the concrete and clear cut evidence in front of all of them. It’s a fascinating scene.

The immediate aftermath of the explosion and fire.

The immediate aftermath of the explosion and fire.

The series wastes no time in getting to the heart of the story. It starts with the meltdown, and doesn’t let up. One of the most impactfull features of this series to me, is seeing superb graphics illustrating the effects of the accident. I’d read about it, but it’s one thing to use the abstract imagination of an uninformed mind’s eye, and another to see it perfectly rendered in excruciating detail. The meltdown of the core, through the eyes of firefighters are sent as sheep to the slaughter in an impossible task, shows us full on a nuclear eye of Sauron.

The core on fire.

The core on fire.

I really hadn’t understood on such a visceral level what it would have been like as a citizen of Pripyat, before the evacuation was finally ordered. The fact that the sky was glowing, with children allowed to play on a playground in front of the dying plant, is such an illustration of the life of the individual having such little sway over the image of the Mother Russia. It was clear that something was very wrong, but with no guidance, they were trying to continue to live their lives as usual.

The fire at Chernobyl.

The fire at Chernobyl.

The entire series is a cautionary tale of what happens when the state trumps the individual at the most elemental levels. The cost of a lie and cover-up ended up being far worse than the toll of the original accident, and the need to save face to the world is a very present theme. The fact that the accident wasn’t even acknowledged officially until the rest of the world posted imagery that was undeniable, is fascinating and terrible. Intelligent people with answers are ignored in favor of the party line; and clearly it’s systemic. One of the most poignant scenes to me is when nuclear scientists have to communicate in code about the disaster and response. They have a sophisticated system that they clearly have needed to use many times, and their own familiarity with the need to talk around what they are purportedly there to do, is chilling. We don’t see the person that must be listening in on the call, but the unseen KGB agent is the largest person in the room.

To contrast the machine that is the Communist state, we are offered the very human and heroic stories of the proletariat workers who sacrificed so much to staunch the flow of radioactivity. We see the vignettes of the first responders who bravely went into the maw of the beast; the soldiers who assisted with disposing of the graphite on the roof (after the radiation was too much for moon lander robots to penetrate), and the miners who dug beneath the core. These people were the grist in the machine, and their stories are respectfully and truthfully told.

The miners are heroic and human, in the face of disaster.

The miners are heroic and human, in the face of disaster.

The stories of these people remind us that ultimately behind every horrible regime, are regular people who try to do their best. I’m glad that this element is so poetically captured.

Chernobyl is not a show for the faint of heart, but it should be required viewing for every citizen. It reminds us of what happens when states have too much power, when lies matter more than facts, and how ultimately it’s the good people who pay the price.

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War

It's been busy around the Shieldmaiden Homestead lately (as always, really), but I was happy to get the chance to have a few hours to myself on Mother's Day. Our babysitter came over, and I got to indulge in seeing a chick flick: Captain America: Civil War. Chick flick for this house, anyway. I suspect most readers here are of the same mind.

Chick flick of choice

I'm not really going to go into the intricacies of the plot, although of course there are spoilers below so stop reading if you don't want to find out what happens. Mostly I'm going to just sort of rant about my reaction to the movie. There are probably literally hundreds of thousands of reviews that tell what the plot is, and I'm so fashionably late to the party here that I assume most people who care about seeing the movie (and might be reading this) have already.

It's no secret that I am, and have been for a long time, a comic book fan. By extension, I'm a fan of comic book movies that aren't awful (fortunately this DOES fall in that category). I've been as avid as anyone else out there about the last decade's worth of comic book movies. All the Iron Mans, the Avengers, the Captain Americas, all of them...but I find myself ending up feeling a bit of ennui about the Avengers story line right about now. Hear me out.

I'll give you the secret recipe that keeps me coming back for more: 1 part action sequences with fantastic stuff, 1 part eye candy, 2 parts quippy remarks and smart one-liner jabs while competent superheroes handle stressful circumstances, 3 parts camaraderie and smooth teamwork to save the day/world. So the ration is 1:1:2:3. I felt like this movie came in more 3:1:1:-1. That is not the proper recipe for this viewer.

I'll break it down for you. I knew going into this I'd be Team Cap, because I'm an idealist for many of the mores of past times, and astute student of history. I also have a deep-seated mistrust of international government organizations that are prone to extreme corruption and mishandling of other people's interests and assets (I'm looking at you, UN), and do not believe that bureaucracies do much good beyond increasing the donut count at a meeting. I think Tony Stark is great too, and understand he's got issues, but I watched the movie and turns out, yep I am DEFINITELY Team Cap. Fortunately was Tony. So boom, still got it. But that whole "Civil War" thing was going to be ass-burn for me, and I knew it going in...because it's no fun to watch two of your coolest friends go through a divorce. Let alone when they set all their kids against each other. And that's how it felt.



But beyond that aspect of discomfort, here's what really bugged me about the movie. I'm sick of the newest Avengers plot-line, which seems to be "Insert character whose sister-aunt-dentist got killed by superheroes. Make them all mealy-mouthed about it for the rest of the movie. REPEAT." Look, I know there's been collateral damage in the other Avengers movies. But, there had to be, to save EVERYONE on the planet. I don't think I'd lose a ton of sleep over that choice. Save one person, or everyone else. Everyone wins, everytime. There's too much hand-wringing and soul-searching, not enough teamwork and taking care of business. And that's not what I go to these movies for. Parts of it reminded me of the senate scenes in the Star Wars I have to tell you how much that hurt me? A lot. It hurt me a LOT. I thought we'd learned that legalese deliberation via committee does not a good movie make. I hope they relearn the lesson. It seems as though the Batman habit of making every superhero conflicted (which works fantastically for that series, btw) has leached into my marvel universe. And I do not like that.

The scene I'd been looking for.


At least by the end, everyone else realized what I already know: All the corrupt governments in the world are not made equal, and shouldn't be given de facto reign to deliberate and take forever to make immediate decisions when humanity is on the line. (What, that's not what you took away? You're just not jaded enough.) I DID like the ensemble cast, although I sort of wish they just would have knocked off Spiderman. Antman was amazing, and the entire airport fight reminded me of why I love these stories in the first place. But I hope we can stop with the soul searching, and get on with the excitement from here on out. No wonder Thor and Loki sat out on it. 

Eye in the Sky: A movie review (sort of, though there are a FEW spoilers), but more of a reflection

This last weekend my husband and I celebrated our anniversary. As part of the celebration, we went on a date to see the movie "Eye in the Sky" with Helen Mirren (my liege and Queen), Alan Rickman (I think this was likely his last movie, though I don't know for sure), and Barkhad Abdi, who played the main pirate in Captain Phillips (and was phenomenal at it, as he was here, playing an agent for the British in Kenya).

There she is. Strong and beautiful as the day is long.

I'll give a very brief, and hopefully mostly spoiler free, synopsis. In this movie Helen Mirren plays a UK Colonel who is acting as liaison working in the US with the Air Force. The US has the drones the Brits need to surveil (and possibly, if things happen to escalate, strike) targets in a terror plot occurring in Kenya.

Amazingly, things do escalate, and it quickly moves from surveillance to the necessary strike question. All of it is thrown off when a little girl sets up her bread selling stand right within the kill zone (who has a very progressive father who wants her to learn to read and study science right in the middle of a rebel zone. So of course our sympathies are hedged on their side, because they are just trying to live their lives and all that jazz....though the father is also working for the terrorists, so we have the old "just trying to make ends meet but overall a decent fellow" conundrum thrown in for good measure).

Rickman, looking at an idiot politician with disgust and incredulousness, no doubt


Now I'm not going to go into all the nitty gritty details here, but this movie did a good job of bringing some messy questions and morality in warfare topics out in the open. Surprisingly, they did it in an awfully pragmatic way, devoid of most of the pie-in-the-sky hand-wringing and "we are only here due to a lack of hugs from the Western Powers" implications they usually beat us over the head with. Although, there was that moment where the drone driver was freaking out over a bunch of questions that I didn't find entirely plausible. But besides that pansy, it was very well handled. Even the young female co-pilot was pretty down to earth.

In one brief movie (just over an hour and a half long), they manage to address in a coherent and fairly conceivable narrative: Dealing with bureaucrats trying to make political gains, relations between allies (the US came off as very professional and calculated, which I supported), supporting those who support us, acceptable collateral damage, mission drift, and the people who are doing everything they can to realistically get a nasty job done vs. the people who don't really care about that. The best quote from the whole thing is by Alan Rickman's character, Lt. General Frank Benson: "Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war."

Check it out of you want something interesting, about warfare (drone warfare in particular), and not morally black and white. In other words, some of my favorite things


Abdi, totally nailing it again