The Invisible Man (2020): A Powerful Exploration of Abuse

The Invisible Man | Universal Pictures

      “The Invisible Man” is a great film that explores what it is like to live with an abusive partner. Blumhouse seems to be the type of Studio that either puts out powerful films (like this and “Get Out”) or Redbox level forgettable crap (“Split,” etc.). Suffice to say this is a film well worth your time and worth checking out if you are a horror fan. I’m glad that Universal got away from the Dark Universe Franchise after the failure of “The Mummy” as the original film for this had Johnny Depp as the “Invisible Man” and hero. Instead we are given an amazing heroine and a story that makes a larger point.

The film was written and directed by Leigh Whannell.

The story follows Cecilia Cass as she escapes from her abusive and wealthy boyfriend. After it is believed he killed himself she finds herself haunted when mysterious occurrences happen around her sister’s house.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise is intriguing as you have a woman escaping abuse and her boyfriend was CEO of an advanced tech. company and it is from this that the idea of the “Invisible Man” is born. From this premise the horrifying nature of psychological abuse is explored as well as privacy being touched upon too as some of the film viewed through the lense of a video camera.

The Horror and Exploration of Abuse – The horror aspect is handled really well as her boyfriend uses his invisibility suit to drug her so she loses memory (and a job interview). He hacks her computer and has her send a horrible email to her sister and at one point slaps her sister’s child making it look like Cecilia did it. This comes to a height when he kills her sister in a public place and puts the knife in her hand, making it look like Cecilia did it. The horror through the loss of control she has over her life, when she had so little to begin with living with him (he told her what to wear and how to act) is done really well and is what makes the film work. Like other survivors of abuse, she doesn’t know who she can trust and is left questioning every truth she discovers as even her boyfriend in “death” tries to control her life.

Cecilia Cass – Elisabeth Moss does such a powerful job in this role. She gives Cecilia strength and resolve as well as capturing the desperation she feels in her escape from abusive boyfriend and as her life crumbles around her. This arc is completed after she is framed for her sister’s murder and she brings the fight to her boyfriend as we learn her boyfriend’s brother was working with him and is stopped from murdering her niece and brother-in-law. It is as this point she begins to take control and confronts her now discovered boyfriend and frees herself from his abuse and control.

The Ending – In the end Cecilia finally gets revenge. She uses her boyfriend’s technology against him and makes it look like he killed himself. After this her cop brother-in-law covers it up for her and she is finally free from the man who had made her a prisoner.

Okay:

The Supporting Cast – The supporting cast is pretty unmemorable. I’m not putting them as a con as the performances aren’t bad…I just couldn’t tell you what the motivations were beyond base greed and control in regards to the antagonists. Her sister, her brother-in-law and the niece are all caring people but I don’t know what they do and what motivates their day to day. If this had been fleshed out it would have boosted this film higher in score.

The Cons:

The Tech. Company and Larger World – This is a film that misses a lot of details that would have made it a favorite film if they’d been explored better. We learn her boyfriend is CEO of a tech. company but we never see how the company makes so much money. It exists and is used like a prop when it could have been so much more and fleshed out who the character of her boyfriend and his brother were further.

If you are looking for a great horror film during this time of Covid-19 and quarantine I would highly recommend this one. It doesn’t feel long, it has a powerful message against abuse and Elisabeth Moss’s performance carries this film. I hope we see Blumhouse put out more films of this quality and that the other former Dark Universe films will realize how well this works and continue the trend of individual films that are complete on their own and not part of an extended universe. Any great story can stand on it’s own and doesn’t need to be part of a franchise.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Da 5 Bloods (2020): The Intersectionality of Justice

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods Netflix Movie Gets Colorful New Poster ...

    Before I get into the review itself, I wanted to write about something that would educate and bring awareness to #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing oppression of African-Americans here in the United States. Reviewing “Star Trek” unless it was an episode that would be related would just feel hollow. What is going on right now is far more important and I come from privilege. Spike Lee has once again created it. This is a film that speaks to ongoing oppression on both the United States and global scale and brings it down to a personal level while tying it to the importance of why it matters and is tied to the now. Without giving away any spoilers, this is an amazing drama and Spike Lee has once again directed and co-wrote one of my favorite films. There are layers to this film that can’t be expressed and that I’ll be going into deeper.

The film was directed by Spike Lee who co-wrote the film along with Daniel Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Wilmott.

The story follows the survivors of of their squad from the Vietnam War, seeking buried treasure and facing their demons they left from the Vietnam War.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Presentation – Spike Lee does an amazing job of giving us a few different presentations of the narrative. We get flashbacks filmed like a documentary from Vietnam. We have modern interviews and still images and pictures. This gives a rough and real quality as the times we have it with a more modern cinematic quality is when we are with the Old Bloods. The different ways of filming presentation through the film give the film gravitas and history.

The Characters – The characters are who drive the narrative. We have the surviving Bloods (Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin) who each carry the wounds from the Vietnam and carry their PTSD in different ways that give them depth. We have their guide Vinh whose family are Viet Cong, you have Tiên who is Otis’s former lover who he had a child with and you have Paul’s son David as well as the members of LAMB who are trying to get rid of the landmines from the war.

The Bloods – The Blood are the characters who drive the narrative and they are all fantastic. You have Norman who is Young Blood, their leader who taught about Dr. King and Malcolm X and the history of the United States and the oppression of African-Americans in the United States. All the actors do an amazing job but Chadwick Boseman is absolutely fantastic as Norman. We have Melvin who has a family and can’t see beyond his family but sacrifices himself in the final fight to save Otis from a grenade. We have Eddie who was once wealthy but lost it all and has become an activist and member of the Black Lives Matter movement as he remembers that Norman was the one had taught them activism and history. He is sadly killed by a landmine after they’ve recovered the gold. We have Paul who has become selfish after the war. His wife died at childbirth and he could never bring himself to love his son. He’s also a Trump supporter and the closest thing he has to friends are the Bloods. He also blames himself for killing Norman as he did accidentally kill him from friendly fire during the war and was never able to forgive himself. His arc ends with his accepting his son and forgiving himself before he is killed. Paul’s son David also becomes a member of the Blood as he is the one who helped them find the gold and is the character who never stops loving his dad. There is also the one member of the original members of the Bloods who survives, Otis. Otis rekindles a relationship with the woman he left after the war and they had. It is really well done as we see Otis takes painkillers as a way of dealing with his pain and PTSD and is the kindest member of the group. Otis was my favorite member of the Bloods. Clarke Peters is fantastic in the role as are Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Jonathan Majors as the other members of the Bloods.

Vinh – Vinh is the guide for the Bloods and has family who were Viet Cong. He is a generation younger than the Bloods and shows them that the war is over and that it is okay to move on. It is his Uncles who pay for the Bloods drinks at the bar and Vinh plays peacemaker between The Bloods and a few other groups they run into. He is thankfully rewarded with some of the CIA gold at the end as he is the one who helps them get it out of Vietnam and the money he has is used to help his business. He was my favorite character in the film and Johnny Trí Nguyễn was great.

Tiên – Tiên is amazing. She is Otis’s former lover and used to be a prostitute during the war. She owns her own house and works with Desroche to help in international exchange. She went through so much as her half-black daughter was looked down upon by the people in Vietnam and the U.S. troops. She brings this all to Otis’s attention and only lets Otis have a relationship with them when Otis uses his money and time to stay. That he isn’t just going to run away again. It is a powerful story and Lê Y Lan is wonderful in the role.

The Intersectionality of Justice – A major theme of the film is the intersectionality of justice. We see this on the International scale with the United States and France’s relationship to Vietnam and how the Vietnam war came about. We see it in the Bloods. African-American soldiers who fought in a war for a country that didn’t even treat them as full human beings with equal rights and how today that still carries through in the prison industrial complex and the killing of African-Americans by cops who then face no consequences…as well as red lining and where resources and power lie. This exploration of resources and power is the basis of Intersectionality in the film and it is beautifully handled through the Vietnamese people we meet and the memories and relationships the Bloods have with the characters they meet.

Black Lives Matter and Connection to the Present – Black Lives Matter is also central to the film. Eddie plans to donate his share of the gold to the movement as he calls our characters back to the present and “the ongoing oppression of our people.” This is something that the surviving members of the Blood aren’t ready to face until after Eddie’s death by the landmine. Even with Norman’s teachings they still just want to live well and forget. This is where the call to action and the movement comes in and in turns calls on us to fight against injustice and speak. The same fight for equality, equity and justice from the 60’s isn’t over as the mistakes and oppression of the past continues. The film highlights this on multiple occasions and it is part of what lends the narrative so much power.

The Cons:

Pacing – There are a few scenes that could have been made shorter and in turn the pacing would have been improved. Paul’s rant in the jungle is the best example of this. It is his meeting Norman after he is bit by the snake that it starts to flow again. This is the greatest example of the pacing issue the film has but there were others too.

The Villain – The villain is a selfish Frenchman named Desroche. He is greedy and out for the gold that the Bloods are seeking. There was no dimension to him and I didn’t believe that he would have let them live if they’d handed over the gold. This was a shame as him being French added another dimension to Vietnam as a colonizer and his soldiers are all Vietnamese people he’s paying. This should have been explored.

This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. Not only does it answer the “So what?” of the present it also gives us complex characters who grow and change as they face their inner demons. I can’t wait to see what Spike Lee does next. I loved the depth and intersectionality that this film has and the performances are amazing by all members of the cast. I highly recommend and remembering the film’s call for justice.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year so far.

Here are some resources provided by Black Lives Matter to help restore justice.:

https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020) – So What Happens Now?

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (Video 2020) - IMDb

      This is a film that brings an end to the ongoing films in this Franchise. This is a Franchise that includes all the Batman stories with Damian Wayne, the different Justice League films, the Teen Titans films and Justice League Dark. So, how does it stick to landing? Without going into spoilers I liked a fair amount of the world that we see and the character dynamics but some bad performances and the ending ruin what could have been a dark ending with hope. In the end, this is not a film I’d recommend as I feel the ending cancels out all the choices that were made over the course of the film.

The film was directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta and written by Mairghread Scott.

The story follows the Justice League as they plan an attack on Darkseid’s world of Apokolips in order to prevent an invasion of Earth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Failed Attack on Darkseid – I like how our heroes attacking Darkseid fails and we see through him hacking Cyborg and seeing the invasion plans that it was doomed from the start. The rest of the story is us dealing with the fallout as he dominates Superman and makes the rest of the Justice League he caught into Cyborgs under his control. When Darkseid wins he really wins and the failed invasion sets the tone for the rest of the story. We learn the reason for his victory lies in his Paradooms. Parademons with Superman’s DNA, making them a mixture of Parademon and Doomsday. They are an awesome threat and win any battle they are in.

Earth’s Resistance – Earth’s resistance of Darkseid’s rule includes Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Raven primarily with Etrigan and Constantine until they are pulled in as well. From here we have the League of Shadows and the Suicide Squad join forces and eventually Lex Luthor himself changing sides to fight Darkseid. They are fighting a losing battle on occupied Earth and come up with a last ditch plan to rescue Batman and stop Darkseid. The resistance has a wonderful dynamic to them as the Suicide Squad controls the prison, which is one of the safest places in the world under the occupation and Clark Kent and Raven are the wanderers recruiting the last remaining heroes.

Clark Kent / Superman – Superman is defeated by Darkseid who decides his punishment will be to pump him full of liquid kryptonite, neutralizing him and after returning him to Earth. It is well done as we see that Clark Kent never stops fighting and is willing to risk it all to save the world. His power doesn’t define him, which is the kind of Superman story I enjoy. Besides Constantine and Raven, Clark’s is the main perspective that drives the narrative. The plan is eventually a success and in the Superman fights Darkseid once again after Trigun is purged from his body and in turn the liquid Kryptonite is too.

Lois Lane – Rebecca Romijin (Mystique and Number 1) voices Lois Lane and I got to say I like this version of Lois Lane. She is a military brat who has learned how to fight and clearly trained with Superman. She is the one who defeats Harley Quinn in a brawl that convinces Harley to give them control of the Suicide Squad. She is one of the faces of the resistance and I love how she drives the story. In the end she dies with Lex and the Suicide Squad to prevent the Paradooms from returning to Apokolips.

John Constantine – Matt Ryan continues to be the voice of Constantine and he is great in this. In this film we have a Constantine wracked with guilt as he ran from battle during the assault on Apokolips. His story arc is facing that guilt and loss of his love Zatanna as it is his final acts that help prevent Darkseid’s plans for Earth. We also see his pansexuality as we learn he and King Shark were once together. Sadly though, he is also behind one of the stupidest part of the film as he convinces Barry Allen to reboot this entire universe in another Flashpoint.  We also learn he ran away because Zatanna cast a spell when they talk in heaven together.

Okay:

Damian Wayne – I didn’t hate Damian Wayne in this film. It is still annoying how he doesn’t immediately help Clark Kent and the resistance, but his relationship with Batman is really well done as you see how much they care for each other. It is Damian’s risking of his life that frees him from Batman’s control.

Cons:

Raven – Raven is so bland in this film. She spends most of the story reacting to Trigun wanting to be freed and her only act of agency is bringing Damian back to life after he is killed. She is central to the story but it doesn’t feel that way. Trigun feels like a much bigger part and he is only a voice for the majority of the film.

The Flash – Flash is super bland in this and is captured and used by Darkseid after the failed assault on Apokolips. He reboots this entire film but he isn’t even a POV character all he is a plot device. I wasn’t a fan of the voice acting as he sounded bored and tired. Christopher Gorham was fine in the other animated films so I’m not sure what was going on here. His act of rebooting the universe is the final act of the film and it feels tacked on, like his role in this story.

When in Doubt, Reboot – I hate that this film ends in a reboot. A world rebuilding with cyborg heroes freed from Apokolips seeking to save the world from destruction could still be an awesome story. Instead all the growth and development we get of these heroes means nothing. I’ll still probably watch whatever the reboot is, but the fact that they thought the reboot was how to end this story really shows how little confidence they had in the world they’d made.

This is a film that I’d only recommend to those who have been watching the DC animated films in this continuity up to this point. If you want to see Darkseid as a threat and some good Clark Kent and Constantine work you will find things to enjoy. Sadly you can’t hang a story on that and if you reboot the story the audience is left wondering what the point of telling the story was in the first place. I wouldn’t recommend this film to any fans of the animated films and the ending ruins the potential for a lot of great stories that could have come out of the story this film tells.

Final Score:

6 / 10 Giving some points for telling a story with consequences but penalizing it for the reboot that potentially do away with those consequences.

 

Bloodshot (2020): Cliche Elements Make For an Enjoyable Ride

Bloodshot (2020) - New Poster : comicbookmovies

  “Bloodshot” is a film I went into expecting to find as bad. Vin Diesel is pretty one note as an actor and “Bloodshot” is from an era of comics that are all about extremes. Hell when those characters showed up during Grant Morrison’s run on the “Justice League” in a crossover was my least favorite story arc done in that amazing run. So going in, I did not have hope that it’d be good. If anything I’d thought I’d enjoy it by how bad it might be. Suffice to say, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It is full of stupid cliches but there are some performances that stand out and made it a fun rental.

The film was directed by David S.F. Wilson and written by Jeff Wadlow and David Heisserer.

The story follows Ray (Vin Diesel) who finds himself resurrected by a company called Rising Spirit Tech after a failed operation in Mumbasa. He begins to find his purpose once more as his memories of who he was comes back as he realizes his newfound powers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a soldier with lost memories trying to find out his past is interesting. It gave me “Memento” vibes when the reveal is what is really going on behind the memories which made me appreciate what the story was trying to do all the more. The premise is a solid action movie and how the action scenes are setup is artfully done.

The Action – The action is largely a positive. There is one aspect of the action that isn’t positive that I’ll get into below but once Ray discovers that the person in his recalled memories killed his wife we get some fantastic action sequences. Ray takes down entire squads as the nanites in his blood regenerate him. He’s basically Wolverine.

The Fights – There are a few sequences where we get some really good action as Ray/Bloodshot faces off against other supers. Specifically when he’s facing off against the two military guys who are working for Rising Spirit Tech. The main guy gets a suit that gives him an extra pair of arms in the fight and they neutralize Ray in their first fight against him.

The Supporting Cast – KT and Wigans were the only characters handled completely well in this film. KT is another Super who is being controlled by the organization but rebels and uses Wigans to do it. Wigans is a scientist who invented the code that was used to create Bloodshot. Together they liberate Ray and help take down the Rising Spirit Tech. KT is one of the prime manipulators initially before her change of hearts and Wigans doesn’t want to fight until he is pulled into it. This arc they both have is what really drives the story and I wish they’d been more central. Eiza Gonzalez is awesome as KT (she was fantastic as “Darling” in “Baby Driver”) and Lamorne Morris gives dimension to Wigans who is initially played as a joke. Besides the action they are really what made the film work.

The Cons:

Slow Down Action Scenes – For all the great action scenes there were some that really sucked. We get a few slow down sequences that make an already long movie feel longer while lending nothing to the narrative action. They could have cut down these slow down scenes and the film would have been better for it.

Pacing – The pacing is really off in this film as the first half is Ray’s mission and ends with him being used as we figure out the truth at that point that he is given artificial memories with a different person as his wife’s killer each time. Due to how drastically the film changes this reveal should have happened in the first third of the film, not halfway through given how much story there is to tell. The reveal of him being used also turns complex characters into one-dimensional villains, which is my final issue with the film.

When Complex Antagonists Lose Dimension – Dr. Emil Harting played by Guy Pearce is first presented as an ally, until you learn he’s been playing Ray the entire time and using him as a weapon. The complexity in the character act he is put on is entirely gone after the reveal. This is awful as the complex mad scientist was so much more interesting than the selfish sociopath. The same thing applies to his minions too as one turns upon the other when he sees a chance to take out Ray. Both characters were deeper initially but just became stock one-dimensional baddies by the end. If they’d been better this could have been a good or even great film.

If you are looking for a fun and dumb action movie you should check this out. It doesn’t reach the levels of good but as someone who went in expecting to hate it, I had an enjoyable time. Vin Diesel is fine even if he doesn’t elevate the role and it is worth it for the minor characters and the scenes they have. This is a film that could have been truly awful. Awful is what I was expecting but there is enough here to elevate the film to fun.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Supporting character performances and some of the action sequences saved it from being a 6.

Vivarium (2020): Dystopian Suburbia and the Cuckoo Bird

Amazon.com: Movie Poster Vivarium (2020) 13 in x 19 in Poster ...

     “Vivarium” feels like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror.” The film is just over an hour and a half, so it is comparably short while providing an interesting premise worth checking out.  It could have been more if it had developed the premise and antagonists further but I would recommend this to anyone looking for a good sci. fi. thriller.

The film was directed Lorcan Finnegan and screenplay by Garret Shanley. Shanley also co-wrote the original story with Finnegan.

The story follows couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) who find themselves trapped in a strange suburb called Yonder when their real estate agent mysteriously disappears after introducing them to their new home.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a couple being trapped in the suburbs and physically unable to leave as it is an infinite loop is fascinating. This turns into their only out being offered an out when a mysterious child is dropped in a box for them to raise. The mystery of why they were brought here continues and is explored through the length of the film. This is illustrated by the Cuckoo chick tossing the original young out of a nest as the new mother raises it in the opening credits.

Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is beautiful. It does a good job of showing how trapped the characters are with the use of shadow and is used amazingly in scenes of intensity where the color pallet goes red or green depending on the situation. MacGregor captures the alienness of the couple’s situation and it lended strength to the narrative.

Gemma and Tom – Poots and Eisenberg do a great job together. They clearly have chemistry with Tom being a blue collar guy who enjoys solving problems with his hands, while Gemma is a teacher and clearly has empathy for those around her. This leads to them clashing when the mysterious baby is deposited for them to raise and in how they have no way to escape the suburb. We see moments of joy with them, such as when they turn on the car and dance in the light and moments of connection in the hell. They also fight and you can see that the reason they are still together is there ability to work through things. Imogen Poots’s Gemma is manages to survive to the end as chases after their “son” and even gives a final act of protest before she dies, repeating her refrain that she isn’t “his” mother. This entire story is how Gemma and Tom resist the situation they are in while trying to deal and it could have easily failed as it is their performances that have to carry the piece.

The Parasite – The aliens who created the suburbs function like the Cuckoo bird. They deposit their young to humans they entrap looking for a home and force them to raise the children. It is a messed up system and the threat of these aliens is constant as they are the only hope the couples who enter the world are offered as an escape. I do have an issue tied to this though that is a con. Beyond them being Cuckoos we don’t have a deeper motivation or an understanding of how they tick beyond this.

The Cons:

The Motivation of the Aliens – As mentioned above these aliens have advanced technology that we never see beyond what they present us with. I wanted to see how they run the illusion that raises their children to bring in more humans to raise their young. We don’t know how long this has been going on and even in the final reveal doesn’t quite delve deep enough into how what they do works. We see the basic of the illusion and motivations but given how short the film is, we should have got more.

This is a film that had the potential to be great with just a bit more development. I could see the theme of life in the suburbs being critiqued but it never felt more than surface so wasn’t worth commenting on. The potential was there, just like the motivation of the aliens beyond using humans to raise their young. This film is still worth your time if you are looking for a good thriller sci. fi. I’m curious to see what this writer and director do next.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10 I would have rated it higher if the motivation of the Parasite Aliens had been explored further. We get hints but not enough on how they work beyond them using humans to raise their young.

The Gentlemen (2020): A Great Guy Ritchie Crime Thriller

Amazon.com: Watch The Gentlemen | Prime Video

    “The Gentlemen” is Guy Ritchie’s return to classic form as seen in his film “Snatched,” “Locked, Stocked and Two Smoking Barrels” and others. This is a crime thriller where there aren’t any good people. The action is kinetic, the soundtrack is amazing and besides pacing issues I was enthralled in how the reveals would all pan out in the end. If you are in for a good thriller or have enjoyed Ritchie’s older work I’ll recommend now before I get into spoilers.

The film was directed and written by Guy Ritchie.

The story follows Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) as he attempts to sell his drug company while forces vie against him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The opening song “Cumberland Gap” is pure gold and the rap and instrumentals littered through the film kept me enthralled as the betrayals unfolded. Ritchie clearly knows who to choose for his soundtracks. Christopher Benstead did a fantastic job.

The Action – The last 2 films I saw with great action were “Birds of Prey” and “Come to Daddy.” This film beats them both. Ritchie has been doing action for longer and this pays off in how he frames action scenes. You are left with suspense and consequences throughout the entire film. Even if it is a character telling a story, you know that there will be action consequences within the story and after. Ritchie did not disappoint.

The Main Characters – This film has no moral characters but damn if they aren’t compelling. The four most fleshed out characters are Mickey, Raymond, Coach and Fletcher who I will go into below. The minor characters are still compelling though. You can see why others are working with these characters in different ways and you should really watch the film for those minor characters, even if they don’t drive the narrative.

Mickey – Mickey is the main driver of the narrative as Coach is pulled into his orbit after his student’s steal from him, Raymond is his bodyguard and Fletcher is trying to blackmail him. He begins as a man wanting to retire and sell his Empire and ends with holding onto his Empire, making a profit and getting rid of the competition. Part of me wonders if this wasn’t the point all along as it is hard to know just how genuine the character is given he is proven to be ruthless very early on in his life. His story is still very compelling though. McConaughey plays the crime lord very well.

Raymond – Raymond is Mickey’s accountant and muscle and is very good at his job. As the fixer is being blackmailed by Fletcher at the beginning of the film and we see how all the dirt was gotten on him and Mickey and the first place, before the final reveal of just how in control the character is. Hunnam gives vulnerability to the character while still showing why he is trusted in the role he is in.

Coach – Colin Farrell’s coach is a character who it is implied was once in the criminal underworld but now works as a fighting coach to help others have a new start too. After a few of the people he is helping still from Mickey he finds himself roped in and working for Mickey. In the end he is able to even the score with with Raymond owing him as Coach is one of the more moral characters we meet in the entire film.

Fletcher – Fletcher is trying to blackmail Mickey with all the dirt he gets on him over the course of the film. Hugh Grant plays this playful, slimey character very well. He is passionate about film and we see him pushing Raymond’s button in his home as often as he can. Grant would have made a great Jack Sparrow honestly after seeing him in this role. In the end Raymond captures him after he attempts to sell the premise of this film to Miramax, to give us some meta. He is also the character narrating what has happened for the majority of the film.

Set-up – The set-up has Mickey getting shot in a cafe and Fletcher blackmailing Raymond for money from Mickey’s organization. It is immediately promising as we have a lot of questions to be answered and the stakes start out high.

The Reveals – Like any classic Guy Ritchie films we get a bunch of double crosses. Dry Eye, one of the antagonists kills his boss, Fletcher is betraying whomever is convenient at the time and the reveal of Mickey figuring out how deep all the betrayals go is revealed at the very end. It is extremely well done and I’m not going to spoil it here.

The Cons:

The Pacing – The film is nearly 2 hours long and before we get to the climax there are a few moments it feels that way. It pays off in the end due to the reveals but I think the film would have been stronger with better use of those reveals, which in turn would have saved time.

Rosalind and Victimization – Rosalind is nearly raped by Dry Eyes who is Mickey’s rival. She kills his goons but is only in the film as a something to be protected. This was awful especially since the only other woman in the film is a heroin addict who dies from an overdose to further victimize Mickey. We spend so much time with Raymond and nothing happens to him. Given how much of a role he plays in the narrative why couldn’t he have been victimized to up the stakes?

Even with the very obvious flaws this is the best film I’ve seen so far in this very strange 2020 with the world under quarantine. If you are a fan of classic Guy Ritchie you will no doubt enjoy this film and if you enjoy a good thriller I think you will too. The flaws, are blatant but the overall strength of the narrative boosts the film to a greater degree. With all the big budget projects Ritchie has been up to it is nice to see a return to his cinematic roots.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Easily the best film I’ve watched thus far in 2020.

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020) – Solidly Enjoyable Action With a Larger Point

Birds Of Prey | Official Site

     “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” also known as “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is a really enjoyable film. This is a film with Guy Ritchie style crime thriller action mixed with the crazy you’d see in a “Deadpool” film. The biggest flaws in the film can be found in the script and an interpretation of a certain character but the rest of the film stands as one of the stronger DCEU films.

The film was directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson.

The story follows Harley Quinn after her breakup with the Joker as GCPD and Black Mask target her. She soon finds herself pulled into a larger plot as others vie against Black Mask and seek a stolen diamond.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is beautiful. We see the film through the eyes of Harley Quinn and her world is full of color. This is literally illustrated when people are targeting her and she gives them names, draws on the screen and lists their grievance against her. This cinematography is if “Suicide Squad” had been done right.

Action – The action is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this film and makes up for some of the weaker writing elements in the script. We have a diversity of areas and weapons that people fight with from a chase through a crowded market, a standoff in a funhouse with different floors connected by slides and shootouts in a few locations. All of it feels organic, raw and insane. There is a reason I compared it to an early Guy Ritchie film as both the stolen diamond and the action feel like something out of “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” It is truly amazing action.

Birds of Prey – One of the common criticism’s I’ve heard of this film is no one is really developed outside of Harley Quinn. I disagree. This film works because of the ensemble cast working with Harley Quinn and all of them get developed, I just think one of the characters wasn’t needed or should have been reinterpreted differently. I’ll get into that after why I think the different Birds of Prey work as characters.

Dina Lance / Black Canary – Black Canary is a lounge singer in Black Mask’s club who slowly stops playing it safe when she starts to see more of how Black Mask treats those around her. It is sparked by saving Harley from a kidnapping and increases from there as she contacts Montaya about the jewel that Black Mask is after and is part of the vigilante Birds of Prey by the end. She fears being a meta-human and when she stands with the others her last act in the fight is doing the Canary scream which makes possible the rescue of the girl Cassandra Cain who has the diamond.

Renee Montoya – Rosie Perez plays an older alcoholic Renee Montoya and she does a fantastic job. Her Montoya was cheated out of a promotion by her partner and is still driven to bring justice against characters like Black Mask that GCPD refuses to do. This logically leads to her leaving the force and joining the Birds of Prey after Black Mask is defeated (and her partner takes the credit for the defeat). It is a great arc and fits the liberation theme of the film.

Helena Burtinelli / Huntress – Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s version of Huntress is pretty awkward and I love it. She has trouble socializing with other as she was raised by assassins after her family was killed and her opening up to the others hunting Black Mask is her arc. She goes from being alone to having a community of vigilantes in the Birds of Prey after she completes her kill list. I hope we see more of her, though I hope it isn’t with the awful mask she is wearing in one of the final scenes.

Harley Quinn – Harley Quinn is the driving action of the film and this clearly Margot Robbie’s passion project, and for the most part it works. Harley is the chaos that upends the lives of Black Canary and Montaya and forces them to take action. This is all sparked after she moves on from the Joker after their breakup by blowing up Ace Chemicals. This film is from her perspective so we get time jumps, colors and commentary. This all worked and I’m really curious to see how her character further grows in “Suicide Squad 2.” Margot Robbie truly inhabits this version of the character.

Roman Sionis / Black Mask – Ewan McGregor is a creepy, scary and compelling villain. We have a club owner who has been taking over Gotham and sees all as property of him. He’s very Immortan Joe in that way. He’s unhinged and punishes those who go against him by cutting off their faces. Like in the comics he also collects masks from around the world and has the Black Mask as his own. This version of the character seems to be in a relationship with the serial killer ZsasZ and it works. Zsasz calms him down and is the only one he lets in his space but also feeds his violent nature as they are both killers. Black Mask is constantly gas-lighting those around him and it is fighting against that abuse that is the ultimate arc for many characters in the film.

Liberation Over Abuse – The theme of liberation is key to the film, especially against abusive men like The Joker and Black Mask. We see this as Black Canary comes to finally stand up against her boss and in Montaya leaving GCPD as every case she wins her partner steals from her and of course Harley breaking up with the Joker and blowing up Ace Chemicals and finding her own identity beyond the Joker. This liberation is powerful and I loved that this was the core theme of the film.

The Cons:

Cassandra Cain – This version of Cassandra Cain is a pick pocket faster kid, and it doesn’t work. First, I didn’t believe Harley’s relationship with her and it just felt awkward in the same way with Deadpool and Russell. I wish one of the Birds of Prey like Black Canary could have been the one with the Jewel as it would have made the stakes more personal. Cassandra Cain is taken from place to place and protected or captured and she could have just been the diamond and nothing would have changed. This is a shame as the comic book Cassandra Cain is pretty awesome and I hope we can see her someday on screen.

Final Scenes After Final Fight – The final scenes has the formation of the Birds of Prey as a vigilante group with Huntress, Montaya and Black Canary. The execution feels false as everything is way too happy and Huntress’s mask is crap. She was fine without the mask and adding it just ruined the awesome scene of the Birds of Prey fighting enemies. If the last scenes were cutout and it ended with saving Cain it could have been great.

This is a film that could have been great with a better script. Changing or taking out Cassandra Cain would have brought focus to the film and changing the ending would have helped everything flow together perfectly. I had a lot of fun with this film and I’m glad that DCEU is doing it’s own thing. It is that different perspective and voice that makes it stand out against the sameness that can sometimes intrude upon so many MCU films. Can’t wait to see what they do with these characters next.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 Really good and would have been great with a better script.

Come to Daddy (2020): A Son and His Relationship to His Distant Father

Come to Daddy [DVD] [2020] - Best Buy

    I was first introduced to Elijah Wood in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. He was great as Frodo and since than I have come to see his filmography goes into the strange. I like the more unique films that have something interesting to say. This film is great and flawed and totally worked for me. In this you have fantastic rising tension and we discover the truth of the situations along with our protagonist. Without getting into spoilers, this film was really strange and enjoyable and I recommend it to anyone who likes these types of films.

The film was directed by Ant Timpson and written by Toby Harvard.

Norval visits his isolated estranged father after receiving a letter from him. When he arrives at his father’s isolated home, all is not as it appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, haunting and claustrophobic as well as a sense of distance and isolation. The color red is used well to up the stakes and action and even scenes that are dark have a kinetic energy and aliveness to them. Daniel Katz did a fantastic job.

Soundtrack – The music like the cinematography does a great job establishing isolation and tension and sets up the dark nature of the film. Karl Steven’s soundtrack kept me glued to the screen as he taps into what Norval is feeling as the stakes of the film continue to rise after the truth is revealed.

Tension – As mentioned in both the cinematography and soundtrack, tension is what drives the narrative and makes it work. Norval shows up to the isolated home of his father who abondoned him and his mom. They proceed to lie to one another. He discovers his father is drunk and has anger issues and dies when trying to kill him. At this point he is stuck alone in the house, relapses into alcoholism and discovers a secret torture room where his real dad is being held by the people he stole from to give Norval and his mom the privileged life in Beverly Hills (money from when they kidnapped one of the richest men in Thailand’s son and held him for ransom). He has two more people to face and has to free his father and is in over his head. This all happens with time to breathe in the story with the tension rising the entire time.

The Ending – In the end Norval saves his father and kills his business partners and in the process learns about the dark history of where his money came from. In the end Norval admits he never moved on from his dad and never let his mom move on either. In the end they die together as both were mortally wounded in the escape. The final scene is of Norval’s only memory of his dad from his childhood. It is touching and wraps up everything really well.

The Cons:

The Father Should Have Been Introduced Sooner – This is a film where I wish Norval’s real dad could have been introduced sooner. This could have been in flashbacks where we never see his face (to save the reveal) or even a conversation on the phone after receiving the letter. He is introduced late in the narrative and because of this it hurts the overall story. He is the person we need to be invested in via our perspective through Norval, and more time getting to know who he is or was would have helped with that.

Norval’s Life – Norval’s life is a complete mystery. He says he’s a DJ but lies about knowing Elton John so who knows if even him being a DJ is even the truth. The one thing we do know is that he is a recovering alcoholic and attempted suicide at one point. Both these points humanize this broken character but I wanted to know more about his life with his mom. One or two lines of dialogue could have fixed this easily.

This was a great and flawed film. I loved how strange it was and the tension and performances are really what make it work. I look forward to what Ant Timpson and Toby Howard do in the future. This is a film that easily could have failed under lesser writing and direction. If you are looking for a strange great film to watch under quarantine, definitely check this one out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10 This was a flawed great film. It has a focused script which leads to the tension paying off really well.

Onward (2020): Pixar’s exploration of Brothers and Family

Onward (2020) - IMDb

    “Onward” is Pixar that is on the level of “Monsters Inc.” and “Monsters University” as it primarily a relationship between two guys that drives the story. This story once again has the depth I’ve come to expect in Pixar in the relationships between the characters that are explored. I really wish we’d gotten more of that exploration as it would have pushed the film to great. Suffice to say, if you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this film out. I rented it off Amazon.

The film was directed by Dan Scanlon who co-wrote the screenplay along with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin.

On Ian’s (Tom Holland) 16th birthday he and his brother Barley (Chris Pratt) receive a wizard staff that belonged to their father. From here they must find the Phoenix Gem to restore their father fully as on Ian’s initial attempt at summoning he only manages to summon his father’s legs. They have 24 hours before the spell ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Modern Fantasy World – I’ve always been a fan of urban fantasy. Modern fantasy creatures put into the modern world leads to fun and interesting situations. In this this is best expressed in The Manticore who was an adventurer who ran a tavern but  turned it into a more Chuck E. Cheese type joint in order to survive. We also see how Unicorns dig through the trash and you have a Pixie motorcycle gang. This world is so much fun and I’m glad Pixar made this film, simply for the world alone.

The Manticore – The Manticore is the one who gives into the quest and is reborn in the brother’s quest for the Phoenix Gem to bring back their dad. She ends up raging and burning down her restaurant and teaming up with Laurel Lightfoot to get her sword back as we learn that the Phoenix Gem is tied to a curse and only the sword can destroy it. Octavia Spencer is absolutely fantastic in this role. By the end of the film her Tavern is more traditional and she is once again the storyteller recounting her past adventures.

Laurel Lightfoot – Julia Louis-Dreyfus does an amazing job as the mother of the brothers. Her quest to get to them is the B-plot and I really enjoy how we see her taking more control of the situation over time. In her we see both the improvisation to solve problems that Barley has and also her nervous and overthinking nature that her son Ian inherited. She is key to the final battle and I really liked how she plays off her sons and the Manticore.

The Lightfoot Brothers – The core relationship is that between Ian and Barley. Their arcs involve Ian developing courage and confidence in himself, and Barley taking responsibility and opening up about how he ran away from his dad on his death bed because he was so afraid. This arc ends with Barley finally getting to say good-bye to his dad and Ian getting his confidence and realizing it was from how his older brother Barley raised him that he found it. After this magic is back in the world and Ian is now a wizard as we see him use all the spells from Barley’s game…that are real life spells and not just cards.

Death and Saying Good-bye – Barley’s relationship to his dad is the heart of the story in that it is his trouble letting go that I think feeds off how he always trying to escape into games and getting into trouble. In the end he does get to say good-bye and we see how each of the family members are connected to their father in the final shots of the film. All the characters get to say good-bye in their own way as Ian is able to accept his dad’s death because his brother raised him in the ways he’d always wanted his dad to and like his dad he inherited his magic so part of him will always be carried on in Ian.

The Cons:

Action Over Character Moments – This is very action heavy film. This is largely due to it taking inspiration from a Dungeons and Dragons style quest. For this reason it never stops being fun but it also means that we don’t get to see the relationship between the brothers develop as much as it should. They have moments of conflict and opening up to one another, but the film needed more of that. This was a script where the action of the quest took precedent over the character moments at different points.

The Minor Characters – Besides the Manticore most of the minor characters aren’t very memorable. I didn’t care about the Pixie gang beyond them being antagonists. The cop characters are just kind of there, even though the Centaur is set-up to become the Lightfoot’s step-dad. This was a shame as we don’t really get any motivations of these characters. Another draft could have changed this and in turn brought the film to great.

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year, and I’m glad it rentable from home given all that is going on with Corvid-19. Please stay safe everyone. This film is about family and the relationships that define us. Hold those relationships close and know just how important you are to so many others both friends and family. If you get the chance definitely check out this film. I hope we see more original projects like this from Pixar in the future.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10 Really good due to the core Lightfoot Drama.

Superman: Red Son (2020) – A Great Adaptation That Captures the Heart of the Comic

Image result for Superman red son poster

     Superman: Red Son is one of my favorite comics from back in college. I’ve always liked the Elseworld alternate world ideas where the characters we know are put in situations that shape them along different paths. “Red Son” is in both the comics and film, a great example of this for the heroes and villains within the DC Universe. This adaptation is great. It isn’t exactly like the comics, but I overall was a fan of the choices they made.

The film was directed by Sam Liu and written by J. M. DeMatteis based off the comic of the same name by Mark Millar.

The story follows Superman if he crashed within the Soviet Union. From here he must face his power versus the responsibility he feels to others, the State and himself while facing off against Luthor and the United States.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – DC Animation has once again crafted a beautiful film. The colors and details in the scenes and faces bring the story to life. We also have Soviet Style Propaganda in the opening credits that are wonderfully crafted and brought me into the film really well.

Lex Luthor’s United States – Lex Luthor rises in power in the United States as he is the only one who has plans and inventions to deal with the threat of Superman. Like in the comics, most of the challenges he sends to Superman are ones he made…with the exception of Brainiac, who is his own power in this and not ever in an alliance with Luthor, unlike the comics. The United States that is presented isn’t stable and is true to the historical United States. The oppression through the 40s and 60s is talked about on screen which is where you can see overall where Superman’s perspective is to fix things. Luthor doesn’t see anyone outside of himself until the end, which is meant to mirror the United States as it grow’s in it’s relationship to the world.

Diana  / Wonder Woman – Diana in the comic goes from admiring Superman to having their friendship end in them as enemies. Over the course of the film we see her lose faith in man’s world and agrees with her mother as their nation once more goes into hiding. This is the first turning point for Superman in the film, where he begins to question his actions. It isn’t enough at this point but her arc of losing faith in Superman is powerful as she saves his life but Batman’s killing himself and the breaking her Lasso of Truth helps her realize the dictator Superman has become.

Superman’s Corruption Arc – Superman’s arc of power corrupting is realistic. We see him go from a tool of Stalin, find the Gulagz and his childhood friend dying and this leads him taking control of the Soviet Union. From here expands Soviet Power to end oppression of workers around the world. As Lex Luthor sends Superior Man, and Brianiac attacks we see Superman lose his ability to trust others. He uses Brainiac to mind control dissenters (he does in the comics as well) and each attack against him makes him more certain in his revolution. It is very well done and I like how the film captures those key turning point, and with it his disconnect from humanity.

The Freedom to Choose and Superman’s Return – The turning point for Superman, when he realizes people should be able to choose their own future is after Wonder Woman leaves and First Lady Lois Lane brings him Stalingrad, the city that Brainiac had shrunk into a bottle in his initial attack. It is after this Brainiac reveals his true intentions to conquer and it is only through Luthor and Superman working together that he is finally stopped for good. It is after Superman’s “death” that we see him return in the classic Clark Kent gear to watch Luthor’s resignation as Luthor also realizes his own obsession has hurt others as Superman’s did.

Okay:

Brainiac -In the comics he uses both Lex and Superman and I think it is stronger having him use both of them at different points. He just shows up in the film, which is fine but we never really see what the overall goal of Brainiac is. He is still a good threat but his presentation and arc is only okay.

Lex’s Arc With Lois – Lex’s arc with Lois is how his obsession with destroying Superman feeds his ambition and leads to him not being aware in his relationship at all. We can see hints of how he’s changing, such as when he kills Superior Man and Lois is disgusted by him…but we don’t see the next steps. It is only when he shows up to save Lois at the end and ally with Superman that we see a changed man. There needed to be another step inbetween for this to be a pro. It wasn’t badly done, but it needed more.

The Cons:

Svetlana – Svetlana shows up at the beginning as Superman’s childhood friend and is the one who tells him he should give his power to the State. She is later dies in the Gulag because she knew who Superman was before he was Superman, so had to die. She could have been a Lois Lane type character but the relationship between her childhood and death didn’t exist and that is really the only con. She is important but isn’t given enough scenes for how much she inspires Superman in her life and death.

This was a great DC Animated film of one of my favorite comics. If you are a fan of DC, animation or the original comic…this is a film well worth your time. The biggest comic has a huge twist that I will not spoil here, really you should read the comic, it is amazing.  This is a film that could have been longer and it would have worked and that in the end is the only real con against it. There were certain characters and plots that deserved more development. I highly recommend this film and the comic.

Final Score: 9 / 10