Hell’s Angels (1930): Great Action, Decent Leads But Uneven

Hells Angels poster

     The film “The Aviator” lead me to check out “Hell’s Angels” as the first part of the film is Howard Hughes making this film. I got to say, it is a great film but it isn’t a favorite. It has some character issues that keep it from perfection, though visually it’s stunning and the ending is powerful. This is a film, like any good war film that explores the cost of war and what it means to be a person having to make though choices within it.

     The film was directed by Howard Hughes who also produced it with uncredited directorial help from James Whale, Edmund Goulding and Fred Fleck. and was written by Harry Behn, Howard Estabrook and Joseph Moncure March.

     The story involves brothers Roy (James Hall) and Monte (Ben Lyon) who are pulled into World War I as pilots and called upon a special bombing run they may not come back from. As each has his own reasons for taking the suicide mission.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Tony Gaudio and Harry Perry did a great job with the cinematography. There is great use of color to show conflict as well as great use of clouds for the shadows of war. The cinematography is easily the strongest part of this film.

The Three Leads – The three leads are the strongest part as each of them feels fully defined and should have received more development. Their interactions are what really made the film for me outside of the actions.

Karl – Karl is a German student going to Oxford who ends up becoming part of the German Army during the war. He ends up being sacrificed by his commanding officer after he bombs England when his Captain is trying to escape. His story is a tragedy as he described himself as more English than anything else and you could see how his duty was killing him before his Captain finally did. John Darrow does a good job.

Roy – Roy is the womanizer who doesn’t see anything deeper beyond experiencing the now. He only cares about Monte but even that only goes so far as at his base he just wants to live. We see him experiment with anarchy at one point before he joins the suicide mission to destroy the German Munitions factory. In the end Monte kills him when he is about to confess the military plans to the German Captain who has them captured. James Hall does a good job.

Monte – Monte is the hero who is the way he is because he needs surety. That is destroyed when he finds out that Helen’s been cheating on him but he comes back for the mission and is so by the book he kills Roy when Roy is about to confess the plans. In the end he dies alone calling out his brothers name though his sacrifice made England assaulting German headquarters possible. Ben Lyon is the best actor in this.

The Cost of a Mission – We see the human cost through everything that goes down. From Roy giving up, Karl being sacrificed and all the folks who die in the battles we see through the war. The cost is always there even when victory happens.

Loss – The three leads die and show the tragedy of war and how the three friends who could have grown old together had it cut short when they became tools of something bigger them.

The Cons: Helen – She sleeps around and cheats on Monte and that is the extent of her character. She’s a plot device that is never allowed to come into her own and have her own motivations.

Lack of Focus – This mostly applies to the battles which often times go on way too long. This film could have been cut if the battles had been cut in half, they purposes are achieved and when we get back to the characters the story is back in focus, but before that the story takes a lot of side detours for action.

   This is a great film that is worth checking out, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite or perfect. It explores a lot of themes that give it a lot of power, but the romantic lead just being selfish and given no depth hurt the story as did the fact that some fight scenes kept going on and took us away from the human drama of the brothers and their friend Karl.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

“RWBY” Season 1 – Unique Animation and a Story That Shows Promise

RWBY_Volume_1_Soundtrack_Cover

   “RWBY” is a show that I ended up enjoying. It was made by Rooster Teeth, which is the same production company that created “Red vs. Blue” and you tell that they put a lot of passion into this. The story does have issues, that I’ll get into later, but as a base concept it looked like they were trying to create an epic cell-shaded anime and they succeeded mostly.

     The show was created by Monty Oum, who was one of the directors and writers as well. Kerry Shawcross was the other writer and director and Miles Luna was the last writer.

    The story takes on the world of Renmant in a battle between the darkness and light. There is a school that trains warriors to becomes Hunters and Huntresses to fight the darkness and protect Dust (which powers magic and weapons) and  fight the creatures of Grimm and we follow Ruby, the younger trainee at Beacon Academy and others must stand against them as the plot of the darkness unfolds.

The Pros: The Animation – The cell shaded animation is really neat. I haven’t seen anything like this outside of “Windwaker” and they handle the diverse array of characters and technology really well. It can be a little slow at times, but they make up for it in how flowy so many of the fights are.

The Soundtrack – Jeff Williams and Casey Lee Williams did a great job on this soundtrack. It gives an epic final fantasy feel to the series, which works as that seems to be where it got a lot of it’s inspiration from.

The World – The World of Renmant is cool as it has a deep mythology of taking on the Darkness and Grimm, which it implies will always be around and uses people and changes things around it. It’s a lot like The Dark Side in “Star Wars.”

The Creatures of Grimm – The creatures look pretty awesome as they are black, hairy and have crystal protrusions. They look like mutated animals too, which works for what the Darkness is supposed to do.

The Characters – There are a few characters I didn’t like or were forgettable but the characters who work, really work and I enjoyed seeing them in action.

Professor Ozpin – Ozpin is the guy who brings Ruby to the school and set up the challenge that lead to the different teams. We see he is manipulative and is hiding something and seems to be quite passive. Curious to see what he’s hiding and what his long game is.

Pyrrha – Pyrrha is probably my favorite character on the show. She’s a master of magnetism (we learn at the end) and should really be the leader of her team, not Juane Arc who is incompetent and a coward. She likes him though (which is annoying). The only reason he has any wins at all is because of her talent and leadership.

Glynda – Glynda is the serious teacher who takes on the big bad at the beginning and does a great job of it. She is much more aware of the students and their flaws and takes a lot to impress. Curious to see her in action down the line and learn more about why she became a Huntress.

Yang – Yang is Ruby’s older sister and is high energy and popular. She is a lot of fun too and sticks up for Ruby to Weiss and on many other occasions. She should have been in charge of Team Ruby in my opinion as she is a commander and easily the strongest of all the people on the team.

Blake – Blake is a Faunus and was once part of an organization fighting for their rights. She hides the fact that she’s a faunus and calls out Weiss for her racism. She’s a pretty cool character too and very much the outsider of the group. Where this will go in the future remains to be seen now the Darkness is using the organization she used to be a part of.

Ruby – Ruby is the youngest student at the Academy and her arc is learning to be a leader and take responsibility. She is a huge help to everyone around her and her greatest weakness is just wanting to be liked. She still hasn’t got to the point of letting go of what others think of her, which I think will play a part later.

The Antagonists – The main antagonists are Cinder and Roman and both are interesting. I can’t wait to see how they are explored next season.

Roman Torchwick – This guy looks like he’s straight out of “A Clockwork Orange,” from the eyeliner, the white suit and the cane and general love of causing chaos. The character is a lot of fun and as a normal human being he does a good job holding his own against all the people with special weapons and powers. He hasn’t been caught yet.

Cinder – Cinder is who seems to be the big bad so far as she saves her servant Torchwick who is stealing Dust and she manages to take on Glynda and Ruby and come out of it fine. She’s really powerful and the Season ends with her coming to Torchwick for the next part of their plans.

The Cons: Anime Tropes – In the beginning there were some major tonal clashes, which they stopped doing as the series progressed but some of the tropes I hate were complete animation change for excitement and fetishising the characters. By the end this wasn’t going on as strong, so the writers and animators must have learned.

Jaune Arc – Juane Arc is the awkward nerd who is made leader of his team in the school for some reason, which he quickly fails at when he lets a bully blackmail him as he wants to be tough. The guy is a joke, though he does have a moment of awesome at the end whe he manages to take on a creature of Grimm.

Weiss – Weiss is an entitled brat who is also racist. When one of her friends is part animal and used to be part of an organization fight for their freedom she just dismisses her and bullies her. This doesn’t even include all her needless cruelty throughout Season 1. Seriously, she’s intolerable and a terrible human being.

    The first Season gives us a very promising start as we see the different factions that make up this world and how they relate to one another. I’m curious to see what the forces of Darkness and Grimm have in store and what they will use the Dust for and I want to see our main characters continue to grow. The show got better about having less of the anime tropes after the first few episodes and it was stronger because of it. It is okay to take inspiration from something, but so much of what makes something great is is it finding it’s own beat and not being wholly derivative. By the end of Season 1 I felt that “RWBY” had found that uniqueness within itself. I look forward to the future Seasons.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10. Solidly really good.

The X-Files – Season 10, Episode 3 – “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” – A Comedic Twist on a Monster Concept

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

“The X-Files” is a show that can sometimes do comedy well. This episode was a shiny example as it took a “Monster of the Week” idea and subverted it into something new. If this was an episode of “Supernatural” it would have annoyed me big time, but the genuineness of everyone in this made it feel real and fun rather than cheap.

The episode was written and directed by Darin Morgan.

The story involves a mystery surrounding a reptilian creature who Mulder and Scully are tracking for the murder of a bunch of people around town. During this time Mulder is dealing with his skepticism and trying and find other explanations for events.

The Pros: Guy Mann – Guy is the monster who is turned into a man after the killer bites him. He’s a lot of fun as he gains anxiety, intelligence and even gets a job working at a shop because he is so good at bsing. He was a fun character.

Scully – Scully is the one who is more open to the stories being true (another subversion as she’s usually the skeptical one) and in the end she finds the actual human killer and is the one who finishes the case while Mulder is tracking Mann. We see at the end this was purposeful to help Mulder with his doubt.

Mulder – Mulder is skeptical in this and isn’t all together there this episode. It isn’t until the end when he shakes Mann’s hand before Mann goes into hibernation that he is back to a full believer again and in awe of the mysteries that are still out there as he had just befriended the monster of the week.

Subverting “Monster of the Week” – In this the whole idea is that we are the monster as it is a normal human sociopath who is the killer versus the Reptile-like monster who is a guy just trying to live as a human when he is turned into one against his will. He even befriends Mulder eventually and he is the normal guy in the episode, which is a great subversion. The monster is normal and just trying to live.

The Cons: Side Characters – Episode starts out with a few people huffing paint and the killer is just a dog catcher. They are flat characters and easily the weakest part of the episode.

This was an enjoyable and good episode. The subverting of concepts and X-Files tropes was handled intelligently and the show was strong, outside of the side characters who were very poorly written. Guy Mann was the best part and I really liked how they handled his story this episode.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 11 – “The Protector of Concord Dawn” – Aggressive Negotiations

Concord_Dawn_thumb

    “The Protector of Concord Dawn” is the greatest episode in a while. Not only do we see a return of the Mandalorians but we are given a choice and dilemma, which is part of what “The Clone Wars” so great. This is an episode that captures the stakes and the charms of the best episodes from that series, which this Season has needed.

The episode was directed by Brad Rau and written by Henry Gilroy and Kevin Hopps.

The story involves the rebels seeking safe passage through Concord Dawn, which is Mandalorian space. After Hera’s negotiations fail and she is nearly killed as is most of her squadron, Sabine returns seeking revenge as Kanan returns trying to finish the negotiation.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of the Rebellion having to negotiate with the Mandalorians or to beat them in their space is really interesting as it shows that the Rebellion has to make hard choices too and won’t always be the hero. This episode really illustrates that and that war has consequences.

The Opening Battle – The opening battle is awesome! Phoenix Squadron is annihilated and Sabine, Hera and one other pilot barely escape Rau and his Protectors. It raises the stakes and shows that these are men to be feared.

Fenn Rau and the Protectors – Fenn Rau and his organization are pretty awesome. They get money from the Empire to keep folks out of their space and are intriguing as the reason they made the deal is so they’d be left alone. I had a lot of respect for Rau and hope that he escapes to get revenge on the rebels for capturing him to blackmail him and his people.

Sabine – We see Sabine’s ruthlessness here and that she does know her people pretty well, as the Protectors didn’t want to work with the Rebellion. It is thanks to her quick thinking that they are disarmed and the only reason that her and Kanan weren’t captured.

Kanan – Kanan is the clear head but still gets ruthless for the Rebellion. No matter how you cut it he went darkside here as he captured and held a man against his will in order to take control of his space, this is after he destroyed his ships of course. Kanan’s idealism came up against reality and idealism lost. I liked seeing that as it was realistic.

The Cons: Rex – Rex should have been used. He implied that he trained with Rau but that is never used. He would have been perfect for negotiation as he had the mindset the Rau did of just wanting to be left alone by both sides.

If Rex had been used this would have been a perfect episode. So glad the Mandalorians are back, and I hope the rescue Rau and that Rau gets his chance for revenge. This episode showed that to win in war you have to make hard choices and sometimes there isn’t a good option, just a lesser bad option.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

aviator

     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10

The Twilight Zone – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Where is Everybody?” – Cost of Isolation

Where is Everybody

     As I’ve been watching the latest “X-Files” I decided to go back to the roots of “The X-Files” which “The Twilight Zone” if at least culturally would be one of those roots. This is a show whose entire point was exploring the unknown and posting mysterious premises to be explored, that at the end would reveal a twist of some sort. They are great shows and it was fun going back to the first episode of the show.

   “Where is Everybody?” was directed by Robert Stevens and written by Rod Sterling.

  The story involves a man with amnesia arriving in an empty town and seeking to find out who he is as the town is not all it appears to be.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is good and Bernard Herrman really did a good job keeping thing mysterious and creepy. The music was easily the best part of the episode.

The Cinematography – The cinematography was pretty great and there was a great use of shadows to capture the feeling of isolation and being trapped that the character was feeling. Joseph La Shelle did a great job on it.

Okay: The Writing – The writing is a whole bunch of monologues from the main character and it doesn’t hold up. He didn’t feel like a fully fleshed out human being, just the idea of a pilot.

The Twist – He’s in a lab being tested for a trip to the moon since he’s going to be up there isolated for a long time.

The Cons: The Main Character – Mike Ferris is a pilot who monologues a lot. This was a problem with the writing and a better actor could have made it interesting but I just didn’t care. I didn’t know what defined this character or what he wanted except to talk to people.

  This was a decent episode of the show but I didn’t like the main character and since we were stuck with him for too long the episode just dragged. The premise was intriguing, but could have been handled a lot better. There were no hints at him being an astronaut or going to the moon until the very end.

Final Score: 6 / 10

The X-Files – Season 10, Episode 2 – “Founder’s Mutation” – Experiments and Loss

Founder's_Mutation

     We return to “The X-Files” with an actual X-File, though still connected to the overall mystery too, which is great. This is a episode that could have been so much more, but for what it is manages to be enjoyable. There were a few different ways things could have been taken and rather than getting questions answered we are shown more of what Sculley and Mulder are feeling, which was needed but overshadowed everything else sadly.

    The episode was written and directed by James Wong, who wrote some of the best early “X-Files” episodes.

      The story involves a Sculley and Mulder investigating a scientist who went mad and tried to export files from his company. They soon discover a darker plot as the FBI and company attempt to uncover up what drove the scientist mad.

The Pros: An X-File – It is great having a standard X-File as it truly shows they are looking into all the unknowns again! I liked that it is connected to the overall myth arc too.

Walter Skinner – Skinner is the disproving boss once again, but after so long he does have their back and supports them as he can, even with his hands being tied by the conspiracy.

Fox Mulder – In this we see how much Mulder misses his son as kids are who the organization is experimenting on. It is great seeing that tender side of him as this and last episode he’s just been tired and stressed. It humanized the character a lot and I felt for his loss. He has dreams of being with son that end with his son being abducted the same way his sister was.

Dana Scully – Like Mulder’s humanity I felt Scully’s too. We see her in the mother role in this in how she is able to take care of relate to the interviewee who had a lost a child and how she reached out to the kids who were the experiments.

Okay: The Experiments – We meet the kids who are experiments but nothing substantial is done with them. We never get their stories and thoughts and they exist more as a plot device for Scully and Mulder to miss their child.

The Cons: The Antagonists – The antagonists are just bland. Whether it’s the government or the company their idealistic reasons didn’t fit because the actors gave them mean looking faces. They weren’t complicated, just greedy and that is a waste in any show. The mysterious owner of the organization was completely forgettable too.

   This episode was not as good as the pilot of Season 10 but is still worth checking out. It has some great personal moments for our main characters, even if the overall mystery arc doesn’t quite work. Still worth checking out though.

7 / 10