1922 (2017): The Price of Toxic Entitlement

Netflix is the streaming service that is master of the great original shows and the okay to good movies. I have never seen a great movie on Netflix and this good film is a shining of example of a problem I see running through their films, and why they don’t reach that final point that I’ve seen come out of studio films. I’ll get into what I mean later on, as we continue Horror Week with “1922” a film adapted from a Stephen King book of the same name.

The film was written and directed by Zak Hilditch and produced by Ross M. Dinerstein and adapted from the Stephen King book of the same name.

The story involves a farmer named Wilfred (Thomas Jane) who plans to murder his wife in order to own the land and to do it with the help of his teenage son.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Visually it feels like you are inside a dark storybook and the visuals of the ghosts, especially his wife and later his son is haunting. There is great use of the shadows and light to imply danger and I couldn’t look away while watching. It is easily the best looking Netflix film I’ve watched. 

The Cost of Toxic Privilege – This is a film that tackles toxic privilege, specifically in regards to males and masculinity. We see this in how he cares nothing for his wife and her interests and how he immediately plans to kill her when she is moving on and planning to sell the land and move to the city. He gets his son in on it too as his son fears moving away from the girl he’s dating. In both cases both his son and Wilfred get what they want through violence and control. Wilfred kills his wife and his son is robbing stores around the state to take in order to keep being the the neighbor girl. They never see past themselves and no one questions his wife’s disappearance because a wife in the 1920s, “Is a man’s business.” You don’t question the husband. This is toxic privilege and male entitlement and it is the demon that leads to his Wilfred’s end.

The Tragedy of the James Family – The main arc of the story is how Wilfred’s act ruins the family. In killing his wife his son loses his guide and impregnates the neighbor girl who is 14 like him. Together they run away and he becomes a crook before finally dying as all this time his wife’s ghost haunts him and forces him to confess after he losing everything he loves. The act of selfishness and murder based on something as stupid as land are Wilfred’s undoing.

Okay: Wilfred James’s Motivation – Wilfred was a small time farmer and Thomas Jane portrays his “man of the land” mentality beautifully. The problem is I felt like the jump to killing his wife felt so contrived. I get that entitlement, greed and privilege were major motivators of the act but the steps it took him to get there didn’t feel concrete. We needed to see more of their relationship falling apart before he begins justifying what he plans to do.

The Cons: The Character Arc of the Son Henry – His son loves the neighbor girl, he is worried about losing her so he helps his father kill his mother…I know 14 is a stupid age but I never believed his motivation. The fact that the actor isn’t very good doesn’t help. He was easily the weakest part of the story and film.

Most Netflix films are very clear in their themes, have small casts and look great visually. These are all reasons that I appreciate this streaming service as I haven’t ran into too many outright terrible films to come out of Netflix. They also never reach that higher place, often because they fail to develop the motivations of their characters to the fullest degree. “1922” has an amazing cast but I could not tell you fully what the motivation of the son and father was behind the murder. I know what I was told, but it wasn’t explored enough to fully make the impact it should have had. If you like Stephen King, you will probably enjoy this film as I did, just know it could have been more.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

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The Dark Tower (2017): They Should Have Just Adapted the First Book

    It is possible to have a good or even great adaptation of a book or book series. This sadly is not one of them. I haven’t been this bored and dissapointed in a film since “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as that film as well had so much potential and so much amazing source material it was pulling from, only to end up on a list of films that I can’t stand and will offer ways to fix later (much like how I approached “Twilight”).

I have a bias (I loved the first book and am reading the rest of the series currently), but like I said before in regards to adaptations…it is possible to make a great adaptation of source material…”Atonement” succeeded, Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” succeeded and countless others. This one does not and for the non-spoiler reasons why, it had a bland protagonist, the world is boring and we aren’t given a chance to really know the leads, so even great performances by Elba and McConaughey can’t save the poorly written characters they are given. I’ll elaborate on my points further down in the review, suffice to say, save your money and go see something better.

“The Dark Tower” was directed by Nicolej Arcel who co-wrote it with a committee (4 writers wrote this script – Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and of Arcel himself).

The story follows Jake (Tom Taylor), a psychic boy who dreams about the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who seeks to tear down the Dark Tower and bring hell upon all worlds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Main Leads – The best part of this film is Idris Elba as the Gunslinger Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black Walter. Now the characters don’t have the complexity that they have in the first book, there isn’t the weight or history behind their actions and we never really know it. The story is from Jake’s perspective and that was the biggest mistakes this film could have made. Our leads are wonderful at working with what they are given, Elba is hardened and distant and McConaughey has a lot of fun hamming it up as the villain. He’s wonderfully sly and oily and it works well when he is on screen. Sadly they are trapped in a dull universe where neither character feels fully realized.

The Cons: Presentation of the World – The world is presented through our protagonists Jake’s eyes. He sees the Gunslinger’s dimension and the Man in Black in dreams before they finally arrive into his life when he is running from the Man in Black’s minions who want to use him as a weapon to bring down the Dark Tower. The special effects aren’t all that good and we hardly spend anytime in the Gunslinger’s post-apocalyptic world and instead spend most of it in our New York. Given how rich the Gunslinger’s world is and all the stories in it, this was a mistake. There is nothing special about New York in this beyond it having ways to dimension hop between worlds.

In the first book we only follow the Gunslinger and we get to know Roland’s past and how he lost everything as well as how his following the Man in Black has lead to him losing so many others, and that to defeat the Man in Black he’ll have to give up everything again. The book is a powerful story of loss and the Man in Black is more a subtle agent of chaos (resurrecting the dead, giving people riddles to drive them mad) and sadly you don’t get any of that in this. This world isn’t even apparent in this film, the only thing from the first book that is in any way similar is the wasteland being largely empty…but the mutants and mad people who make up the landscape are nowhere to be found in this film. Seriously, they should have adapted the first book and it could have been at least good. There is more than enough material to make it happen.

The Protagonist – Jake is such a worthless protagonist. Sadly the actor can’t act and his cliched family life is really uninteresting. His dad died and him mom got into another relationship but by the time the supernatural catches up with her Jake has moved on and adopted the Gunslinger as his new parent. I don’t remember him ever caring about her being at risk or what happened to her after the Man in Black is defeated. Apparently the writers couldn’t even care enough about their main character to care about mattered to him. Having a young protagonist is hard to do, “Harry Potter” pulled it off but it is one of the few stories outside of “Stranger Things” that has well written kids who drive the story. The protagonist should have been Roland the Gunslinger like in the first book. What a waste of a main character.

Story Structure – We get flashbacks through Jake’s dreams and after that is him running from the Man in Black and his forces through the film before the Gunslinger has to rescue him and after the story ends when he is saved. It is simple but surprisingly incoherent, thanks largely to how the dreams are interspersed through the story. This hurt any chance we had to care about any of the characters which is in the end the biggest reason why this film fails. We are never given a reason to care about anyone in this film.

As you can tell I didn’t enjoy this film. This is film I plan to come back to in the future and in it go over ways that could have saved this film and made it at least good…Just like what I plan to do with “Batman v Superman” when I eventually suffer through a re-watch. The actors in this deserved a so much better script as they are good with what little they are given, but good actors can’t save a poorly told story, and at the end of the day that is exactly what this is. Unless you want to do a hate-watch, don’t check out this film.

Final Score: 4 / 10.  2 points for Elba and 2 points for McConaughey.

 

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Season 1 – A Good Adaptation and What Should Have Been Done in the First Place

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     Netflix continues to create gold and we finally get the adaptation of this series we’ve been waiting for since “The End.” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket was one of my favorite books growing up. I read it through Middle School and High School and truly enjoyed how it never pretended to have a happy ending while being a brilliant satire of society and how easily it is that people are selfish or allow their flaws to overcome their better natures or ignorance. I won’t give anymore away but you truly should read the series, it is a fast read and brilliant Gothic Fiction.

      How the show does it is it breaks the books in to two episodes so I’m going to review each Book and give the final score based on how each of the individual books stood all together when their scores are measured against one another.

      This series was created by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfield. I’m surprised this came through given the flop that was the original film, but I’m grateful it did.

     The premise is the Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny are given to Count Olaf, an evil actor who wants to steal their fortune and will go to any means to do so after their parents are killed in a horrible fire.

SPOILERS ahead

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Book 1 – The Bad Beginning

  The first 2 parts feel just like the book. The dark tone is fully captured, you have the ally in the Judge played by Joan Cusack and we are introduced to Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) and his troup and Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket. The story is the darkest of the four this season except maybe “The Miserable Mill.” This is how these stories should be and solid acting on the part of the child stars who play the Baudelaires make this a solid episode as like in the book each of them have their chance to shine with Violet inventing, Klause’s knowledge saving her from having to marry Count Olaf. The only confusing bit are the bits with the Quigley Parents who early on seem to be implied to be the Baudelaire parents and nothing is done to show the audience this isn’t the case.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good. True to the book and doesn’t drag.

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Book 2 – The Reptile Room

   Aasif Mandvi is wonderful as Uncle Monty, and this is the first episode the really incorporate the Spy World in. The first story doesn’t but this one makes it relevant and gives us pieces for the Baudelaire’s to put together the mystery…be it from the connection to Peru, Monty’s spyglass and his connection to their parents. Olaf is threatening in this when he has his full squad and for the fact that he kills Uncle Monty, but sometimes the comedy is played a bit too hard and that keeps it from being a perfect episode as it makes the tone of the episode a little all over the place when Olaf and his troupe are in play. Olaf’s character of Stephano is pretty weak too and didn’t feel inhabited at all. The purposeful bad acting really came out in this character.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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Book 3 – The Wide Window

   “The Wide Window” is the story that drags the most, both in comparison to these four stories and in the show as well. Aunt Josephine is never given the chance to do much, though Alfre Woodward is a favorite actress (Mariah from “Luke Cage”) so it is a shame the adaptation didn’t do more with her character. She introduces the Baudelaire’s to code like in the books and like the books is overwhelmed by fear. Count Olaf’s Captain Sham is fantastic and the threat and charm of his character never goes away (unlike the zero of both that were in Stephano). He is the strongest part of this episode besides the Baudelaire’s taking their agency into their own hands and seeking to solve the riddles as well as running away from Poe at the end so they can learn what happened to their parents and how they connect to Lucky-Smells Lumber Mill.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Neil Patrick Harris carries this episode.

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Book 4 – The Miserable Mill

      Up to this point, Shirley is the most threatening character of Count Olaf’s, largely because he has help from Dr. Orwell (Catherine O’Hara) who controls the workers by hypnotizing them. This creates an aura of threat around the mill as all of them are prisoners and Count Olaf is friends with the one with all the power and Klaus being controlled by Orwell and Olaf. Sir is just greedy and only cares about money and lets the corruption occur as he profits from the control of his workers and the Baudelaires. Thankfully he is chased away by his workers when the hypnotic trance is broken, which gives his partner Charles to give the children the article that shows that their parents saved the Mill and the town from being entirely burned down. This was the darkest episode besides the first story and returns to that same charm. I really enjoyed Count Olaf’s Shirley as a character too, as well as Count Olaf’s jealousy of Orwell for succeeding in villainy while he is still only striving to fully succeed. This is where we see the Parents reveal of them not being the Baudelaire’s or in the same time and place showing that all our heroes have to count on, is one another. This is where the Baudelaire’s courage finally pays off and luckily the next season sets up them meeting allies at the boarding school that Mr. Poe leaves them at at the end.

Final Score: 9 / 10

     This is a series that should have never been done as a film. There is far too much material to cover and it is hard to slim it down while still honoring the source material. The original film did not and though I liked some things about it, it was not like this. This is a perfect adaptation and the only flaws it has are those that exist in the source material itself. Excited for Season 2 and am looking forward to “The Penultimate Peril” and “The End,” as this is one of those series that has one of the endings I was greatly impressed with growing up. Lemony Snicket giving us his thoughts as narrator is powerful too and Warburton gives us a powerful, comedic and somber performance through the narrative. The side characters were cast extremely well as are the three actors who play the orphans. The only thing that really brings the series down is the tone sometimes has extreme shifts and the source material really didn’t give us much to go off originally and this is true to that source material so is bound by those same limitations. We get tiny answers but most of it is mystery and grey….which has potential depending on how they handle the mystery and reveals. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this series to any lover of the books as I am or if you are just looking for another amazing Netflix series.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10