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The 4th Doctor – Season 12, Episode 5 – “Revenge of the Cybermen” – Vogans and the Cybermen

       It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an episode of “Doctor Who.” I have two bigger “Doctor Who” posts coming up with a reflection on the Capaldi Era and my thoughts of Series 11, with Jodie Whitaker as the 13th Doctor. I hope to review her episodes individually at some point too once I get back into the swing of things with my “Doctor Who” reviews. Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor is one of my 4 favorite Doctors. The others being Capaldi’s 12, Tennant’s 10 and Pertwee’s 3. Each of them captures the alien nature of the Time Lord while still having that genuine love of adventure, fun and humanity. They are the balance and this episode is a good example of that for the 4th Doctor.

The story was written by Gerry Davis and Robert Holmes and directed by Michael E. Briant.

The story follows the Doctor as he and his companions Sarah Jane Smith and Michael Sullivan find themselves on Space Station Nerva, separated from the TARDIS, which will eventually catch up to them in time. They find the station full of dead bodies and under quarantine from a myseterious plague. From here they unfold the mystery as factions on and off the station seek to commit genocide upon their enemies.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Plague Mystery – The plague mystery is great as it automatically creates stakes in the episode. Our introduction to their arrival on the Nerva Station is the Doctor and his companions finding the dead and this adds to the feeling of uneasiness that pervades the episode. You can understand why the humans are distrustful of the Doctor and his companions and as the mystery of the plague being Cybermen killing people is revealed as they wish to take control of the Station in order to take on their enemies, the Vogans who live on a planet of gold, a mineral that is one of their greatest weaknesses.

The Vogans – The Vogans are an interesting people. You can see that they’ve cut themselves off from the wider galaxy and because of it you have people who are willing to go to any ends to protect that secrecy. This isolation and radicalization is the arc that they deal with as the Cybermen’s arrival on their planet and near extermination is only stopped by outsiders (the humans on the Station and the Doctor and his companions) and as their arc ends we see them open to changing from the people they were before. I like their design as they look like regal Dwarves as most are bearded and they have strong ridges on their foreheads. This fit their look as an underground people living in secret and they didn’t feel like the make-up department was barely trying. Effort was put into creating this race and I like what we learned about them in the process.

The Cybermen – This is the first time the Cybermen were back as main villains since “The Invasion” where the 2nd Doctor faced them in 1968. Knowing that history and how iconic they’ve become as one of the Doctor’s main villain their reappearance alone was really cool. In this they don’t upgrade others, just exterminate them. We see this as it is them who are killing the people on the Station with their Cybermats (a metallic snake like creature that bites people, killing them). Their whole deal is self defense in their minds as getting rid of the Vogans and their planet of gold will make them the prominent force in the region.  They are winning through most of the episode and their invasion of Vogan goes as plan until the Doctor and the human survivors begin using the gold against the Cybermen as well as the Doctor destroying the Cyber-Leader on the Station and keeping it from slamming into Voga.

Sarah Jane Smith -Sarah Jane Smith is one of my favorite classic companions. Here she gets captured a few times but she always manages to get free (usually always on her own) and is easily one of the Doctor’s most proactive companions who isn’t a Time Lord. In this we get glimpses of just how much the Doctor and Sarah care about one another too as at one point they are trapped together and not only have to free themselves but stop the Cybermen and the Vogan rocket that is going for the Station. Besides the Doctor and the human survivors from the Station who work with the Doctor she is the closest thing this episode has to a main protagonist.

The Doctor – Tom Baker once again shows why he is one of my favorite Doctors. Here we see him figure out that the plague is Cybermen at play and with the help of Sarah Jane Smith, saves the Vogans and stops the Cybermen. He is his usual aloof self taking control of situations and his times of vulnerability really show too. When he is captured he can think his way out but he still depends on others. In this we see his humanity and that he isn’t some super hero always one step ahead. I love Tom Baker and this is a good episode to showcase why he is so memorable as the Doctor, especially since he is facing such a classic foe in the Cybermen.

Okay:

Harry Sullivan – The reason I’m putting him as okay is nothing he did really stood out this episode. I know he helped the Doctor and humans but I’d have a hard time describing any one thing he did. Sarah Jane Smith was the one who was far active this episode. Harry is also a companion I’m pretty nuetral towards. I never hated him as a companion but I was never really that much of a fan either. This episode is a good example of why. He’ll always do the right thing but he rarely questions the things around him and most of what I remember him doing in other episodes is being the muscle. I could also be selling him short but he didn’t stand out to me at all this episode and wasn’t needed in the story.

The Humans on the Station – There is the evil human who tries to kill the Doctor, who is also a professor working for a faction of Vogans who want to lure the Cybermen to the station to destroy them with the rocket and is doing it all for gold. He does change sides but only due to survival. There is the commander who stays good the entire time and is the one who redirects the Vogan missile to destroy the Cyber-Ship rather than the Station and there is one other survivor killed earlier on by the professor. The two of them are not bad characters but they don’t really grow fully beyond the stock characters they are written as.

The Ending – The ending is alright. The Doctor and Sarah save the day and stop the Station from crashing into Voga. The Voga elder stops the militant Voga from destroying the Station with the missle and the human survivors and Voga have now made contact before the Doctor and his companions make their exit on the TARDIS which has finally caught up to them in time (last episode they traveled using a Time Ring so the TARDIS had to catch up to where they had traveled to, which in this case is Space Station Nerva).

This is an episode I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of Classic “Doctor Who” and those who can look past budget and love a good story. There are flaws, the Vogans should have been using gold to fight the Cybermen and them overlooking this is never explained, I guess they didn’t know Cybermen were vulnerable to gold? I loved watching classic Cybermen in action and the Doctor and his companions solving the mystery of what was going on gave the story a nice hook before we got into the action of the war between the Vogans and Cybermen that the humans were caught in the middle of.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10. Nearly great. Harry Sullivan needed more to do and I would have liked the humans on the Station to be explored better in their motivations.

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Dawn of War III: Solid Campaign That Began in a Buggy Game

   It has been a while since I’ve done a game review, and this seems like a good way to kick off the year. I only review games after I’ve completed the campaign as I’m a hardcore completionist and can’t see the review as valid unless I have. Cheats don’t count, it has to be from ability and me learning how to play the game. The “Dawn of War” Franchise is also one of my favorite series. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer 40K and the universe it is based in for a few years now. My favorite factions being the Orks and Tyranids closely followed by the Tau. Xenos (the term in the game for aliens) are best.  The game was created by Relic Studios with Sega in partnership with Games Workshop.

So, how does “Dawn of War III” hold up compared to the ones who came before? It isn’t nearly as fun as the first game (and there are less starting playable factions) the game started out really buggy and used to crash everytime I tried playing the campaign when I bought it in a sale last year but the campaign has one of the best stories and enriches the characters and lore in interesting ways. What this means for my final score and overall appraisal I get into below.

The story follows the arrival of a giant Craft World (Eldar Planetship) that arrives out of the warp leading to Blood Ravens led by Gabriel Angelos, the Orks lead by Gorgutz and the Eldar lead by Macha vying for control of what is within as their competitors within their own faction (be they leader or same or similar rank) try to usurp them for the Spear that lies within.

SPOILERS ahead

The Cons:

The Bugs When I First Bought the Game – When I first bought the game I’m glad I bought it on a sale and for cheap, so to anyone buying it this what I recommend. This game will never be worth full price, especially not as it is currently. I was excited to play given I knew the characters from the first game, but the campaign kept crashing. This happened for a full week before I uninstalled and it took reinstalling months later for them to have fixed the issues. For those who are so devoted they beat the game with that bug, I have no idea how you did it. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or fun a game is if you can’t play the game.

Over-dependence on Hero Units – This is a game where you depend too much on Hero units but the build time isn’t as fast as “Warcraft III.” I pretty much had to adapt to playing the game more like “Dawn of War II” which is primarily units, heroes and upgrading them and applying that to a game that I enjoyed as an RTS. If they took more cues from “Warcraft III” this wouldn’t be a problem. In “Warcraft” your heroes help but they can lose on their own, it also takes more to bring them back to life so the cost is higher. If you aren’t giving them enough support, they will fall. I saw this in “Dawn of War III” but so much of it was waiting. If you could hold off long enough in any map you’d be unstoppable and in endgame that really shows. Heroes are fun, especially in the final mission but a company should never build a game off them. Even “Warcraft III” and “Starcraft II” knew the importance of your hero supporting an army.

Lack of Factions Compared to Earlier Games – The very first “Dawn of War” game had 4 factions. 4, reskin but different play-style of “Space Marines.” This game has none of that. You fight demons, but they are never playable. There isn’t any reason for this, given you can see units of the different factions being re-skinned to be the Demons being an option later on in the campaign. This was just lazyness. We at least got Chaos Space Marines through all of the first “Dawn of War” series and this game won’t even give the basic of the last 2 games where in each 4 were at least playable in multiplayer. This is cheap, I don’t care how beautiful the game works if you can’t even do the basic of the series that started your franchise in the first place with at least something to counter it that matters.

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – This is a beautiful game. I’m putting this as a pro because even though it is small I do enjoy how this game works. Hell, a better version of this game would be a re-vamped version of the first game. So I will give credit where it is due. The graphics in this game look like how I imagine the characters to look. It is “Starcraft” versus “Starcraft II” in appearance and I do appreciate that. It also leads to better graphics in regards to storytelling and the story is the strongest part of this game. I think they were going for what “Starcraft” and “Stracraft II” had with 3 factions but they had already set base expectation of 4. If 4 was even in multiplayer and the Daemons or another faction were included more that would have made this game go from enjoyable to good.

The Overall Gameplay – The gameplay is solid. Hero units are key to fighting (I can see them trying to be “Warcraft III” and “S In “Dawn of War III” the heroes drive the narrative and that creates a lot of fun for the missions. I liked what happened with playing as the heroes and what you unlock as they level up (it is much more slowly so when I play the game further in the future curious to see what that means). I like this got back to the RTS roots of the “Dawn of War” franchise in the end. This was why I finished the campaign. There is still strategy in how you use your units to defeat the mission and I really enjoy coming up with strategies to complete objectives in these types of games.

The Campaign – The campaign was my favorite part of the game. I’ve enjoyed this series since the first “Dawn of War” and the expansions that came after it. I’m still trying to get “Ultimate Apocalypse” mode to work but once I do I will eventually have a review for you there too as I get more enjoyment out of an RTS than the squad based combat of “Dawn of War II.” Without giving too much away the 3 faction leaders mentioned above (Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz) face off against a Daemon Lord as they (in the case of Gorgutz) or the faction leaders (Macha and Angelos against the ones who had brought them to the Craft World where the showdown takes place) lead to the feeding of the Daemon’s power and awakening it. This is Warhammer 40K so it goes all in on how crazy things get. This leads to some amazing gameplay in the later missions and a final battle between Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz against the weakened Daemon Lord. Defeating it felt amazing and as someone who has always loved the Orks, I loved seeking Gorgutz take the Speer that triggered it all when it no longer had power. The campaign made the game worth it for me as I enjoy the lore so much.

This is a game that could have been so much more. There is a reason I keep recommending it as something to buy cheap. To fix the most basic of problems they could have solved all the bugs first so someone buying it months after the fact wouldn’t have the campaign crashing every time and they could have added the Daemons as a factions. All you have to do is reskin some Orks and Eldar and add some Daemons and hero units and you are set. Beyond laziness I can’t imagine why they did that. I still love RTS games and this is the last RTS game that was “Dawn of War” since the first one. “Dawn of War II” was all about the squad which I’m still getting used to (reason you haven’t seen it reviewed yet). I appreciate building armies in an acocalyptic universe and giving my all. This one had this with the heroes and the last half of the campaign and I did enjoy it…but this is a game only for fans who are a part of this universe. It doesn’t rise above the fans of 40K and even cheapens them out. Buy this game cheap and you’ll have a good time but NEVER buy this at full or even half price. This was Sega and Relic going basic and giving the most basic of fans of wanted who have been following the series. Still enjoyed the game, but it never reached good. This game is enjoyable and nothing more. I would only recommend as a sale for fans of this universe. The campaign made the game worth after the bugs were finally fixed.

Final Score: 7 / 10. Would have been a solid 8 if it hadn’t been so buggy and they had a 4th faction like the last 2 “Dawn of War” games.

Top 5 Films of 2018

           Today was a busy year for me. Married my best friend, got a new job and because of all the planning and saving lead up to said events, like the wedding, I did not see as many films as I usually do. I also did not seek out bad films this year, and if I was going to see a crappy film I better to have least thought it would be good. Because of this there is only one film I can say I didn’t at least have fun with, and that film was “Mute.” Seriously, that film has beautiful cinematography but the story and characters are absolute garbage. It feels like a bunch of hacks got their hands on “Blade Runner” and that was their creation. So one film that I saw that I wouldn’t recommend for 2018.

Some of the fun forgettable films were “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Aquaman,” “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” and “Ready Player One,” that I would only ever see once. They were good for the experience but I don’t ever plan to buy them.

Now for the honorable mentions. There were a lot of great films that came out this year, some of which were in pretty steep competition for 4th and 5th place. Choosing those films took a while. For the great films that weren’t in the running for 4th or 5th place there was the Coen Brothers “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” which is a wonderful western vignettes, there is the heavy metal fantasy horror of “Mandy” that is beautiful and stunning with it’s visuals and music and I did enjoy “Solo: A Star Wars Story” even though it has a really stupid name. These were some of the greats that came out this year that weren’t competing to be on the list.

Now for the honorable mentions. For the ones that were on the list or nearly made the list at different points there is “Black Panther,” which has an amazing cast, one of my Marvel’s best villains in Killmonger and a great soundtrack. The reason it didn’t make the list in the end is I did find the story a bit predictable and had seen those story beats before in other films, but I did still enjoy it immensely.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/black-panther-2018-seeking-justice-in-a-broken-world/

The other runner up was “Avengers: Infinity War,” like “Black Panther” we have a great villain, an amazing cast and solid soundtrack. Where it falls apart is in how it is Part 1 of 2 and if 2 fails that will effect the overall story and at times it was a bit cluttered because of all the moving parts. I also found the big battles with large armies in both “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” not as creative as they could have been given how powerful the characters are. Visually more could have been done to raise the stakes and tension. Both are still favorite films by the way, but that kept them from making my Top 5.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/avengers-infinity-war-2018-the-power-of-a-compelling-villain/

The final film that nearly made the list was “A Quiet Place.” “A Quiet Place” is one of my favorite horror films and feels like a classic Spielberg horror film akin to “Jaws.” Where it doesn’t work is character stupidity and the monsters, when you finally see them they look stupid. This movie showed me that it is often better to not see the monster at all if you can’t come up with something frightening. The film’s horror worked because of what you didn’t see, once you saw the horror went away.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/a-quiet-place-2018-the-beauty-of-silence/

Now for the Top 5 films of 2018.:

5) Bird Box

Directed by Susanne Bier

Where “A Quiet Place” ceased to be scary once you saw the monsters, “Bird Box” kept me invested through the entire film. This was a film where it is all about what you don’t see. Whatever disease or cosmic horror has effected those who have gone outside it leads them to insanity or to kill themselves, all it takes is you looking outside for them or it to get you. As a concept I already love it and what makes it work is a wonderful cast of complex characters. John Malkovich plays the bitter man whose house the survivors are staying in who loses his wife early on in the event but who develops empathy over the course of the film. Sandra Bullock’s Malorie also has a similar arc where she learns to trust and develop empathy and even eventually love the people around her.  BD Wong and Trevante Rhodes also do an amazing job as the more empathetic characters who already care and are taking care of others whose actions help shape Malorie and the survivors. The horror element of not seeing what the terror is is the basic plot of the film. I was invested in the events of the film and want to see what Susanne Bier does next. This film has received a lot of press and become a living meme of sorts. It definitely isn’t everyone’s pot of tea but for me it was worth the hype.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/bird-box-2018-a-fantastic-post-apocalyptic-horror-thriller/

4) Sorry to Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

“Sorry to Bother You” is Boot Riley’s first film, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. This is a film that is a surreal trip and exploration of race, class, passing and tackling corrupt people and systems as well as how easy it is to get caught up in and becoming a part of those systems of oppression. The story follows Cassius “Cash” Green who becomes a telemarketer to pay the rent. He soon finds himself pulled into a conspiracy when he joins his friends on strike and his bosses give him a chance to take the Golden Elevator up where all the big sales happen. The story is very Terry Gilliamesque akin to “Brazil” as we see Cash changed as he rises up among the elites as it all presented in a dreamlike state before the horror is revealed underneath. I won’t give away any more, but if you like films that have a deeper point you will probably love this film.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/sorry-to-bother-you-2018-a-surreal-exploration-of-race-class-and-privilege/

3) Hereditary

Directed by Ari Aster

“Hereditary” is a brilliant film that explores layers of trauma. For much of the film I questioned if the supernatural element was even there because the layers of pain that exist in the abuse that the mother has faced from her own mother and in turn carried onto her children is so heartbreaking and real. It truly is no wonder why all the characters are on edge and lashing out as the story unfolds of a family’s history and the darker secrets that were kept from the mother Annie who has experienced the brunt of this trauma and manipulation. The way they express the story through symbolism is stunning too as Annie is a famous artist who creates scenes of her life growing up in miniatures that give visual cues through the film. The ending is one of the most difficult horror scenes to get through as it takes you deep into some pretty horrible events but they payoff is amazing. If you are into horror you will love this film as it is easily one of the best horror films I have ever watched.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/hereditary-2018-layers-of-horror-and-history-in-a-beautiful-miniature/

2) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed by Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman and Bob Persichetti

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a masterpiece. This is a film that was made by Sony, so already my expectations were pretty low going in given their history of messing up the Spider-Man Franchise, but this film changes everything. This is easily the best Spider-Man film I have ever watched. We get complex heroes in Peter B. Parker, Gwen Stacey and Miles Morales (whose coming of age and becoming Spider-Man is the heart of the story) and wonderful villains like the Kingpin and Liv Octavius. This is a film that I hope suceeds as I want to see more of Gwen Stacey’s story as The Ghost Spider / Spider-Woman, I want to see more of Miles Morales and his story and I want to see the potential stories that remain in the expanse of possiblities that is the Spider-verse. This is a film that stands solidly on it’s own and even if nothing comes out of it, it was easily the best Super Hero film of the year for me and is one of the best animated films of all time (they mix different animation styles for the different characters and it works amazingly). If you haven’t seen this film yet, check it out.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-2018-the-best-spider-man-film/

1) BlackKklansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Coming in at first we have “BlackKklansman.” This is a long film that doesn’t feel long at all given how well the character beats and message flow through the film. The story follows the first African-American cop Ron (John David Washington) in the police force in Colorado Springs and the racism and both personal and systemic that he comes up against. Sidelined within the force he calls David Duke and in turns forces the force to infiltrate the KKK in how he’s forced them to action. From here his complex relationship with Flip (Adam Driver) unfolds. This movie is full of great tension as Flip has to explore the prejudice him for being Jewish while helping the police force take down their operation they have planned in the area. The film has an amazing ending and even if the film didn’t have the exploration of racism and prejudice it’d be worth it just for the buddy cop relationship between Flip and Ron. I didn’t know what to expect going in but I came out impressed. This is an all-star cast and the writing is nearly flawless while also having some impressive cinematography that illustrates how trapped so many of the characters feel during the film. For me, this was easily the best film of the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/29/blackkklansman-2018-a-powerful-and-relevant-masterpiece/

Bird Box (2018): A Fantastic Post-Apocalyptic Horror Thriller

I loved “Bird Box.” This is a movie that has become a meme due to the sheer popularity it seems to have taken on, which given how Netflix turned “Stranger Things” into a cultural artifact it is no surprise that this movie would do the same. In both cases the emphasis is on character and fear of the unknown, which is executed beautifully in how the story is told. This is a film built on characters and tension and from there executes a beautiful masterpiece. Susanne Bier did a great job directing this film. I’m definitely interested in seeing what she makes next after this.

The story follows Malorie (Sandra Bullok) in the past as she groups up with a bunch of survivors in a home trying to make sense of the strange event that has occured that is driving people outside to kill themselves and in present day where she guides two children down the river, with each of them blindfolded to some how stave-off this unknown threat. From here the two timelines converge as we learn about what happened to our world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and does a great job of making everything vibrant. Even the house covered in paper to keep people from looking out has a sickly glow to it. Whether it is night or day you are given a reason to fear what is outside. This works well too in action scenes where characters have to act without seeing, whether it is Malorie with the kids on the river or the drive in a covered car to the supermarket. The visuals keep the threat alive, even though they never show you the demons outside of what a character perceives them to look like through pictures. The visuals and I should also mention the sound design here, keep the tension alive.

The Ensemble Cast – The cast is fantastic. BD Wong appears as a minor character who is on the empathetic side of the surivors contrasted with Malkovich’s Douglas who doesn’t care about anyone outside of himself for the longest time and the characters who are on different sides of this. United in fear they slowly open up to one another and there is just the right amount of characters from a cop in training, an ex-druggie, a grandma, a writer who works at a supermarket, Olympia the idealistic mom contrasted with Malorie’s cynicism and Rhodes’s Tom who is largely the protector and semi-leader of the group.

Creating Family – One of the running themes of the film is the creating of family. We see this in the literal sense of Malorie and the other mother Olympia about to have kids. The survivors are an expression of this too as Malkovich’s Douglas goes from someone who only cares about himself after his 3rd wife is killed in the event but is willing to risk his life for the others when the survivors are all at risk in the end. We also witness it in love that forms between Rhodes’s Tom and Bullok’s Malorie as they come to love each other and become a couple and Malorie raising the two kids and opening up to them. This is one thing the film excels at and my guess is why it is so loved, outside of how well the terror is executed. I cared about the characters and seeing how they became invested in one another was the reason why.

The Unknown Fear – We never learn what the event is. It seems to be implied it might be Lovecraftian demons (the whole looking at them would drive you crazy fits with Lovecraft lore as well as their consuming the populace in metaphorical way) it works and is my kind of horror. We only see the implication it could be these demons based off drawings from one of the men who is let into the survivors home and tries to force them all to see. The drawings are dark, tentacles and hidden terror. This is what gives me the biggest implication that they are the ones responsible but given we never see that first hand, only the impact it could also be some virus or disease that spreads through the eyes when one is outside. Either one works for me and in this case I like not knowing, the consequence of whatever it is, is enough. You fear for the characters because the moment they look they’ll hurt those around them or kill themselves.

The Cons:

Characters Not Learning – At one point the characters should know not to let anyone on the outside in. One of them does and they stand by her doing this. After this everything goes to crap. I can understand why it happened, it was empathy, but at that point the characters should have known something was up with the guy. Things had been silent for so long and some of the group had died from experiments of watching what the outside. Of course this wouldn’t be a horror movie without at least one character making a stupid mistake so I won’t hold this too much against the film, but it is still a con.

“Bird Box” is worth the hype is if you love character stories or horror films. This is a film that excels at both and manages to have less stupid mistakes on the part of the character choices than “A Quiet Place,” which is also a great film. I just think “Bird Box” does horror and tension ever so slightly better. There is power in not seeing the monster but seeing what it does and not knowing the answer in this case pays off. The story isn’t about the mystery, it is about the survival of the characters and their individual arcs and this is what the film does really well. If you have Netflix definitely check it out. This like “Infinity War” lived up to the hype.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

Mandy (2018): A Heavy Metal Revenge Fantasy

    “Mandy” is a psychedelic trip that I highly recommend. The story is simple, but so much of what makes it work is your time where you can just sit with the world and the visuals. This is a film that could have been a silent film and worked just as well given how clear each of the actions of the characters are and how it uses visuals to tell story and given depth. The film is done like a fantasy book too with each part broken into chapters. I want to see more Panos Cosmatos films after this as if he is this out there with his other stuff I’ll be in for quite an experience of cinema.

The story follows Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) who live in the forest away from the world. Mandy is a painter and works at the nearby store while Red is a lumberjack. There world of isolation and peace quickly turns to horror when a cult leader named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) sets his LSD drug ridden cult on the two so he can have Mandy and make her one of his brides.

Spoilers ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action is brutal and fits with the feel of the film of a Heavy Metal album come to life. Nicolas Cage’s Red makes his own axe to take on the bikers and the cult and systematically takes them on one by one to get to the Cult Leader Jeremiah and get his revenge for the death of Mandy. The film is really slow and reflective until it isn’t and that is when the action doesn’t let up as we go with Cage’s Red to the dark recesses of his mind where the only reason to live is vengeance.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning. Scenes are draped in black and reds giving it the feel of album artwork or one of Mandy’s dark fantasy paintings. Sequences feel like dreams and it is worth the slow scenes just so you can soak it all in. The soundtrack magnifies the visuals and it plays together like an album brought to life. Benjamin Loeb truly did a fantastic job. This is easily the most visually unique film I’ve watched all year.

Red and Mandy – The core relationship of the film works. Red and Mandy are two people away from the world facing their damage and PTSD together. We see moments of that love when Mandy opens up about her story and you see it in Red’s eyes that he has done the same on multiple occasions. They only have eyes for one another and it makes the tragedy of Mandy’s murder hurt all the more. You see why Red is full of rage afterwords and why he is willing to go so far to avenge her death. The actors do an amazing job and Nicolas Cage truly inhabits his role as Red. Mandy is a strong character too who nothing can phase. When she is drugged up by Jeremiah she pulls down his illusion and laughs in his face at just how pathetic he is. He may have caught them both, but they win even though she dies.

Okay:

The Cult – The cult is alright. Jeremiah Sand is a creep who has his followers addicted to drugs and thinks he is the best thing. His narcissism works. The problem was I didn’t understand why a bunch of Biker Dudes would follow and become demons for him. They are nearly supernatural in how they are presented and I didn’t get his control over them, especially as any skeptic like Mandy will just laugh in his face. They worked as an antagonist, but in hindsight I would have built them up more. They deserved to be a great threat, while I largely accepted them as working alright but not great.

The Cons:

Deeper Meaning – This is a simple revenge story. What would have made it make my Top 5 to end the year would have been seeking some deeper meaning. There is the potential for deeper meaning there, but I wanted it explored more. I wanted to see Red’s love for Mandy explored more deeply or the Cult Leader’s twisted love for himself or him feeling he didn’t have it. Love could have been expressed as the theme better, or revenge but we don’t get that. This film is still great, but what keeps it from crossing that line to perfection is that lack of clarity in a major theme. I wanted more story and motivation and the film wasn’t ready to give that.

This is a film that will not be everyone’s jam. The violence is extreme when the story gets around to it and it does start out very slow. You have to be invested in the music and visuals and care about Red and Mandy to truly love this film. Luckily all those things worked for me. This is a film that may need multiple viewings as there are a lot elements going on. If any of the things I’ve described above are your jam you should check out this surreal horror fantasy. If the competition wasn’t so steep this year it might have made my Top 5 of 2018. This has been a great year for film.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. More story and the cult getting more development would have made it perfect.

Sorry to Bother You (2018): A Surreal Exploration of Race, Class and Privilege

BlacKkKlansman (2018): A Powerful and Relevant Masterpiece

 

Along with “Hereditary,” “BlacKkKlansman” is my favorite movie of the year thus far. This is a movie that shows why Spike Lee is considered one of the greats. He tackles issues that matter related to race and class and creates compelling characters. This film is a shining example of his expertise and I look forward to checking out more of his past work.

Spike Lee directed, produced and wrote this movie along with quite a few other folks. For producers, you might know Jason Blum, from Blumhouse Productions, and Jordan Peele, from “Get Out”. Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevil Willmott wrote it with Spike Lee. You can definitely see their influence in all the best ways, as Blum at his best brings tension and Peele brings awareness.

The story follows Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzil Washington) as the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He infiltrates the KKK after a phone conversation with their leader David Duke (Topher Grace) leading to the department assigning Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to be the face people see as they uncover the operation the KKK has in the area.

SPOILERS ahead

The Cinematography – The cinematography is great at creating tension and Chayse Irvin does a fantastic job of making each scene feel a claustrophobic. This is a film where you feel the pressure of being undercover and just how awful humans can be. At times, it has the closeness of a documentary, but it still manages to capture the feel of an action film through the entire run. We see this from the beginning with Ron appearing small and confined in the Black Student Union events as well as the full room feeling small as well. This makes a second appearance at the end when the KKK burns a cross on the hill across from Patrice’s and Ron’s apartment in retaliation for the events of the film. The camera gets in close on their panic and pans out a small window to reveal the large seen of terror meant to overwhelm them. Claustrophobia is simply used masterfully for both symbolism and fear.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of this film. Each of them gives a different perspective in relationship to racism and justice. How that is explored gives different dimensions to all of them as the film progresses.

Flip – Adam Driver plays Detective Flip, a Jewish-American detective who goes undercover in the KKK as Ron Stallworth. It is here that he realizes just how deep anti-Semitism goes in the United States.  From this, he begins to relate much more to Ron’s struggle as an African-American man in Colorado Springs. He questions the mission at first, but after coming around he gets angry at the Police Department for shutting down the investigation after they prevent a KKK terror attack.

Patrice – Patrice is the President of the Black Student Union at Colorado College. She doesn’t trust the police and we see why when one of them sexually abuses her after a march. Laura Herrier (Liz from “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) does an amazing job. She is wholly focused on justice and brings in speakers to the college. These lectures are throughout the film and boost the main themes present in the movie, as speakers talk about structural racism that exists and pervades in the United States.

Ron – Ron is the detective who is undercover in the Colorado College Black Student Union. As someone who relates to all they are going through (he is the first African-American cop in this small town and obviously grew up facing extreme racism) he speaks in defense of them and eventually uses his place on the force to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. He calls their headquarters and gets membership, convincing David Duke he is a white. Over the course of the film we see how his relationship with Patrice develops, with him eventually revealing that he is an undercover cop and why he was at Black Student Union events in the first place. This changes their relationship, but they get through it. She never ever trusts him fully, given her own past experiences and privileges provided to police and abuses she has experienced and witnessed. Ron understands this but doesn’t leave the force even though the chief at times looks down on him and he is never given the chance to do undercover work. Him calling David Duke was him taking action because he was bored and saw being on the narcotics force as doing nothing to help people. Any action he takes to make things better is him coming up against the system that he is a part of and it makes his relationship as a cop on the force intriguing.

History and Structural Racism – On what I said before, racism has not gone away. This is a film that recognizes that (it is Spike Lee, I’d be surprised if it didn’t). Spike Lee digs into the power of the KKK, of how the one guy who wants to go after them (Ron, and later his partner) get turned away by the police department because those in power don’t want those who sympathize or help the KKK to get heat. This is still reality. It is hard to say it has gotten better when the President says, “There are good people on both sides,” at a White Nationalist Rally where a counter protester was murdered. The current President of the United States said that, and that cannot be understated. Things don’t just change when laws are passed, racism is real as is the fact that if you are white in America, you are privileged and more likely to be in positions of power. History isn’t just erased, it moves forward with everything else and current events illustrate that horrifyingly.

The Past and Today – The end of the film ends with Trump failing to condemn the White Nationalists / KKK folks and saying there were good people on both sides. Something that should be easy wasn’t… who does someone like that surround themselves with? That is the reality of where we are today and why the fight for civil rights is ongoing. You don’t kill racism or upend structural racism in a generation. It takes time, generations and work. Look at anywhere around the world that has gone through extreme turmoil and oppression. The story of humanity isn’t pretty and the only way anything gets done is by speaking.

This was a film that deals with the modern terrors of the KKK, racism and the structural racism of the past and present and tells it through compelling history and characters. The demons of the past have never left the United States and I believe in this movies call to action. Call out racism where you see it and work to make things better for everyone. Structural racism and the sins of the past that seep through the present can’t be ignored. This country can be so much better, as can all the individuals who make up the U.S.A.

Final Score: 10 / 10. Perfect and relevant.

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