Bright (2017): Good Ideas Trapped in a B Movie

“Bright” is a film that is built on a wonderful idea. Take Tolkien fantasy and make it the modern day world…from here the story tells itself and it is that core idea that keeps the film from ever being bad, even though some of the writing doesn’t work at all. David Ayer also worked on “Suicide Squad,” and I honestly enjoyed this film more as the action and editing are much more solidly done and even though there are many holes in the universe in regards to magic and lore…it never stops being fun or forget what drives the core characters. This is a film that has been panned by critics and honestly doesn’t deserve the hate. I’ll explain more on why, deeper into the review.

“Bright” was directed by David Ayer (who was also one of the producers), written by Max Landis and produced by Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless.

The story takes place in a world where an ancient Dark Lord was defeated and 2000 years later on modern day Earth, humans, orcs, elves and the other 9 races live together in a separate class structure, with the Elves as upper class, humans in the middle and Orcs as the disenfranchised outsiders. The story follows human LAPD cop Daryl Ward and the first orc cop Nick Jakboy as they investigate a mysterious cult tied to the ancient Dark Lord defeated long ago.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing, take a Tolkien level backstory with the whole 9 races and the defeat of a Dark Lord (who it implies as an elf) and now it is modern day and how the war went defined the class structure of the realm with orcs being lower class for having served the Dark Lord years ago. There cultures are really unique too, humanity is basically us but the orcs have blood honor and getting blooded as earning respect, elves are tied to magic and own the government but also have a cult tied to the Dark Lord…and there are 6 other races we learn nothing about.

The Action – This is a good action movie. Even in dark scenes you can see which people are fighting and there is constant tension that drives each scene as we have the build up post Daryl surviving getting shot by an orc. I was never bored during this scene, essentially it didn’t have the Sorceress fight from “Suicide Squad.”

Fantasy Races as an Analogy for Race and Class – Orcs live in the poor areas and the only rich orcs we see tend to be gangsters, humans walk between the different areas and there are elf only areas of town. The analogy for racism is obvious and it works, from “Orc Lives Matter,” and the graffiti in the opening…this is a movie that has a deep under current that it doesn’t need to do much to explore as the story tells itself in regards to the clash between orcs, humans and elves.

The Main Three Characters – The main reason this film isn’t awful are the three main characters have arcs that work. Each of them has changed by the end of the story and that is what I’ll go into in their individual character profiles.

Daryl Ward – Daryl is played by Will Smith and is a family man who was once admired by the LAPD but messed up later on, which is why the force put him with the first orc police officer. His arc is overcoming his prejudice and by the end he discovers he is a Bright (someone who can wield magic wands and magic) and considers Nick his partner as he discovers just how bad orcs have it and grows as a cop and person.

Nick Jakoby – Nick’s arc is embracing his role as a cop and finding a wider role in his people as when Tikka (the elf who escaped the Dark Lord cult with a wand) resurrects him after a orc gang leader kills him he is seen as their savior. His arc is learning to trust Daryl and finding his place in the force and his partner. It is really well done and I loved how earnest his character is. Edgerton did a good job in the role.

Tikka – Tikka is the Bright elf who escapes the cult she is a part of and steals the cult leader (Leilah’s) wand in the process. She is a damsel through a lot of it, which I hated, but once it is revealed to have been a ruse it is fantastic as she both resurrects Nick and saves Daryl quite a few times. She is presumed did until Daryl spots her at the end, though whether this is her or the return of the Dark Lord or something else, is left up to the sequel.

Okay: Leilah and her Cult – The cult is threatening and it is cool seeing elves fight with magic and daggers and Noomi Rapace is fun as Leilah, but her and the cult get almost no exploration. This was a shame as she and the other actors are in it are talented people…but we never got their motivation or learned anything new about the Dark Lord.

Magic Task Force – This is the FBI who arrive at the very end and cover up the events with the cult. They are lead by an elf who has a huge issue with the cultists and sees them as embarrassing to elves. He is compelling but we never get his motivation either, and the Magic Task Force is mostly useless though they work as a plot device.

The Writing – There are gaping holes in the lore and some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy. I’m not putting this as a con because sometimes it works and the world does feel lived in. But it isn’t a pro and does bring down the overall quality of the film.

The Cons: Predictability – The biggest con is predictability, I knew Nick would be brought back to life, I knew that Daryl would end up being a bright and I knew they’d have to learn to work together. I could have used a lot more twists than just corrupt cops and Tikka just pretending to need to be rescued.

Holes in the World – Who are the 9 races? We see some random ones but know nothing about them and their roles, how does magic work? Who created the wands? How did this world become as it was in the present? These are just some of the questions that keep the film from being great as the fact it isn’t fully fleshed out is the biggest detriment to the story.

This is a movie that aspired for greatness and because it did, managed to be overall enjoyable, even with the flaws. “Bright 2” has already been slated and I can’t wait to see what they do with this universe as we know nothing about the other 6 races, nothing about the Dark Lord and even how magic works. If these questions had been answered than this would have been a really good film. I still recommend this one though, it isn’t perfect, but it is a lot of fun and it is a universe I can’t wait to return back to. This is a total B movie, largely because of some of the hokey dialogue and the plot holes but it is worth seeing once.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

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Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) – An Amazing Subversion of Expectations

   “The Last Jedi” is my second favorite Star Wars film. This is a series that is second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” and in many ways has greater depth even though the structure of this film is a bit of a mess. What this film does though is upset the status quo, delve into the reasons the First Order and Resistance have for even existing in the first place and also a much deeper analysis of “The Force” that we haven’t really gotten since the Original Trilogy. Before I get into spoilers, this is a film with the best characters and themes thus far, amazing character development and emotional payoff, amazing action and it is easily the most beautiful of all the Star Wars films. Seriously, check it out.

The film was directed and written by Rian Johnson while being produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman.

The story involves the Resistance attempting to escape from the First Order who are attacking them after the destruction of Starkiller Base, while Rey is seeking Luke’s help in their fight. Things soon get more complicated when the First Order executes a trap that forces members the Resistance to seek outside help  to escape the First Order trap, and a clash within the Resistance itself between Poe and Vice-Admiral Holdo after General Leia is incapacitated.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is visually the best looking of any film in the Star Wars franchise. Whether it is the filming of fight sequences in space or within a ship…the camera executes the action beautifully and each planet was somewhere I wanted to return back to after it was done.

The Universe – This Star Wars has quite a few different environments and animals. From the adorable porgs, to crystal foxes, to the salt world of Crait, Luke’s Island and Snoke’s Flagship and a Casino World. I was never bored because there was always more to see as each environment was so rich.

The Reason for Resistance – One of the major themes of the film is the reasons to resist. We see this as a class struggle in regards to oppression through the eyes of kids and Rose, a character we are introduced in this film…and also that personal identity is a huge role too and that finding the balance between them is important. Poe is driven by ego and glory for much of what he does but comes to see that it is bigger than each fight, the war is larger than any one person as the individuals and groups define what it means to resist, just as much as if not more than the personal reasons to fight.

The Cost of War – So many people die in this film. There are lots of heroic sacrifices, but also the people who are being oppressed by those profiting from the war, the deaths of so many soldiers on both sides who die. You feel that in this and it does a good job humanizing both the Resistance and the First Order. War is hell and sometimes no one wins, this film captures that theme beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. This film is all about relationships between characters, be it Leia and Poe, Rose and Finn, Kylo and Rey or Luke and Rey. Each relationship gets developed over the course of the film and reveals layers to the characters that didn’t exist in “The Force Awakens.”

Vice Admiral Holdo – Holdo is a character who has got a lot of crap from the fanbase, but she was one of my favorite characters in the film. She was respected for winning in the past but Poe doesn’t get that. She is presented as an antagonist through a good portion of the film, and the payoff of who she actually is and what she is doing is great.

Rose and Finn – It is through these characters that we get to see another face of the Resistance and why they fight. Finn is originally a part because of his friends and is even willing to leave in order to protect Rey but Rose reminds him of the bigger picture and that at the core they exist to fight oppression. It is handled on the casino world and seeing their friendship bloom was one of the more memorable parts of this film.

Master Luke Skywalker – Luke is done with everything. Like before in the Original Trilogy guilt defines him and it is mistake that helped lead to Kylo Ren’s creation and that guilt is something he carries with him and resists until the end. He is wanting to destroy the Jedi order and die as the last Jedi until Rey helps him realize there is so much more that he’s forgotten and that he can still make a difference and change things. Mark Hamill is fantastic.

General Leia Organa – I miss Carrie Fisher. It was great seeing her in this, her whole drive is survival and protecting the Resistance from the First Order. She is the mentor who is there to remind the young folks there is a time and place for glory but you have to work to keep everyone alive, or there won’t be anyone else left to fight. This was my favorite presentation of her besides “Empire Strikes Back” and I’ll miss her in these films, now that she’s gone.

Rey and Kylo Ren – One of the core relationships is that between Kylo and Rey both of who are alone and seeking more beyond the old order as so much of who they were was tied to the legends of the past. They are connected but still adversaries and it is great relationship to see explored as Ren becomes more confident and much more of a bully and Rey finds an identity outside of her parents and her expectations of Luke and the Jedi.

Subverting Expectations – If you go in expecting “The Empire Strikes Back” or another version of “Return of the Jedi” or “A New Hope” prepare to be surprised. This is a film where most things don’t work out for any characters. Things change, both in the First Order and the Resistance in regards to their identities…but it doesn’t repeat the cycle. We get away from The Ring Cycle a bit here and from that “Star Wars” seems to finally be developing it’s own identity outside of the past. We also see The Force not being tied to bloodlines and the fantasy feel of the past films and midichlorians are implied to no longer be a factor (Rey’s background and the last scene of the film). I loved that, this is no longer the Skywalker show, Star Wars has to be bigger than one family drama and I can’t wait to see where the series goes.

Everybody Loses – Poe finds out he was wrong, Rose and Finn get betrayed, Rey isn’t able to turn Kylo Ren and even the Resistance only barely survives. The First Order isn’t in great shape either after the events that take place and it is going to be transforming further or it will collapse. That is powerful and with it we see the most potential for change both within the Resistance and the First Order. They’ve lost too much to remain static.

Okay: Welcome to the Casino / Side Quest – This first point is related to the second point, there is a side plot on a casino world in order for Rose and Finn to get a code breaker in order to break onto Snokes’s ship so that they shutdown the Empire’s ability to track the Resistance’s fleet. It explores the meaning of the Resistance so I’m not putting it as a total negative but it could have been shorter and achieved the same purpose in the plot, and I would have traded a few Finn and Rose scenes for more scenes with the codebreaker played by Del Toro named DJ. He is fun.

Structure and Clutter – The greatest issue with this film for me was the structure and how cluttered some of the different plots are. It wasn’t bad, I saw this film twice but it does feel long during some of the side tangents. The overall story and themes greatly overwhelm this in quality though and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

This is probably going to be in my Top 5 films at the end of the year. This is a film I’ve watched twice and is easily the most fun I’ve had at a film this year since “Baby Driver.” I can’t wait to see where things go after this film as it upsets so much of the status quo. I am a guy who loves the original Extended Universe and I always will, but I’m glad they didn’t repeat it (and I still enjoy it as another timeline of Star Wars). By the time of “The Force Awakens” I was done with the Skywalker drama, predictability will kill this franchise as so many of the problems that plagued the Prequels was the lazy recycling of the Original Trilogy. This film is strange, different, takes chances and changes things and honestly, it is the only way Star Wars can grow beyond the corner it was written in to. Here is to Disney embracing that change and giving us more great stories like this film.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Second best Star Wars film thus far.

 

The Hounds of Baskerville (1959): Hammer’s Good Adaptation of a Classic

The Hound of the Baskervilles

     Hammer pulled off a pretty good “Sherlock Holmes” adaptation! What certainly helped was having Sir Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville and Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, but it wasn’t simply this either. This was one of the early color films and their use of cinematography creates very powerful images that drive the story.

     The film was directed by Terrance Fisher, written by Peter Bryan and produced by Anthony Hinds, Anthony Nelson Keys and Kenneth Hyman.

  The story involves Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and Dr. Watson (Andre Morell) being asked to come to the Baskerville Manor to protect Henry Baskerville (Sir Christopher Lee) and solve the mystery of the Hound of Baskerville and the Curse of the Baskervilles as they have been slowly killed off under mysterious circumstances.

The Pros: Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and I think this is reason this version of the story received critical acclaim. It is one of the earliest color films and this is used to create beautiful color contrasts, especially with the use of red in regards to blood or murders.

The Prologue – The prologue is haunting and realizes that the Baskervilles were people high on their privilege who used it to rape and beat those on their land…which bread resentment leading to the final end of what we see in the modern day. The scenes are haunting and beautiful as this is where we see the Baskerville’s on in red symbolizing their lust and hedonism.

Henry Baskerville – Christopher Lee is fantastic as this character who just wants to do the right thing! He is the guy trying to set things right and get away from what his ancestors have done. To this end he helps those on his land and we see him very aware of other people. This also makes him susceptible when the Stapletons exploit this to try and kill him so they can get the fortune as their as Baskerville bastards.

The Stapletons – Cecile the daughter is the one who almost kills Henry to get revenge on what was done to her ancestors by the Baskervilles of the past and her father is in on it too. They have a dog they have made feral that they set on Henry but are killed when Watson and Sherlock stop them and Cecile falls into one of the sink holes in the moor.

Sherlock Holmes – Peter Cushing is amazing at Sherlock Holmes! His is a very sharp and cold Holmes and one who is very much the manipulator…this is perfect as he plays up Sherlock’s detachment and skepticism making a very enjoyable performance. Cushing truly owns this role and is a big reason besides Lee why I enjoyed this film so much.

Okay: Dr. Watson – Watson is alright and he does have a great voice but he also is just kind of there. Andre Morell isn’t memorable and so far the only memorable Watsons have been Lucy Liu as Joan and Martin Freeman in “Sherlock.”

The Minor Characters – Henry’s friend is unmemorable as are a lot of the other characters who aren’t Stapletons…which is a shame as the world could have got fleshed out a lot more.

The Cons: The Soundtrack – It is very Hammer (horrorish in the classic sense) and just doesn’t work. I would have preferred they do something more original given what made this film work was how it was unlike a Hammer film and got away from a lot of their tropes and going for cheapness.

   This film is not a favorite but it is really good and it is one I’d recommend. Cushing as Sherlock and Lee as Henry Baskerville drive the story and the early color cinematography makes for creating amazing cinematography that captures the mystery and haunting nature of the moors on the Baskerville estate.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10