Darkman (1990): A Masterpiece Exploring the Transformative Nature of Revenge

Darkman

    “Darkman” is a fantastic film and really gave me a huge appreciation for Sam Raimi’s work outside of the first two “Spider-man” films. This is a film that has depth to it’s characters, fascinating villains and a protagonist who is one of the more original to be created in fiction. Darkman is a character who changes over the course of the film and his creation is tragic, which lends strength to the story’s narrative and kept me watching.

     Sam Raimi directed the film and wrote it along with Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin. It was produced by Robert Tapert.

    The story involves Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) who is scarred when Durant (Larry Drake) the mobster attacks his lab to steal a document his girlfriend Julie (Francis McDarmond) was planning to use to explore city corruption. He survives the experience and goes underground becoming Darkman and seeking revenge against the mobsters who killed his assistant and scarred him.

The Pros: The World – The world reminds me of Gotham with there always be darkness and smoke over everything and the mob being in bed with big business as they pretty much do a takeover of the city. It makes sense why Darkman isn’t an idealistic hero, this city has no room for idealism.

The Transformation – The transformation is dark and powerful as Peyton is dropped into a vat, has his arms burned and loses his ability to touch. This leads to him getting super strength and also making him mad.

The Cinematography – Bill Pope did an amazing job on the cinematography. The scenes are clear and there is great use of shadows and light to give the tone of the world and our characters. This is a dying city.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman did a fantastic job on this soundtrack! His haunting score captures the horror of what Peyton Westlake goes through and captures how his desire for hate and revenge transforms him.

The Characters – The characters are all solid and have reason behind what they do, even the villains who would be lesser under different direction and actors.

Louis Strack Jr. – Is the corrupt billionare who wants to rebuild the city with the stolen money from the mob. He’s ambitious and was a man who came from nothing. He is also smart too and figures out when Darkman has taken the identity of Durant to get close to him and to rescue his girlfriend. He is tough to beat and his words about Westlake losing himself are proven correct. Colin Friels did a good job.

Robert Durant – Durant is the mobster who has a pretty great team. He works for Strack and is the man who nearly kills Darkman on multiple occasions, once when he is still Westlake and he kills Westlake’s assistant, the second when he targets Darkman’s hideout. Larry Drake was great.

Durant’s Minions – The minions are a lot of fun. One of them is a curly haired nerd, another has an artificial leg that works as a machine gun (and is used to kill a rival gang at the beginning) there is the muscle who looks like the Kingpin and the brains who survives until the end.

Julie Hastings – Frances McDormand is awesome! I really liked her in this where we see her see past Westlake’s appearance even when he can’t…and the fact that she was the one trying to reveal the corruption in the city. She’s a great character and I wanted to see more of her in action.

Peyton Westlake/Darkman – Liam Neeson is a wonderful hero. As Westlake he plays an eccentric mad scientist who is a strong empath and who loses all of that when he is burned making him a man who lives only for revenge. He is lost in it even as he is able to get his face back due to him being a scientist creating artificial skin…in the end that can’t change how his actions of revenge against Durant and Strack have changed him. In the end he becomes Bruce Campbell and disappears into the crowd knowing he can only be the avenger as his humanity is lost.

How Revenge Transforms – In the beginning Westlake is holding onto who he once was, but when he goes to Hastings in the pouring rain she runs away and fear and he sees his appearance and blames that and not the fact that he couldn’t speak, from here he seeks revenge and we see how the manipulation and his anger come to consume him to the point that he reacts at a a Carnival and attacks a man, which later leads to him going underground as he fears what his anger will make him do to good people like Julie.

   There really isn’t much that can be said that this film does wrong. It has a unique feel and flavor to it, our characters change over time and have to make choices that advance the plot, and in the end it sticks to the tragic tone as Westlake is forever alone when he realizes the person he has become is a danger to everyone. The only reason I didn’t give it 10 is I wish Strack had been less slimey and that we’d gotten more time with Julie doing her job before the transformation. Regardless, I highly recommend it and find it to be one of the best superhero films I have ever watched. I am going to be checking out more of Raimi’s work later. I really like his style.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

The World’s End (2013): Alien Invasion Meets “Hangover” Meets the Apocalypse

The World's End

    “The World’s End” is better on a second viewing but is not as good as “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz.” It’s a film that has too many similarities to the party comedies like “Hangover” and comes off weaker because of it, the arcs are also less apparent in many cases which hurts the overall story and there are a few other issues too I’ll get into further in the review, though I do still recommend this film and consider it good. It isn’t bad, I don’t think Wright and Pegg together are capable of creating a bad film.

   Being the 3rd film in The Cornetto Trilogy the film was directed by Edgar Wright and who also co-wrote the film with Simon Pegg and produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

     The film involves Gary King (Simon Pegg) getting his old childhood friends together to finish “The Golden Mile” where they hit up all the pubs in Newton Haven but conflict occurs when all of them have grown up while Gary is still the same Gary and soon they realize the unchanged town is more than it appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – Bill Pope does a wonderful job on the cinematography creating a picture perfect image of the town and later a sci. fi. nightmare when the alien invasion is revealed.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has lots of great rock and is good at capturing the mixed perspective of our drunk protagonists as well as the rising tension as the aliens slowly close in around them. Steven Price did a great job.

The Characters – The main characters are still great, and even a few of the minor characters even if they don’t have the same level of depth and comedy of the minor characters in other films.

Basil – David Bradley is back as the conspiracy theorist and one of the few people who doesn’t get turned into a blank by the network. He does a great job as the clearly mad man who in this instance happens to be right.

Oliver – Oliver is the guy who is all business and whose sister tends to be the but of jokes. Martin Freeman is awkward and does a great job as the one who is mostly doing things out of obligation. When he is turned into a blank (an android) he still keeps his personality as a Realtor after the world ends at the end of the film.

Steven – Paddy Considine plays the one good guy of the group whose arc is finally falling in love and starting a life with Sam as he shows that he is the most mature person of the group. He was a good minor character.

Sam – Rosamund Pike is awesome! In this she is great at setting boundaries with characters and also is able to find happiness and to save the guys when they are living their idiocy of the pub crawl as the Network slowly kills and replaces them with Blanks. She like Steven is one of the few mature characters.

Andy – Andy is Gary’s former best friend and played by Nick Frost. For him it is standing up to Gary and them resolving their issues with one another as Andy becomes the most hardcore drunk once the alien invasion is in full swing and is their biggest threat. In the end he becomes a child again but finds himself as the storyteller and friends again with Gary though he loses Gary after the World and Newton Haven are destroyed leaving an apocalyptic wasteland.

Gary King – Simon Pegg is great as the friend who is an ass and assumes privilege over everyone. His arc is realizing that he really is a mess up and it is at the end of the world that he finds his place in the world as a man fighting for the Blanks who are recreations of his childhood friends as they wander the wasteland together. He also no longer drinks as the end of the world solved his drinking problem. A better film would have been their adventures in the Wasteland not the “Hangover” type Satire that we got.

The Blanks – The Blanks are androids/robots until the end when they come into their own and deal with discrimination from the populace. Them as a sect of the people is wonderful to see and deal with and I wish they had received more development.

The Message – The message is to choose to be free and not conform even if the rest of culture sees you as a loser. To some degree I think this makes sense, at least in the political sense when dealing with fascism and control…but eventually you have to grow up as it seems Gary King does as he is a good survivor after the end.

Okay: The Satire – I never felt the films like “Hangover” were being fully satired, it was almost like celebration at times and the alien invasion story that was “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Day the Earth Stood Still”esque fell apart due to the Network being such a weak villain and idea. The satire was sill there and decent but the fact that it wasn’t as clear as “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” was obvious, also at the end of the day this film was just less funny.

The Cons: The Network – Villain that replaces people with robots blind to it’s will and apparently it part of a larger collective of aliens? The proposal struck me as full of crap and a okay satire of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” where a fascist alien collective wants to raise humanity up but sees they are too ruled by fear. Same deal here with the Network but it replaces those who don’t conform. So glad it left. Poor villain which brought down the script and story.

The Drunk Film Tropes – The guy who doesn’t drink gets drunk, Gary can’t remember anything, drunk man confesses feeling and gets the girl (Steven and Sam) and drunk man becomes a hero (Gary and Andy). These tropes are tired and they weren’t pulled off creatively at all.

   This is the weakest of the Trilogy but is a lot of fun on a second viewing. It is truly a good but not great film and it is not a favorite by any stretch of the imagination, but it is still a good film. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are geniuses at their craft and really, I’d so far recommend anything they’ve worked on and this film is no exception…with it’s flaws and all.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): A Hilarious and Amazing Story of Growing Up and Nostalgia

Scott Pilgrim vs the World poster        We end the First Comedy Week with “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” I am glad I ended Comedy Week with this film as it was one of my favorite prior and it still holds up, though I did notice problems that I hadn’t before…and gained an appreciation for things that I hadn’t noticed when watching it the first time. It is definitely a cult classic for a reason.

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” was directed by Edgar Wright who also co-wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers on the film. The other writer was Michael Bacall and produced by Mark Platt, Eric Gitter and Nira Park. The film is based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

The premise of the story is that Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a guy in a band called Sex Bob-omb who is getting out of a bad breakup and is dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) to deal. Things change when he falls for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) though and he soon finds himself pulled into events out of his control as Ramona’s 7 Evil Exes fight him to be with her.

The Pros: The Cinematography – “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a very stylistic film and made all the more enjoyable because of it. It creates the feel of a fighting game in certain situations where Scott is facing Ramona’s exes and the visual style of different areas looks like the levels on a videogame. It is really well done and Bill Pope did an amazing job.

The Soundtrack – The indie rock music of this soundtrack is something I could not tire of. There is a lot of variety  and some great covers of songs like Envy Adams’s cover of “Black Sheep” that was originally by Metric. The music is so much fun and adds to the comedic fun and great action of the film. Nigel Godrich did a fantastic job!

The Fights – There are so many great fights in this film. From the first ex who flies into the Battle of the Bands to challenge Scott Pilgrim in which they fight each other Street Fight style as the ex Matthew can shoot fireballs out of his hands. There is Lucas Lee who fights Scott in the style of “Beat um Up” as he’s an action star (played by Chris Evans hilariously), there is a weapons fight done “Soul Edge” style between Ramona (who has  giant hammer) and her ex Roxy who has a chain whip, there is the vegan ex named Todd who has telekinetic powers and has a Bass fight with Scott, the Twins versus Sex Bob-omb who create monsters with their music that fight and the final battle where Knives and Scott face off against Gideon, the final boss who they are only able to take on after being upgraded.

The Comedy – The comedy in this film is solid. Every character is sarcastic or oblivious in some way which creates some create contextual humor or awkward scenes…like the moments Scott is done fighting but the exes aren’t and keep forcing him to act and his extreme annoyance at all and any scene with his gay roommate Wallace is hilarious as he is not interested at all in Scott’s women problems and is there holding him accountable the entire time. The exes all have very distinct personalities too, as due all the members of Sex Bob-omb.

The Characters – This is a great character film as it explores so many characters and most of them get exploration and have personality, except for the Japanese twins sadly, but everyone else is really interesting and complicated.

Envy Adams – Envy Adams is an interesting character as we never know if she got over Scott as she’s never able to connect with him and seems jealous when he is dating Ramona. She does care about her current boyfriend Todd though, even with him being an ex of Ramona’s and wanting to be with Ramona. Her and Scott resolve some of their baggage with each other after the fight with Todd though as they recognize how they hurt each other. Brie Larson is fantastic.

Stacey Pilgrim – Anna Kendrick does a wonderful job as Scott’s sister who has a much clearer head than Scott, though all the boys she dates end up falling for Wallace instead. Her and Wallace are super close and text each other everything. She is also there at the end to remind Scott of why he is fighting which leads to the final boss battle against Gideon as she reminds Scott that he clearly cares about Ramona and has been fighting for this entire time.

Wallace Wells – Wallace is the funniest character in the film and has a bunch of different partners through the film. He also speaks the most bluntly to Scott and keeps him accountable and has his back when Gideon calls Scott to gloat leading to the final fight. Kieran Culkin does a good job in the role.

Sex Bob-omb – The interaction between band members is hilarious and they all have distinct personalities which leads to some great moments of conflict that are both big and small…mostly related to Scott.

Stephen Sills – Stephen is the reason the band exists in the first place and the singer of the band who sets them up with concerts. He is an interesting character as his drive is to make the band famous as it his life. At times this is greater than his support of Scott which adds for interesting drama and to Young Neil eventually replacing Scott as the bassist. Mark Webber is great in this role.

Young Neil – Young Neil is a quiet character who is talented and is quiet shy but is a good friend still and ends up becoming the new bassist in Sex Bob-omb.

Kim Pine – Kim is the best character in the band who was burned by Scott once so is blunt with him when he is a dick to others and selfish. There is eventually healing there as Scott apologizes in regards to how he hurt her before which leads to her using the band to help in the fight against Gideon. Alison Pill is hilarious in this role with her sarcastic way of speaking.

5 of the 7 Evil Exes – 5 of the 7 exes have stark personalities that make them fun to watch as they are all sociopathic in different ways and clearly deserve the evil label that they chose.

Matthew Patel – The guy is the fist ex we meet and introduces their theme of being overdramatic. He is also magical as he studied magic and can cast fire balls and has an army of hipster demons with him. His stereotype is the hipster but he is able to get beyond it in his study of magic and the fact that he actually cares and fights pretty hard even though Scott outmatches him. Satya Bahbha is really funny in this role.

Lucas Lee – Chris Evans (Captain America) plays an evil ex. The last time I saw this was before “Winter Soldier” so realizing it was him this time gave me so much appreciation for his acting range. In this he is a Captain Hammer type character who is an action hero in film and sets his stunt team on Scott. He eventually is beaten though, though he puts up one of the best fights.

Todd Ingram – Todd is the vegan who is beaten when he is tricked into drinking coffee with half and half rather than Soy as Scott thinks really hard about putting Soy in the one he gives him. His character is the weakest of the best of the exes since he is mostly there for Envy and Scott to reach some sort of resolution. Brandon Routh is still fun though.

Roxy Richter – Roxy is the passionate lesbian who fights Scott on two occasions. In the end she is defeated by the two of them when her anger consumers her and she wants no one to have Ramona. She has one of the best battles as she uses this awesome chain whip in all of her fights. Mae Whitman is fantastic!

Gideon Graves – Gideon is the mad scientist of the group and also the G-Man who owns the record label that buys out Sex Bob-omb. He is kind on the outside but the most cruel as he only cares about Ramona after she leaves and after only likes her cause he can fully control her with a chip he created. He is the most difficult of the bosses and kills Scott, forcing Scott to use an extra life. It also takes Scott, Ramona and Knives together to defeat him. Jason Schwartzman is wonderful in this role.

Ramona Flowers – Ramona is a character I wish had more agency. She did dump all the exes but in the end it doesn’t matter as they can still be with her and still control her to a degree and that makes it so she can’t communicate all that well. She is a good character though and you get her mystery as she’s been burned a lot by past relationships and the outsider in every place she’s lived. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great.

Scott Pilgrim – This is my favorite role I’ve seen Michael Cera play…he starts out as a major dick (cheating on Knives and Ramona) but eventually becomes a decent guy and even makes friends with Dark Scott who is the final boss showing that he is at peace with himself and no longer insecure. His insecurity throughout the film leads to him being just as destructive as Ramona towards the people around him.

Knives  Chau – Knives is the 17 year old who Scott is dating who in the end is probably the most mature person in the film as she notices that Scott has been fighting for Ramona the entire time and knows he doesn’t like her the same way. This leads them both moving on peacefully and remaining friends. She’s also badass and is a big reason that Gideon gets defeated in the final battle. Ellen Wong is really talented.

The Message – The message is personal accountability and to fight for what you value. We see this in how Scott grows up and in the ending when he fights to be with Ramona by starting over again with her as they leave Toronto together. I wish this could have been explored more though as the exes could have better represented that lack of accountability rather than simple narcissism and ego.

Okay: Ramona’s Agency – One thing that bothered me in the film is how the exes are seeking to take away Ramona’s agency and how that is never dealt with…the only times I saw it as actually being faced is when Ramona faces Roxy (but she can’t beat her because the rules of the game don’t let her) and at the very end when she puts the chip that was controlling her onto Gideon. She never gets the chance to fully stand up to him though as Knives and Scott fight the battle that she should have been a bigger part of (since we know she can fight, we saw it with Roxy). I also hated how excuses were made for the exes and for Scott’s bad behavior.

The Cons: The Twins – They don’t speak, they have no personality and the most that can be said is they make good music and created dragons. This isn’t a pro, since they don’t function as characters, just as point boost for Scott Pilgrim.

Even with the problem of the twins development and the matter of Ramona’s agency this film is by far one of the best comedies I have seen. It’s hilarious, the action is great and it has a point as the message is one of personal responsibility and growing up. Edgar Wright put a lot of love into this film and he is a great comedic director as seen by his past work “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.” If anything this film just made me want to see more of his work. If you ever liked videogames, especially the old beat um up games, fighting games or Nintendo games…chances are you will love this film. It’s one I highly recommend and a perfect end to the First Comedy Week.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.