Category Archives: Favorite films

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – The Power of a Compelling Villain

“Infinity War” is easily in my Top 5 MCU films. This is a film I saw a second time before writing this review, and the only other Superhero films that have been that lucky were “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” As you can tell from those and this film, I enjoy my superhero films depressing or bittersweet. This is a film that hits you over the head with loss, and doesn’t stop until the end. Thanos is the villain, but also the protagonist, as his actions drive the film and force our heroes to make choices that define them before the loss comes. I’ll get into spoilers deeper into the review, but for now, this is a film I highly recommend.

This film was directed by the Russo Brothers, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves the Avengers trying to stop Thanos from getting all the Infinity Stones (cosmically powerful stones born at the Big Bang, and scattered through the Universe), as when he does, he plans to wipe out half the universe.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – It is the Marvel Cinematic Universe… a universe full of aliens, cultures, clashing personalities, heroes, villains and in the end consequences. There is a reason I’ve become so drawn into the comic books. What Marvel and Disney have done is to interpret so much of that beautifully on the screen, and each new film I like returning to this enjoyable and fascinating world.

The Superhero Teams – The driving action of the film is the team-ups between different heroes. Characters clash and have to work out their conflicts in order to take on Thanos to keep him from destroying half the population of the Universe. I’ll cover what I liked about the teams below.

Bruce Banner and the Secret Avengers – The film kicks off with Thanos killing Loki and knocking out the Hulk. The Hulk is saved by Heimdall and sent to Earth where Hulk retreats into Bruce Banner. From here we see Banner reunite with the Avengers, and have to depend on his brains to take on the Black Order, as Hulk is afraid to come out after losing to Thanos. It is wonderful seeing this dynamic in action, with those in Wakanda, as he fights in Tony’s Hulkbuster armor against the alien swarm. Banner has always been the outcast in the Avengers, and now that he’s back he can’t even depend on his power as the Hulk. This forces him to adapt to thinking things through as Banner, as he realizes he has deeper issues to explore with the Hulk. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes with the Hulk and the Avengers in “Avengers 4.”

Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Iron Man – This dynamic is fun. To kick things off, Doctor Strange is the one who doesn’t care about people (he tells Tony and Peter that he will let them die before he gives Thanos the Time Stone). Spidey is full of pop culture references that annoy Tony, and Tony Stark is always trying to take control, which leads to conflict with Doctor Strange because of it. They succeed in taking out a member of the Black Order, but face deadly fallout when they reach Titan, Thanos’ homeworld, to battle the Mad Titan himself.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Mantis – 3 of this group eventually team up with Spidey, Strange, and Stark against Thanos… which happens after Gamora is kidnapped by Thanos, as she knows the destination of the Soul Stone. She has some powerful scenes with Star-Lord, and some funny scenes with Drax.

Rocket, Groot and Thor – This was my favorite team up, it happens after the Guardians of the Galaxy rescue Thor from his destroyed refugee ship. Thor’s ship was destroyed by Thanos when he picked up the Space Stone from Loki, before Thanos kills Loki. It is the death of Heimdall and Loki, and half of Asgard that have Thor full of anger and broken. This leads to Rocket stepping up to be the Captain and helping Thor through the process of healing, as they head to the legendary location of Nidavellir, so that Thor can create a god killing weapon. Groot is a teenager and full of attitude, but steps up to the plate when he contributes part of himself to making Thor’s new weapon.

The Story Arc of Thanos – Thanos is the protagonist of this film. It is desire for balance in the universe (which he believes can only come about through genocide after his planet is destroyed from running out of resources and overpopulation) that drives his desire for the Infinity Stones. Each stone costs him, as the members of the Black Order are all eventually killed by the Avengers. To get the Soul Stone he has to sacrifice the only one he ever loved (Gamora), and getting the Mind Stone out of Vision nearly costs him his life, when Thor attacks him with the God killing weapon. In the end he wins and wipes out half the universe. Where his story goes from here remains to be seen, as he achieved his goal, and as far as he knows… he is the monster who brought balance to the universe. Josh Brolin truly did a masterful job and is easily one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Okay:

The Black Order – These 4 look really cool but weren’t as effective as they could have been. I would have liked at least one of them to kill one of the good guys. They might be back now that Thanos has all the Infinity Stones, so they could get more development later on… we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Battle in Wakanda – The Battle in Wakanda is pretty generic compared to most of the other fights in the film. Most of the other fights involve use of the environment and powers to try and stop the Mad Titan, where here it is a bunch of expendable aliens against a group of superheroes and soldiers all lined up. It is like every other “big battle.” It still looked good, but the genericness of it all kept it from being a truly memorable part of the film. It was the kind of action we see in every other MCU film.

Pacing – The first time I saw this film I didn’t notice any pacing issues. The second time I watched I thought the beginning could have been cut down and happened faster, the Battle of Wakanda is too long, and Thanos needed more scenes with people. Each film develops him further, and with better pacing we could have gotten more of that, or least more exploration of his faction, the Black Order.

The team ups, the comedy, the action, the characters and their arcs… there is so much I have to recommend about this film. This is a film that could have been a gigantic mess, given how large the cast was, and all the different parts that are in play. The Russo Brothers managed to pull it off. Once again, showing why they are the ones shaping the story of the MCU. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do it. This is a film that is well worth your time and shows just how powerful stories can be.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

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Black Panther (2018): Seeking Justice in a Broken World

       “Black Panther” is easily one of my Top 5 favorite MCU films. This is a film that expands on the lore of the MCU, has great characters with amazing arcs, some of the best action and villains in any Marvel film. It also explores deeper themes of resistance and sovereignty adding up to a movie that is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole and produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), after “Captain America: Civil War,” as he takes the mantle as King of Wakanda but suddenly finds his world transformed as an enemy from Wakanda’s past upsets the status quo they’ve known for so long. This forces him and his allies to confront the past and what the choices they make will mean for Wakanda’s future.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

Wakanda – Wakanda is such a cool country. This is a Afro-Futuristic nation with advanced technology, hidden by a cloaking device that intermixes ancient tradition with tech. Wakandans are ruled by the King and a Tribal Council whose upholding of tradition drives the primary conflict in the shaping of Wakanda’s future. Each tribe differs in ideology, whether it is defending the King, the Border or trade. This world is rich and fully realized, each tribe is distinct and I wanted to know more about their histories in the foundation and development of Wakanda.

The Characters – The characters are definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this great film, with Boseman once again killing it as T’Challa. Whitiker is fantastic as the Tribal Shaman whose history is intertwined with Wakanda’s past sins. The other minor characters, like the tribal leader W’Kabi, also have intriguing performances as well. In many cases it is these characters prideful choices that drive the conflict that T’Challa must untangle. Below, I’m going to explore some of my favorite characters of the film, as it was who they were that drew me into the story the most.

Okoye – Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is Wakanda’s General and she owns this role. Not only does she one of the major focuses is some breathtaking actions scenes every action scenes, we see how important her role is for her as at one point following tradition has her on the opposite side of some of our heroes. She serves the Crown and Wakanda, and that is a complicated dance when T’Challa is believed dead and the sociopath Killmonger is now King of Wakanda. I can’t wait to see more of her in future films.

Shuri – Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister. She is one of the most intelligent characters in the MCU, as she is the inventor of the advanced technology of Wakanda, she is very much the Tony Stark of Wakanda.  Like Stark, she doesn’t care about tradition and is far more invested in the relationships around her and the beauty of discovery and invention. She has some great scenes, and like Okoye, she was one of the main reasons to see this film. 

Ulysses Klaue – Andy Serkis has a lot of fun as the weapons merchant who is almost Joker-like in how little he cares about anything. This is a guy who is selfish, and racist, and every reason why Wakanda is isolationist. He is an insane character and his chaotic and manipulative nature leads to some explosive conflict in the first act of the film. It is also great to see Serkis in anything. 

Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger might be one of Marvel’s most complicated villains. This is a boy who grew up homeless in Oakland when T’Challa’s father kills his father, who was connected to the royal family through blood. He is driven by revenge from this moment on, but also by a desire to help the oppressed, driven by all he has lost. Killmonger is also a complete sociopath (his body is covered in self-inflicted scars for every person he has killed), but that doesn’t stop him from being complex. You can see where he is coming from, even if his way of going about it is all wrong.

Isolationism and its Consequences – The main idea explored is isolationism and the consequences of it is the main theme of the movie. T’Challa’s father commits a grave sin to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the world and it is up to T’Challa to face the consequences of his father’s sins. As Killmonger reminds T’Challa there are Africans both on the continent and in the world that Wakanda left behind. Wakanda let great evils like slavery, apartheid and countless other atrocities take place, when they could have done something to fight it. The primary conflict within Wakanda is to become an Empire to help oppressed groups (Killmonger’s vision), or stay hidden and protect Wakandan technology from those who would use it for ill (T’Challa’s father’s vision). T’Challa’s arc is finding that balance between perspectives and owning the mistakes of the past…and it is beautifully executed.

Okay:

Final Fight -The final fight is fine but compared to the rest of the film comes off as weak, especially in regards to the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. The emotional setup earlier in the film does not add up to the payoff during this fight, and so much more could have been done with some of the locations.

Okoye and W’Kabi – These two are star-crossed lovers who are on opposite sides and leaders of their tribes. I wanted more with both of them as they are both great actors, but we never got to see them in love, it is only ever given to us through exposition. Fully fleshing out their relationship could have given us the perfect film. 

This is a film that had the Marvel problem only in that Act 3 was still a battle, and there were some plot holes that I wish had been expanded upon. Regardless, this is a film that is deserving of all the hype and praise it has been receiving. It really is that good and I can’t wait to see what else they do with T’Challa and the Wakandans in later films. This film has social awareness you don’t always get in action films and at the core it seeks justice in a broken world.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 One of my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you noticed something different about this review it is because I am now working with an editor! He is friend Brandon Cabusas and you can find him on instagram @brandoncabusas. If you need editing work, you should check him out.

Top 5 Films of 2017

This was a great year for film. Hell, the honorable mentions I’ll be talking about were in tight competition for 5th place and it was only due to multiple viewings it won as there was no other film I saw a second time in theatres this year. As always, I’m curious to hear about your lists and what films would be your Top 5, Top 3, Top 10 or Worst of as well. Lists are a lot of fun to do, and I stick to 5 because I want the 5 to mean something. Making a Top 10 would be far too easy given how great this year (and past years) have been for film so keeping it tight makes the order actually mean something. So lets kick things off with some Dishonorable mentions before I get into the films I actually liked.

Dishonorable Mentions:

This was a year where a few films had great premises but horrible execution. I walked out of “Justice League,” so I can’t recommend that, “The Circle” was technology paranoia garbage with an amazing cast who could not save it, “The Dark Tower” missed the entire point of the book and series and felt like a forgettable cheap action flick, and “Split” was an insult to those suffering through mental disorders while being a poorly done horror film and “Deathnote” is a film that misses the entire point of the source material and is a poorly cast and acted Netflix endeavor. These are my dishonorable mentions and films not worth your time I saw this year.

Honorable Mentions:

This was  great year for film and choosing my 4th and 5th place were difficult so I’m going to do something different and say a little bit more than my dishonorable mentions in regards to the honorable mentions.:

Wonder Woman – This was a film we needed this year, from the “Metoo” movement to a sexual predator being elected president..”Wonder Woman” was the answer to that as we got Gal Gadot rocking it as the only thing keeping the DC film afloat. I loved her film and how Robin Wright as her mentor is just fantastic. It only really falls apart in the 3rd Act, and the fact none of the villains work, but you should check it out. I own this film and I can’t wait to watch it again.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/wonder-woman-2017-dc-finally-finds-a-hero/

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – This film was also in tight competition for making the list as I love how it explores toxic masculinity (Ego being one of the best Marvel villains thus far), father figures and abuse and explores my favorite characters in the MCU (Yondu and Rocket). For me it was on par with the first film, but there were sadly films that were better in both loss and character exploration.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-2017-the-greatness-of-these-characters/

Logan Lucky – This is a heist film told through the eyes of the southern working class stealing from Nascar. It is beautifully done with Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang and Adam Driver’s injured vet Clyde Logan as the stand out performance. Only thing against it is the 3rd act is overlong. I did drowse off a little during the heist which is the worst thing that can happen in a heist film. Loved the movie though.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/08/26/logan-lucky-2017/

Coco – “Coco” is easily one of the best films Pixar has put out. This is a film that explores family, mortality, death, loss and does it all through the lense of “The Day of the Dead.” The biggest thing going against it is I hated the protagonist until he finally stops acting selfish, but his family, especially those in the the Land of the Dead are awesome. I can’t recommend this film enough.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/coco-2017-an-amazing-pixar-epic-that-explores-family-and-love/

Colossal – “Colossal” is a powerful indie film that explores abuse and healing from it. Anne Hathaway does an amazing job as the unlikable drunk who has burned all her bridges but is trying to put her life back together while Jason Sudeikisis’s Oscar is a fantastic villain and threat. The fact that it is also a monster film on top of all of this is a reason why it was so hard for me to keep it from making 5th place, the characters aren’t really likable except for Hathaway’s character until the end though, so that was a dealbreaker for me.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/colossal-2017-an-amazing-exploration-of-monsters-as-metaphor/

Logan – The post-apocalyptic genre is popular and this is a film that is essentially “The Last of Us,” but with X-Men. There is no hope in this film as both Professor X and Logan are the last of the X-Men in a broken world. They both find purpose in X-23, Laura an experiment who escapes and has Logan’s power. This film is one I own and highly recommend seeing. It didn’t make 5th though because in the end it didn’t have a point. This is a film with no hope, though it gives our protagonists some amazing sendoffs.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/logan-2017-a-dystopic-western-masterpiece-that-explores-the-depths-of-pain/

That was the competition, and believe me it was close, so without further ado, here are my Top 5 Films of 2017:

5) Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Director Rian Johnson

“The Last Jedi” was a film that not only managed to subvert what expectations I had (was expecting an “Empire Strikes Back” rehash) but was also about the Resistance and First Order finding an identity beyond the Original Trilogy. This film explores this through the minor characters of Rose and Holdo as well as through Kylo Ren’s choice. The themes of resistance through class are given voice as well as showing the corrupt can be more than Jabba’s gangsters. Every action has consequences and no one wins. This is a film where you feel loss and it doesn’t stop hitting you with that loss, but it is still Star Wars and it remembers hope, even in despair. This was Carrie Fisher’s last film and in this we see why she is both one of the last Skywalkers and the General of the Resistance. R.I.P. Carrie, you got quite the sendoff as your film was the only film this year I saw in theatres twice and loved just as much each time.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/12/21/star-wars-episode-viii-the-last-jedi-2017-an-amazing-subversion-of-expectations/

4) War for the Planet of the Apes

Director Matt Reeves

Much like “The Last Jedi” this is a film full of loss and explores the themes of resistance and in the end what sentience means. This is the end of the Caesar’s story and the Prequel Trilogy and it is powerful all the way through. This film brought me to tears a few times as you see both Caesar’s humanity and pain. The Ape characters are once again the most human but Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is one of the best villains this year in how warped and nationalist he is, while still being vulnerable…as you see this is after the nuclear fallout and all that remains are military outposts in a world that is ready to leave humanity behind, while at the same time we have hope through the young Nova, who recognizes the apes humanity and in turn it shows her own. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar for this role and I hope Matt Reeves gets to make his Batman film. He is a brilliant director and in this we see what happens when humans lose and gain their humanity as we lead into the world of “The Planet of the Apes.”

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-2017-growing-beyond-caesar/

3) Get Out

Director Jordan Peele

I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele’s next project is, as “Get Out” is his first full length film he both directed and wrote. This brilliant social satire is fantastic in how the mystery unfolds and why our hero returning to this nice small town full of rich white people is so horrifying as nothing is as it appears to be. As a thriller, an exploration of racism and classicism and as a horror movie it really works. The only place where it falls flat is we never get the motivation of the people who inhabit the town and I would have liked to learn more about the protagonist’s girlfriend’s motivation in the film.  Regardless, this is a film I highly recommend, and was number 1 for me for a long time until the other 2 upcoming films came out.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/get-out-2017-a-brilliant-horror-film-that-tackles-racism-and-privilege/

2) Baby Driver

Director Edgar Wright

“Baby Driver” is a work of musical, editing and cinematic genius. You are shown rather than told so much and every character is a flawed anti-hero with the exception of Debra, who is Baby’s (our protagonists) girlfriend. The music is genius and I love how it tackles the different ways certain characters are trying to escape or to free themselves, whether it is through internal redemption through an act of bravery, seeking revenge or owning up to mistakes and actions. This film is so much fun and the soundtrack by Steven Price, is easily the best soundtracks of the year. I can’t wait to see what Edgar Wright does next, but I’m glad he left “Ant-Man” and the MCU as this was the work of art we got in return as this was a film be both wrote and directed. Again, this film has an amazing story but the film is worth it for the music and visuals alone. Up until yesterday, this was my Number 1 film of the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/baby-driver-2017-the-unforgettable-soundtrack-of-a-life/

1) The Shape of Water

Director Guillermo de Toro

Sometimes you have to wait and the order of a list can be upset. The first Top 5 I created in 2014 had “Noah” as Number 1 until I saw “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the genius of Wes Anderson upset Darren Aronofsky. This happened once more with the genius of del Toro upsetting Wright. Why is “The Shape of Water” Number 1? Because it does what all the other films do as either better or on par. Like “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “The Last Jedi,” and “Get Out,” it explores the themes of resistance and the voiceless as our mute protagonist Elisa fights to save the creature who is being tortured by the government agent in the lab, as her closeted roommate Giles and co-worker Zelda hep her succeed. The villain like in “War” and “The Last Jedi” is an insecure Colonel (in a creepy and powerful performance by Michael Shannon) who abuses others while assuming he has a right to others because of his position and privilege. The music is on par with “Baby Driver” while the cinematography and story are like a surrealist fairy tale. This is easily one of the best movies of all time and I can’t wait to buy it when it comes out. There was steep competition this year in films but after seeing this film, this film deserves its place at the top, and I can’t wait to see what else is born out of the fantastic imagination of Guillermo del Toro who not only directed but co-wrote and co-produced this unforgettable film.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/the-shape-of-water-2017-a-transcendent-romantic-fairy-tale/

This was an amazing year for cinema, though a crappy year for politics and many of the people these movies were fighting for. I’m curious to hear what your Top 5, Top 10 or worst films of the year are as well and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings in regards to the fantastic stories that can be born out of the art of film.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) – An Amazing Subversion of Expectations

   “The Last Jedi” is my second favorite Star Wars film. This is a series that is second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” and in many ways has greater depth even though the structure of this film is a bit of a mess. What this film does though is upset the status quo, delve into the reasons the First Order and Resistance have for even existing in the first place and also a much deeper analysis of “The Force” that we haven’t really gotten since the Original Trilogy. Before I get into spoilers, this is a film with the best characters and themes thus far, amazing character development and emotional payoff, amazing action and it is easily the most beautiful of all the Star Wars films. Seriously, check it out.

The film was directed and written by Rian Johnson while being produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman.

The story involves the Resistance attempting to escape from the First Order who are attacking them after the destruction of Starkiller Base, while Rey is seeking Luke’s help in their fight. Things soon get more complicated when the First Order executes a trap that forces members the Resistance to seek outside help  to escape the First Order trap, and a clash within the Resistance itself between Poe and Vice-Admiral Holdo after General Leia is incapacitated.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is visually the best looking of any film in the Star Wars franchise. Whether it is the filming of fight sequences in space or within a ship…the camera executes the action beautifully and each planet was somewhere I wanted to return back to after it was done.

The Universe – This Star Wars has quite a few different environments and animals. From the adorable porgs, to crystal foxes, to the salt world of Crait, Luke’s Island and Snoke’s Flagship and a Casino World. I was never bored because there was always more to see as each environment was so rich.

The Reason for Resistance – One of the major themes of the film is the reasons to resist. We see this as a class struggle in regards to oppression through the eyes of kids and Rose, a character we are introduced in this film…and also that personal identity is a huge role too and that finding the balance between them is important. Poe is driven by ego and glory for much of what he does but comes to see that it is bigger than each fight, the war is larger than any one person as the individuals and groups define what it means to resist, just as much as if not more than the personal reasons to fight.

The Cost of War – So many people die in this film. There are lots of heroic sacrifices, but also the people who are being oppressed by those profiting from the war, the deaths of so many soldiers on both sides who die. You feel that in this and it does a good job humanizing both the Resistance and the First Order. War is hell and sometimes no one wins, this film captures that theme beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. This film is all about relationships between characters, be it Leia and Poe, Rose and Finn, Kylo and Rey or Luke and Rey. Each relationship gets developed over the course of the film and reveals layers to the characters that didn’t exist in “The Force Awakens.”

Vice Admiral Holdo – Holdo is a character who has got a lot of crap from the fanbase, but she was one of my favorite characters in the film. She was respected for winning in the past but Poe doesn’t get that. She is presented as an antagonist through a good portion of the film, and the payoff of who she actually is and what she is doing is great.

Rose and Finn – It is through these characters that we get to see another face of the Resistance and why they fight. Finn is originally a part because of his friends and is even willing to leave in order to protect Rey but Rose reminds him of the bigger picture and that at the core they exist to fight oppression. It is handled on the casino world and seeing their friendship bloom was one of the more memorable parts of this film.

Master Luke Skywalker – Luke is done with everything. Like before in the Original Trilogy guilt defines him and it is mistake that helped lead to Kylo Ren’s creation and that guilt is something he carries with him and resists until the end. He is wanting to destroy the Jedi order and die as the last Jedi until Rey helps him realize there is so much more that he’s forgotten and that he can still make a difference and change things. Mark Hamill is fantastic.

General Leia Organa – I miss Carrie Fisher. It was great seeing her in this, her whole drive is survival and protecting the Resistance from the First Order. She is the mentor who is there to remind the young folks there is a time and place for glory but you have to work to keep everyone alive, or there won’t be anyone else left to fight. This was my favorite presentation of her besides “Empire Strikes Back” and I’ll miss her in these films, now that she’s gone.

Rey and Kylo Ren – One of the core relationships is that between Kylo and Rey both of who are alone and seeking more beyond the old order as so much of who they were was tied to the legends of the past. They are connected but still adversaries and it is great relationship to see explored as Ren becomes more confident and much more of a bully and Rey finds an identity outside of her parents and her expectations of Luke and the Jedi.

Subverting Expectations – If you go in expecting “The Empire Strikes Back” or another version of “Return of the Jedi” or “A New Hope” prepare to be surprised. This is a film where most things don’t work out for any characters. Things change, both in the First Order and the Resistance in regards to their identities…but it doesn’t repeat the cycle. We get away from The Ring Cycle a bit here and from that “Star Wars” seems to finally be developing it’s own identity outside of the past. We also see The Force not being tied to bloodlines and the fantasy feel of the past films and midichlorians are implied to no longer be a factor (Rey’s background and the last scene of the film). I loved that, this is no longer the Skywalker show, Star Wars has to be bigger than one family drama and I can’t wait to see where the series goes.

Everybody Loses – Poe finds out he was wrong, Rose and Finn get betrayed, Rey isn’t able to turn Kylo Ren and even the Resistance only barely survives. The First Order isn’t in great shape either after the events that take place and it is going to be transforming further or it will collapse. That is powerful and with it we see the most potential for change both within the Resistance and the First Order. They’ve lost too much to remain static.

Okay: Welcome to the Casino / Side Quest – This first point is related to the second point, there is a side plot on a casino world in order for Rose and Finn to get a code breaker in order to break onto Snokes’s ship so that they shutdown the Empire’s ability to track the Resistance’s fleet. It explores the meaning of the Resistance so I’m not putting it as a total negative but it could have been shorter and achieved the same purpose in the plot, and I would have traded a few Finn and Rose scenes for more scenes with the codebreaker played by Del Toro named DJ. He is fun.

Structure and Clutter – The greatest issue with this film for me was the structure and how cluttered some of the different plots are. It wasn’t bad, I saw this film twice but it does feel long during some of the side tangents. The overall story and themes greatly overwhelm this in quality though and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

This is probably going to be in my Top 5 films at the end of the year. This is a film I’ve watched twice and is easily the most fun I’ve had at a film this year since “Baby Driver.” I can’t wait to see where things go after this film as it upsets so much of the status quo. I am a guy who loves the original Extended Universe and I always will, but I’m glad they didn’t repeat it (and I still enjoy it as another timeline of Star Wars). By the time of “The Force Awakens” I was done with the Skywalker drama, predictability will kill this franchise as so many of the problems that plagued the Prequels was the lazy recycling of the Original Trilogy. This film is strange, different, takes chances and changes things and honestly, it is the only way Star Wars can grow beyond the corner it was written in to. Here is to Disney embracing that change and giving us more great stories like this film.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Second best Star Wars film thus far.

 

In the Mouth of Madness (1994): The Power of the Storyteller

We begin Halloween Horror Week with “In the Mouth of Madness” one of the films in John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors with the “Escape” series, “Halloween” and “The Thing” being some of my favorite films. This film joins those as a favorite though it does not reach “Halloween” or “The Thing” level quality. This is really smart film and it was well written, what really only brings it down are how some of the characters are written and some of the cast performances.

The film was directed by John Carpenter, written by Michael De Luca and produced by Sandy King.

The story involves John Trent (Sam Neill) recounting how he ended up in an insane asylum, as his story begins he is an insurance investigator who is investigating the disappearance of a famous horror author named Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) who has gone missing and whose editors need in order to get his latest book, “In the Mouth of Madness,” released on time.

Spoilers ahead

Pros: The Lovecraft Themes – The main themes that are Lovecraftian that are done really well in this film are people being driven mad from beings from beyond (Sutter Cane’s books are warping reality because of being from beyond) body twisting (the people in Hobb’s End and those who come to Hobb’s end, a character in an insane asylum, people cut off from the world (Hobb’s End) and the pointlessness of man’s fight against the greater universe (John discovers that he is a character in one of Cane’s books so he never had Free Will. These are some of the many Lovecraftian themes in the film and easily what it does best.

What the Storyteller Does to the Characters – As someone who writes fiction as a hobby, authors are cruel to our characters. We create drama for them and have them suffer so that they go through arcs. The sad thing is they are entertainment to us to some degree as stories are entertainment and we may care about our characters but not in the same way we care about real life people. John Trent feels that in full as well as the horror of realizing he is just a character in a story.

The Power of Meta-Narrative – One of the things that works really well in this film is the meta-narrative. You have the narrative of Cane’s past books woven into Hobb’s End as well as “In the Mouth of Madness” weaved through the story as John comes to realize that this film is his story and he is trapped inside of it. These levels of narrative and meta-narrative lend the story power as the different levels of story inform one another and strengthen the themes.

What is Reality? – A major question the film asks is if we are just in a story that someone else is writing. That is John Trent’s arc and from there the question is asked whether his reality really was really warped by Cane or if it’d been warped all along. Is the only reality Sutter Cane’s and John Trent is trapped in a book? Or was reality really warped by being beyond and the world of the film was our world that was transformed? I believe the movie leaves this question open, which strengthens the narrative.

Okay: The Cast – The only great members of the cast is Sam Neill. I believed his terror and he felt fully realized, even though we didn’t necessarily get to know his character as well as we could have. The others are okay but I wouldn’t really consider their performances great. They felt like set pieces that fit within the narrative but not fully realized characters.

The Characters -This was a film with huge ambitions but the writing doesn’t fully realize the characters within. Even John Trent could have been better realized in regards to his motivations and what he was going through. All the characters are guilty of this. They aren’t bad but Cane doesn’t feel threatening, I never felt I was given the chance to care about Linda Styles, Cane’s editor and besides John Trent the rest of the characters feel like parts of a puzzle that work but not unique in and of themselves. Which is a pattern I’ve noticed in the Lovecraftian adaptations I’ve seen thus far.

If you are a fan of Lovecraft, John Carpenter or horror films you should really check this film out. This is a brilliant film and I love how it explores the nature of reality, the power of the storyteller in regards to the characters they create and the use of meta-narrative. It would have been perfect if the characters had been better written and the film had a better cast but for what it is, it is a really good film and one I’d highly recommend. This is a favorite, and I plan to watch it again in the future.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Blade Runner 2049 (2017): A Sci. Fi. Exploration on the Purpose of People and the Individual

    “Blade Runner 2049” is a great sequel. I want to get that out of the way right now. This is the way to properly do a sequel as the world still feels like the same world, the new characters are interesting and the themes in the first film are explored…though a bit more blatantly than the first film. You also do not need to have seen “Blade Runner” to appreciate this film. The main character and his arc stands strong on it’s own and there are entirely new factions than existed in the first film. Before I get into spoilers, you should go see this film. Seriously, the main flaws that bring it down are how some of the female characters are handled and the fact that it is much longer so there are points that it does drag. Besides those factors, it is a favorite sci. fi. film of mine now, just like the first film.

“Blade Runner 2049” was directed by Denis Villeneuve, written by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original) and Michael Green and was produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud and Cynthia Yorkin.

The story takes place 30 years after the original “Blade Runner.” Worldwide famine hit and it was thanks to genetic engineering by Wallace Corp. who rescued humankind and bought out Tyrell Corp. They than created new replicants that were docile and would not rebel, though Police still hunted down past models and “retire” them. These police are still known as Blade Runners. K is a new replicant hunting down past models and must unfold the mystery surrounding the past models agenda.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The universe is expanded upon in this film. We see the irradiated city beyond Los Angeles, we go to Las Vegas and see what future Vegas was like as a dead city and of course the nitty gritty of the poorer areas of the city that K travels to and lives. We also see how technology has advanced as Wallace Corp. has invented holograms with complicated A.I. and of course the difference between past and current replicants.

The Factions Vying for Power – There are quite a few factions vying for power with the largest being the Replicant Rebellion, the Police and Wallace Corporation who sees themselves above the law. What comes of the struggle is still open as the CEO of Wallace Corp (played creepily by Jared Leto, who gives the guy a major God Complex) but the mcguffin is never discovered and the pin drop hasn’t happened. War has not come yet, there has only been movement.

The Replicant Military Squad – I wanted to watch a movie about these guys. There is Batista who was their combat medic and helps Rachel have her child, there is the replicant rebel leader Freysha who is waiting for the right time to reveal the child so the replicants can become free and a few others we do not meet. They were so cool and they are the ones who help K find meaning beyond himself when he realizes his memories belong to the child and not himself.

Personhood, Identity and Joi – In the past film personhood and identity are explored through replicants, in this their humanity is known and the question is brought up with Joi an A.I. designed to keep whomever bought them happy. We see her have agency through the film but all the things are to make K happy so the question is whether she does it out of programming or out of genuine desire and love. The film leaves it ambiguous, which makes it one of the more stronger arcs of the story.

Lt. Joshi and Moral Complexity – Robin Wright owns it as Lt. Joshi. She’s presented as prejudiced initially and barely treats K as a human being and talks about her fear of the replicants rebelling but we see her defend K against the Wallace Terminator and we see that even though she isn’t good, she valued K as more than just an asset of the police force.

K’s Arc – K’s arc is finding meaning beyond himself. He first finds meaning in his relationship with Joi, until he fully realizes she like him was designed for others…he finds it in memory, believing he is the child, until he learns from the rebel faction that those memories were implanted and after he is alone he saves Deckard so Deckard can meet his daughter and the rebellion remain protected. He finds meaning and dies, no longer being a tool of the police force or his own desires.

Okay: Deckard – Deckard is the weakest part of this film. Harrison Ford does a good job but he wasn’t needed. The point was the child and the replicant rebellion, and he is a part of that but not the whole part. There is one part I actually wanted him to die since after you find out that K isn’t his son, his arc felt played out. If they make a third movie I hope we don’t see him again. He wasn’t bad but I’d have rather more time was spent exploring the rebel leader or Lt. Joshi.

The Cons: The Women Who Serve – First, there are a lot of women in this film and some of them like the rebel leader and Lt. Joshi are in powerful roles. The other part is women are mostly sex objects in this . I get that this is part of the world but the first film had more self awareness along those lines and it is never really addressed. The role of Jois in this reality is only seen through one who fell in love with one and because it goes unaddressed it became problematic. Doesn’t keep it from being a favorite film or a great film but it was a missed opportunity given personhood is such a major theme of the story.

If you enjoyed the first film you will love this one…if you enjoy meditative sci. fi. like the first film, you will enjoy this film. This is smart science fiction that treats the audience seriously and expects you to pay attention. There is so much going on and the mystery, though a tad predictable is a lot of fun because it is driven by K’s story. This is a focused narrative, which the first film really didn’t have. I still prefer the ambiguous nature of the first film, and I think the replicants are more intriguing. I’d take the 4 who Deckard is hunting down over any of the replicants in this film…but this film is still a beautiful work of art that is well worth your time. In the end, it is worth watching to return back to the Blade Runner universe and see just how many more layers are given to this wonderfully complex world that is so much like our own.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Blade Runner (1982): A Beautiful Sci. Fi. Meditative Exploration of Justice and Identity

   “Blade Runner” is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time. It is also a film I had not seen for years until I saw that “Blade Runner 2049” was coming out. The last version I saw before this was “The Extended Cut” and in the future I plan on doing a comparison of all the different versions, but for purposes of this review, I’m just sticking with the original Theatrical Release. “Blade Runner” is a film that brings so much depth through ambiguity, it doesn’t tell you what to think or to believe but from character actions we can infer greater meanings and truth. This is where the film thrives and what I’ll be analyzing more fully in my review, as the larger ideas aren’t spelled out, they hinted at and let you put the pieces together.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and produced by Michael Deeley. The story is based off of the Philip K. Dick book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick is an author whose books have been adapted into many of my favorite sci. fi. films.

The story takes place in a futuristic dystopic 2019 where the Tyrell Corporation has invented Replicants as slave labor to do dangerous jobs or the populace and government. They were given a short life span and for those that manage to escape, police known as Blade Runners hunt them down and “retire” them. This story picks up with four escaping to Earth and their attempts to infiltrate Tyrell Corp. as Deckard, a Blade Runner, hunts them down.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is easily the richest part of it all. This is a version of Earth that could happen. We have a crowded, dirty city full of adds and neon lights where the rich live above the sky and the poor live stacked on top of one another. This is also a world of indifference as watching a replicant get killed means nothing to the everyday people, just like what we see today with how people react to shootings and usually find it justified when an authority figure of some sort (police, military, etc.) is the one doing it.

The Replicants – The replicants who escape are the best part of this film. Whether it is Zhora just trying to live her life as a dancer and isn’t involved in the plots of the other 3. Leon and his desire for justice, especially after Deckard kills Zhora, Pris and curiosity and fun nature and Roy with his desire to understand and to live, a character who wants justice and to be fixed since he was made a slave and made to die. They were the best part of this film and I would’ve have watched a full length film about any of the 4. They were complex and weren’t bad beings, they were seeking freedom and justice in a world that only saw them as monsters and treated them as slaves…and they found meaning beyond that. They were so much more than how others saw them.

Human or Replicant Ambiguity in Deckard – One of the running themes of the film is what makes a person human and Deckard is used as that base, as many times it is hinted that he might be a replicant hunting his own people…as Rachel asks if he’s ever done the test and his avoidance of it shows there is more going on with him. The fact that Rachel is able to fool the Replicant test is a good example of this too and how Deckard could have been designed simply to kill. This ambiguity lends power to the narrative at it humanizes all of those in the world and shows just how unjust what Deckard does is.

Memories and Identity – Another theme that is explored is that of memories as they relate to identity. We see this when Leon is asked about his mother in the opening scene, as he knows he’s a replicant and the memory he’s been given is false and Rachel who believes her memories to be real and shares those memories as a way of getting to know Deckard. Even after she knows they are a lie they still shape her and how she relates to others, unlike Leon who’s actions come from knowing the lie and reacting to the present.

The Means of Justice – There are a few ways that justice happens in the film. Whether it is the Blade Runner Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos giving time for Deckard and Rachel to escape, or the killing of Tyrell by Roy. Tyrell didn’t care about his creations and upheld the system where they would be hunted down. Roy killing him is around the time that he finally finds freedom in what time he has left to live.

The Cons: Deckard, Rachel and Consent – The one con that keeps this film from being perfect is the scene after Rachel saves Deckard from Leon. She is troubled, doesn’t know who she is and Deckard just forces himself on her. If it isn’t rape it is the same kind of evil. I wanted Roy to kill Deckard after this as even though I think it showed that Deckard didn’t see Rachel as a person yet, it is never called out in that way and can only be inferred. Deckard never faces any consequences from Rachel from it and they still fall in love. I hated this scene and it is the one thing that keeps this film from perfection.

“Blade Runner” is a film that has had a lasting legacy and far reaching legacy on science fiction. It helped bring about some of my favorite shows like the new “Battlestar Galactica” as replicants and cylons are pretty similar, the dirty advanced sci. fi. futures of “Cowboy Bebop” and “Ghost in the Shell,” and countless other works that explore self, personhood and greater themes. I’ll be exploring “Blade Runner 2049” after this but I wanted to go back to this classic first. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. This film is a work of genius and if you are a fan of sci. fi. you will most likely enjoy this film as much as I did.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10