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Gretel & Hansel (2020): A Powerful Tale of Making One’s Own Path

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     “Gretel & Hansel” is fantastic. As a horror fan, the horror films I tend to enjoy are ones that aren’t dependent on jump scares and aim more ambiance and the feeling of a constant fear. In stories like this it leaves more time to explore characters versus the monster and slasher films were often characters simply exist to die. This is a story that has been retold so many times. I still remember the B-Movie “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and I had a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales as a kid. This story has a few intriguing twists that enrich the story and it is easily the most beautifully directed film I’ve seen this year.

The film was directed by Oz Perkins and written by Rob Hayes.

The film takes place in unspecified time period during a famine as Hansel & Gretel must seek shelter after food after they are cast from their home.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Tone – The tone of this world is absolutely fantastic. There is the terror and dread as the story begins with the story of a child being exiled to the wood’s to die because the village exiles her after her father had originally saved her as a baby when he took her to an enchantress. This curse and “Othering” that our heroes feel is really well done especially as it is felt by the women in the toxic patriarchal society they are a part of.

The World – We have a world that could be our future or our far past. This is part of the beauty of the story as it is presented as timeless with the only alien thing being the use of magic in the world, which is handled subtlety as it is truly the characters and their relationships that drive the story. This is a desperate world and you can see how it shaped the characters into the people they became.

The Cinematography – Galo Olivares has an eye for creating a beautiful scene. How colors and shadow are used in this film give the story an almost dream or nightmare like quality. The use of symmetry in scenes also helps capture that dark fairy tale-like nature of the story. It is easily the most beautiful and cinematic films I have seen this year.

Holda / The Witch – The biggest mystery of the story that really drives the narrative is that of Holda, the Witch. She is the one who takes in the children and there is the hint that she may have been the child abandoned in the woods. Over the course of the story we learn that she was the child’s mother and that she killed her other children after her daughter had killed her husband. This lead to her tricking to her home and transmutating them into feasts squash, bread, etc. as she gained power and held their souls trapped. It is only thanks to Gretel standing up to her and stopping her that the souls of the dead are finally free. Alice Krige does an amazing job as this Darth Sidious like character seeking to corrupt Gretel and make her a sociopath as both of them were oppressed and abused by the culture around them.

Gretel – Sophia Lillis does an awesome as Gretel. Like in the story she is forced to raise her younger her brother when her mother kicks her out after she refuses to sleep with the man she is a house cleaner for. After they meet a hunter in the woods who saves them from a cannibal but with him she realizes her only option is to marry that is all. That is until she meets Holda who helps her discover her magic. For sometime she trusts Holda until she sees how her brother is becoming drained and how little Holda cares for him. She also begins to see spirits and when she investigates further she sees the spirits of theses dead children are victims of Holda in her gaining of power. After this frees the souls and sets her brother on his way to the village the hunter had mentioned as she decides to become an Enchantress but one that values life and that she will make her own path in the world.

The Cons:

What Happened to the Original Witch? – We never learned what happened to the original witch, Holda’s daughter. We can assume she taught her mother the magic but she never comes up again after her mother kills her siblings and becomes a witch herself. This is really strange given the competitive nature of power in the film as the Witch’s are like Sith Lords always seeking more and caring nothing for those around them with the exception of Gretel and possibly the original Enchantress.

If you are fan or horror films chances are you will enjoy this one. This is a great example of how the simple, if it is really expanded upon can lead to a great story. The timeless nature of fairy tales is also captured in this film too, showing just how many ways there can be to adapt a tale and give one’s own spin to the story. Gretel’s story is absolutely fantastic and Alice Krige as the Witch is a fascinating antagonist. She is a truly amazing actress. Suffice to say this is a film I highly recommend and definitely one of my favorite to come out this year.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Da 5 Bloods (2020): The Intersectionality of Justice

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods Netflix Movie Gets Colorful New Poster ...

    Before I get into the review itself, I wanted to write about something that would educate and bring awareness to #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing oppression of African-Americans here in the United States. Reviewing “Star Trek” unless it was an episode that would be related would just feel hollow. What is going on right now is far more important and I come from privilege. Spike Lee has once again created it. This is a film that speaks to ongoing oppression on both the United States and global scale and brings it down to a personal level while tying it to the importance of why it matters and is tied to the now. Without giving away any spoilers, this is an amazing drama and Spike Lee has once again directed and co-wrote one of my favorite films. There are layers to this film that can’t be expressed and that I’ll be going into deeper.

The film was directed by Spike Lee who co-wrote the film along with Daniel Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Wilmott.

The story follows the survivors of of their squad from the Vietnam War, seeking buried treasure and facing their demons they left from the Vietnam War.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Presentation – Spike Lee does an amazing job of giving us a few different presentations of the narrative. We get flashbacks filmed like a documentary from Vietnam. We have modern interviews and still images and pictures. This gives a rough and real quality as the times we have it with a more modern cinematic quality is when we are with the Old Bloods. The different ways of filming presentation through the film give the film gravitas and history.

The Characters – The characters are who drive the narrative. We have the surviving Bloods (Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin) who each carry the wounds from the Vietnam and carry their PTSD in different ways that give them depth. We have their guide Vinh whose family are Viet Cong, you have Tiên who is Otis’s former lover who he had a child with and you have Paul’s son David as well as the members of LAMB who are trying to get rid of the landmines from the war.

The Bloods – The Blood are the characters who drive the narrative and they are all fantastic. You have Norman who is Young Blood, their leader who taught about Dr. King and Malcolm X and the history of the United States and the oppression of African-Americans in the United States. All the actors do an amazing job but Chadwick Boseman is absolutely fantastic as Norman. We have Melvin who has a family and can’t see beyond his family but sacrifices himself in the final fight to save Otis from a grenade. We have Eddie who was once wealthy but lost it all and has become an activist and member of the Black Lives Matter movement as he remembers that Norman was the one had taught them activism and history. He is sadly killed by a landmine after they’ve recovered the gold. We have Paul who has become selfish after the war. His wife died at childbirth and he could never bring himself to love his son. He’s also a Trump supporter and the closest thing he has to friends are the Bloods. He also blames himself for killing Norman as he did accidentally kill him from friendly fire during the war and was never able to forgive himself. His arc ends with his accepting his son and forgiving himself before he is killed. Paul’s son David also becomes a member of the Blood as he is the one who helped them find the gold and is the character who never stops loving his dad. There is also the one member of the original members of the Bloods who survives, Otis. Otis rekindles a relationship with the woman he left after the war and they had. It is really well done as we see Otis takes painkillers as a way of dealing with his pain and PTSD and is the kindest member of the group. Otis was my favorite member of the Bloods. Clarke Peters is fantastic in the role as are Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Jonathan Majors as the other members of the Bloods.

Vinh – Vinh is the guide for the Bloods and has family who were Viet Cong. He is a generation younger than the Bloods and shows them that the war is over and that it is okay to move on. It is his Uncles who pay for the Bloods drinks at the bar and Vinh plays peacemaker between The Bloods and a few other groups they run into. He is thankfully rewarded with some of the CIA gold at the end as he is the one who helps them get it out of Vietnam and the money he has is used to help his business. He was my favorite character in the film and Johnny Trí Nguyễn was great.

Tiên – Tiên is amazing. She is Otis’s former lover and used to be a prostitute during the war. She owns her own house and works with Desroche to help in international exchange. She went through so much as her half-black daughter was looked down upon by the people in Vietnam and the U.S. troops. She brings this all to Otis’s attention and only lets Otis have a relationship with them when Otis uses his money and time to stay. That he isn’t just going to run away again. It is a powerful story and Lê Y Lan is wonderful in the role.

The Intersectionality of Justice – A major theme of the film is the intersectionality of justice. We see this on the International scale with the United States and France’s relationship to Vietnam and how the Vietnam war came about. We see it in the Bloods. African-American soldiers who fought in a war for a country that didn’t even treat them as full human beings with equal rights and how today that still carries through in the prison industrial complex and the killing of African-Americans by cops who then face no consequences…as well as red lining and where resources and power lie. This exploration of resources and power is the basis of Intersectionality in the film and it is beautifully handled through the Vietnamese people we meet and the memories and relationships the Bloods have with the characters they meet.

Black Lives Matter and Connection to the Present – Black Lives Matter is also central to the film. Eddie plans to donate his share of the gold to the movement as he calls our characters back to the present and “the ongoing oppression of our people.” This is something that the surviving members of the Blood aren’t ready to face until after Eddie’s death by the landmine. Even with Norman’s teachings they still just want to live well and forget. This is where the call to action and the movement comes in and in turns calls on us to fight against injustice and speak. The same fight for equality, equity and justice from the 60’s isn’t over as the mistakes and oppression of the past continues. The film highlights this on multiple occasions and it is part of what lends the narrative so much power.

The Cons:

Pacing – There are a few scenes that could have been made shorter and in turn the pacing would have been improved. Paul’s rant in the jungle is the best example of this. It is his meeting Norman after he is bit by the snake that it starts to flow again. This is the greatest example of the pacing issue the film has but there were others too.

The Villain – The villain is a selfish Frenchman named Desroche. He is greedy and out for the gold that the Bloods are seeking. There was no dimension to him and I didn’t believe that he would have let them live if they’d handed over the gold. This was a shame as him being French added another dimension to Vietnam as a colonizer and his soldiers are all Vietnamese people he’s paying. This should have been explored.

This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. Not only does it answer the “So what?” of the present it also gives us complex characters who grow and change as they face their inner demons. I can’t wait to see what Spike Lee does next. I loved the depth and intersectionality that this film has and the performances are amazing by all members of the cast. I highly recommend and remembering the film’s call for justice.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year so far.

Here are some resources provided by Black Lives Matter to help restore justice.:

https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/

Star Trek VIII: First Contact (1996) – Of Facing Trauma and the Quest for Betterment

Image result for star trek first contact poster

“Star Trek: First Contact” is the best of “The Next Generation” films. For me this isn’t initially doesn’t sound like much as I don’t think the others are good. They range from okay to awful for me where this was legitimately a great film. It isn’t perfect by any means, the ending kind of falls apart for one but this feels like an ensemble show. All the crew of Enterprise has a moment and many of them get the chance to grow and change over the course of the film. I’ll get into more of what I mean deeper into the review. As a kid this film freaked me out as this film presented how truly terrifying it would be to be assimilated by the Borg, and why they are one of the greatest threats in “Star Trek.”

The film was written by Brannon Bragga and Ronald D. Moore and directed by Jonathan Frakes.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise-E when the Borg attack Earth. In order stop the Borg from winning they must go back in time to stop them and make sure that “First Contact” between the Vulcans and Humans still happens at the right time.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Enterprise-E – The Enterprise-E is a beautiful ship. It has the torpedo look of Voyager while still having the curving appearance that most models of the Enterprise have. It is a powerful ship and you can see why it is the flagship as it barely takes any damage from the Borg Cube and does enough damage to the Cube that the Sphere has to be shot out and a time travel plan initiated. The bridge is much more military, reflecting a Dominion era ship, and the different rooms feel more mechanical and less like a lounge like on the Enterprise-D. Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite ships to come out of Trek.

Guest Appearances – Robert Picardo, the Doctor on “Voyager” appears as the Enterprise-E to stall the Borg and Ethan Phillips who plays Neelix on “Voyager” appears as a hologram who greets Lily and Picard. It was pretty neat seeing them. Picardo’s Doctor is one of the best parts of Voyager and Ethan Phillips is a good actor.

Lily and Cochrane – Lily and Cochrane are the two people from the past who know about those who visited from the future and for both it is a different experience. Lily passes out after trying to kill Data and finds herself on the Enterprise-E, eventually meeting up with Picard and helping him find a way past his obsession to destroy the Borg for how they hurt him…and Cochrane is running from his destiny and being a major part of the future as Troi, Riker and Geordi eventually help him come to terms with the man he will become. Both offer a different view of time travel that I appreciated. I do wish we could have got more of Cochrane’s motivation beyond selfishness though. The Zefram Cochrane of this series is acted amazingly by James Cromwell, but he is a scummy dude who is only out for himself. This is a man who doesn’t see the big picture until first contact with the Vulcans. Lily, is someone who does get it and Alfre Woodard does a great job.

The Crew – The crew are given a lot of exploration in this film. The only one who really doesn’t have as many scenes is Dr. Crusher, but she is still active and protecting people when the Borg begin taking over the ship. She is also the only who saves Lily who ends up being the person who helps Picard come back to himself again. So I’m mentioning what she did here before I go into detail on the events surrounding the rest of the crew.

Troi – Troi is the one who first finds Zefram Cochrane. She ends up getting drunk with him before he finally admits who he is and has to sadly keep him away. Zefram is a scummy guy in this whose arc is really about becoming a better person. Troi is the one interacting among the people and who can see how much fear there is (this is Post World War 3). I wish we got to see more scenes like this as she is the one outside of Dr. Crusher who really sees the human element best.

Worf – Worf is fantastic in this film. We get to see him fight with The Defiant against the Borg and later face them on the Enterprise-E. It is the fact that the numbers of Borg seem to be endless that leads to Worf realizing they need to blow up the ship as the Borg are adapting more quickly than they can destroy them. Picard calls him a coward at this point before apologizing. I love that Worf isn’t played a joke as he is in the later films. He’s a Starfleet officer and one of their best.

Geordi – Geordi is the first to tell Zefram about the future and is in charge of repairing the Phoenix. It is Geordi’s admiration and descriptions of the future that end up freaking Cochrane out the most as he doesn’t see himself as a genius. In the end he comes through and Geordi and Riker get to make warp speed on the day it is supposed to happen in the timeline.

Riker – Riker is the one who hold Zefram accountable and makes it so he can’t run away from the future. He ends up stunning him, which finally helps him get his act together so they can get the Phoenix ready and first contact with the Vulcans be made. He’s in charge of the team on Earth and you once again see why he’s the First Officer as he pulls everything together and in the end, Zefram and Lily are the only ones who ever knew there were time travelers present.

Data – This film is really Data and Picard’s story and continues the theme of the show with Data’s quest for humanity. In this we have moments where his androidness comes in handy as when they he feels fear, he can just shut it off by turning off his emotion chip. In this the Borg, specifically the Queen offer Data a choice once he is captured. If he joins them he can have the organic and feel physical sensation as humans do. He goes along with it and ends up tricking the Queen and destroying their base. He does mention to Picard that for a near second he was tempted, which is long for an android. The Picard, Data dynamic is wonderful and you can see a friendship has grown between them over the years on the show and the loss of the Enterprise-D.

Picard – This film involves Picard facing what was done to him by the Borg when they made him Locutus. We see this at first when Starfleet doesn’t want him to face them because they don’t trust his judgement and later when after helping easily defeat the Borg we find they are around, and in his ship. This is powerful as Picard is trying to hold onto himself and his ego and in the process doesn’t notice when he loses people or how his obsession is consuming him. It isn’t until Data is captured and Lily calls him out that he calls for a retreat and realizes that losing another Enterprise is the only way to win. After this he goes to the Borg to save Data and comes open and ready to face himself and the memories of his trauma.

Ship Under Siege – What make the narrative work is that when the Borg beam onto the Enterprise it is a slow takeover, but by the time they’re discovered they are permanently entrenched. Our heroes are fighting to hold ground and to prevent more Borg being called so the stakes are high the entire time. This claustrophobia lends itself to the narrative and constant push of the Borg push into Picard’s obsession to destroy them and fight back.

The Trauma of the Borg – When Borg assimilate someone they are made part of the Collective. Their body is mutilated and machine is installed within them. This is what was done to Picard in “Best of Both Worlds” Part 1 and 2. Certain episodes explore how that hurt him, from killing Federation officers in the Battle of Wolf 359, to his loss of self and identity and being a part of the machine. This film explores this beautifully as it begins with Picard having a nightmare about his assimilation and his scene facing the Queen involves him facing that nightmare. It is a good narrative book-end.

The Quest for Betterment – Another major theme of the film is the quest for betterment. Whether it is how the Borg seek perfection through assimilation, Cochrane’s first contact and how it lead to humanity rising up to the Stars and the formation of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets and Data’s quest to become human and more than his programming. All these elements run as the narrative through line and make the film great.

The Cons:

The Borg Queen and Ego in the Collective – The Borg are a Collective and to me that is what makes them the most terrifying. When the Queen is introduced she uses “I” and also is seeking a mate. My guess is they wanted to go for a bee hive for the Borg when they are much scarier as a one mind lovecraftian horror. The Queen’s ego, which a collective doesn’t have, is what leads to her losing as after Data sleeps with her, she fully trusts him and he betrays her and saves first contact and the Enterprise-E goes to waste. If she hadn’t had Data do be the one to fire the shot (which was just to rub in Picard’s face) she would have won. This issue of ego becomes an even bigger problem when she is back again in “Voyager.” The actress does a good job with what she’s given but the moment the Queen showed up, the threat of the Borg no longer felt as great, and the final act simply cemented that.

Picard Wasn’t Needed in the Final Act – Narratively I get Picard going to save Data, as Data saved him in “Best of Both Worlds.” The thing is, how the script was written the Queen would have lost whether he was there or not. She believed she had Data and Data knew what to destroy to stop her. He also isn’t killed or mortally injured after he does this. Picard showing up is just for the sake of narrative and to complete his emotional journey. I wish they’d re-written this whole act so that Data did need rescuing and wouldn’t have been able to stop the Queen on his own. Instead, Data stops the Queen, stops the Borg and makes first contact possible. If Picard wasn’t in the scene it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” than you will probably like “First Contact.” It isn’t as strong as some of “The Original Series” films but it is greater than most “Star Trek” films that are out there. Overall it works and even though the ending didn’t need Picard and the Queen, kind of ruins the threat of the Borg for me, it is still a very well told story. This was a film tacking big ideas and major themes and I think Bragga and Moore accomplished that. The Borg are Picard’s Khan and this is one of the best explorations of that trauma that currently exists in the stories of “The Next Generation.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This is a wonderfully great and flawed film.

 

The Lighthouse (2019): The Haunting Light

Image result for The Lighthouse 2019

     “The Lighthouse” is worth the hype. This is a film that feels that taps into the human psyche and the terror of both isolation and the monsters people are capable of being. It does all this while still having nuance within the script and giving us complicated characters. It helps that it is beautifully filmed. I really hope we see more films like this. It certainly feels like a film that Hitchcock would make or any of his contemporaries. From the almost stage nature and the symbolism and depth that carries the film, beyond the amazing performances by Pattinson and Dafoe. Before I get into spoilers, I highly recommend this film.

The film was directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, with Max Eggers being the other writer.

The story follows Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who is contracted out to be wickie for 4 weeks on an Island of the coast of New England. He meets impatient man in charge Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), and begins to experience strange visions after finding a statue of a mermaid buried within his bed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – This film is beautiful. The use light in black and white is used to create a haunting and isolating environment. Jarin Blaschke truly did a beautiful job.

The Writing – The script feels like a stage play at times while still being natural. Characters will give monologues and the two of them read from a book, and that book becomes part of the theme and narrative. Myths and legends are weaved into the lives and lies of our characters. This is all used in the theme of the dreams tied to what the characters preach about. There is a sense of the supernatural through the entire narrative.

The Characters – Dafoe and Pattinson fully inhabit their characters. You have the superstitious Wake whose story about his bad leg is all lie but clearly is connected and worthy of the light from the Lighthouse. Both of them are so incredibly flawed and seeing them build trust with one another that falls apart is tragic and powerful. Each of them carries lies from their past and origins and over the course of the story those truths are revealed and come at costs to the different characters. Each of them are people who wouldn’t have a relationship as colleagues unless they had to. Wake likes his solitude and has committed crimes to keep it and has regret from it just as Winslow regrets what has driven him here. He clearly doesn’t want to be a drifter but feels as if he has no choice and because of it he can’t trust. Neither of them are good people but them being complicated makes their going mad all the more fantastic to witness.

Isolation, Loneliness and Lies and delusions – Some of the major themes of the story involve the isolation of our characters, the lies they tell one another and the loneliness they each face. The characters are consumed by visions and delusions. Winslow dreams of a mermaid and killing or having sex with it and sees visions of tentacles rising from Wake and him looking like a sea deity. The only time the characters aren’t alone is over meal time or when Winslow finally drinks with Wake. It is here we see the connection they come to share that is destroyed by the truth of their actions and past and the all consuming madness of the light.

The Consuming Truth – What ends up being a major theme of the story is consuming truth. As the characters go mad they learn more about one another see in the end the revelation of the lies and truth destroys their sanity and lives. It is powerful as both characters are murders and in turn meet their ends as they attack one another and give mortal injuries that signal that there is no escape for either from the truth.

The Haunting Light – The light from the Lighthouse is used hauntingly throughout the film. Winslow goes from not caring about it it becoming his obsession. He kills to see the light and in turn it leads to his eyes burning and him being punished by the gulls. The light is never peaceful and even when there is ecstasy it always has a dark implication. Wake masturbates to it and it is when Winslow watches him do it he sees tentacles above for the first time, an early sign of his madness. It is unknown if the light brings about the madness or simply reveals it but it is center to the story and I loved it.

I loved this movie. It is truly worth the hype. I really want to see Pattinson’s Batman now and this easily one of the best performances Willem Dafoe has done. If you like movies full of rich themes, psychological horror and are beautifully filmed, this is the film for you. This film doesn’t feel long at all. This might be my favorite film of the year and I can’t wait to see what Robert Eggers creates next.

10 / 10 The film is perfect and well worth your time.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) – Bringing Closure to the Amazing Show

    I loved this film. “El Camino” is the perfect Epilogue and closure for Jesse Pinkman and “Breaking Bad” as a whole. “Breaking Bad” is one of my favorite shows of all time, and this film captures so many of those reasons why it is. Like the show the filming is stark in coloration, the music also gives it that intensity and the writing is the perfect example of showing and not telling. No wonder Vince Gilligan created a masterpiece in the show, as he does this so well again here. If you are a fan of the show, you will at the very least enjoy the film. I highly recommend it.

The film was directed and written by Vince Gilligan.

The story follows Jesse after his escape from the Neo-Nazis as he tries to find a way to freedom away from all that has happened as he seeks out his friends and connections for help.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – As a fan of the show, it was great finally getting closure. I enjoyed seeing all the characters still alive interact and their connection to Jesse as well as those who were dead and how they were defining the way he would live. The world of “Breaking Bad” is harsh and cruel and there isn’t much hope. Most of the series involves Jesse taking a literal and metaphorical beating so it was wonderful seeing that there were still moments of light in the dark. The soundtrack and cinematography bring this to life too with how stark scenes are shot and even the brightest day can be one of complete isolation and claustrophobia. Dave Porter’s soundtrack brings this world to life to the point that it is like being back in the show once more.

Jesse Pinkman – Aaron Paul is truly an underrated actor. This is a film where we get to fully know the depths of who Jesse is. Jesse is complicated, but in the end he is someone who wants to do good by others. We see that he only kills in self-defense, he wants to give everyone a chance and will surrender if he is ever caught while still doing all he can find freedom and start over. In the end he gets that when he gets revenge against those who built his cage for the Neo-Nazi Meth Game who had enslaved him and when Ed keeps his word and grants him a new identity in life in Alaska. Leading up to this we see Mike talk to him about Alaska being the best place to start over, Walt talking to him about going into business and college, Jane talking about meaning and making your own choices and the support from his friends Skinny Pete and Badger who risk everything for him as he retraces the cook for the Neo-Nazi’s Todd to reclaim his money. It is powerful and I love how much we learn about Jesse.

Is Redemption Possible? – The major theme of the film is redemption and if it is even possible. Jesse has hurt a lot of people and this is a film where we do see him try to make amends. He tells his parents it isn’t their fault he is who he became, and the cleaner Ed he gets him the money and kills to do so, knowing what it will cost him inside, even if revenge is still part of it. Jesse is so broken when he first escapes and it is Skinny Pete and Badger’s compassion that even gives him a chance at a life again and chance for redemption as they do a car swap and give him money to keep the police off his back. Jesse carries that with him. All he has is his life and the desire to live and to not hurt anymore, and in the end the film says there is a chance. The last conversation wouldn’t have been with Jane talking purpose otherwise.

Responsibility and Moving Forward – How redemption is possible is through responsibility. This is fulfilled in the show in Walter sacrificing himself to atone to Jesse and getting the money to his family and we see it once more with Jesse in how he doesn’t kill and at every chance the law accuses him he is surrenders willingly. Ed, giving him his out shows it too as he calls the cops but leads them away and tells Jesse, once he has the money the deal for a new life will happen. They even have a great talk at the end and Ed talks about how he doesn’t care about Jesse’s feelings, he made his choices. He is the closest thing to a father for Jesse in the end and I love their relationship as his stubbornness and in the end helping Jesse does help him to heal. R.I.P. Robert Forster, you were one of the best parts of “Breaking Bad” and this film.

Okay:

Film to Show as New Trend? – The fact that this is a film that is based off a streaming show is a trend that I’m putting as okay, as in I’m a little worried. I look towards Disney plus and see how they could you this trend to gain an even greater monopoly on television than they already have. This is a horrifying thought and I really hope that in the competition between streaming services we get more gems like this that are in no way tied to Disney.

This is a character study of Jesse Pinkman and in that it fully succeeds. We get the beautiful score and cinematography of the show and a bittersweet ending, showing us that maybe there can be hope even in the worst of despair. Like the ending of “Breaking Bad,” this film works. It completes Jesse’s story and I’m glad it was made. Aaron Paul’s Jesse and the amazing supporting cast appearing in this film make this an unforgettable ride. The only way I could see this working again is with a character like Saul Goodman who also has so many characters tied to his story. I don’t think that will happen and that I think that is good. This epilogue gives the show a completion I didn’t know it needed. It was a great ride and one I would highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 The near perfect television film. I wish it had been longer.

Toy Story 4 (2019): A Powerful Exploration of Purpose and Relationship

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    “Toy Story 4” was a great film that I didn’t think was probable. This was a series that had ended pretty definitively at the end of “Toy Story 3” so I wasn’t sure what else they were going to do. I’m happy to say I was surprised. This is a film that is powerful and explores identity, mortality, purpose. The main cast are the heart of the show and at this point it is easily one of my favorite films of the year. If you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this one out.

The film was directed by Josh Cooley and written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton.

The story follows Woody and his friends on a road trip after Bonnie has created a new toy name Forky who believes himself to be trash. Woody mentors him but soon finds himself questioning what he’s known when he runs into Bo Peep who is a now a living the life of a “lost toy.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Pixar does such a great job building off each of their latest films. This is simply a stunningly animated movie that has more realistic looking people, the detail of fur on animals and tons of different surfaces that make-up the many toys. I hope Pixar continues to thrive and brings us more of this amazing art. Every few films introduce something new worth exploring. After this my wife and I went to the Pixar exhibit and got to see the science behind it first hand. If it is ever in your area, check it out.

The Characters – The strongest part of most Pixar films are the characters. This film is no exception. The support characters have the least to do so it is hard to call their story good but it is still fun. This film is truly about the new characters, Bo Peep and Woody.

Gabby Gabby – Gabby Gabby is the antagonist of the film. She is a doll who wants to be loved but thinks because her voice box is broken she will never be loved. Because of this she kidnaps Forky to get Woody’s voicebox. They clash through the film with her eventually winning in her aims to get the voice box, only to be tossed aside. She is is a complex antagonist in that you can see where her drive is coming from and that she doesn’t destroy others the way Stinky Pete, Sid or Lotso does in the original Trilogy. She comes around to love and respect Woody because of what he does for her and becomes friends with Forky. Christina Hendricks gives so much depth to this role and she is easily the best antagonist in any “Toy Story” film, and that is because she shows that there is more a broken toy can become. Her final act is leaving Woody and Bo to care for a lost girl at the carnival.

Bo Peep – Bo is a toy who has found independence in the lost toy life and is loving it. She spends her time helping other toys found enjoyement from being played and though she misses her toy family from before she lives what she has become. She has a role beyond being there for a kid and it is in this role that Woody is given the choice for his own future.

Forky – Forky is the toy Bonnie creates when she is alone at Kindergarten. It is a powerful moment and Forky is born with an existential crisis. For much of the film he is trying to return to the trash, since that was what he was made from. Woody is the one who convinces him that he has a purpose to live (as well as Gabby Gabby) and from here he accepts his place as Bonnie’s favorite toy. The process is devastating and his arc is like a newborn learning to think and reason. We’ve never witnessed the birth of sentience in a toy until this film within the “Toy Story Franchise.”

Woody – Woody’s arc this film is learning to find purpose beyond devotion to a kid. The beginning of this is when Bonnie no longer cares to play with him, which kicks things off and ends with the finding of Bo Peep and joining her with the carnival, knowing that there they can help other toys find kids. His arc is a gut punch though as it is after Buzz comes back to rescue him that he says good-bye and passes on his sheriff star to Jessie who had become the Sheriff for Bonnie when she played. It was neat and a great releasing of his ego on Woody’s part. Tom Hanks once again adds so many layers to this wonderful character.

Identity and Purpose – The main theme running through the story is that of identity and purpose. What this is for most toy’s is the devotion of a kid. This is what helps make Forky no longer seek death and is what drives Woody through the story up to this point. It isn’t until he meets Po that he sees that she is bringing joy to those who are lost or don’t have toys. Woody finds purpose in this and in his love for her. It is powerful and over the course of the film is set up really well. We get the flashback of when she leaves, Woody being left in the closet and the birth of Forky who Woody than mentors. This exploration of identity and purpose is really the core of the story and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Support Characters – The support characters are alright. Woody’s friends get some good comedy, but we never see them grow. Buzz, who has the most screen time among them is the same character at the beginning as he is at the end. The same goes for Jessie. She is still the same Jessie the film began with as she was always a leader. Key and Peele play a comedic duo Ducky and Bunny. There are others as well who work on a comedic level, but it is hard to call what they have arcs. For this reason the supporting cast is only okay.

This is a film I highly recommend. I can’t wait to go back and watch the original “Toy Story Trilogy” again and see just how far Pixar has come in their animation and really storytelling too. If you are a fan of the other films, chances are you won’t be disappointed by this one. So far it is easily one of my favorite films of the year and I can’t wait to see what else Pixar creates and the future stories they tell.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

What We Left Behind – Looking Back on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2019) – The Perfect “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Documentary

  “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Series.” This is a series that was willing to explore philosophy, religion war and give the minor characters full arcs. It is no wonder Ronald Moore created the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” from this show, which is also one of my favorite sci. fi. shows. He was on the writing team while Ira Steven Behr was the showrunner. This is easily the best documentary I’ve ever watched. It has comedy, heart, philosophy, depth and explores the relationships and characters who made up the show. My bias being that “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Franchise” and in Sci. fi. shows as a whole. It certainly has flaws and wasn’t perfect and this is a documentary that honestly explores that.

The documentary was directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, produced by 455 Films and released by Shout! Studios.

The documentary traces the origins of “Deep Space Nine’s” creation, the actors and their thoughts on the show, gives us a hypothetical new season with many of the original writing team and explores the legacy the show left behind.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Into and Ending – The Into and ending were so corny and perfect. “Deep Space Nine” had Vic Fontaine’s Jazz lounge as a major part of the show and the Documentary paid tribute to that by having Max Grodénchik (Rom) kick it off with a corny song about leaving his heart on “Deep Space Nine.” In the end he is joined by Jeffrey Combs (Grunt and Weyoun on Ds9), Casey Biggs (Damar) and Armin Shimermen (Quark) to finish the song. It had so much heart, even if the lyrics don’t always work. The four of them are also great singers.

The Reaction to the Show – Throughout the documentary the cast reads fans letters as Ira Steven Behr interviews them. These are glimpses of history that show just how much the show was hated by some in it’s initial release. People hated that the show was darker and that it wasn’t daily exploration on a ship. The reactions are nuanced (Ira on making sense of how people saw it as a dark show) to funny when Aron Eisenberg (Nog) reads a reaction from someone who hated it. This was one of the aspects that added character to the documentary.

The Making of the Show – Making the show an episodic story beyond single bottle episodes or two-parters was revolutionary. This was a major part of the film, and beyond that how when most fans talked about the show in interviews it was largely about the Dominion War arc. It was the arc that changed everything outside of the arcs of “Babylon 5.” We also got to see the Writers Room when Behr got together with Ronald Moore and some of the other writers from the show to draft a pilot for a new season. It was really neat seeing that as well as the relationship between the showrunner, directors, actors and crew. They also went into the Evolution of the Dominion and how they evolved into a collection of species versus a single one.

The Actors’ Stories – Part of what makes the story so compelling are getting the stories of the actors and the relationships formed over the course of the show. We learn about how Armin Shimerman (Quark) used to host the other actors who played Ferengi at his home to go over the scripts. “Deep Space Nine” was full of Ferengi episodes and seeing how friendships grew out of it was so wonderful. We also got to see that Alaimo (Dukat) had a crush on Nana Visitor (Kira), and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) and how to this day he is friends and mentor to his show son Cirroc Lofton. The actors also talked about their characters and created interludes. Andrew Robinson (Garak) appeared early on and later to talk about how when he first played the character he played him as wanting to have sex with Doctor Bashir and how the character relationships evolved into a deep friendship. It was awesome hearing that first hand as Robinson always played Garak as Bisexual and him voicing that made me happy.  They also touched on Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) leaving the show and the disrespect from the directors as well as when Nicole de Boar (Ezri) took over for the last season of the show. Even with all that happened there are still so many friendships among the cast.

Taking Responsibility and Impact in Social Justice – This was a show that tackled the themes of poverty, race, war, philosophy and Behr took responsibility the fact that they didn’t explore gender and sexuality very well. They recognized the existence sexuality and LGTBTQ rights but didn’t advocate. Behr owned it and it made me respect him a lot. “Star Trek” has always been a progressive show and it has dropped the ball on LGBTQ justice all of this time until “Discovery” really.

The New Season Pilot – One of the arcs through the documentary getting what writers he could together to write a new season of the snow. The new season pilot is awesome. It starts with Captain Nog being attacked and a reunion of all the characters returning to “Deep Space Nine.” Kira is a priestess and the station is a religious site, Worf is in line to takeover after Martok to rule the Empire, Julian Bashir is a captain with Ezri serving together on a ship and O’Brien is a professor at Starfleet academy while Jake is a successful author. From here things unfold as it starts out with Nog being attacked by an unscene show before arriving at the station. From we learn of a Bajor / Jem’Hadar plot that Kira is tied to and the return of Sisko as he reaches out to his children. I would watch it and I wish it would get made. Sadly I doubt it will exist beyond the fandom of this documentary though.

What You’ll Get on the DVD – The documentary ended with Nana Visitor talking to Behr about everything that wasn’t covered. Whether it was her failed marriage to Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), her having a baby and how they wrote that into the show, “In the Pale Moonlight” and quite a few other things. Behr said they’d all be on the special features of the dvd and that it was cut for time. Hearing that lead me to pre-order the dvd. I can’t wait to see all of the things that didn’t make it and rewatch this perfect documentary again.

If it wasn’t obvious already, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite shows of all time. This was the “Star Trek series” I felt was good to great all the way through and explored the themes I love in stories. It gave politics, philosophy, war, identity and history all in deep and respectful ways. If you are a sci. fi. fan I highly recommend this show. This show started so much and any time I have the chance to see these actors and writers if they end up in Portland at a Comic Con, you bet I’ll be there. This was a show funded by the fans and created for them and the time and love put into it made it the perfect documentary and film. I’ll be surprised if any film compares when this year is done.

10 / 10. “Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite Science Fiction shows of all time and I can’t think of a better way to honor it. The actors in this cast are folks I’d go to comic con for if they make it over my way.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019): An Exploration of Art and Obsession

         Terry Gilliam is one of the Director’s who has a vision I really respect. He brings magical realism to all his work and brings a tragic undercurrent to every story. His characters are flawed and he gives us worlds without heroes that are relatable and broken. “Fisher King” and “Brazil” are some of my favorite films and this is a great film that deserves to be among them. This was also a film that was hell to make. It was in some form of development for 29 years. It is a success that it finally was made and turned out as great as it is. Before I get into spoilers this is a great film and one I’d recommend to any fan of Gilliam’s work. It has all of his visual strengths and flawed characters and also the flaws of his films as many of the women he writes are more ideas than characters.

Terry Gilliam directed and co-wrote the film with Tony Grisoni.

The story follows Toby (Adam Driver) an advertising director who has returned to Spain to film a commercial about Don Quixote. After stumbling onto his student film where he changed a life of a small town forever with his film. Toby returns to the town and finds that all those involved with the town have come upon misery or death…with the cobbler Javier (Jonathan Pryce) who played Don Quixote, now believing himself to be the figure from the books. From here Toby is pulled into Javier’s adventure as he must own up to his own selfishness and the man he has become.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Nicola Pecorini does a wonderful job bringing Gilliam’s vision to life. From the use of stark colors when they are filming the commercial in the desert, to the final showdown in an old Castle that has been turned into a costume show…his use of color presentation brings each scene to life. It is from this presentation that the dreamlike nature is brought to the film and shows how many of the characters blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

The Soundtrack – Roque Baños López handled the soundtrack well and blends his influences to give us classic Spanish guitar work combined with the more epic operatic feel of the core adventure. He also works tension into every scene with the way he weaves the soundtrack through the film. The final showdown is a great example of this as it emphasizes the nightmarish costume party taking place and the fall of our heroes.

The World – The world that the film takes place is compelling as it mixes the story of “Don Quixote” into the real narrative of a town controlled by a Russian Gangster, sociopathic Hollywood executives and a crew who exploit one another and the people around them. This is a terrible world in regards to most of the characters who make up it, which ends up making sense why Javier became Don Quixote because the cruelty of life where there isn’t justice was too much for him to bare. This world is a beautiful tragedy and I look forward to watching it again. There are so many sad and comedic moments that I found it impossible not to be drawn in.

The Leads – The leads are really what carry the film. Adam Driver’s Toby is an egomaniac who eventually learns to be good but goes mad in the process (becoming Don Quixote after he accidentally kills Javier). Jonathan Pryce’s Javier is a madman who is driven by idealism but by the end of the film finds himself in death and Joana Ribiero’s Angelica is wonderful in how she calls each of them out in different ways while seeking freedom from the Mob.

When Creation and Art Leads to Obsession – The major theme of the film is the creation of art and how it can lead to obsession. The Russian mob boss has everyone dress up so that they can all live in his illusion, Javier once he figures out how the play the role of Don Quixote becomes the character and Toby in his initial obsession is what consumes the town and later himself when he adopts the role of Don Quixote after accidentally killing Javier. Given Gilliam’s own obsession in making this film, this film is most likely true to his life in many ways.

The Cons:

Presentation of Women – The women in this film are not fully realized characters. You have the Producer’s wife who is presented as a sign of temptation and corruption and you have Angelica as the fair maiden to be saved. Thankfully Angelica is shown to be more than this caricature by the end of the film but the Producer’s wife is not so lucky. They are also the only actresses that have any major role in the film so the fact that they are put into these awful roles by the men stands out all the more. This was definitely what brought the film down the most for me. The objectification by the cruel men is never called out. They just end up experiencing a different form of objectification.

I’m grateful this film got made. Gilliam has such a unique vision as a director and I love his magical realism. It isn’t perfect but the magical realism of Gilliam is something that I’ve always enjoyed, it is one of my favorite genres of fiction. There is something to be said for an artist who can so beautifully mix fantasy and reality into his narrative and comment on the nature of that blending in the process. I can see why Gilliam had been trying to make this film for so long. What he created is beautiful and amazing and to any Terry Gilliam fan I highly recommend. I’m planning to check out the documentary “Lost in La Manche” as it goes into the failed attempts to make this film. If you are a fan of Gilliam or this genre too, check it out.

 

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Shazam! (2019): A Beautiful Tale on What it Means to Have Family

New Shazam Poster Reminds You the Movie Is Fun | Collider

    “Shazam!” is easily the best film so far in the DC Cinematic Universe. I’m speaking as someone who thought “Wonder Woman” was great and enjoyed “Aquaman” and “Man of Steel.” This film is better than all of those and is the most fun I’ve had in a DC film since “The Dark Knight Rises.” I’m glad they got this win. “Shazam!” captures what makes super heroes and comics books so enjoyable and fun in the first place. This is a film that never stops being fun. For non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth seeing for that reason alone. This film is comedic, dark, adventurous and explores the concept of a family better than so many films that say that is their theme. Not only that, the film looks great and has a fantastic soundtrack.

The film was directed by David F. Sandberg with screenplay by Henry Gayden and produced by Peter Safran.

The story follows foster boy Billy Batson as he is given to the last foster family who will give him a chance, as he has ran away from all those prior. Left with the choice as he searches for his missing mother other threats are plot and act as Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) is empowered by an evil and only the wizard Shazam can empower someone pure of heart who can stop him in his quest of destruction.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – Finally the DCCU works. This film calls upon classic “Shazam!” villains who were part of his universe before Faucet Comics were bought out by DC and when he was Captain Marvel. The villain is Dr. Sivana who is a classic foe who DC brought into their universe. As someone who loves the rich lore of comics this was a movie that hit me on so many levels. There is more related to the lore that I’ll get into later in the review, but this is a world that doesn’t need the rest of the DC universe to be good but enriches it by existing.

The Action and Cinematography – The action is visceral, colorful and feels like it has been pulled from the pages of a comic. It isn’t the same beautiful the way “Spider-Verse” did it with it’s animation (blending anime, modern, noir, etc.) but it does it using the dark and light in the character’s abilities and where they choose to shoot the fights. For example, the final fight takes place in a carnival. This use of the dark and light contrast makes the fight sequences stand out and when they happen (because when they happen they matter) it adds to the narrative and is a brilliant use of storytelling.

The Characters – The characters and their relationships are what makes this movie work in this end. I would have rated this movie as at least very good if all I had to go on where performances and the character relationships, and this film delivers on those in spades. The relationships are a big reason I want to go back as I think I’ll notice more in the rewatch as far as how the characters see one another and what that means in the finale.

Billy Batson – Billy Batson / Shazam / Captain Marvel is the main character, who as the foster kid is seeking his mother. He is a kid who only looks out for himself and tells his foster family as much. He does grow more attached to them over the course of the film, which is part of his essential arc. When he becomes the Champion empowered by Wizard we see Billy’s arc go from selfish kid seeking his mother to hero who has found his true family. Both Zachary Levi as Shazam and Asher Angel as Billy give so much depth to the role.

Freddy – Freddy is one of Billy’s foster siblings and the closest thing he has to a friend. He’s also a huge comic book nerd and becomes Billy’s mentor on how to become a hero when he becomes the Champion / Shazam. At first they are both really selfish but Freddy figures out the bigger picture first and calls out Billy for how he has become a selfish bully with his abilities. Freddy does have his arc payoff though, but I’m not revealing what that is, since it is one of the best parts of the film.

Shazam Family – Billy’s adopted family becomes the Shazam Family at the end to fight the Seven Deadly Sins and it is awesome! Each of them is a hero as strong as Billy and together they face off against the Sins. How it happens is fascinating too as it Billy realizing that he needs to open his heart to find his true power and it is in sharing power, not taking it (like Dr. Sivana) where true power lies. Each of the family members has distinct personalities contrasted by their grown up identity and I can’t wait to see them further. I won’t describe more as the seeing their story payoff is one of the best parts of the film.

Dr. Sivana – Dr. Sivana was one of the people chosen by the wizard a long time ago to be the hero but failed because of the temptations from the Demons who are the Seven Deadly Sins. From that point on he seeks out the Sins and frees them before seeking out the hero who he envies for having the great power that is only capable of defeating him. We see why he is this way too as he comes from an abusive family and power was the only thing his dad and brother ever respected. What innocence and pure of heart that he needed to be the Champion was stamped out a long time ago.

Mr. Mind – This is a classic villain for the Fawcett comics who DC brought back when they revamped the character. He is this caterpillar looking worm who is a genius. He meets up with Dr. Sivana in prison and tells him there are more ways to power than simply magic. It is a great set-up for future films as Mr. Mind is a villain unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Marvel or DC.

Okay:

The Foster Parents – The Foster Parents are kind but kind of generic. We get glimpses of their past but never in relation to their kids, only in relation to one another. They both grew up in the Foster system so I’m not saying it is a negative but them opening up to any of their foster kids about their past would have added a layer of depth the story wasn’t able to do. Not entirely a con but definitely the weakest part of the film.

This is a great film. Shazam is such a fun hero and I can’t wait to see how Mr. Mind and Shazam and his foster family are used in later films. In both there is so much potential there to be explored. This was also a film that doesn’t need an expanded universe to work. Billy’s relationship to his foster family and his biological mother give this film more than enough heart to make this film wholly great on it’s own merits. If you are looking for a film that has a deeper point while still managing to be a hilarious comedy, you will probably love this film as much as I did. It is definitely one of my favorite films.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Sorry to Bother You (2018): A Surreal Exploration of Race, Class and Privilege

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