Annihilation (2018): A Haunting Exploration of Inner Fears

  If you are new to the blog, I am a huge fan of sci. fi. Most of the films and shows I review are science fiction based and more often than not, they make my Top 5 of whatever year they were made if they are great. “Annihilation” never reaches the heights that the premise creates, but it is a solidly good film. I rented it from Amazon and it is worth checking out.

The film was directed and wrote Eric Garland, who was the writer and director behind one of my favorite films “Ex Machina.” It is based off a novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, which I plan on checking out.

The story follows Lena, a biologist who is brought in on a special mission when her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns back changed and goes into a coma. From here she works with the team to try and solve the mystery of “The Shimmer,” a reality warping anomaly that is expanding slowly upon the Earth.

The Mystery – The core mystery is what drives the story, and what kept me most involved. The characters were interesting enough that I cared about what happened to them a little (though we never got to know them fully outside of Lena). And, I love that it starts out with a mystery; someone coming home different with no memories of who they were before. “The Shimmer” is a fascinating concept and I love how everytime you feel you learn something else about it, it reveals a greater mystery. The core premise of solving “The Shimmer” kept me in the story the entire time.

The Idea of the Team – The team is made up of women, and they are awesome! We have Lena, the biologist, holding her secrets. The cruel and distant Dr. Ventress, as the leader. The empathetic Josie, the kindness of Cassie, and the hard driven Anya. Each character carries a darkness that “The Shimmer” brings out.

The Darkness We Carry – Each of our characters carries a darkness with them. There is the fact that Lena cheated on her husband, Anya cuts herself, and Ventress has become detached and uncaring. The darkness consumes each of the characters in different way the deeper they get into the “Shimmer.”

Metaphorical and Actual Cancer – The film is also a metaphor for cancer. Everything in “The Shimmer” warps and grows. Like cancer it consumes until there is nothing left. “The Shimmer” is defeated after the alien inside of it is set on fire by Lena. As it burns, the entire “Shimmer” down to its core continues to desire to spread.

Okay:

Lena – Lena is okay. I like how she is complex as a character, but Natalie Portman’s performance doesn’t bring to the next level. I didn’t care enough about any of these characters the way I cared about the protagonists in “Ex Machina.” Here there is a level of detachment from the events going on, and a good portion of that is Lena’s own detachment from the situations she is in. She still did okay, but I can’t put her as a pro, though she was the most compelling member of the team.

The Cons:

The Ending – In the end we find out Kane, who came back as a doppelganger, is the alien life form (from “The Shimmer”.) The twist is that Lena is now a doppelganger too, even though she defeated it in the end. This contradiction took away from the entire film’s theme of overcoming darkness and healing. It kept the film from being great. The film really should have ended with her being interviewed, and Kane’s mystery never being answered. .

If you are fan of sci-fi, like me, chances are you will enjoy this film. This is a flawed and beautiful film that aspires to achieve so much, but because the characters are never quite fleshed out enough, never gets there. The ending also was a bit of a cop out and cancels out so much of what Lena went through. Even with a flawed ending, it is still worth checking out. I rented it, and it is a film that I’d say isn’t worth buying, but was worth the rent.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016): A Beautiful Exploration of Groups, Sexuality and Purpose

everybody-wants-some

    “Everybody Wants Some!!” might end up being my favorite movie of the year. This is a film that never stops being fun and brings depth to the purpose of being alive, group dynamics and the different parts of the self people reveal depending on who they are with and also a pretty real take on sexuality and some of the many expressions of it. I’ll get into greater details in the review, suffice to say on my non-spoiler thoughts…this film is one of the best out there.

     The film was written, directed and produced by Richard Linklater and also produced by Ginger Sledge and Megan Ellison.

    The films involves newly arrived Freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) who is part of College Baseball and is staying at the Baseball House since it is a legacy in relation to the College. There are a few days left until College starts and the drama and adventures he and his teammates have is explored.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic and manages to transport us back in time to 1980 where it takes place and from there we get to visit so many different environments and groups…from disco clubs, rock concert, country bar, the baseball team and theatre crowd…and none of them exist as stereotypes, they are fully fleshed out characters and it makes the world real.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the adventure and different environments and situations so well. If a character feels isolated you are in it, if the environment is big and large and the full ensemble is present…you get to see snapshots of all of them. Shane F. Kelly really did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is awesome and is a fantastic blend of 80’s and 70’s songs that capture the different environments really well as well as the youthful energy of the young unknown cast, who I hope to see more of in the future.

The Writing – The writing is amazing! This is a film of show rather than tell as any good movie should be. We see characters ego and empathy and how none of them are simple caricatures. Characters may claim not to think but demonstrate just how much they think about things the less minute, characters can be jerks but the next moment they are backing up a character they put through Hell. The script is dynamic and shows what great writing actually means. Linklater truly nailed this film.

The Characters – The characters are complex and the actors are great. I didn’t really have a favorite and loved most of them, like I said in the writing…none of them are simple, each of them has a depth that is revealed over the course of conversations and the events of the film.

Group Mentality – Group mentality is something that’s analyzed in this whether it is the pro of people who have your back but at the same time can be cruel when you are the outsider becoming part of the group. This dynamic comes up countless times throughout the film as well as the core competition of the group given how serious being part of the Baseball team is shown to be. The group can the biggest troll or the greatest protector.

Humans and Sex – It is normal for people to want to have sex and this film embraces this. Whether it is a one night stand or a serious relationship sex is such a part of what makes us humans as well as our desire for it that this film cannot escape it, so it embraces it and shows all the different motivations for sex or mistakes that can happen during it. It truly is beautifully explored in this.

Of Faces and Identities – There are some great conversations in this, largely from Finn and how is is natural to shapeshift given we are animals and adapt to meet desires (in his context sex) or what it means to fit in and be your best self as Jake and his girlfriend Beverly discuss as so much of what drives them is their identity and how for them it is tied to motivation, dreams and as expressed in their relationship, the intellect and connection. The characters of this film where many faces and I found it a true expression of humanity and not just group pressure, people want to fit in or to shape a group and we see that here as ego and relationships are constantly in play.

Purpose – Purpose is another theme of the film, “What’s your focus in college?” as one of those questions, with others discussing the purpose of sex, dressing up, reality and even the purpose of the Baseball Team and one’s place on the Team either as outsider or something else. The answers are up to interpretation and that is where a lot of the power in this film lies.

   There weren’t any issues I had with this film, it is a film that when I saw the trailer for it I thought it was just be a stupid party movie, this was so much more. This was a film that tackled all the different aspects of what makes us human and life worth it. It is hard to choose any favorite character since this is an ensemble cast where each character is shown to have at least more than one face or layer that helps define who they are. This is a fun adventure that manages to be so much more than that and this is a film that could easily be my favorite film for 2016.

Final Score: 10 / 10 One of the few perfect films.

Hell or High Water (2016): An Amazing Modern Personal Western

hell-or-high-water

   “Hell or High Water” is a fantastic modern western. It is modern in that it takes place in the current era with cars and technology unlike most westerns I’ve seen which usually go back to the Civil War Era and the surrounding time periods…and it works. This is a personal film that gives room for the characters to breathe so their motivations can be fully explored and how complicated each of them are.

   The film was directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan with the producers being Sidney Kimmel, Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn, Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane.

    The story involves the brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Howard) robbing banks in small town Texas while being hunted by Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birningham) as each of their motivations for being in this hunt or robberies is revealed over the course of the film.

SPOILERS ahead

 The Pros: The World – The world is a bunch of small dying towns in Texas. These are all towns that were bigger when the west was first settled but have died to time as so many dead industries litter the landscapes. It is a location of extreme poverty and desperation where everyone is armed…I enjoyed my time in this world because of how relevant and real it is to poverty here in the U.S. today.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the rugged stretches of land that make up Texas as well as how isolated all our characters are making what connections they have with each other all the more meaningful. Giles Nuttgens did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much a western and keeps up the dark tone of the film as at the core it is a crime and heist film mixed with a western, as we spend as much time with the Howards and their robberies as we do with the Rangers Marcus and Alberto who are hunting them. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis did a great job capturing the feel of Texas and the tension that pervades the film.

Tanner Howard – Tanner is the brother who got out of prison and had experience robbing before. He also killed his and Toby’s abusive father and from there realized he had nothing to lose. Everything he does is for his brother and his brother’s family and for the thrill of the action. He’s a fascinating character who is bad but not all bad. Ben Foster does a good job giving this guy an edge and empathy.

Alberto Parker – Alberto character is half native and half Mexican and it is through him we get the why to what the Howard’s are doing as he calls out the people their for taking his peoples’ lands and how the cycle has continued with the banks taking there. He is very by the books and even though Marcus inspires him he also critiques Marcus’s obsessions. He is shot by Tanner at the end…Gil Birningham plays him and he is easily my favorite character in this film. I wanted to know more of his story.

Ranger Marcus Hamilton – Jeff Bridges owns every role he plays and he does that once again here as a Ranger who is aging out of the force and sees capturing the thieves as his last great hurrah. He manages to avenge his partner after Tanner shoots and figures out that Toby is the one who set everything in motion and even goes to talk to him. He is filled with so much regret over the loss of Alberto and implies he may be killed or kill Toby later. Like Toby he has no peace after the events, even with retirement and being sung as hero for taking out Tanner.

Toby Howard – Toby lives for his ex-wife and kids and everything he does is to get the money and the rights to the property his mother owned that has oil on it. He succeeds but we see, especially near the end how he regrets letting his brother reek havoc as he now has the blood of innocent people on his hands. This regret is one reason we see him wising for death at the end and that he is only living for his kids, the ones who he went into crime for in the first place to get them out of poverty.

Poverty and Dying Towns – Poverty is rampant throughout the landscape in this film and we get the glimpse of so many people who only have their pride, which can motivate them to different things like the Howard’s crime spree or Hamilton’s obsession. The opportunities are becoming less and their is sadness to everything that even though Toby pulled his family out of it, they screwed over so many others and others will never be able to get out.

Land and Ownership – The theme of land and ownership is huge and starts with Alberto’s speech on how this land all used to belong to his people until like the thieves the settlers and government stole it through war and now the banks are doing the same in this dying region. It is powerful as we see how land ownership is tied to power and power through violence.

The Cons: Too Slow At Times – About halfway through it hit’s a slow part where it takes a while to pick up again before the final big heist where everything goes down. The rest of the film makes up for it, it wouldn’t be in competition for the Top 5 Films of 2016 if that wasn’t the case, but it is still a problem. A bit more action in character relationships or heists would have strengthened the film.

   This was a great film and might end up being one of the Top 5 of the year. It manages to say so much just by showing the state of so many poor Texas towns and from there you see the desperation that lead to the Howard’s taking their path of robbery to get out of it. It is really well done and I loved the levels of history, especially as expressed by Alberto and how the settlers had stolen his peoples’ land and now the banks were stealing theirs. This was a smart film that says a lot and doesn’t have a happy ending. It is a bittersweet western that deserves to be up there with the Westerns that are the greats.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013): A Reflective Film on the Nature of Humanity and Meaning

Only Lovers Left Alive poster

     “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a fascinating and introspective film that explores life, the meaning of humanity, art and relationships. At times it is slow but it is meant to be. The whole film is a giant reflection on all these things told from the perspective of two vampires…and it’s handled really well.

    The film was directed and written by Jim Jarmusch and produced by Jeremy Thomas and Reinberg Brundig.

      The story begins with each seeking to feed their addiction to blood in different ways. As Adam (Tom Hiddleson) makes a deal with a doctor for blood from a blood bank and Eve depends on an old friend. When they reconnect Eve (Tilda Swinton) sees how out of it he is and comes to visit as the drama unfolds from there.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely stunning. Whether it is the streets of Tangier, a rock club or Adam’s Victorian home the distinct character of each place is captured, and with each a level of detachment from the immortals. Yorick Le Saux did a fantastic job.

The Music – There are quite a few people who were part of the music on this. Whether it was Yasmine Hamdan, SQURL or Jozef van Wissem…the music was great throughout the entire film and gave a feel of romantic disconnect to all the scenes that unfolded in the life of Adam and Eve.

The Characters – The characters needed more exploration. We get to know a lot of their motivations and the people they knew, and the acting is amazing…but I did want more. I’ll explain more later on. For now, the characters are a pro and the ones who really drive the story.

Marlowe – John Hurt plays Marlowe and was the man responsible for most of Shakespeare’s play and able to live under the radar since he’d faked his own death. Sadly mortality catches up to him and he dies from poisoned blood. He is a great mentor figure and it is on his prompting that leads Eve to go take care of Adam.

Eva – Mia plays the high life vampire from L.A. who only cares about pleasure. We see this when she breaks into their stash, her breaking Adam’s stuff and how she stakes her sister and Adam for granted. This eventually leads to her getting kicked out and through her time there we see what happens when there is a vampire who only lives for themselves and fails to see the wide world as a whole at all.

Ian – Anton Yelchin plays the fan who may or may not be putting Adam’s work out in the world when he was asked not to. He’s a character who you never can fully trust but he’s also curious and gives an openness that Adam and Eve appreciate and that Eva exploits. In the end she drinks him and we never find out if he’d been the one putting the word out about Adam’s location. His character really worked though as he was Adam’s only human connection.

Adam – Tom Hiddleson is the primary protagonist of the film in many ways because he is the torn artist debating whether life is worth it anymore. Hiddleson is great at giving us this tortured soul who at one point has a friend build a bullet that can kill him. Eve brings him back to reality and we see that he does care in the end and that he values the secret world he has built where he can make music and collect instruments. All that is torn away though when Eva kills the rock kid who was providing him with instruments and a place away from the public eye and he leaves with her back home.

Eve – Eve is the wisest of the vampires as she has been around the longest. She has seen the worst of humanity in all the barbarian invasions of Europe and finds peace in her books, her friend Marlowe and solitude. Eventually she does go to Detroit to be with her husband Adam and it is there we see how unstable life is and is even her in all her wisdom can’t find an alternative in the end for them going feral vampire or avoiding death. She understands this initiates the hunt with Adam.

Mortality and Meaning – Mortality and meaning are some of the biggest questions the story asks as our characters have been through so much they have trouble finding that meaning so they attach it to things. Whether it is literature for Eve or music for Adam these are things they hold onto and it is in realizing that they can’t appreciate these things if they die that they become hunters again finding that it is better to live like the “Zombies” (what they call humanity) and still have those things that give meaning than to die.

The Cons: Character Development – We get a glimpse of a deeper world behind all are vampire characters but that world is never fully explored. I don’t mean flashbacks…but there is no meaning for Eva to be the way she is. We never get why she is is so unstable and it hurts the overall narrative.

This is a film I’d highly recommend. It is easily one of Hiddleson’s and Switon’s best performances and the ideas and themes it explores lend power to a really amazing love story. This is a story that takes it’s audience seriously and has a subtle passion behind everything that lends power to all the events that occur as the story is told. It is a story that reminds us of our mortality and the better and worse parts of human nature.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Spotlight (2015): The Process of an Investigative Story and Giving Voice to the Survivors

Spotlight

     “Spotlight” is a powerful story that shows the process of creating a great investigative story and the in the process showing how structures that prop up people in power, especially those in regards to religion are prone to abuse and cover-up as saving face and ideology can end up becoming more important than people. As an agnostic who left religion it was wonderful seeing the media do what it is supposed to do, and reveal systematic corruption and in revealing it make possible finally putting a stop to it.

    The film was directed by Tom McCarthy who also wrote it with Josh Singer and produced by Blye Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Michael Sugar.

     The story involves the Spotilght team of the Boston Globe, being lead by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), investigating the Catholic Sex Abuse cover-up when the new Editor in Chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) believes there is a story there which comes to shake up the community of Boston.

The Pros: Boston – Boston feels alive as you see the many different levels of the city. From the poor areas where many of the events of sexual abuse and rape took place as the folks there had no advocates and the Church was the only power, from the rich fundraisers, to individual homes in Boston and the Boston Globe itself. This is a city that is shown to be alive.

The Boston Globe – The Boston Globe is shown to be a pretty great organization as we see a diversity of characters, motivation and conflict as the paper is trying to define itself in relation to Boston with the sex abuse scandal it’s uncovering and having an outsider Editor-in-Chief at the helm. I really liked how the film handled this.

The Characters – The characters and how they are portrayed is what makes this story great. It is fully fleshed out characters that lend truth to the real life events that took place and allow us to see into the choices our characters make and made.

Ben Bradlee Jr. – John Slattery is awesome as Ben Bradlee Jr. In this we see a very old style journalist who is leading the paper and because of it is comfortable with those in power, but even he wakes up when he realizes the extent of the abuse and corruption and from there gives his full backing to the Spotlight team. He is the questioner and makes the team better in the process.

Mitchell Garabedian – Stanley Tucci plays one of my favorite characters in this. In this he is the advocate for the victims who the Church keeps trying to silence and disbar. For this reason Rezendes has to slowly win him over as he shows the Globe won’t bow to Church pressure. I really liked the character and Tucci’s performance is amazing. He is the one who never stops fighting and who lives for work and advocacy.

Walter “Robby” Robinson – Michael Keaton plays Robinson and does a fantastic job! He was the one who reported on the sex abuse scandal ages ago and didn’t follow up. This is guilt he lives with until Baron calls him back to the present. Robby is also the one most in with the community as we see him get together with a former classmate to hear his story about the Priest who molested him, and from the guy who defended all the priests and played it like everything was okay. Robby sees all of it and it lends depth to Boston and the characters around him.

Sacha Pfeiffer – Rachel McAdams is a fantastic actress and in this we see her conflict being with her mother who is a hardcore Catholic and her hiding the story from her as she stops attending Church when Sacha stops going to Church after the extent of the cover-up is revealed and her and Rezendes discuss the problem of evil and faith. She could have got more development but her lending a voice to the victims while being professional and doing her job was extremely well done.

Michael Rezendes –  Mark Ruffalo played by favorite character. Rezendes is a passionate guy who is a little off in some ways and is always working a bit detached from things like Baron but also extremely passionate. When he finds the letters that Law was trying to keep from the public he wants Spotlight to run the story then, and waiting is hard for him as we learn he was an ex-Catholic who part of him wanted to go back but after the Scandal he could never see it happen given the institution covered up the rapes and protected the rapists. His genuineness and stubbornness were things I could relate to.

Marty Baron – Liev Schreiber is wonderful as the detached Editor from Miami. At first you think he’s going to start doing cuts but instead he refocuses the paper and has them follow up on the rumor of sex abuse. It’s powerful and we see he is there to fight for them even as he makes tough choices. Suffice to say I really appreciated the character and found his outsider perspective in Boston refreshing as I think it something that can lend strength to seeing things in a different light and helping reveal truths about a perspective, religion, community or organization.

Making the Story and the role of Journalism – A huge part of the plot is how Spotlight works as we see the Team following up on leads, interviewing people, analyzing sources, following paper trails, going to the courthouse,

Voice for the Victims – In this film we see the role of journalism as giving voice the the victims as the truth is revealed. It is powerful receiving their stories as kids who were vulnerable, poor and outcasts were raped by priests and had held it in for years. It is only when Spotlight shines a light on what happened that they are able to find their voice and in doing so help bring about justice in regards to what was done to them.

Power and Corruption – One of the big things is that of power and corruption. All of those connected to the Church covering up events are shown to be very well off and clearly profited from the atrocities they helped cover up. Cardinal Law himself is shown to be detached and uncaring about knowing the point that he’d attack those who were fighting for the victims. This is the price of power that believes it finds itself derived from God and is accountable to only itself. The church hides documents that are public record just because it would show how corrupt they were and the fact that Law ignored the warnings and punished those who spoke from within the church about the abuse.

Okay: Matt Carroll – This character was alright as he shows us the concerned father in everything, but he didn’t feel as fleshed out as Rezendes, Robinson, Pfeiffer and Garabedian. I still liked the character but thought that he wasn’t really needed in regards to the script.

Cardinal Law – This guy is detached from everything (which may have been purposeful on the films part) but after hearing how he called the wrath of God on one of the investigations that had been done earlier…I wanted to see that side of the character…a man who looked past atrocities and saw the Church as above them and was invited back to a cushy position of power, even after all the atrocities he covered up and monsters he protected.

Church Pressure – We don’t see as much pressure from the Church to silence the story, which is a shame. Mostly it is Law trying to get Baron in with the Church at the beginning and Robby’s lawyer friend who works for the Church who keeps telling him to drop the story. It is mostly from the community that the silence comes from, not the Church lawyers.

  This was a powerful film and easily in the Top 10 of the Year. I don’t think it will make the Top 5 due to some of the characters not getting as much development as I would have liked but it doesn’t change how great it is in themes and execution. This is a story that had to be told ande here is where you can read about it for yourselves too.:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/specials/clergy

   Events like this must not be forgotten as chances are it is still going on today and many of the people who committed the crimes were never brought to justice or have never been brought to justice as the Vatican moved them out of the United States. The only way an institution can change is when light is shined upon it and even then there is going to be fighting from those who profit from the status quo. This is why stories like this matter, it lends voice to the voiceless and gives the chance for them to get justice for the wrongs done against them. This beautiful film, is one way the light has been shown on this scandal.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 1, Episode 4 – “Heavy Metal” – First Strike in the Series

Heavymetal4

     This is the episode where John Connor stops running and with that Sarah Connor begins to finally let go a little bit to let him develop into the leader he needs to be. It is a good episode as the stakes are high and we see Skynet in action laying the stakes for it’s future rise. We also see Cameron kick butt too.

     The episode was directed by Sergia Mimica-Gezzan and written by John Enbom.

     The story involves Cromatie adopting a new identity and another Terminator stealing a shipment of metal in preparation for Judgement Day. John chooses to fight rather than run away leading to a showdown in the Warehouse with Agent Ellison continues to research the mysterious events surrounding the deaths from the Terminators.

The Pros: Agent Ellison – He actually feels like a character this time as he questions the man whose identity Cromatie eventually steals and we see that he knows something is up giving the missing fingerpints and false blood.

Cameron – Cameron is great in this as we see her once again take on much larger Terminators than her and relate to Sarah Connor as she expresses she would have no purpose if anything happened to John, making Sarah realize how much of a psychological problem she has.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor goes through the process of starting to let go and let John become the hero he was born to be in this one. When John tracks the truck she allows it but panics later but later on is working with him to steal the metal that the Terminator is going to use to create more of it’s kind when Judgement Day arrives. It’s a powerful moment with good showing and not telling.

John Connor – John sets boundaries with him mom in this one and we see him be the leader and fighter everyone keeps talking about him becoming. From stealing the key to a hibernating Terminator and fighting it in the truck…in this he is coming to his own and is ready to fight.

The Cons: Cromatie – We see him creep and pretend to be human but he is still generic and the actor is no Arnold, just like the last guy who played this Terminator. He just isn’t compelling as a villain.

Terminators and Human Minions – The minions are stupid and don’t listen to John and the Terminator is a nameless soldier with nothing unique about it.

   The series still suffers from having villains that aren’t compelling but the leads are fantastic! Even John Connor begins to grow on you after a while even though Lena Headey and Summer Glau are clearly the ones carrying the drama and conflict and are the most compelling part of the show.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Upcoming Reviews

Sarah Connor Chronicles poster

  After watching “Terminator Genisys” my completionist side is coming out. I really want to finish up all the “Terminator Franchise” properties that are television or film so that I can rate them from Worst to Best. Also I really like Lena Headey and Summer Glau and seeing them in action out of their respected “Firefly” and “Game of Thrones” shows will be fun to review. After this I will also be able to do a rating of the different Sarah Connors, John Connors and Kyle Reeses and Antagonists of the Franchise so here is to that after that.

     I know full well that this series confuses the Franchise of the movie, but for all intents purposes “Terminator 3” did that with having Sarah Connor born in the 50s and “Genisys” did that will I guess opening up different timelines and having Skynet be defeated but not defeated? Essentially this series is confusing and doesn’t have much coherence as an overall whole so we’re just going to run with it and make it about the characters.

     The series aired on Fox, was created by Josh Friedman and was produced by 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers Television.

    The story takes place between films as Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) trains John Connor (Thomas Dekker) for the coming Judgement Day while getting help from a Terminator Cameron (Summer Glau) sent back in the past to protect her and John from the Terminator’s already in the Timeline bent on destroying them.

     It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Drama show episode by Episode with the last one being “Carnival” so it will be great to get back into that while doing the animated shows and movies on the side to balance it out.

Here is to the next story adventure.

City of God (2002): A Tragedy of Politics, War and Corruption

City of God Poster

    I was asked recently how what I consider the perfect film by one of my closest friends and mentors. My reply was a movie without any cons at its core but that it’s also a bit contextual too. “City of God” is a film I’ve seen twice and when I first saw it in High School it was a little traumatizing, the second time watching it though, this is a film that does everything right. There is a diverse range of characters and everyone you get to know has fascinating motivations and the fact that this is a movie with consequences.

   “City of God” was directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Katia Lund and written by Bráulio Mantovani based off the book by Paulo Lins and produced by Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Elisa Tolomelli and Walter Salles.

    The story is around those in the life of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) as he recounts how he ended up in the middle of a standoff between Lil’Ze (Leandro Firmino) and his gang and the police, as a recounts as a journalist who has reentered the city from his childhood, the “City of God.” From here the past is recounted from “The Tender Trio” one of whom was his older brother, to the rise of Lil’Ze to becoming boss of the “City of God” and his eventual fall and all the connections between the major players in the “City of God.”

The Pros: Writing – The writing is sharp and I love how it is broken up into chapters. We get the story of Rockets path and his brothers story in the “Tender Trio,” “Knockout Ned’s Story” “Rise of Lil’Ze” and others. All aspects of the “City of God” are explored. There was a reason it won best screenplay.

Editing – The editing is sharp and so much is portrayed when so little is shown. Be it Rocket running and us seeing through the lens of the camera or a rape scene that is only shadow and screams…it’s horrifying and you get the horror in as little time as possible. The point is made and you see just how much of a monster Lil’Ze is and what Knockout Ned and his wife felt in those moments. It deserved the awards it won for editing.

Cinematography – César Charlone did an amazing job on the cinematography! Rio is shot in bright sun or darkness with layers of light. It feels like a city on the edge and you can see the desperation of the city. We see how lived in the city is and the desperation of the people. So much is potrayed in so little and this why Charlone won an award for what he did with the cinematography.

The Characters – Most of the characters are complex, and all of them have motivations. It is that that makes a character. No one stays the same and the events that happen change the characters and make them softer (Benny falling in love) or harder (Benny’s death and Lil’Ze cruelty growing) that you can’t help but be drawn in, even if some like Lil’Ze aren’t sympathetic.

“The Tender Trio” – Shaggy (leader who is killed by the cops after he falls in love and tries to escape), Goose (Rocket’s brother who tries to get out but is killed by Lil’Ze when he says he’ll tell and is done with crime after the snitch kills the wife that Goose was sleeping with) and Clipper who joins the church after an injury and the massacre that Lil’Ze commits in the Love Motel.

Carrot – Matheus Nachtergaele is wonderful as Carrot, one of the lower level drug lords who is friends with Benny and pretty calm. He never tries to kill Lil’Ze unless Blacky was trying to kill him under orders but due to him killing Blacky I think he was counting on negotiation until Knockout Ned becomes his partner against Lil’Ze and he finally has a chance against Lil’Ze and his control of the city. He is eventually caught by the cops in the final standoff.

Angélica – Angélica is Benny’s love interest and Rocket’s friend. She also has awareness too and sees how bad things are in the city even if things are stable under Lil’Ze’s tyranny. Alice Braga is wonderful in this role. It is her compassion that changes Angélica and she is the motivation for Rocket to become a photographer and how he gets involved in the gangs to get her drugs early on.

Benny – Phellipe Haagensen plays Benny who is Lil’Ze’s childhood friend and partner in crime who eventually becomes a hippy and is loved by all in the “City of God.” He is the one person Lil’Ze cares for and that is because Benny cares. Benny always uses diplomacy and after he falls in love with the woman that Rocket loved named Angélica. His final scene is fighting with Lil’Ze over the camera to give Rocket before he is shot by Blacky. He goes from the most selfish character to the most selfless character, his arc is opposite of Knockout Ned as he becomes the pacifist while Ned becomes the conqueror.

Knockout Ned – Knockout Ned is played by Seu Jorge and is one of my favorite characters. He is a peaceful man and doesn’t even want to do violence against Lil’Ze after Lil’Ze has him strip naked during Benny’s Farewell. It is only after Lil’Ze kills members of his family and rapes his wife that he becomes the paladin and seeks revenge against Lil’Ze. He starts out not wanting to kill innocents but eventually that becomes the exception as he gets fully invested in becoming a hood and feeding the war against Lil’Ze. This eventually leads to him getting shot as the kid whose father he kills in a holdup shoots him.

The Runts Gang – The Runts gang act as a unit and are loyal to each other. This leads to them turning on Lil’Ze for killing one of their own after Lil’Ze loses everything and the price Lil’Ze paid for shooting him in the foot and killing another of them. They are all sociopathic and live for chaos and anarchy and are the ultimate symbol and reality of the desperate, armed orphans.

Lil’Ze – Leandro Firmino plays adult Lil’Ze and a different actor plays the broken kid who is a bit of sociopath since the beginning as he shoots up a love motel and from there makes his start with Benny robbing from others. From here he gets into the drug trade and becomes the most successful drug lord in the “City of God.” Eventually his selfishness devours him as he rapes Ned’s wife leading Knockout Ned’s war to lead to his end and his killing by the Runts as he killed one of theirs. He dies with nothing and in the end couldn’t even support his friend Benny leaving, the only one he truly cared about.

Rocket – Alexandre Rodrigues plays adult Rocket who is a photographer working for the paper in the “City of God.” The story is told from his perspective and is based on the events in his life. He is a great character as we see he is too kind to be a hood. In the chapter “Flirting With Crime” he helps all the people he meant to hurt and eventually becomes a journalist. Part of him being put on the right path was his brother Goose warning him against a life of crime since he knew it was empty and usually short, even if it paid. Rocket’s arc as a whole is growing up he wants to get with Angélica which connects him with Blacky and later once again Lil’Ze and Benny and his becoming a photographer leads to Lil’Ze respecting him and his sweet nature is why Benny likes him. He is the character who is the observer and documenter of everything and his ending is documenting Lil’Ze’s murder and the corruption among the cops when they shakedown Lil’Ze for his money. His story shows everything he cares about how so much of his motivation isn’t just to live, but his love for the city he comes from, “The City of God.”

Consequences – Everything has consequences, Lil’Ze failure to pay the gun merchant leads the police to turning on him and shaking him down for all his money, Knockout Ned’s killing of a police offer leads to the boy’s son killing him and others we see before like Rocket’s first camera and the camera that Benny was going to give him eventually leading to Lil’Ze treating him with respect and having him take pictures of his gang for his publicity for the gang war. It’s wonderful and we see things carry over when the Runts kill Lil’Ze since he had killed one of their to try and scare them. Consequences are what make the film beautiful and matter since reality has consequences.

The Themes – The themes are those of consequences, the cycle of revenge is a never ending one, how desperation leads to crime and that there will be people who take advantage of that desperation to their own ends (Carrot and Lil’Ze, and the Police).

The Message – The message is that you do have a choice and that choices have consequences. Rocket stays out of crime and from it is eventually able to get out, but the choices made by corrupt cops fed the cycle of violence and random innocents are killed on multiple occasions by the gangs and police which breeds the ongoing cycle of violence.

   This film did so much right and even though it is long it never felt long. The action is constant and characters are always changing and relating to one another. We see the choice of not going into crime makes Rocket a good guy and how the attempt to kill Lil’Ze lead to Lil’Ze total downfall when he lost his conscience he had in Benny. No character stays the same and the message of how revenge always comes back in the end and how the cycle of corruption continues and may exist for a reason (lack of opportunities, stability when a single gang lord is in control). The fact that it is based off real events also lends power to the story and you can this is reflected in the cinematography and editing where you are in the world and feel for everyone, even the Monsters like Lil’Ze.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect film from “Foreign Film Week.”

The Intouchables (2011): An Amazing Story About Connection Between Outcasts

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    “The Intouchables” is extremely deserving of all the praise it has received. It has gotten criticism in some circles for being racist but I’d have to disagree, and I’ll go into the reasons why in deeper into the review. To give part of my answer now though, the critics who see the film as racist do not give Driss enough credit as a character or the fact that his agency is what drives the plot, not Philippe’s.

    The film was directed and written by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano and produced by Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou and Harvey Weinstein.

     The story is about Driss a Senelgese immigrant to France who ends up taking a job with the paraplegic Phillipe when he needs Phillipe to sign off on a welfare paper so that his family can receive money. From here the story unfolds as Driss’s past and family eventually meet up with his new life caring for Philippe as Philippe deals with racism from his own class background and how dismissive most people are of him because of he is a paraplegic.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – This film has one of my all time favorite soundtracks. The music gave me chills, especially since the scenes matched up with the music seamlessly. Ludovico Einaudi is truly a master of his craft and I want to hear more of his work after this.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and presents the fear or the freedom in different moments so well. Be it the car ride at the beginning and end of the film or the moments where Driss or Philippe are isolated from the world.

The Writing – The script is quick and witty and there is so much great banter between Driss and Philippe as Philippe is overly proper and Driss could care less. This leads to a great dynamic between the two. Magalie’s witty dialogue and Marcelle’s empathy are also beautifully written.

The Characters – Any of the characters we see for multiple scenes who speak get great exploration! This especially applies to the women who are Philippe’s aids. We see their romantic relationships and friendship with Driss develop over time and see how they change one another.

Magalie – Magalie is the character who Driss takes an immediate liking too but is not interested in him but loves to play around since she knows it will never go anywhere as she values the friendship and she is a lesbian, which is the reveal we have at the end. All the minor characters in this are great and Audrey Fluerot does an amazing job!

Marcelle – Marcelle is one of the people who is standoffish of Driss at first while Driss is getting used to living in the house. That changes when Driss shows awareness that she didn’t have, both in regards to the drugs she was taking to help with her stomach and her attraction to the gardener. She is Driss’s closest friend when Philippe asks Driss to leave. Clotilde Mollet does a wonderful job.

Philippe – François Cluzet plays one of the main stars who became paraplegic during his risk taking adventures that he used to share with his wife. This leads to him not having any confidence in his looks or physical appearance and leads to a huge insecurity and guardedness. This changes when Driss treats him like Driss would anyone and he values it since Driss doesn’t see a disability, he just sees Philippe. Eventually when Driss’s cousin is in hiding he kicks him out though and gives into the pressure from the rich white French folks from his family and older friends who never liked Driss but never are around unless they have to be. When he realizes that he when his next caregiver is treating him like a patient he has enough of it and has one last adventure with Driss. Cluzet does an amazing job and since he cannot move his body all his acting is in his face.

Driss – Driss is a character who has given up but after choosing to stay and help Philippe changes and finds he has passions beyond just existing, which was what he was doing before when he was getting welfare for his family. It is this passion for life that he discovers that rubs off on Philippe and from where they build their friendship. The story is really driven by Driss and we see this in the introduction as he bets with Philippe how the cops will react to them at different points as he is driving Philippe’s sports car. In the end he and his Aunt makeup and he leaves Philippe as a caregiver since he’s made his own path and had been the entire time, though in the credits we see that they still remained friends. Omar Sy is rich in this role.

Themes – The greatest themes in this are prejudice and how wrong is (in racism or prejudice towards a person based physical difference), to not fear to take chances (be it meeting someone new, a date or making up with someone you have wronged), and the theme of freedom (with a great flying scene and a few shots of birds).

The Message – The message is one that many films have done but it is done well here. That the groups that are looked down upon be they groups based on class, race or body are wrong and that all anyone wants in the end is to be free. We see in Driss’s talk with his cousin, in Philippe’s desire to fly and in Driss’s exploration of art and how he acts. He is never a servant or subservient as his entire way of being is a reaction to that and we see this when Philippe’s adopted daughter treats him like a servant and the other times Driss calls people out. Driss is a character who never loses agency, unlike Philippe who loses it the moment Driss leaves and he is stuck with a caregiver who treats him like a patient.

The Cons: Not Enough Time with Driss’s Family or Past – We learn a lot when Driss shares his backstory about how his Aunt and Uncle always wanted children so they adopted him from his parents in Senegal but things got complicated after his Uncle left and his Aunt had more kids. You get that because he was adopted he felt rejected and was never able to form a close bond, but you don’t hear this in the scenes with his family and that took away from the film.

Driss and Women – Driss is creepy sometimes and Magalie has to say no multiple times before he finally fully realizes it. I don’t know how purposeful this was or if it was a poor attempt at comedy, but those scenes were uncomfortable…especially since Driss has a lot more awareness with everyone else. It takes him much longer to learn with Magalie, which is a shame.

   This film is not perfect, but it is a favorite and I do think the criticism it has received for racism in regards to Driss can be argued certainly but I don’t see it in the actions or agency that the character lives. He drives the story and is arguably the main character, not Philippe. The one thing I would have changed is more time with his Aunt and cousins. We never get to know them the way we get to know the folks who worked with Philippe, but this is largely because Driss’s Aunt kicks him out of her house. How things could have been changed is giving more of the reasons why and more of Driss’s backstory earlier as it is an amazing backstory and I wanted to know more, even though the core focus was on the friendship between him and Philippe. Suffice to say, I recommend this film highly.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Art of Fighting (2006): The Reasons to Fight and the Cost

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   We continue “Foreign Film Week” with “The Art of Fighting.” My friend described it as the a the Korean “Karate Kid” with more violence and that is an apt description. It is better than “Karate Kid” in a few ways too. For one it doesn’t idealize fighting, it shows the reasons why someone would fight and what it takes to win a fight. From here we are introduced to the two complex protagonists who drive the story and each of their reasons they choose to fight.

     “Art of Fighting” was directed by Shin Han-sol who was one of the writers along with Min Dong-hyun and produced by Lee Seo-yeol.

     The story is about Byeong (Jae Hee) who is abused by Pako (Hong Seung-jin)and his gang at his technical high school and attempts to fight back only to beat down again and again. When he runs into a strange neighbor named Pan-su (Baek Yoon-sik) who is a fighter and possible ex-gangster who he convinces to train him. From here the story unfolds as his father tracks Pan-su and they deal with the threats from the gangs in the area.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – As someone who loves the soundtrack to fighting games like “Tekken.” There is a techno rhythm to many of the fight scene and montages and it adds a lot to the quality of the film.

The Action – The action is brutal and solid in this film, it reminds me a lot of an early Tarantino or Rodriguez film and it’s extremely raw. For example every fight is mortal and keeps going until a person is finally down. It’s doesn’t romanticize it because of how honest it is on how blood is part of a fight. This is one thing it really does well.

Pan-Su – The strange neighbor is a great character. He only starts training Byeong because Byeong is so insistent and is getting him free stuff. That is how their relationship starts with Byeong paying for all his meals and drinks but things change when Byeong shows how much he’s grown as a fighter and Pan-su has nothing for respect for him at the end realizing that Byeong now knows the cost of fighting (given that Pan-su is nearly killed by Paku and the Police).Baek Yoon-sik is wonderful in this role.

Jae-hoon – Jae-hoon is Byeong’s friends who ends up being killed by Pako because he stands up to Pako when the gang is picking on Byeong. His death is brutal but before that he is a really kind and tough guy who manages to beat one of the bullies a bit before Pako comes in. His death is a tragedy as he is someone just trying to look out for his friend. Park Ki-woong is wonderful in the role.

Byeong-tae – Jae Hee plays the main character in the film who is a man who lives in fear until he loses his best friend and is ready to use all the training Pan-su taught him. It’s a great process to watch and we see he is a stubborn kid who doesn’t give up no matter what he’s put through. He also doesn’t kill, which puts him above Pako and Pan-su. His arc is also reestablishing a relationship with his father which he is finally able to do when he has the confidence and stands up for himself against the bullies.

The Message – The message is that sometimes there is a time to fight (self-defense, defense of another) but you have to know the cost, people die (Jae-hoon) and get hurt (Pan-su) fights are never pretty and should always be a last resort. If you can scare your enemy and cause them to run away, that is what you do. That is one thing I really respected about this film. The message is great.

Okay/Cons – The Cinematography – The cinematography is very hit or miss. At times the camera felt like it was fogged over and things weren’t clear while other times it felt home video like. For this reason it is hard to put it as pro or truly okay since there are some okay filmed moments but other times the poor quality clashes with it.

The Cons: The Bullies and Gangs- The bullies were just thugs (like in “Karate Kid”) and really had no motivation. At least the bully in “Karate Kid” was abused by his mentor and father, the same cannot be said about Pako who is mostly just motivated for revenge since Byeong’s father was the one who put him in prison.

  This was a good film, but not a favorite. I disliked how simple the bullies were and how they weren’t complex at all and at times it lagged because of it because the bullies got so much screen time. I also wish we’d gotten to know Pan-su more as he was the most compelling character in the film. The lack of backstory being fully explored since it was so focused on Byeong made the film good but not great. Byeong’s character wasn’t enough to carry the film to make it a favorite or a great film, still he wasn’t bad so it was good.

Final Score: 8 / 10.