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Us (2019): Deconstructing Class and Race

Image result for us 2019 film poster

    “Us” is a great film that feels like an extended episode of a show. The premise is a lot of fun and it is worth seeing for Lupita Nyong’o alone as she portrays two very different characters. This story I would have rated higher if her family had been explored more or the family friends had been likable. There are also a lot of plot holes which makes this film a great idea, which is the biggest reason it is rated so high. It needed more the plot holes filled in. This film lacks the subtly of “Get Out,” which keeps it from being scored higher for me. It is still worth checking out though.

The film was written and directed by Jordan Peele.

The story follows Adelaide and her family in their summer home in Santa Cruz when their doppelgangers attack and hold them hostage.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Michael Abels soundtrack is haunting. He does a great job of tying in the alien with the familiar. This is especially so after the family takes home and the use of “I Got 5 On It” throughout the film. This use of music is the greatest example of why this is a film rather than an episode of a show.

The Tension – Tension is handled really well in this film. We start out with a flashback and unknown factor builds the story from there. This was the first “Home Invasion” horror I’ve seen beyond “Halloween.” This film does a good job building tension and it truly works as a thriller, though it did not scare me. So as a horror it could have worked better but it worked wonders as thriller.

Lupita Nyong’o – Lupita Nyong’o carries this film. As Adelaide she is someone who was once captive and is now free and just wants to be comfortable. It is when Red, the person above she trapped below who upsets things with the Tethered revolution that she truly sees what reality is. This is her awakening as her “friends” are more worried about appearances and class and reflect her selfishness while Red just wants to free the Tethered. In the end she kills Red but her lie and false reality are broken as her son Jason witnesses what she did and Red’s confession.

The Family – Adelaide and her family are certainly a pro of the film. I think what would have made them work better is more interactions with others. Adelaide is the only character who feels fully fleshed out. The family mostly works as a reaction to their Tethered duplicates. Gabe is someone who finds his strength when he’s overpowered, Zora sees the big picture and uses that in regards to her environment. She wins by getting out of the house.  The youngest, Jason is the one who sees the cost of what happened in all the deaths and knows his mother is a Tethered too. His mask he wears through the film comes off when he sees the truth of her past.

Exploring Race and Class Through Symbolism – Most of the explorations of race and class come through the symbolism in the story. We see this in the fact that Red once came from above and the first thing she did was rebel. We see it her designing the suits of the Tethered like prison uniforms and the Prison Industrial Complex that primarily uses African-Americans as prison labor. We see it in how Adelaide has forgotten and become part of the rich and that she only really wakes up after destroying herself (Red). There are so many ideas here that give the movie power and move it from good to great. The biggest disadvantage here is I wanted more. “Get Out” was a much better film because it fully explored the ideas and characters presented.

The Cons:

The Reasons for the Tethered – The Tethered are a government project made to control those on Earth. We never get an explanation beyond that and that reason also doesn’t make all that much sense given we are never shown them doing that prior. How do they control those above ground? Who were they before Red? There are so many questions that remain unanswered, which helps the story and symbolism. The meaning is largely symbolism and this was a chance to get beyond that. The Tethered and their relationship to those above are the biggest reason this story isn’t rated higher. It needed more exploration to truly work.

The Family Friends – Elisabeth Moss, her husband and their daughters are lame. They were unlikable from the beginning (vain, materialistic, egotistical) so them being killed by their Tethereds meant nothing. This was the wrong way to go as we need more to build up the family…and this family does not.

I thought this film was a solidly great thriller that could have been more if it developed the characters and story. At the end of the day I only felt that I knew Adelaide and Red and for a family trapped the family has to be more than ideas…the friends have to be more than ideas. In the end concept over character is what kept it from being rated higher. Still worth checking out for any of fan of Jordan Peele. He did a great job, I just wanted more.

Final Score: 9 / 10

 

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What We Left Behind – Looking Back on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2019) – The Perfect “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Documentary

  “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Series.” This is a series that was willing to explore philosophy, religion war and give the minor characters full arcs. It is no wonder Ronald Moore created the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” from this show, which is also one of my favorite sci. fi. shows. He was on the writing team while Ira Steven Behr was the showrunner. This is easily the best documentary I’ve ever watched. It has comedy, heart, philosophy, depth and explores the relationships and characters who made up the show. My bias being that “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Franchise” and in Sci. fi. shows as a whole. It certainly has flaws and wasn’t perfect and this is a documentary that honestly explores that.

The documentary was directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, produced by 455 Films and released by Shout! Studios.

The documentary traces the origins of “Deep Space Nine’s” creation, the actors and their thoughts on the show, gives us a hypothetical new season with many of the original writing team and explores the legacy the show left behind.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Into and Ending – The Into and ending were so corny and perfect. “Deep Space Nine” had Vic Fontaine’s Jazz lounge as a major part of the show and the Documentary paid tribute to that by having Max Grodénchik (Rom) kick it off with a corny song about leaving his heart on “Deep Space Nine.” In the end he is joined by Jeffrey Combs (Grunt and Weyoun on Ds9), Casey Biggs (Damar) and Armin Shimermen (Quark) to finish the song. It had so much heart, even if the lyrics don’t always work. The four of them are also great singers.

The Reaction to the Show – Throughout the documentary the cast reads fans letters as Ira Steven Behr interviews them. These are glimpses of history that show just how much the show was hated by some in it’s initial release. People hated that the show was darker and that it wasn’t daily exploration on a ship. The reactions are nuanced (Ira on making sense of how people saw it as a dark show) to funny when Aron Eisenberg (Nog) reads a reaction from someone who hated it. This was one of the aspects that added character to the documentary.

The Making of the Show – Making the show an episodic story beyond single bottle episodes or two-parters was revolutionary. This was a major part of the film, and beyond that how when most fans talked about the show in interviews it was largely about the Dominion War arc. It was the arc that changed everything outside of the arcs of “Babylon 5.” We also got to see the Writers Room when Behr got together with Ronald Moore and some of the other writers from the show to draft a pilot for a new season. It was really neat seeing that as well as the relationship between the showrunner, directors, actors and crew. They also went into the Evolution of the Dominion and how they evolved into a collection of species versus a single one.

The Actors’ Stories – Part of what makes the story so compelling are getting the stories of the actors and the relationships formed over the course of the show. We learn about how Armin Shimerman (Quark) used to host the other actors who played Ferengi at his home to go over the scripts. “Deep Space Nine” was full of Ferengi episodes and seeing how friendships grew out of it was so wonderful. We also got to see that Alaimo (Dukat) had a crush on Nana Visitor (Kira), and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) and how to this day he is friends and mentor to his show son Cirroc Lofton. The actors also talked about their characters and created interludes. Andrew Robinson (Garak) appeared early on and later to talk about how when he first played the character he played him as wanting to have sex with Doctor Bashir and how the character relationships evolved into a deep friendship. It was awesome hearing that first hand as Robinson always played Garak as Bisexual and him voicing that made me happy.  They also touched on Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) leaving the show and the disrespect from the directors as well as when Nicole de Boar (Ezri) took over for the last season of the show. Even with all that happened there are still so many friendships among the cast.

Taking Responsibility and Impact in Social Justice – This was a show that tackled the themes of poverty, race, war, philosophy and Behr took responsibility the fact that they didn’t explore gender and sexuality very well. They recognized the existence sexuality and LGTBTQ rights but didn’t advocate. Behr owned it and it made me respect him a lot. “Star Trek” has always been a progressive show and it has dropped the ball on LGBTQ justice all of this time until “Discovery” really.

The New Season Pilot – One of the arcs through the documentary getting what writers he could together to write a new season of the snow. The new season pilot is awesome. It starts with Captain Nog being attacked and a reunion of all the characters returning to “Deep Space Nine.” Kira is a priestess and the station is a religious site, Worf is in line to takeover after Martok to rule the Empire, Julian Bashir is a captain with Ezri serving together on a ship and O’Brien is a professor at Starfleet academy while Jake is a successful author. From here things unfold as it starts out with Nog being attacked by an unscene show before arriving at the station. From we learn of a Bajor / Jem’Hadar plot that Kira is tied to and the return of Sisko as he reaches out to his children. I would watch it and I wish it would get made. Sadly I doubt it will exist beyond the fandom of this documentary though.

What You’ll Get on the DVD – The documentary ended with Nana Visitor talking to Behr about everything that wasn’t covered. Whether it was her failed marriage to Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), her having a baby and how they wrote that into the show, “In the Pale Moonlight” and quite a few other things. Behr said they’d all be on the special features of the dvd and that it was cut for time. Hearing that lead me to pre-order the dvd. I can’t wait to see all of the things that didn’t make it and rewatch this perfect documentary again.

If it wasn’t obvious already, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite shows of all time. This was the “Star Trek series” I felt was good to great all the way through and explored the themes I love in stories. It gave politics, philosophy, war, identity and history all in deep and respectful ways. If you are a sci. fi. fan I highly recommend this show. This show started so much and any time I have the chance to see these actors and writers if they end up in Portland at a Comic Con, you bet I’ll be there. This was a show funded by the fans and created for them and the time and love put into it made it the perfect documentary and film. I’ll be surprised if any film compares when this year is done.

10 / 10. “Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite Science Fiction shows of all time and I can’t think of a better way to honor it. The actors in this cast are folks I’d go to comic con for if they make it over my way.

Shazam! (2019): A Beautiful Tale on What it Means to Have Family

New Shazam Poster Reminds You the Movie Is Fun | Collider

    “Shazam!” is easily the best film so far in the DC Cinematic Universe. I’m speaking as someone who thought “Wonder Woman” was great and enjoyed “Aquaman” and “Man of Steel.” This film is better than all of those and is the most fun I’ve had in a DC film since “The Dark Knight Rises.” I’m glad they got this win. “Shazam!” captures what makes super heroes and comics books so enjoyable and fun in the first place. This is a film that never stops being fun. For non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth seeing for that reason alone. This film is comedic, dark, adventurous and explores the concept of a family better than so many films that say that is their theme. Not only that, the film looks great and has a fantastic soundtrack.

The film was directed by David F. Sandberg with screenplay by Henry Gayden and produced by Peter Safran.

The story follows foster boy Billy Batson as he is given to the last foster family who will give him a chance, as he has ran away from all those prior. Left with the choice as he searches for his missing mother other threats are plot and act as Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) is empowered by an evil and only the wizard Shazam can empower someone pure of heart who can stop him in his quest of destruction.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – Finally the DCCU works. This film calls upon classic “Shazam!” villains who were part of his universe before Faucet Comics were bought out by DC and when he was Captain Marvel. The villain is Dr. Sivana who is a classic foe who DC brought into their universe. As someone who loves the rich lore of comics this was a movie that hit me on so many levels. There is more related to the lore that I’ll get into later in the review, but this is a world that doesn’t need the rest of the DC universe to be good but enriches it by existing.

The Action and Cinematography – The action is visceral, colorful and feels like it has been pulled from the pages of a comic. It isn’t the same beautiful the way “Spider-Verse” did it with it’s animation (blending anime, modern, noir, etc.) but it does it using the dark and light in the character’s abilities and where they choose to shoot the fights. For example, the final fight takes place in a carnival. This use of the dark and light contrast makes the fight sequences stand out and when they happen (because when they happen they matter) it adds to the narrative and is a brilliant use of storytelling.

The Characters – The characters and their relationships are what makes this movie work in this end. I would have rated this movie as at least very good if all I had to go on where performances and the character relationships, and this film delivers on those in spades. The relationships are a big reason I want to go back as I think I’ll notice more in the rewatch as far as how the characters see one another and what that means in the finale.

Billy Batson – Billy Batson / Shazam / Captain Marvel is the main character, who as the foster kid is seeking his mother. He is a kid who only looks out for himself and tells his foster family as much. He does grow more attached to them over the course of the film, which is part of his essential arc. When he becomes the Champion empowered by Wizard we see Billy’s arc go from selfish kid seeking his mother to hero who has found his true family. Both Zachary Levi as Shazam and Asher Angel as Billy give so much depth to the role.

Freddy – Freddy is one of Billy’s foster siblings and the closest thing he has to a friend. He’s also a huge comic book nerd and becomes Billy’s mentor on how to become a hero when he becomes the Champion / Shazam. At first they are both really selfish but Freddy figures out the bigger picture first and calls out Billy for how he has become a selfish bully with his abilities. Freddy does have his arc payoff though, but I’m not revealing what that is, since it is one of the best parts of the film.

Shazam Family – Billy’s adopted family becomes the Shazam Family at the end to fight the Seven Deadly Sins and it is awesome! Each of them is a hero as strong as Billy and together they face off against the Sins. How it happens is fascinating too as it Billy realizing that he needs to open his heart to find his true power and it is in sharing power, not taking it (like Dr. Sivana) where true power lies. Each of the family members has distinct personalities contrasted by their grown up identity and I can’t wait to see them further. I won’t describe more as the seeing their story payoff is one of the best parts of the film.

Dr. Sivana – Dr. Sivana was one of the people chosen by the wizard a long time ago to be the hero but failed because of the temptations from the Demons who are the Seven Deadly Sins. From that point on he seeks out the Sins and frees them before seeking out the hero who he envies for having the great power that is only capable of defeating him. We see why he is this way too as he comes from an abusive family and power was the only thing his dad and brother ever respected. What innocence and pure of heart that he needed to be the Champion was stamped out a long time ago.

Mr. Mind – This is a classic villain for the Fawcett comics who DC brought back when they revamped the character. He is this caterpillar looking worm who is a genius. He meets up with Dr. Sivana in prison and tells him there are more ways to power than simply magic. It is a great set-up for future films as Mr. Mind is a villain unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Marvel or DC.

Okay:

The Foster Parents – The Foster Parents are kind but kind of generic. We get glimpses of their past but never in relation to their kids, only in relation to one another. They both grew up in the Foster system so I’m not saying it is a negative but them opening up to any of their foster kids about their past would have added a layer of depth the story wasn’t able to do. Not entirely a con but definitely the weakest part of the film.

This is a great film. Shazam is such a fun hero and I can’t wait to see how Mr. Mind and Shazam and his foster family are used in later films. In both there is so much potential there to be explored. This was also a film that doesn’t need an expanded universe to work. Billy’s relationship to his foster family and his biological mother give this film more than enough heart to make this film wholly great on it’s own merits. If you are looking for a film that has a deeper point while still managing to be a hilarious comedy, you will probably love this film as much as I did. It is definitely one of my favorite films.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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

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