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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Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – A Fun Adventure That Gives Justice to the Characters and Plot

Hellboy 2 Poster

        The blog is finally back! I’ve been on a bit of haitus since I’ve been moving to a new apartment, my sister got married this week and I had car trouble in Seattle and had to replace a flat, which took a few days. There are reviews upcoming, the first of which is this one that I’ve been working on. Enjoy.

       “Hellboy 2” is a lot of fun. This is a film that takes everything that worked about the first film and focuses it (with some of the same problems still around as well) and creating a few new problems. It is the better film though, as the characters in this are more memorable and Hellboy isn’t the only character driving the plot this time. Non-spoiler thoughts, check this film out if you like the Hellboy comics and enjoyed the first film.

    The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and produced Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin.

    The story involves Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the team working top the evil elf Prince Nuada from summoning the immortal Golden Army from ancient that nearly wiped out humanity before.

The Pros: The World – Guillermo loves the dark world of fairy mythology (see “Pan’s Labrynth”) and here he gets to show and express that love in the mythos on display. His world is fascinating and all characters look so real and alien. This is really him in his element as this film had some of my favorite character designs.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman once again creates a powerful score! This is a guy who specializes in dark fairy tales and that is what this Hellboy film is. he does a masterful job capturing the tragedy and loss in scenes and the soundtrack is worth checking out just for what it is.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning. While the last film was too dark at times this one embraces the dark but also the light to create beautiful contrasts in locations and characters, giving the film and otherworldly feel. Guillermo Navarro did a fantastic job.

The Introduction – A little Hellboy is being red a story by his adoptive father Trevor (yay, John Hurt is back!). It is a touching scene as we learn that fairys and humans lived in harmony until humans started destroying the land leading King Balor to create a Golden Army of magic. He regrets it all after the death toll rises and makes a peace treaty with humanity. His son leaves in exile as he wanted humanity wiped out and he and his daughter hide the pieces so the army may never rise again.

The Characters – The characters are what drew me into the world of Hellboy (though Hellboy isn’t as interesting as Abe of Krauss in my opinion) and they are the reason I will continue to see these films.

King Balor – The King is awesome and shuts down his son when his son tries to call for war again. It takes his son killing him for him to be stopped. I wanted more of this guy as he was a fascinating and powerful character.

The Goblin Smith – This guy makes a deal to save the life of Hellboy and we learn he was the smith who made the Golden Army and fears his creations. He brings Liz to the Angel and she makes the deal to bring Hellboy back even knowing it could lead to the end.

The Angel – The Angel sees Hellboy’s future and in it only destruction. She is a dark and haunting figure with eyes of a large cranium and great black wings. She has my favorite design in the film and if they make more I hope we see her again. She saves Hellboy’s life.

 Hellboy – Hellboy’s arc is learning to communicate with Liz and work on a team. He is by the end and has rubbed off on Krauss who rebels against the agency. His arc is cool as we see even though he is stupid, his heart is in the right place and he is a talented fighter.

Liz – Liz makes the choice Hellboy made last movie where he risks all to save her, she does the same this film. She is the one who has gotten control of her powers (I would have liked to see more of how that happened) and is the one helping Hellboy become responsible.

Abe Sapien – Abe has a character arc as we see him love and lose as he brings the crown to Nuada that awakens the army (and rightfully calls out Liz and Hellboy for doing the same thing). Sadly not all love works out as Nuala dies to save them all. It is a touching scene and we see how perceptive Abe is. I really liked his character after this film.

Prince Nuada – The Prince is in it for revenge and has a great design as a dark warrior. He trained for centuries and his plan nearly works because he is the only one who doesn’t love and only wants to control. Luckily he is stopped in the end by his sister, who it turns out was the only one who could unless the heroes were willing to kill her by killing Nuada.

Princess Nuala – Nuala should have got more screentime. We see she is compassion and a healer, while her brother is the warrior and she is shown to be wise as she knows that the war will only end in the destruction of all as the Golden Army is only built to destroy. She also falls in love with Abe and is lovely until she kills herself to stop her brother keeping up the theme of tragedy that pervaded the film.

Johann Krauss

 Johann Krauss – Krauss is awesome! He is pretty much immortal because he is living ectoplasm in a suit. This leads to him being both smarter and stronger than Hellboy and a better leader on all counts as he doesn’t depend on brute forcing his way through situations. He does see the value in it though and resigns from the agency with the rest of them as they are tired of being tools, given that Hellboy’s existence is shown to be just a tool for his father to cause the end of the world. All of them, including Krauss, reject that control.

Okay: The Ending – It is cool that Liz and Hellboy are going to be parents, the freeze frame for the final shot was a bit annoying though.

The Cons: Disposable Agents – So many agents die, they are basically red shirts and I feel the stakes would have been hire if they’d felt more like characters rather than disposable bodies.

The Prince’s Long Term Plan – What was his plan after humanity was wiped out? He never talks about it and it seems that the Fairy Realm is largely afraid of him. He lived only for revenge when he could have been so much more since he wanted to rule and killed his father to do so.

  I enjoyed this film much more than the first one largely because the side characters got a lot more exploration while still keeping the Hellboy mythos key with him being son of a Demon Lord. The price and cost of choices was explored really well too and using the Fairy World to do so was masterful since in mythology they are all about dealmaking. Krauss was my favorite character and his character growth was a big part of what made the film so fascinating outside of the great world and character designs that we’ve all come to expect from Guillermo del Toro.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): Great World But Story Doesn’t Quite Deliver

The Nightmare Before Christmas

    Before I get into my thoughts, this is going to be one of a few Holiday themed film reviews leading up to Christmas. This review is probably going to be one of my more controversial ones as I know I am most likely in the minority here, but I don’t think “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is great. I think it’s alright but when it came to characters and story it didn’t quite deliver, even though the world it takes place in is fascinating and I see why “Kingdom Hearts” keeps returning to it. Tim Burton is a director and artist who creates wonderful worlds, sadly what I’ve noticed is he doesn’t always fully flesh out the events or characters of said world and this movie truly is a good example of that.

       The film was directed by Henry Selick, written by Caroline Thompson with story by Michael McDowell and produced by Tim Burton and Denise De Novi.

     The story involves Jack Skellington the “Pumpkin King” of Halloween Town having a crisis of want and identity that changes him when falls into Christmas Town. From here he brings Christmas back to Halloween Town and takes up the identity of Santa Claus which causes dire consequences around the world.

The Pros: The World – Tim Burton created an amazing world. The basic theory is each holiday has a town where the denzines of the holiday live…whether it Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc. They can crossover to one another as well, as seen by Jack’s discovery of the place.

The Animation – The stop motion animation is really beautiful. Each place whether it is Halloween Town, Christmas Town or our world has a distinct flavor and tone to it, which lend strength to the events that go down.

Halloween Town – Halloween Town is the best town and is based all around scaring people. The monsters in this town have great designs and everyone in the town is either mad or demented. Sally and Jack are the most normal members of the population.

The Mayor of Halloween Town – The Mayor is literally two faced and has a happy and unhappy face that turns on his head. He can’t do anything himself and is all about Jack the celebrity. He’s a funny character and has some great lines.

Oogie Boogie – Oogie Boogie is a fun villain as he loves to gamble with lives and is a sentient living mass of bugs. He is threatening and is very much the bully of the town who lives to stick to himself unless his boys bring him lives to play with. Ken Page was great.

Okay: The Soundtrack – This isn’t Elfman’s best work, mostly because the songs aren’t all that good. They are okay but “Darkman” had a much stronger soundtrack, as did “Batman.” This one is a very weak Disney soundtrack and I can’t think of any song that really stood out beyond the main theme.

Jack Skellington – Jack is okay, if he wasn’t a major celebrity he would have been more sympathetic but from the beginning he is the man who has everything. All the people of Halloween Town love him, he always wins the Halloween events and the only thing not going for him is he’s bored and feels lonely. I didn’t get the loneliness given everyone wanted to be with him and he just had to open up. He was okay, Chris Sarandon was a good voice acting choice though.

Sally – Sally is the woman trapped in the castle by her evil creator Dr. Finklestein. She keeps poisoning him and escaping, so she is an active character…but I didn’t know why she liked Jack beyond the fact that everyone liked Jack because he was popular. She could have done a lot more and I wish she’d gone from quiet to active. She tries to stop the Nightmare Before Christmas with Fog with Jack’s ghost dog Zero had a glowing nose. I really liked the idea of her character, but like Jack she didn’t feel fully formed.

Message – The message is largely to be comfortable in yourself and don’t try to be other people. This is good but I felt the execution would have been better if Santa had been more explicit to Jack or if Sally had.

The Cons: Santa Claus – The character is pretty useless. All he does is fix the Nightmare Christmas Jack causes on the populace, but for a Magic guy he was useless against Oogie Boogie.

    This is a film that even given my criticisms of it, and the fact that it is a bit overrated is still worth seeing at least once. Tim Burton’s creativity is on full display and Halloween Town is a lot of fun. This is a also chance to see some beautiful Stop Motion animation and even though this world isn’t fully formed on screen, it is still a lot of fun to visit.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Doctor Who Specials – “Last Christmas” – Letting Go of Dreams

DoctorWho_LastChristmas_DVD

    Besides “Waters of Mars” and “A Christmas Carol,” this is by far my favorite of the Doctor Who Specials and definitely the most character heavy of the Christmas Specials which is what gave it so much power. It wasn’t about the stories it took inspiration from, it was about the characters who inhabited the story, which is what made it so brilliant.

    “Last Christmas” was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Paul Wilmshurst.

SPOILERS ahead.

       The premise of the episode is a base under siege story. It begins with the Doctor picking up Clara from her home and taking her to the North Pole. It is there they work with the survivors of the base against the Dream Crabs who are killing 4 of the people on the base. When Santa comes to the rescue we soon learn that all is not as it appears to be and the Dream Crabs are more powerful than first realized.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise reminds me of “Inception” meets “Alien” or “John Carpenters The Thing” as the Dream Crabs have a creepy slimy design and so much of who they are is what you don’t see since by seeing and thinking about them is how they get power. They are a great enemy who I hope we see again. They raise the stakes and keep us guessing about what is real during the story, which makes the reveal of Clara telling the Doctor Danny is dead and the Doctor telling Clara he didn’t find Gallifrey all the more powerful. The base is haunting too, which makes the dream sequences all the more creepy.

The Humor -The best joke in the series is the Professor says the premise reminds him of the film “Alien.” The Doctor is horrified, “There’s a horror film called “Alien!” No wonder everyone keeps invading you.” Santa and the Elves relationship is great too as he has to put limits on how they praise and talk about him…at one point even giving a warning to stop.

The Survivors – Each of the survivors is living the life of who they wished they were. They are all scientists because of the shared dream and the movies one of them watched before the Dream Crab got her. One of them wakes up and finds she was in a wheel chair and younger than she was in the dream, the other was a teenager who was a woman in the dream and the final person who held them in her dream was alone and her mind had sought out others. It’s powerful and we see Clara needing the Doctor and Dream Danny to help get out of the Dream within a Dream as she wants to be with Danny so much. All of them are human and scarred in different ways. Michael Troughton, son of the 2nd Doctor also appeared in this episode as a professor, he isn’t given much to do but does a good job.

Dream Danny – Dream Danny is great in that he gives Clara the chance to grieve and have one last Christmas with the man she loves. It’s a great scene because it isn’t real and Danny isn’t coming back, it is there to help Clara heal and let go…which is what lends it power.

Clara – Clara is wonderful in this episode. She realizes they are still in the dream after they manage to wake up from one of the dreams and we realize how much she loves the Doctor. It is powerful in how she grieves for Danny and in how she helps the survivors escape the Dream Crabs. She sees the bigger picture and still functions as the Doctor’s conscience to some degree. At one point we get her good-bye where she is an old woman, until the Doctor is given another chance playing with the twist on what is real or not. I wish she had said good-bye. Her story as an old woman was awesome! She traveled and taught but Danny was her one love besides the Doctor. I really liked that. Well, I guess we’ll see if her last good-bye can compare to the last 2, which have been amazing.

Santa Claus – Nick Frost does a fantastic job as Santa, and his sarcastic elves actually end up adding some great humor. From hating being called Elves or other people being called humans…to other sarcastic quips. Santa is one who knows he is a dream and helps the others get out of the dream the Dream Crabs have them captured in because it is who he is.

The Doctor – Capaldi is amazing and I’m really glad he’s sticking around for at least 2 more seasons. He is the Doctor who speaks harsh truths. He recognizes some traumas never go away and that the person may never be okay, and he is able to connect with Santa since they are both immortals who are not quite human. We see how afraid he is of hurting Clara too and in the first ending doesn’t return to her for over 60 years. He’s afraid of disappointing her that he didn’t find Gallifrey and fears hurting her. Capaldi adds so much depth and sadness to the role, as well as excitement like when they make their escape from the Dream Crabs in Santa’s Sleigh which helps them to wake up. He is one of my favorite Doctors for sure, I just hope his next two seasons can keep up this quality and that we can avoid “Robot of Sherwood” and “The Forest of Night” type stories…given the rest of the season has explored him in great ways and been at least good if not great. This episode captured 12’s coldness, passion, fear of hurting others, empathy and showed just how much he cared about Clara, even if he was unable to let himself care about others for fear of losing them. This Doctor has learned and I can’t wait to see where else that growth takes him.

The Message – Even things like Santa that aren’t real can inspire us. It is in the dream that Santa saves the day and his existence is left up in the air at the end. He’s not overpowering but still is there as a support and the one thing binding all our characters together. This is the power of belief, and when that belief is positive it can in fact make a difference in the lives it touches…much like Santa Claus…or even the fairy tale like Doctor.

Okay: Clara’s Good-bye – Clara almost got her second Good-bye but the Doctor getting a second chance took away from what could have been the best of the companion exits. This could still work, but twice now a great chance for Clara to leave on great terms has been passed up to keep her around. That’s why this is okay and not a pro.

       I highly recommend this episode. Clara doesn’t have Danny come back and gets to say good-bye to him and chooses to live. This episode had consequences and almost the best companion exit of the series. I wish the Doctor had said good-bye to Clara when she was an old woman so he’d be forced to change and learn without her. She’s been a great addition this series but this is the second time she was given a great exit that was taken away. First with her and the Doctor lying to one another, and second with her as an old woman who had lived a full life. The Doctor got his second chance with her, which is great, but eventually he too will have to say good-bye. Major props to Nick Frost as well for playing a very human Santa Claus who was stern, real and compassionate. I really liked his character.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. One of the best of the Doctor Who Specials. Merry Christmas all!