Tag Archives: Canada

Orphan Black (2013 TV Series)

Temple Street Productions, BBC America, and Bell Media’s Space

Status: Complete (5 seasons/50 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Accomplished grifter Sarah Manning walks into the train station and witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like Sarah herself. Both curious and ready to take advantage of the situation, Sarah assumes the identity of the woman, Beth Childs, with the help of her foster-brother Felix. What follows is a whirlwind of monumental proportions as Sarah discovers that she is but one of many clones. Meeting her newfound “sisters” is just the beginning as they face their own dark past, those in the present who would destroy or manipulate them, a defect built into their own DNA that is slowly killing them, not to mention being completely unsure who to trust. But at the same time, they discover a new family and a strength in each other to help them face the maelstrom with defiance as they choose their own ways to live.

Orphan Black is one of those shows that, as incredible as it sounds at first, delivers so much more than it initially promises. It’s really quite amazing. Well, Tatiana Maslany is amazing, that’s for sure. She manages to pull off multiple clones with distinct styles, mannerisms, personalities, etc. and keep them all unique–sometimes with multiples of them in the same room conversing and even physically interacting with each other. Her grasp of each of the characters is incredible–to the point where you can even tell where one sister is pretending to be another sister by super-tiny but well-realized tells. Maslany’s acting in this series truly blows me away! Not to mention the sheer cinematography required to pull off some of the scenes; it’s seamless and beautiful. The characters are great as well–thoroughly developed with uncertainties and flaws and emotional subtlety and moral ambiguity and all the complexities that make people truly human. You’ve got a ton of diversity, even just among the clones, too. And the other characters are brilliantly cast and played as well. Felix is quite possibly my favorite character in the whole show; he’s the heart and the artist, the home-like softer side of things, which is kind of hilarious since he tries so hard to be defiant and brash. I love him, though. And Siobhan, Sarah and Felix’s foster-mother–all the mystery and protectiveness in her character is fabulous! As for the plot, well, again it’s so much more than we are initially promised at the beginning. I mean, you start out with a girl taking over the life of a cop who looks like her, encountering a couple other girls who claim to be her clones, dealing with trying to be a mom to her daughter–intense stuff for sure, but fairly contained and small-scale. But by the end of it, you’ve got decades-long, multinational plots and huge, interconnected organizations and hundreds of clones and major life-or-death situations. It’s all pretty overwhelming and hard to keep track of, to be honest–the main reason I can’t give this a full 5 of 5 rating, actually. Still, it all ties up better than I expected by the end, and the conclusion was enough to make me cry but also be quite satisfying. This show is definitely not for the faint of heart and is only for a mature, adult audience, but I would still highly recommend Orphan Black for many, many reasons. It’s a great show that I will enjoy re-watching many times over.

Created by Graeme Manson & John Fawcett/Executive Production by Ivan Schneeberg, David Fortier, Graeme Manson, & John Fawcett/Produced by Russ Cochrane, Alex Levine, Claire Welland, Tatiana Maslany, & Aubrey Nealon/Cinematography by Aaron Morton/Music by Trevor Yuile/Starring Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Évelyne Brochu, Ari Millen, Kristian Bruun, & Josh Vokey

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The War at Ellsmere

Author/Illustrator: Faith Erin Hicksthe-war-at-ellsmere

My rating: 4 of 5

In a tale as old as boarding school accepting scholarship students, Jun enters the prestigious (read “stuffy”) Ellsmere Academy on the merits of her academic achievement alone. Not surprisingly, she runs into just the sort of problems you’d expect–snotty rich kids, uncomfortable uniforms, bullying. At least she excels at the school part and she’s not so concerned about making lots of friends. Unexpectedly though, Jun and her roommate Cassie swiftly become fast friends in spite of their distinctly different personalities. And together, the two friends determine to make it through the year at Ellsmere regardless of the problems that get thrown their way.

I’ve never really read much Faith Erin Hicks, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in The War at Ellsmere. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t anything particularly outstanding: poor kid, rich school, bullies, rivalry, the one friend who sticks around no matter what. Pretty standard stuff. But what Hicks does with these typical plot elements is pretty spectacular, actually. The art is bold and expressive, which definitely helps. But where she excels the most, I think, is in crafting believable, interesting characters that the reader enjoys and empathizes with. Jun and Cassie are definitely two such characters, and their interactions totally carry the story. On a side note, the touch of magical realism thrown in at the end was . . . interesting. It worked with the story, but as with Larson’s Mercury, it was surprising and difficult to mesh with the rest of the graphic novel. Still, for those who enjoy a high-school graphic novel with great characters, The War at Ellsmere is definitely on my list of recommendations.

 

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Mercury

Author/Illustrator: Hope Larsonmercury

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In 2009, Tara Fraser runs through the town of French Hill in Nova Scotia, passing the burned out remains of her old family home–the place she’d lived most of her life. Little could she imagine the deep ties she unwittingly retains with her ancestress Josey Fraser, a girl who grew up on the very same homestead back in the 1850’s. But when Tara finds an unusual quicksilver-containing family heirloom in her mother’s old jewelry box, the ties that connect these two girls begin to reveal themselves, uncovering a history of unexpected fortune and tragedy both.

My experience reading Mercury was really kind of mixed. I really love what the author tried to do here, melding the stories of these two girls. And I think overall the way the story revealed both of their stories side-by-side was very effective. But I found the extreme similarities between them rather forced at times; their own appearances were too similar, as were the relations between them and their best friends (who were also remarkably similar). I guess this is something that works better for the middle-grade audience this seems to be intended for, but it was counterproductive for me as a reader. On the other hand, I did like the characters and their stories. And I loved the setting, both in historic and present-day Nova Scotia–it’s pretty rare to find graphic novels set in Canada, so that’s always fun. The art was nice too, definitely a western (non-manga) style, but in a modern graphic-novel sense, not in an annoying comic-book sense. The other thing I found notable about this story was the touch of magical realism thrown in towards the end of the book. From reviews I’ve seen, this is pretty typical of Hope Larson’s writing, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it, so it really threw me. On the whole though, Mercury was a nice graphic novel, most recommended for a middle-grade or high-school audience, but with enough depth to be appreciable by adult readers as well.

 

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Scott Pilgrim

Author/Illustrator: Bryan Lee O’MalleyScott Pilgrim

My rating: 4 of 5

You could say that Scott has a problem with commitments. That might be the reason why, at age 23, he’s lazing about, free-loading off his roommate Wallace, dating a high-school girl (the most recent in a long line of girlfriends), and playing in a mostly-awful band with some friends instead of actually getting steady work and maybe a consistent relationship. . . . Maybe. A lot changes in his life when he falls for Ramona, a delivery girl who he initially meets literally taking a shortcut through his dreams–don’t ask, it works. Ramona has issues with commitment too, and a requirement of their relationship is that Scott defeat all seven of her evil exes. Talk about unusual relationships!

So . . . in spite of the premise sounding definitely odd, Scott Pilgrim is actually a pretty neat graphic novel series. I mean, what’s not to love about a Canadian geeky shounen graphic novel?! And I’m very serious about all three of those adjectives. It’s very Canadian–classic Bryan Lee O’Malley with the super-neat art that entails. But it’s also emphatically more geeky than any of his other graphic novels that I’ve read so far (such as Seconds or Lost at Sea); seriously, there are all sorts of video game effects scattered throughout, especially during the fights, as though they were normal. I love it! And yes, this is definitely a shounen story: girls, fights, leveling up, and all. But in spite of being kind of cheesy at parts, this story is also a very telling picture of what it’s like to be a young adult today, of the challenges of getting from childhood to independent adulthood. And I really do appreciate where O’Malley brought the story–for a long while, I was wondering if it would ever make it. So . . . I don’t think Scott Pilgrim is for everyone, but for those with whom the very description “Canadian geeky shounen graphic novel” resonates, seriously, check it out. It’s fun!

Note: There are at least two editions of this graphic novel, one in black and white and another colored by Nathan Fairbairn. They’re both the same story, but I think the color really suits the story and adds an extra layer of fun.

Note 2: This review is for the entire 6-volume set. You probably figured that out already, but these are published a little differently that most manga in that they have separate titles for each volume.

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The Braid

Author: Helen Frost

The year is 1850, and famine is sweeping across the land. Worse still, many of the Scottish landlords are finding it isn’t worth their while to continue to allow tenants on their lands. Such is the situation Sarah and Jeanie’s family find themselves in, forced to leave their home and find a new place to live. The family decides to sell what little they can and take the next ship to Canada in hopes of starting a new life there, but Sarah finds her heart so tied to the land that she can’t bear to leave, choosing instead to hide while her family is forced to depart without her. Sarah makes a life for herself with her grandmother on the nearby island of Mingualay, while Jeanie and the others make the difficult journey by ship across the ocean. Yet even as they are separated by great distances, the sisters are connected by precious memories . . . memories they carry physical evidence of in the form of a braid made from their intertwined hair.

Helen Frost does something beautiful and special in the writing of The Braid. She has crafted not only a sensitive and poignant tale of the difficulties the poor faced during the potato famine and subsequent emigrations, but she has also created an intricate, elegant poetic work, weaving dual voices, praise pieces, repeating ideas, and detailed line structure. Yet she has managed to create a work that is still very natural to read–sparse, raw in places, yet rich and expressive. The Braid is an excellent work of poetry, historical fiction, sisterly affection, and romance, all wonderfully woven together into a touching, brief volume. Definitely recommended reading.

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