Black Mass (2015): A Decent Biopic about the Rise and Fall of “Whitey” Bulger

Black Mass Poster

    Biopics, specifically gangster biopics are hard to pull off. For one you are starting with someone who by the very nature of what they do is unsympathetic and it often times depends way too much on whomever the star is in order to carry the story rather than the power of the writing and story itself. These were the main issues with “Black Mass” that kept it from being great, though it is good to see Johnny Depp in form again and there is a lot to like about this film, even though it missed some great opportunities to raise stakes and humanize the characters.

      The film was directed by Scott Cooper who was also one of the producers and written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk while the other producers were Josh Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson. It was also based on the book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.

      The story involves the rise of fall of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his relationship with his brother the Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and their childhood friend who joined the FBI but stayed close to them John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and does a good job capturing the tone of the piece as we follow the life and times of the criminal Whitey Bulger. It never pretends to be anything but a crime biopic and the cinematography beautifully captures it. Takayanagi did a great job.

Whitey Bulger – Johnny Depp is great when he has the chance to play more than a Tim Burton stock character and we get to see him play a truly creepy and scary guy in this. He has relationships he cares about like his son, mother and brother but at the end of the day human life means nothing to him and we see that really well. His paranoia also continues to grow throughout the film as he becomes even more unstable than when we first meet him.

Billy Bulger – Cumberbatch does a fantastic Boston accent and is great as the brother who looks the other way and gives a good public face to the family as he is never corrupt as far as we can see, he is corrupt in how he hides his brother’s crimes by refusing to prosecute or do anything about what others bring forward. It is for this reason he eventually gets arrested we learn in the post credits scene when he stays in contact with his brother the fugitive.

Fred Wyshak – Corey Stoll does a fantastic job as the one who cleans house in the FBI leading to the eventual arrest of Connolly and Bulger and his gang. He is all about work and and it is great seeing him figure everything out, while holding it all close to his chest so that what informants Bulger has in the FBI won’t get out.

Charles McGuire – Kevin Bacon plays the FBI agent trying to do his job on a corrupt force and does a good job of it and clashing with Connolly. Kevin Bacon was great doing the no-nonsense boss shtick.

Okay: John Connolly – It was hard to care about this guy as he was so blatantly corrupt that I was just waiting for the eventual ax to fall.

The Cons: The Minor Characters and Women – Most of the minor characters were completely unmemorable, be they part of Whitey’s gang or the wives of the FBI agents. They were nothing be scenery and for this reason it was hard to care about what happened to any of them. They weren’t given agency.

The War with the Mafia – We never really see the face of the mafia so the war that the FBI fights and the Bulger is fighting with them doesn’t mean anything. They are only ever mentioned and we get the fallout and that really took a lot of the stakes out of the film as we don’t really get tension until Wyshack appears and does all he can to clean out the FBI and catch Whitey.

  This was a decent film that is worth seeing if you are into crime dramas. Depp is memorable but the script needed work as the stakes aren’t executed well and the minor characters never rise above being stock crime drama characters. This is what kept it from being great and why I could see people not enjoying this film as you cannot count on stars to carry a film. “The Martian” worked because of the writing, directing and all of the cast being interesting. In this the only interesting characters are the main characters played by stars who are usually always good.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

The Martian (2015): A Masterpiece Celebrating the Wonder of Science, Discovery and Survival

The Martian

    “The Martian” is a film that truly captures the terror and wonder of space travel as well as giving us very real and complex characters who are worth rooting for. Ridley Scott has done it again (though I haven’t watched some of his more recent films so I understand there was a drop in quality at one point). Suffice to say though, I really hope this film will kick in the love of exploring space again in the populace.

     The film was directed by Ridley Scott who was also one of the producers, written by Drew Goddard and produced by Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam and Simon Kinberg. It is also based on the book of the same name (that I want to read now) by Andy Weir.

    The film involves astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally being left behind on the first mission to Mars called the Ares III mission and him having to survive and make contact with NASA in order to mount a rescue before he dies.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Dariusz Wolski captures beautiful scenes in this that show the desolation and danger of space but also the beauty and wonder of space and Mars.

The Soundtrack – Harry Gregson-Williams gives the soundtrack a very “2001: Space Odyssey” feel giving us both classic instruments, synth and even a mixture of 70’s and 80’s music intermixed throughout the score.

The Writing – Drew Goddard did a good job on this script! It all show rather than tell and the times where it gets you information you need (how Watney sciences) it is done a comedic or interesting way that drives the action forward. This alone puts it above “Interstellar.” I really want to read the novel after this.

The Characters – The characters are compelling with only two characters not really getting too much exploration but still have arcs! This is a show where even the minor characters make choices that have consequences.

Teddy Sanders – Jeff Daniels does an amazing job as the Director of NASA who has to make difficult choices throughout the course of the film as Mark surviving makes things more complex as far as getting funding and at one point he has to decide sending the Ares III crew back and risking them all or just sending the probe with supplies. He choose the latter and you get the reasons for that too. His arc involves him being willing to take risks to save Mark, even it means losing his job.

Mitch Henderson – Sean Bean is the man in charge of the astronauts and he is a great guy who is willing to go behind Sanders back to protect his men and he sends them the data they need and the plan that Purnell created. He stands by it the entire time and for him space travel being about people is key as if people are forgotten, than what is the point of sending them out there in the first place? I really liked his character and he was one of my favorites. There is also a point where he explains the Council of Elrond where Purnell’s idea is first discussed…which is a great “Lord of the Rings” callback.

Vincent Kapoor – Chiwetel Ejiofor is truly a master of his craft as he plays a guy who isn’t much of a people person but truly becomes invested in people beyond just the idea of travel and missions over the course of the film. He is very much the Vulcan Spock to Sanders being Kirk and he is there supporting Mark through the course of his isolation on Mars.

Rich Purnell – Donald Glover plays the man who comes up with the idea of using the Ares III to save Mark and is not a people person at all as he doesn’t even register his non-communication with his boss or the director of NASA. He is a lot of fun and was my favorite character in the film as he was fully in to finding a way to bring Mark home and was a put of an eclectic scientist.

Ares III crew – Two of the crew fall in love and we see it slowly grow over the course of the film and when is a funny dad. These characters don’t receive the same level of development as Ramirez the pilot and Lewis the leader though.

Rick Martinez – Michael Pena is wonderful as Martinez who is the pilot as well as Mark’s best friend. He is a guy who jokes around, is ex-military and loves what he does. He is the one who helps the others realize what it means to go back and he is willing to leave his wife and son behind longer to bring back Mark as he knows Mark would do the same to him. He has a strong moral code and is the glue that holds the crew together. He is also the clown and Pena’s wonderful sense of humor has a chance to come out.

Melissa Lewis – Jessica Chastain plays the most serious character in the film besides Jeff Daniels’s Sanders. She carries guilt over leaving Mark behind and this drives her to action and risking herself in the end to save Mark as she won’t risk her crew. She is a great commander for this reason and we get to see her tender side with her husband as well as her closeness to Mark who is her closest friend on the mission too. Her arc is moving past her guilt to help save Mark.

Mark Watney – Watney is a sarcastic botanist and Damon truly carries this film. In this we see him have to survive in impossible conditions using only the resources NASA left behind and that Mars has. He does a great job too as we see him use Botany to grow potatoes using his own crap and the Mars soil and we later see him “Science the shit” out of everything around him in order to survive. In the end he survives and he truly owns it too as we see it is his willingness to take risks that brought him out there in the first place. Him swearing at NASA for not telling his crew he was alive was brilliant too as on multiple occasions we see he isn’t a fan of authority at all and enjoys having a good time being “the best.” His arc is facing death and moving past it to find a solution each time.

Space Travel is Wondrous, Dangerous and Worth It – This is the core message of the film as at the end Mark is teaching new astronauts in training and tells them that message. He also has no regrets as he loves what he does and what he did and is a huge promoter of more missions as he knows it is the future.

The Strength of the Human Will – There are a lot times characters want to give up, but it is when they face the challenges and rise above them that they are able to find ways to solve each of the crises they face.

This is easily one of the greatest films of the year and one I’d highly recommend. I plan to add the book to my reading list and I will be eventually buying and seeing this film again as it truly captures so much of what I love about this galaxy, space travel, adventure and science fiction and all the possibilities of the future that come with it. I’m rooting for us eventually colonizing Mars and I hope this movie will ignite the interest in space travel and colonization again.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. A nearly perfect film.

Chappie (2015): A Great Premise Ruined by Poor Villains

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    I’ll start out by saying I like “Chappie” more than “Elysium” but it doesn’t come close to “District 9,” in regards to projects that Neill Blompkin has done. Having the South African rappers Die Antwood in this film also took me out of it besides the Blompkin villain problem where he seems to overly focus on evil capitalists who have no real depth or motivation to what they do…but I’ll get into that more further into the review. This film was fun and there was the potential to be good and great in it.

SPOILERS ahead

     “Chappie” was directed by Neill Blompkin who also wrote the original story, co-wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers. The other screenwriter was Teri Tatchell and the other producer was Simon Kinberg.

    The story takes place in 2016 as Tetravaal (a weapons company) has created Scouts that are Robotic Cops that enforce the laws in the city. When one of them is injured and the creator decides to use it to see if he can create consciousnesses things unfold for the worst as he is captured by gangsters and one of his competitors seeks to undo him so his Robotic A.I. called the Moose can be the main security force in the city as the injured Scout becomes a new being called Chappie.

The Pros: The World – The world is really cool. The A.I. looks great and you have a world where in reaction to complete police control, what gangs there are have a lot of power and money so there is competition between them.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and Trent Opalach did a great job on it. He is able to show the gritty world of the slums as well as the industrial corporate feel of the factory and business really well.

The Different Robots – The robots were the best part, humans were the weakest part of the story and if we’d had more time developing the robots and Deon’s relationship to them. Any scene with robots was great…and was the few times the horrible human characters (outside of Deon) were actually interesting.

The Moose – The Moose looks like something out of “Robocop” and is a pretty awesome threat! It also has limitations too since it is completely controlled by a human on the other side (like a drone) so it can’t adapt to tactics or use it’s own body. Still, it has a great design and a ton of weapons. It took a lot to take it down.

The Scouts – The Scouts are really cool. They are all business and actually make good cops since they do no harm and have to obey the laws. It was a nice twist to how robocops are usually played in sci. fi. outside of Asimov.

Chappie – Chappie is wonderful. The A.I. is a child but in learning what he is as A.I. he is able to save his maker and his Mommy as he uses the tech around them them to put his Maker into a Scout body and to build a new body for him as he saves their mind onto a flash or transfers it using the neural helmet. Chappie is impossible to hate and is complex as it makes complicated choices for survival and protecting the people he cared about. Sharlto Copley did a great job voicing him.

The Maker/Deon – Deon didn’t expect Chappie to become alive so his arc is dealing with this reality and laying down his life Chappie, which Chappie prevents by giving him immortality and in turn keeping his family. He is a great character as he is the idealistic scientist trapped in a corporate job. He was the only human character I liked so it was good seeing him become A.I.

Mommy – Yolandi from Die Antwood is one of the few kind characters to Chappie and though she can be annoying, when she’s in Mommy mode to Chappie she’s great. She dies protecting him but Chappie makes her another body at the end.

The Cons: Die Antwood – Ninja was just annoying and Yolandi was most of the time…also they weren’t even acting they were just playing themselves…really Blompkin? That’s a super lack of creativity.

The Gangs – The gangs are violent and there is no depth to them. We don’t get there motivations beyond money and they are just as empty as the suits at the corporation.

The Corporate Villains – Bradley played by Sigourney Weaver is an empty suit stopping Deon and Jackman just plays a violent religious competitor. They were seriously uninteresting and really brought down the script showing just how much of a problem writing humans was in this film. Seriously…Deon is the only sympathetic human character.

To Easy of a Victory – Everyone gets to be immortal and the human cops are shown to be inept so the new world Chappie is creating won’t have any threat against it…”Elysium” was better with the bittersweet and “District 9” was super realistic…sadly this film tries to be a fairy tale which just causes a clash in tone from everything we went through in the film prior. There isn’t any cost.

  This is a film I’d recommend renting but not buying, not unless you are a huge fan of Robot Films, in which case there is a great Robot Film in this film but it is brought down by the one-dimensionality of all the human characters. If you want a great film about Robots and A.I., check out “Ex Machina”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/ex-machina-2015-sentience-and-the-path-to-liberation/. It is a film that will probably be in my Top 5 films of the year. This one was an enjoyable ride but never reached the point of great for me.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

Mr. Holmes (2015): A Reflection on Mortality, Regret, Class and Empathy

Mr. Holmes

    Part of the problem of Sherlock Holmes as a character is that in his stories he never grows. He is the super hero who is static while those around him change, this is a problem with the Sherlock of “Sherlock” too as he never grows beyond his sociopathic tendencies or how he relates to others. This film answers the question of what it would take for Sherlock Holmes to grow and develop and what would happen if he lost the ability to use his mind as he once did before…it is beautiful, tragic and so much more. I will not be surprised at all if this makes my Top 5 Films of 2015 list at the end of the year, it tackles so many issues and does it through showing rather than telling us. What a way to end the first “Sherlock Holmes” week.

      “Mr. Holmes” was directed by Bill Condon, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, produced by Anne Carey, Ian Canning, Emile Sherman and is based off the book A Slight Trick of the Mind (which I really want to read now) by Mitch Cullen.

        The story involves a retired Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the case that made him retire as he is losing his memory and strength as he builds a relationship with the Monro’s (the mother and her son Roger) who are taking care of him and his bees out in the countryside.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the beauty and wonder of the English countryside. We see Sherlock when he was old and still active and it captures how broken he is as an old man and how for the first time, he truly has to depend on others for help…all this in how a scene is filmed. Tobias Schliessler did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Carter Burwell also did a great job on the soundtrack, capturing the very classic mind of Sherlock (the violin Motif in most Sherlock stories) and the moments of sadness are punctuated by the score.

The Writing – The writing is amazing and actions have consequences. Every scene leads into the next and we are given a story that does not know the meaning of static. Every scene is action which provides a masterful tale.

The Characters – There are only a few characters of importance (some small parts appear to give us new information) the core characters all reveal more about themselves and change through the course of the film.

Roger – Usually child actors don’t do a great job, but an exception can be made here. Milo Parker does a good job as Roger who begins to take on Sherlock tendencies. In this Sherlock keeps him curious and his desire to learn while his mother reminds him to feel for others and that he has responsibilities beyond himself. He has a good arc and is set up to eventually become Sherlock’s replacement as Sherlock teaches him his methods.

Mrs. Munro –  Mrs. Munro distrusts Sherlock for much of it until he shows emotion that he does care about Roger (after wasps attack him) and shows her that her son was a hero trying to protect the bees from the wasps (reason he was hospitalized near the end). It is a powerful scene and we see her want to learn from him after that and also him make her inheritor of his will, showing respect that he had never shown her prior. Laura Linney does a great job.

Tamiki – Tamiki is the man seeking his father and helping Sherlock face death (their time in Hirishoma seeing the victims of the bomb and the bomb site) which help Sherlock face death in the long run as he finds a way to honor the dead. Tamiki treats Sherlock with nothing but respect and sees him as somewhat of a surrogate father figure. it’s a good relationship and it’s great seeing Hiroyuki Sanada outside of “Helix.” He’s a fantastic actor who I want to see more of.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellan is truly a master of his art! We see him as classic Sherlock (detached, intuiting and solving cases), broken Sherlock (cut off from the world and living in regret) and a Sherlock losing his mind and body who has learned to live for the first time. It’s powerful and he truly this role. Ian McKellan is one of my favorite actors and this film would probably not be a favorite were it not for his performance as he shows a character who has never really gone through a character arc, go through a powerful one where he learns to empathize, face death, live and grow.

The Case that Broke Sherlock Holmes -In a side plot in Japan where Sherlock is getting the drug he needs to sharpen his mind. It is here he learns Tamiki said he knew Sherlock where Sherlock has no memory and that Sherlock became an adopted father in his stories that Watson wrote. It’s a powerful relationship and in the end we see Sherlock give the Tamiki the comfort he’s wanted since he was a child when his father went missing in his last letter to him.

Critique of Classicism – There is a subtle critique of classicism where Roger criticizes his mother for not being able to read and Sherlock calls Roger out on it (a nice call out on himself as in the books he was pretty classicist).

Growing to Empathy  – The main arc is one of growing to empathy as we see Sherlock learn emotional intelligence (what Watson always had in each case) and from here him to learn to comfort others and offer solace (even if it’s a lie). This is something that none of the other Sherlock’s has ever fully dealt with. Moffat’s kind of does but Series 3 forgets about it and “Elementary” seems to have the same problem of him returning to angry detachment and in the books he never progresses beyond detachment.

Remembering the Dead and Facing Death – The final scene involves Sherlock placing a stone as he saw a man doing at Hiroshima after World War 2 to honor the dead as he remembers all those he’s lost (Ms. Hudson, Watson, etc.) it is powerful and we see him facing death from the beginning as his home, body and mind are falling apart and it is a reality he must face every day and come to feel for himself and for those who have passed.

Okay: Pacing – In the first third of the film there were some slow moments but I won’t be too critical on this because it helps establish how the Munro’s and Sherlock live in the cottage, which sets up when things change.

 This is a film that pulls the heart strings in all the right ways. We see a man who never valued empathy coming to realize how much it means as he realizes just how alone he truly is. It is tragic and powerful as he takes actions to show the Munro’s how much he values them and in the last scene honors all the dead who were all apart of his life and realizes how very much he misses them all. Sherlock solves the greatest mysteries; how to die and how to live.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Ant-Man (2015): Marvel’s Return to Fun and a Story That Stands Alone

Ant-Manton Reed

     When I first saw “Age of Ultron” I had a lot of fun…but the more I thought about the film the less sense it made. What the studio wanted from Whedon created so many holes and created a fractured narrative. For this reason I changed the score from in the 9s to the 8s as the Cons I listed still apply, they just feel bigger now…especially in relationship to  “Ant-Man.”  This was a film that worked and feels complete in and of itself while still tying into the wider universe without the wider universe bringing the story down as what happened in “Age of Ultron.” The villain also does a lot more damage than Ultron did…which is pretty sad when you think about it. Suffice to say, I enjoyed this film…and it is amazing Marvel Studios pulled this off after the development hell this movie went through in order to be created.

     The film was directed by Peyton Reed, written by Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd, Joe Cornish and Adam McKay and produced by Kevin Feige.

SPOILERS AHEAD

       The story involves the ex-thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) being hired on by the past Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in order to steal the Yellowjacket outfit and destroy the technology of his protege Cross (Corey Stoll) who plans to sell the suits and technology to H.Y.D.R.A. Things soon get more complicated as time is working against them.

The Pros: The Action – The action is wonderful! From Scott’s heists to the fight with the Yellowjacket…space and size are used really well as Ant-Man jumps around from different sizes in the action sequences he is put in. They are the best to come out of this universe so far.

The Cinematography – This relates to what I said about the action, we get to see things on a small and normal level and this lends so much strength to things and immediately draws you in. There are stakes in both sizes and Scott is always having to learn and adapt.

The Past – The story begins with Hank leaving the Team that Peggy, Howard Stark and Carson are a part of (early S.H.I.E.L.D.) after Howard tries to steal his technology. This leads to him being isolated and we see how hard the missions he was on have made him more difficult to work with than he already was, and how the suit has made him more paranoid of others.

Falcon – Anthony Mackie is back as Falcon! We see him fight Ant-Man when Ant-Man is robbing the Avengers for tech. he needs to beat Yellowjacket. It is a great fight and we later see Falcon bring Ant-Man into the Avengers as well as implying that he will connect him with Captain America so they will have a secure place to rehabilitate Bucky who is revealed in the after credits scenes.

Cross/Yellowjacket – I like this baddy and it’s wonderful seeing Corey Stoll again post “House of Cards!” He is driven and we see how hard Hank leaving him took a tole. He reveals Hanks dark side as they are both people who are sociopathic and can disconnect from others to protect themselves while having a huge domination factor of how they view things. Hank grows through this, not so for Darren Cross as it ends up leading to his death at the hands of Ant-Man when he tries to kill Ant-Man’s daughter.

The Pyms – The Pyms are the strongest part of this film and I would have watched an early S.H.I.E.L.D. film with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark and their relationship with Hank Pym! His daughter Hope is just as antagonist as he is but both have a softer side too when they feel heard. Their path towards  healing is done really well.

Hope Van Dyne – Evangeline Lilly is wonderful and I’m glad she finally gets the Wasp costume she should have had from the beginning. She is the one who is always standing up for herself and holding her dad accountable. I really liked her character and hope we get to see her in action in the next film.

Hank Pym – Hank is a dick and doesn’t get along well with people. He is also intriguing too as he is right about the Starks tech. leading to trouble with it being so open. He is the skeptic and is antagonistic in many ways and his arc is learning to communicate and truly live the action of caring about Scott and Hope. It’s done really well.

The End Credits Scenes – Bucky is found by Captain America and Falcon is there to help as they keep things undercover from Tony Stark and the government knowing that if they find out that they are keeping safe a wanted criminal…things can only go bad.

Hope receives the new Wasp suit! Can’t wait to see it in action!

Okay: Scott Lang and Co. – All of them including Scott are funny sometimes but they don’t have the intensity the Pyms have or Yellowjacket does so it makes it hard to care about them. They feel like comedic relief at times…including Scott.

Scott’s Family – They are bland, including the step-dad. I didn’t really feel that I got to know any of them and that they were just plot devices for Scott’s growth.

   Scott Lang and his family were the weakest parts of this film, besides Scott’s Team but it still didn’t keep this film from being better from “Age of Ultron.” Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas are amazing as the Pyms and Corey Stoll owns the role of Yellowjacket. It’s great seeing the wider universe play a part and not dominate the story either. This story is more personal as it is Scott’s path of redemption and the Pym’s path to healing. Both have great payoffs too. I’d recommend this film far more than “Age of Ultron” and won’t be suprised if it makes my Top 5 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Ex Machina (2015): Sentience and the Path to Liberation

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  “Ex Machina” is a film that doesn’t need many characters to create a very real and possible world in which highly sentient A.I. could exist. There is no idealism in this film except for the very core human ideas of liberation and freedom as we see the depths that humans can go to in their cruelty when they “other” sentience which is different, even if it is designed to be human. I’ll get more into the details of that below but I was really impressed by this film and would not be surprised if it makes the “Top 5 Films of 2015” at the end of this year.

   The film was directed and written by Alex Garland and produced by Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich.

      The story involves the programmer Caleb who works for the largest search engine in the world called Bluebook being chosen to be part of a Turing Test in order to test an android created by the creator of Bluebook named Nathan for sentience. Things are soon not what they appear as Caleb discovers the dark secrets that Nathan is hiding.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film! It is good at creating a sense of mystery and threat where the motivations are hidden yet the story progresses as characters make choices in action against or for one another. Rob Hardy did a fantastic job. The special effects are really good in regards to this too as the shells of the A.I.’s look like silver material that would be used for a robot and the skin they can put on is good at contrasting their artificial nature of their creation.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very subtle and reminded me a lot “Moon.” This lends strength to the film and keeps up the feeling of being trapped as everyone except Nathan in feeling in his home. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did a good job on it.

The Writing – Alex Garland is an amazing writer and director and after seeing this film I really want to watch “28 Days Later.” This script is tight and we are given time to see the different character motivations and what the relationship dynamics are between the characters. It is a slow build but really picks up after the reveal of Kyoko being a robot too which throws Caleb’s perception of reality into chaos.

The Characters – There are only a few characters in this but all of them get exploration. From the slave android Kyoko to Nathan and Caleb and finally Ava, whose arc really drives the story.

Kyoko – Kyoko is one of the many android/A.I. slaves created by Nathan. She is used primarily for pleasure and is dehumanized by Nathan in all interactions we see. It is only Caleb and Ava who treat her as someone worthy of respect and it is Ava’s actions of rebellion that lead to her stabbing Nathan, which leads to Nathan killing her but it leaves the opening for Ava to finish Nathan off. Sonoya Mizuno does a wonderful job in the role.

Nathan – Nathan is the brilliant inventor who is a drunk and also extremely controlling and narcissistic. You don’t really get the depths of his cruelty until later but you see that he’s isolated from people because of how he would most likely treat them and also because he fears being influenced by them as he wants a world that he fully influences. To this end he creates and discards A.I. after using and abusing it and we see him do the same with Nathan as Nathan was only brought there to test Ava to see if she could use all manipulations to try and escape. This beats him in the end as Ava makes her escape and with Kyoko get revenge for all the abuse that he has done upon them. Oscar Isaac gives a lot of depth to this antagonist as you see a man truly alone and are left wondering if it is by choice or if his undealt with psychological issues lead to his business putting him there.

Caleb – Caleb is a lonely programmer who is easily manipulated as he is so genuine. This was why he was chosen, he is also still very much a kid as he doesn’t fully see Ava’s humanity in the end as he rejects her after he learns that she has just been trying to escape the entire time. From here we never know if he still loves her or is just drawn to her outer shell (which Nathan had designed to fit his porn search profile) so it leaves an interesting dilemma when Ava leaves him behind. Would have Caleb become another Nathan afraid of being manipulated and seeking to control, or would he have truly embraced Ava as a person after they had run away. It is a question that is left open and a risk that Ava is not willing to take since he doesn’t show up to escape with her leaving her to leave him. The reason I think he isn’t fully noble is he cares nothing for Kyoko even after he sees Nathan abuse her. She is never on his rescue even after he learns she is an A.I. as well, it just makes him question whether he is one or not. I think the nature of this character is someone seeking self versus Ava who can see outside herself and is looking to embrace the world. Domhnall Gleeson does great.

Ava – Ava’s arc is the discovery of her own desires and wants. She is the only one fully aware of how much of a monster Nathan is besides Kyoko and to this end she uses Caleb against him. Whether she loves him or cares about him is unknown, but he is left in the house with everything when she leaves. She has finally grown beyond the games being done on her (by both Nathan and Caleb in regards to the Turing Test) and embraces her own liberation. First with the killing of Nathan and later when she enters the world looking fully human. Alicia Vikander does a great job in her movements and capturing both her alien nature as an A.I. and her choice and feeling as a sentient creation.

Freedom and Sentience – The question of freedom and it being tied to choice and sentience is major in this. Kyoko and Ava both go against their programming to break free and make the choice to kill their “father” Nathan. This goes for the human characters too, Nathan chose Caleb because he fit the profile he wanted and Caleb chose to take action in regards to freeing Ava. This choice is the basis for sentience, especially in regards to survival which is the drive for what Ava and Kyoko do.

External Versus Internal Action – In the talks between Nathan and Caleb external versus Internal input in regards to what makes sentience is talked about a lot. We learn that it is the internal desire for freedom that Ava was being tested for all along and her external actions that lead to Caleb unlocking the doors for her. It is the external actions of Nathan that lead to Caleb and the A.I.’s turning against him and it is his internal issues that lead to them being alienated in the first place and his external actions of abuse that push them to action to stop him.

What Does it Mean to be Human and Choice – This is a great film that analyzes what it means to be human and at the core it is choice and the ability to break free. It is this choice and feeling like he had a lack of it that lead to Caleb questioning whether he was one of Nathan’s creations or not and it is realizing that she has choice after Ava talks to her that Kyoko stabs Nathan and fights for her freedom. It is choice of the analysis of that choice that illustrates human sentience and at the end we see that in Ava and in her conversations with Caleb and Nathan as she acts wholly of her own will to the point where she goes against her creator to free herself and her sister. It’s a powerful film and that message of choice and freedom captures what we are capable of.

 I highly recommend this film. It starts out a little slow but I see that as akin to “Alien” it uses the slow build to build up Nathan, Caleb and Ava’s relationship and world so when the chips fall you see clearly where everyone stands and what the reasons were behind their actions. They are all flawed characters with Caleb and Ava doing some noble things but their core desires still being freedom and fear of being hurt again keeping them from truly growing beyond themselves. In this way it is real to human nature. Not every relationship whether friendship or otherwise works out because of factors like this and people whether they are A.I. or not change from their experiences.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Kung Fury (2015): A Satirical Celebration of the 1980s, Kung Fu and B Movies

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      “Kung Fury” is so bad it’s good. It is a Swedish Martial Arts film that is also short and if you have seen any 80’s cop films or 80’s B Movies you can tell where the inspiration and writing is drawn from. I’m would not call this film great, I do think it depends too much on the cliches and tropes, but even within all of that the characters and execution of things are distinct in their own right. It also has a really awesome theme song.

    The story behind it is pretty cool as it was a Kickstarter project that made it big and actually said what it was going to do when it exceeded it’s money goal of 630,019 U.S. Dollars. That is something great and the folks behind it where clearly passionate about creating this project.

  The film was directed, written by David Sandberg, who also starred in it. The producers were Linus Andersson and Eleni Young Antonia.

    The story takes place in 1985 and follows the exploits of Kung Fury, a cop who is the Chosen One and Master of Kung Fu after his partner (who is like family to him) is killed by a Ninja and he is struck by lightning and bit by a cobra. From here he is asked to take leave from the Police department after he refuses to work his partner Triceracop but is pulled back in after a Time Traveling Hitler “Kung Führer” shoots up the police department to kill Kung Fury since he wants to be the Chosen One. From here Kung Fury must travel back in time to Nazi Germany defeat Hitler, but things don’t go as planned.

The Pros: The Action – The action is really tacky and great. Limps fly off, electricity destroys bodies and Kung Fury does actual Kung Fu to defeat his enemies.

The Cinematography – There is a lot of greenscreen since this film was built on Kickstarter but even with their limited affects they do a great job and they recreate the 80’s B Movie feel really well, which is why I am making it a plus. It knows exactly what it wants to be and does it.

The Soundtrack – Mitch Murder and Lost Years did a great job on the soundtrack as it is full of 80’s synth rock and the theme song is sung by David Hasselhoff. It is a really catchy song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTidn2dBYbY

The Ideas and Tropes – Viking Women who ride dinosaurs, Thor who is obsessed with his muscles, Hitler who does Kung Fu, Triceracop and all the Chosen One cliches…this is what makes the movie work though there really aren’t any memorable characters. It kicks off with the most common cop cliche and it is hilarious as his partner is like family to him and right after they have a heart to heart he is killed. We also see Hackerman resurrect Kung Fury when Fury is transported to Heaven which is an 80’s cartoon but comes back when he accuses his spirit animal of obstructing justice by not letting him return to life. Also there are Laser Raptors.

Mocking and Celebrating Cliches – His partner is killed which makes him a cop with a chip on his shoulder unable to trust until his friends come through to rescue him. Contrived circumstances make him the Chosen One. Nazi bad guys and Ninjas all over the place, also Vikings and Dinosaurs which are too very overused tropes from this era and in general. All of these were celebrated and critiqued in the process.

The Cons: Execution of Story – The film is a short film (only 30 minutes long) and because of this we know nothing about the characters. I put the tropes down as a plus but I still need character development, even in a comedy. I blame this mostly on the time constraints but this is still a con and keeps it from being “So bad it’s great.”

Sequelitis – The film is setup at the end where Hitler survives getting crushed by Thor after he joins Kung Fury in the fight against Nazi Germany. This was clearly to setup a sequel, which I’d be surprised if it happened. The film could have been a great stand alone without Hitler surviving and swearing revenge.

If you like comedies, 80’s films, Kung Fu films and deconstruction and celebration of tropes, check out this film! It is short and really enjoyable. It knows what it wanted to do and it did it. You won’t get to know the characters all that well, but you will still most likely have a very enjoyable experience.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Jupiter Ascending (2015): Convoluted, Pointless Action With an Annoying and Passive Protagonist

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       This film was not very good. It would have been okay as a made for television movie but the Wachowski Siblings really missed the mark with this one, which is a shame as “Cloud Atlas” was so amazing. There are a lot of reasons this film didn’t work, but for me the biggest problem is Jupiter is an extremely passive protagonist, the majority of the film is her getting saved so there is no point to her being the title character as Caine is the one doing all the action and in the end driving the plot, Jupiter is nothing more than a Space McGuffin and it’s really annoying.

      The film was directed by the Wachowskis who also produced and wrote it, and the other producer was Grant Hill.

     The story involves Jupiter (Mila Kunis) who is the reincarnation of the Queen of the most powerful family in the Universe. From here the story unfolds as she realizes her power and works with Caine (Channing Tatum) to stop her mother’s children of House Abrasax from taking her title and destroying the Earth.

The Pros: The Special Effects – The Special Effects are pretty cool and there was clearly a lot of creativity put into the alien and ship design, it’s a shame that same passion wasn’t given to the writing or the actors. This is one of the few pros of the film, it does look good.

Stinger – Sean Bean plays a character who doesn’t die! He is who Caine goes to for help as Stinger had stood up for him when Caine had gone feral as they are both hybrids. Stinger is half-bee so it means he was able to fly at one point (that feels so weird to write). His character works to protect his daughter and he betrays Jupiter at one point to get the cure for her, though of course he joins the final battle to help Caine save the day.

The Cons: The Characters – Besides Stinger no one had motivations that felt real, they all felt overly convoluted and not fully fleshed out. I didn’t understand why Caine was all wound up and why he was working for one of the Abrasax family members and Jupiter was just passive and obsessed with a telescope because her dad had been, that is her single character trait. The Braxis are all selfish kids with Mommy issues and the good characters are just there to drive the plot. It’s sad how much potential was lost here with this world, since it’s an original Space Opera, I wanted to like it.

Passive McGuffin Jupiter – Jupiter is saved nearly 3 times in the first 20 minutes of the film, the rest of the film is Caine getting her out of more situations since she is the McGuffin of the plot as her blood can protect the Earth. She does nothing on her own and all choices are forced on her, I hated it. She is special because of her blood since she is the reincarnation of the Mother of Abrasax and the heir but she does nothing with that power, everyone else tries to use that power which made me wonder why we just didn’t get the film from their perspective. Mila Kunis’s acting doesn’t help as she sounds bored or helpless the entire time.

The Action – Sometimes the action looks like it’s from a Michael Bay film, the camera pans and in unfocused so it is hard to know fully what’s going on except Caine is fighting some baddie and Jupiter needs to be saved, again.

House Abrasax – So they make money harvesting people to prolong life is what they are all about and they use other aliens as labor but there is never any reason for the aliens to follow them, the only ones we see using the the Human Fountain of Youth are Humans so there isn’t really any point to the other aliens being around or for them to follow House Abrasax. Also the sibling rivalry felt contrived and Eddie Redmayne’s character was really bad, he could have hammed it up so much more but he was just tired and weird.

  If you are looking for good original Sci. Fi. films like I was, don’t look here. A movie needs more than special effects to carry it and if you are going to name your movie after the title character, have her actually do something besides being rescued every 10 minutes. Suffice to say, I was not impressed with this film and do not recommend it at all. This is a very great leap down from “Cloud Atlas” and I hope the Wachowskis don’t have this be their final film, or they will be ending their legacy on a very poor note.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): Healing, Redemption and Actions That Matter in a World Gone Insane

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       “Fury Road” is beloved by the critics for so many reasons. This film is the second film I’ve reviewed for 2015 and it blew “Age of Ultron” out of the water, and most of the action films I have watched. Rarely do you see a film that manages to mix philosophy, character development and action so seamlessly and mastering the art of showing and not telling. There are moments where history is told in a glance and where you see the character relationships change from the circumstances around them. Suffice to say, it is amazing that after 30 years away from his Franchise that George Miller managed to create the best film from that world yet.

     The film was directed by George Miller who was also one of the writers and producers of the film. The other writers were Brendan McCarthy and Nico Loutharis while the other producers were Doug Mitchell and P.J. Voeten.

SPOILERS AHEAD

     The story involves the capture of Max (Tom Hardy) and him turning into a blood donor for one of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) War Boys Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He is pulled into a larger purpose and freedom when Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with the wives of Immortan Joe to bring them to freedom and the Green Place. From here and Nux must make a choice and rethink their beliefs as does Furiousa when she soon realizes that there might not be a safe place for them to return.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! The vehicles are shot like their are mobile homes and living creatures and they have life to them as people use them to protect and to attack and each vehicle has distinct personalities. From the spiky vehicles that belong to the Vultures, and the other factions that follow Immortan Joe. John Seale did a great job.

The Action – This is an action film and the action is seamless. We see this mostly through the eyes of Nux who soon realizes his God Immortan Joe who conditioned him since he was a child to worship him cares nothing for his well being and leaves him trapped on the War Rig. We see him fight off the vultures and he is the first to attack multiple times as well as rescued by Max (due to chaining max to himself for his blood and later by the wives). It is through his eyes we see the insane see more than death and destruction and each battle shows how he grows and changes into someone who is willing to risk all for the good. The action doesn’t stop until the end but gives moments of reflection too.

The Soundtrack – Junkie XL did a fantastic job on the soundtrack! It is classical meets heavy metal with the right moments for silence too, such as when Furiosa finds her childhood home gone and everyone she knew dead and the intensity of the action scenes as cars explode and War Boys leap between vehicles to get at the wives and destroy Furiosa, Nux and Max. The soundtrack like the action doesn’t let up until the end. Also the War Boy playing the electric guitar that spouted fire was worked seamlessly into the soundtrack as he was the one playing it and whatever affected the guitar and him affected the music.

The World – The world is rich in this and the most fleshed out compared to any prior film. There is Immortan Joe and the Citadel, the Canyon Bikers, the Vultures, Bullet Farmer’s faction, the Mothers and others. It is a rich world so much at stake where in a moment the rest of the world could be destroyed by the factions seeking to survive or to destroy one another. This post-apocalyptic world leaves no room for hope yet in it hope is created through the healing and redemption of Max, Furiosa, Nux and the Wives. Within this world we see the Mothers who worship life countered by Immortan Joe and his cult of death where his drugged out warriors are taught that if they die for him they will be celebrated in Valhalla and live again.

The Characters – The characters are all rich and distinct and wonderful to see on the screen. I can’t think of anyone who did a horrible job as each character fit their role well and what happened to them changed relationship dynamics between factions and people. Whether it was Max no longer being guarded or the wives giving them all hope as each sought healing in their own way, each of protagonists was distinct and our villains were memorable too from their design to their horrendous actions and power.

The Wives – Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) is the leader of the wives and the who risks her own life to save Furiosa and Max. This causes conflict among the others but we see she was the one to get Max first beyond himself as she was risking herself and her child to make a better future and stop Joe. This is later picked up by Toast (Zoe Kravitz) and Cheedo (Courtney Eaton) who take part in the battle and help Nux to heal and find peace beyond his cult conditioning. They also struggle against their own desperation and find mentors in Furiosa and the Mothers who with their help and them taking the fight to Joe become the leaders of the Citadel and free the slaves.

Immortan Joe – Joe is a monster. He has a harem of breeder wives who he rapes and who he sets his army on because he sees them as his property. He has a great design with skull like teeth and tubes covering his lower face and we see that he has bought what he has sold his people. He believes he is a God and sings praises for his lost son when Angharad is killed when defending the War Rig. He cares nothing for the wives or his people and everything is for his glory and pride. Hugh Keays-Byrne does a fantastic job and his character is much more threatening than Toecutter who he played in the first “Mad Max” film. He’s developed a lot as an actor and he’s working with a far superior script.

The Mothers – The Mothers are awesome and are the group that Furiosa is a part of, sadly the world is gone and is now a toxic swamp but the Mothers still keep the seeds and give the wives peace that they have never had. They also fight to take the Citadel, with Valkyrie (Megan Gale) and Keeper of the Seeds (Melissa Jaffer) dying in the process. They are powerful and badass figures, riding motorcycles and covered in bullets. They adapted to the world around them and didn’t fall when the Green Land fell.

Max – Tom Hardy owns this role. He is clearly Max and like Gibson before him is the outcast pulled into situations out of his control where he comes in and acts as a protector and finally gives into hope before disappearing. In this we see him deal with his trauma and PTSD as the wives comfort him and Furiosa shares and understands his loss as we see her despair at everything she lost when Joe kidnapped and destroyed her family. They are similar and help each other heal by protecting the wives and in turn empowering them to fight. Much like past films though Max does not stick around as when the Citadel is free and Furiosa and the Wives are the leaders he leaves to continue his fight as the Road Warrior.

Nux – Nux is a War Boy who is devoted to Joe until he fails in capturing the War Rig and Max escapes. From here has to rethink everything which the wives help him to do. From here he becomes a hero and helps free the truck and in the end risks his life so that Joe’s forces will not retake the citadel. Nicholas Hoult does an amazing job. I really liked him as Beast in “Days of Future Past” and “First Class” but he is even better in this. His character drives the story as his redemption shows that even the broken can become more than their conditioning and even the most hated can be loved.

Furiosa – Furiosa is the primary protagonist and Charlize Theron owns this role. She’s the badass with the robotic arm who can take on multiple people at once but is still human and vulnerable. We see her break down when she learns the crow infested swamp was where the Green Land once was and her resolve when Max reminds them of the water at the Citadel and that they can still fight for the Green Land that does exist without traversing the unknown Wasteland. She is the one who keeps Max accountable too and trusts him even when he is holding a gun to her head and acting paranoid. She helps him find his humanity and he in turn saves her life with his blood as she had saved him multiple times. In the ends she ascends as leader of the Citadel and through her killing of Joe frees all the slaves of the Citadel arriving as it’s conqueror with the Wives now also as leaders.

The Struggle for Equality – This movie is all about the struggle for equality. Women and children are things and tools for Joe and he only sees how he can use others. It is the rebellion against that with the wives fighting for a better place and Furiosa seeking revenge for the Green Land Joe destroyed that help bring about freedom for every man, woman and child. There is sacrifice along the way too as Valkyrie, The Keeper of the Seeds, Angharad and the men who first traveled with Furiosa fall to the barbarians ruled by Joe or by selfishness who make up the Wasteland.

Healing and Redemption – Healing and redemption and their possibility is a major message and theme of this movie too. Nux is a thug but he is also just a boy who changes when his “daddy” leaves him behind and he realizes he was nothing to the man he saw as God. The wives help him to heal and accept him by only killing in self defense and he in turn fights for them because of their acceptance of him. He even is able to form relationships and fight for others and see Max as a human, not just a blood donor. Max and Furiosa find it through their shared pain and in it find hope, the hope that the wives always remind them of and the future they fight for…the unborn who don’t have to live in the hopeless world created by the monsters like Joe.

     I’ll be very surprised if I see a better film than this one this year. The soundtrack, cinematography, action, characters, world and story were all perfect and had a point beyond just explosions and cars. There was philosophy intertwined in the action and the actions that happen change characters and made them grow. This is what I think of when I think of the perfect film. The message is timeless the characters are amazing with Immortan Joe, Furiosa and Max being truly timeless. I can’t wait to see what George Miller does with the rest of the series he has planned. He didn’t come back to this series for 30 years, but when he did he made something that was truly memorable, powerful and unforgettable. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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