Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): An Amazing Celebration of Magic, Childhood and Madness

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory poster

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” is a well deserved for a reason. I completely understand that when I did poll on which film to honor Gene Wilder should be reviewed that this was the one that won out. This film that really displays how brilliant, talented and creative Gene Wilder could be and why the world lost on of our greats. I can’t wait to continue going through his filmography and learning more about the history of this fascinating and talented man.

     The film was directed by Mel Stuart, written by Roald Dahl (who also wrote the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the film is based on) with help from David Seltzer and produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper.

         The story involves Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finding a golden ticket and winning entrance into the magical Chocolate Factory of Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) with four other children. Things are not as they appear though, as both Wonka and the factory are full of unpredictability and danger.

The Pros: The World – The world is one full of magic that is close to ours but manages to satire ours through exaggeration. It is imagination and possibility and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all.

The Writing – Dahl’s writing is brilliant. He is one of my favorite authors and he did a great job making this screenplay. He knew his characters and how to adapt them and his world screen as he worked within the limitations given and in the process created a rich story full of drama and humor.

Snapshots of Humor – A psychologist trying to use a person’s delusions to find a golden ticket, a dictator in Paraguay, the homes of each of our children that aren’t Charlie…each of these is a snapshot of some sort of corruption that in using the golden ticket as the focal point provide a wonderful satire of the different forms of corruption.

The Comedy – The comedy is brilliant! Dahl’s dry humor and satire combined with Wilder’s wit, sarcasm and energy made this film most memorable as both a drama and a comedy.

The Oompa-Loompas – The Oompa-Loompas are refugees who work at the factory. They are fascinating as we see those who lost everything teach those who materially have everything. These guys are brilliant and I really like their songs and designs. The orange face and stark colors live in the popular culture now on what an Oompa-Loompa is.

Willy Wonka – Gene Wilder owns this role. Wonka is a man who you never know if he’s telling the truth or not. He comes in limping and after walks fine, and this was done by Wilder himself to make the audience question everything Wonka does. Wonka than proceeds to let peoples’ vices destroy themselves and he doesn’t care at all except to mock. This is a man who sees himself above it all and is living in his world of madness and imagination…yet he has a good heart, he rewards Charlie for doing the right thing and it is in his relationship to Charlie we see the compassionate core underneath the lies, sarcasm and trickery. He is easily one of my favorite characters in fiction and Wilder made the character larger than life and the best part of this film.

The Take on Vices – Each of the 4 kids are different vices. Violet is spite, Mike is anger, Veruca is greed and Augustus is gluttony. At different points Charlie experiences each vice but grows beyond them by choosing compassion and courage in the end, something they all lacked and each them is destroyed by their vice in turn in the Karmatic place of the Chocolate Factory.

The Good and the Bad in People and Children – Children are celebrated in this, but they aren’t idealized. 4 of the kids are little monsters and even Charlie can be a brat sometimes. Dahl was honest about what it means to be a child and it is in this work we see how they grow and that actions have consequences that will hopefully help the kids stuck in a bad place in their actions, to grow up.

Celebrating Creativity and Invention – The core of the story is a celebration of madness and creativity. Wonka’s world is pure imagination and what he is seeking is an heir with that same madness who can see the bigger picture.

Okay/Pro: The Music – The music is memorable and good but not great. I’d never seek out this music to listen to it on my own…it works for the film though with “Pure Imagination” being the best and most memorable song in the soundtrack.

Charlie – Charlie is flawed and it makes him human. All the other children and their parents are terrible, while Charlie in looking out for his family can become like the other kids too. Charlie is greedy or angry sometimes and that’s okay. It makes the good choices he makes all the better.

Grandpa Joe – I liked Grandpa Joe but since we never learn why he became bedridden it takes away from part of what drives him to get out of bed. I like how he is a mentor and father figure to Charlie though and that he calls out Wonka for not giving them the prize at the end as promised. He’s a stand up guy.

The Other Kids and Their Parents – The other kids are alright. Augustus is forgettable as his mother but the Teevee’s have an energy about them and the Salt’s are great representations of greed, while Violet and her huckster father are entertaining in their own way. I’m not putting them as a pro though since they aren’t complex. They are interesting but lack major complexity.

Okay: Pacing – The pacing is a little all over the place at times, with the scene where Charlie and Granpa Joe take the Fizz drink as the best example. Wonka and the group just go away when before every mistake that the kids make is recognized by the group as Wonka shames their for their vice. This is the only time where he holds off on shaming until after the tour is completed.

The Cons: Certain Songs – Certain songs go on a little too long or mess with the tone a little bit. “Cheer up Charlie” definitely goes on too long as does Veruca’s song. This is made up for the fact that musical isn’t terrible but I’d only describe music as memorable and good, but not great.

     There was so much that worked in this film and managed to push it up from good to great. The greatest credit goes to Wilder with his chaotic take on Wonka whose performance was full of anger, empathy, compassion and madness. There is a reason the film is called “Willy Wonka & and the Chocolate Factory” and not Charlie. Charlie maybe the main character but the action and drama all relates to the antics and choices that Wonka makes and the gambit he puts into play to find his heir.I can’t wait to read Dahl’s original book. Dahl having power over turning his book into film was masterfully done by the studio and with Wilder’s performance and Stuart’s direction a masterpiece of art that celebrates the very nature of art and creativity was born. The three men have all passed on now but their vision, their metaphorical Chocolate Factory lives on in the lives they touched and the art they created. R.I.P. Stuart, Dahl and so recently now…Wilder. To remembering the dreamers and the dreams they made.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Odd Thomas (2013): Great Characters and World But Dialogue Doesn’t Always Work

Odd Thomas

     What sparked my viewing of this film is that i wanted to do a review where Anton Yelchin’s acting was on display, especially with his recent tragic death…I wanted a way to honor him. This was a great film in which to do so. He is amazing as the main character in a series of books from one of my favorite authors (though I have yet to read the “Odd Thomas” Series by Dean Koontz). The film doesn’t quite reach favorite, but that is due more to the writing than anything else, which at time feels unnatural and almost too clever.

     The film was directed by Stephen Sommers who was also the writer and one of the producers. The other producers were John Baldecchi and Howard Kaplan and the film is based off the book series of the same name by Dean Koontz.

This review does contain SPOILERS

   The story involves Odd (Anton Yelchin) who helps the police chief Wyatt (Willem Dafoe) capture murders after her communicates with their ghosts.  When a rise in bodachs occurs around a mysterious figure Odd fears for his town and the horrific event that their rising means and works with his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin)  to stop it.

 The Pros: The World – The world is fascinating and I can’t wait to read more about in Koontz’s books. This a world full of spirits, the dead and maybe even demons. This element of the supernatural makes the town fascinating and Odd’s genuine good nature and tragic story gives power to the events that take place.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is wonderful as it portrays both anything around the dead as different than around the living. Mitchell Amundsen did a good job. It is easily one of Stephen Sommers’s best looking films.

The Characters – The three main characters are fantastic…the members of the conspiracy are forgettable…but Wyatt, Stormy and Odd really drive the plot and it is their interactions in this fascinating world that elevate the story to great.

Stormy – Stormy like Odd is odd and is a fun character. She is witty and smart and as much a fighter as Odd who just wants to get out of town. Seeing their relationship is sweet as she keeps Odd grounded and doesn’t let anyone push her around. Addison Timlin really does a great job in the role.

Wyatt – It’s Willem Dafoe, you can’t go wrong. In this we see a guy who trusts Odd to the point that he is nearly an outsider on his own police force. He trusts anyway and it is thanks to his trust that Odd is able to figure out the conspiracy to murder the mall. Wyatt is shot but survives and has some great comedic moments with Odd as he has an awareness around people Odd and Stormy don’t.

Odd – Anton Yelchin is amazing in this role! This is a character who is oblivious to others flirting with him outside of Stormy and has a major idealistic streak as he sees Stormy and him being together forever because of what happened at a fair and what a robotic gypsy gave them, yet is realistic enough to hide his powers after his mom was thrown into an asylum for how her powers drove her crazy and his dad’s reaction. This is a character imbued with empathy, sorrow and compassion and I can’t wait to read his story in the books. This is a character who is genuinely good.

You Can’t Save Everyone – Stormy dies and there are a few other deaths…not being able to save everyone is a major theme of the film. The fact that Odd finds the killers by being helped by the victim’s ghosts really plays into that too. He can save more people but he can’t save everyone.

The Ending – The ending is good, I liked that Odd saves the people in the Mall but can’t save Stormy and that in the end he is the one who lets go after we have it established he’s the one helping spirits let go. It is a touching end and I get why he leaves the town after.

Okay: The Dialogue – The dialogue is at times almost too clever for it’s own good. You know when characters speak only in witty one-liners? This film has that problem sometimes…largely between Stormy and Odd but other characters too. It’d have been more annoying if it wasn’t smart but it felt unnatural which kept it from being a pro.

The Conspiracy – The reveal of the conspiracy is pretty cool but the reason behind them being Satanists and what they get out of being Satanists is never explained. For a world full of the Supernatural a group of Satanists was at the end of the day just a bunch of killers and would-be killers. This was a shame as there was so much that could have been done in regards to their motivation, which I felt we never got to know.

The Cons: The Power of the Bodachs – The Bodachs power is never explained. They can possess people and kill them if they notice someone notices them, but they never did fully against Odd except with the leader of the Conspiracy. Where they came from and their purpose beyond feeding off misery was all we got too, I guess they come from Hell but what is the purpose of Hell in this world where Odd is putting spirits to rest?

   This is a film that was great but never reached favorite largely due to the elements that were never fully explained or defined. The purpose behind the conspiracy of Satanists didn’t seem to be anything beyond causing mass panic and murder but to what end…the Bodachs seemed at times all powerful and other times completely powerless so them being the things triggering the event or that would bring Hell to the town just didn’t make sense. Just like the Bodach’s origin was never explained or how they fit into the world of the living dead, same with Hell…it exists I guess, but to what end? These questions are what kept it from being a favorite though it is still a film I’d highly recommend. Anton Yelchin is amazing as Odd and truly showed why he was the younger greats. R. I. P. Anton Yelchin.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

The Shining (1980): Kubrick’s Masterpiece About a Haunting and Escape From Abuse

The Shining

   Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors so seeing “The Shining” again was well worth it and I was reminded once more of all the reasons why he is a favorite director. I haven’t read the book that the film is based on but Stephen King hated this version of the film even though it is so far the best adaptation of his work…most of the other adaptations of his books are simply terrible. But who knows, Kubrick was never a likable guy so maybe that’s part of it. This is a film that captures so many elements of horror and makes me really want to read the book. I’ll go into the aspects of terror it captures later on in the review.

    The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick who also produced the film and wrote the screenplay with Diane Johnson. It is of course based on the book of the same name by Stephen King.

      The story is about a struggling writer named Jack (Jack Nicholson) who takes his family up to the Overlook Hotel so that he can be caretaker of it. He soon learns about the haunting history behind and as things begin to unravel it is up to his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to cope with the consequences of Jack and the Hotel.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack is wonderfully tense and keeps you on your feet the entire it. It turns mundane things into things that are off, whether it is writing a story or entering a maze. Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind did a fantastic job.

The Cinematography – Kubrick knows how to shoot a scene and the use of the hotel’s size is used to create feelings of isolation. Kubrick also uses shadows and light in the maze for that same bit of terror and using stark contrasts throughout the film to accent loss of control or entering moments of the supernatural.

Film Structure – The structure of the film is great as we are shown Jack’s descent into madness as winter comes on the Overlook Hotel with the time period or time passed flashed after character moments.

The Writing – The writing is mostly show and not tell and that lends it power. We also see character moments revealed in this way too, Jack’s making excuses about hurting Danny only being one time reveal that no doubt had happened more…and the silence of characters reveal intent and action. Kubrick’s script is phenomenal.

The Characters – The main characters are all compelling in different ways and their relationships inform one another as many of them change over the course of the film.

Dick – Dick is the cook and also can communicate and sense things like Danny. He is Danny’s mentor and Danny reaches out for help. He is killed by Jack in the end but is able to deliver Danny and Wendy an escape vehicle to get away.

Danny – Danny is a kid who has a spirit named Tony inside who takes control sometimes and is the one who goes from a passive figure to one fighting for survival as he tricks his father in the maze and reaches out to Dick to save himself and his mom.

Wendy – Wendy’s arc is standing up to her abusive husband and escaping the relationship. In this we see that even though she seems passive that she will fight back and does so when she knocks Jack out and locks him up and later we see her stand up against the spirits even though she’s terrified as she makes the escape with her son. She’s an awesome character.

Jack – Jack is abusive and we soon realize how abusive as the story progresses. He is an antagonist who is complex in that he obviously is not a fully terrible human being, but at the end of the day he is the monster who lets his ego and selfishness control him and whatever ways he was horrible before become compounded as he becomes a force that the ghosts use to kill his family.

Escape From Abuse – Wendy and Danny are in an abusive relationship with Jack. It’s never stated outright but the moment of anger at Danny was shown to be a pattern based off his behavior in the hotel…as well as Wendy’s making excuses for him…it takes seeing Danny hurt again for her to finally stand up and after that she fights. She is no longer a victim but over the course of the film becomes a survivor of Jack’s abuse. She survived while the other family was not able to escape their abusive spouse/father.

The Mystery – The mystery is wonderful as we are left wondering if Jack crossed back in time when he was interacting with the ghosts and if he’d been at Overlook before that day. The nature of the Hotel and Jack are left open which gives power to future hauntings of the place.

What Makes a Good Ghost Story – Part of what makes a good ghost story is how it puts those living on edge and connects them to their mortality (Wendy and Danny’s escape) or their ego and selfishness (Jack). It is less about the ghosts in the end and more about what they make people do. This is a prime example of this as the point of evil spirits in horror stories is to reveal the darker side of the living.

   This is a film that has very little wrong with it. My only issue I could see with it is sometimes it lags, though I valued that time because it helped build suspense, but I’m also aware that not everyone is into the slow build. Besides that, this is one of Kubrick’s masterpieces for a reason and is well worth viewing for anyone who loves suspense, horror and cinema.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

The Martian (2015): A Masterpiece Celebrating the Wonder of Science, Discovery and Survival

The Martian

    “The Martian” is a film that truly captures the terror and wonder of space travel as well as giving us very real and complex characters who are worth rooting for. Ridley Scott has done it again (though I haven’t watched some of his more recent films so I understand there was a drop in quality at one point). Suffice to say though, I really hope this film will kick in the love of exploring space again in the populace.

     The film was directed by Ridley Scott who was also one of the producers, written by Drew Goddard and produced by Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam and Simon Kinberg. It is also based on the book of the same name (that I want to read now) by Andy Weir.

    The film involves astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally being left behind on the first mission to Mars called the Ares III mission and him having to survive and make contact with NASA in order to mount a rescue before he dies.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Dariusz Wolski captures beautiful scenes in this that show the desolation and danger of space but also the beauty and wonder of space and Mars.

The Soundtrack – Harry Gregson-Williams gives the soundtrack a very “2001: Space Odyssey” feel giving us both classic instruments, synth and even a mixture of 70’s and 80’s music intermixed throughout the score.

The Writing – Drew Goddard did a good job on this script! It all show rather than tell and the times where it gets you information you need (how Watney sciences) it is done a comedic or interesting way that drives the action forward. This alone puts it above “Interstellar.” I really want to read the novel after this.

The Characters – The characters are compelling with only two characters not really getting too much exploration but still have arcs! This is a show where even the minor characters make choices that have consequences.

Teddy Sanders – Jeff Daniels does an amazing job as the Director of NASA who has to make difficult choices throughout the course of the film as Mark surviving makes things more complex as far as getting funding and at one point he has to decide sending the Ares III crew back and risking them all or just sending the probe with supplies. He choose the latter and you get the reasons for that too. His arc involves him being willing to take risks to save Mark, even it means losing his job.

Mitch Henderson – Sean Bean is the man in charge of the astronauts and he is a great guy who is willing to go behind Sanders back to protect his men and he sends them the data they need and the plan that Purnell created. He stands by it the entire time and for him space travel being about people is key as if people are forgotten, than what is the point of sending them out there in the first place? I really liked his character and he was one of my favorites. There is also a point where he explains the Council of Elrond where Purnell’s idea is first discussed…which is a great “Lord of the Rings” callback.

Vincent Kapoor – Chiwetel Ejiofor is truly a master of his craft as he plays a guy who isn’t much of a people person but truly becomes invested in people beyond just the idea of travel and missions over the course of the film. He is very much the Vulcan Spock to Sanders being Kirk and he is there supporting Mark through the course of his isolation on Mars.

Rich Purnell – Donald Glover plays the man who comes up with the idea of using the Ares III to save Mark and is not a people person at all as he doesn’t even register his non-communication with his boss or the director of NASA. He is a lot of fun and was my favorite character in the film as he was fully in to finding a way to bring Mark home and was a put of an eclectic scientist.

Ares III crew – Two of the crew fall in love and we see it slowly grow over the course of the film and when is a funny dad. These characters don’t receive the same level of development as Ramirez the pilot and Lewis the leader though.

Rick Martinez – Michael Pena is wonderful as Martinez who is the pilot as well as Mark’s best friend. He is a guy who jokes around, is ex-military and loves what he does. He is the one who helps the others realize what it means to go back and he is willing to leave his wife and son behind longer to bring back Mark as he knows Mark would do the same to him. He has a strong moral code and is the glue that holds the crew together. He is also the clown and Pena’s wonderful sense of humor has a chance to come out.

Melissa Lewis – Jessica Chastain plays the most serious character in the film besides Jeff Daniels’s Sanders. She carries guilt over leaving Mark behind and this drives her to action and risking herself in the end to save Mark as she won’t risk her crew. She is a great commander for this reason and we get to see her tender side with her husband as well as her closeness to Mark who is her closest friend on the mission too. Her arc is moving past her guilt to help save Mark.

Mark Watney – Watney is a sarcastic botanist and Damon truly carries this film. In this we see him have to survive in impossible conditions using only the resources NASA left behind and that Mars has. He does a great job too as we see him use Botany to grow potatoes using his own crap and the Mars soil and we later see him “Science the shit” out of everything around him in order to survive. In the end he survives and he truly owns it too as we see it is his willingness to take risks that brought him out there in the first place. Him swearing at NASA for not telling his crew he was alive was brilliant too as on multiple occasions we see he isn’t a fan of authority at all and enjoys having a good time being “the best.” His arc is facing death and moving past it to find a solution each time.

Space Travel is Wondrous, Dangerous and Worth It – This is the core message of the film as at the end Mark is teaching new astronauts in training and tells them that message. He also has no regrets as he loves what he does and what he did and is a huge promoter of more missions as he knows it is the future.

The Strength of the Human Will – There are a lot times characters want to give up, but it is when they face the challenges and rise above them that they are able to find ways to solve each of the crises they face.

This is easily one of the greatest films of the year and one I’d highly recommend. I plan to add the book to my reading list and I will be eventually buying and seeing this film again as it truly captures so much of what I love about this galaxy, space travel, adventure and science fiction and all the possibilities of the future that come with it. I’m rooting for us eventually colonizing Mars and I hope this movie will ignite the interest in space travel and colonization again.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. A nearly perfect film.

Jurassic Park (1993): The Power and Wonder of Nature and Finding What Matters

jurassic-park-movie-poster-1992-1020141477

       “Jurassic Park” deserves its place as a Classic. I think I was too harsh to it as a kid and enjoyed the fact that more people died in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” In this the stakes are much higher and because it is slower we get more time to know the characters, and unlike “Jurassic World” the characters feel real and everyone is active all the time, though kids of course are still the weakest part which is true of most Spielberg films. I think what helped this film was the author also writing the Screenplay, which sadly doesn’t happen all that much in Hollywood and arguably to the detriment of the scripts. Suffice to say, this film was great.

    “Jurassic Park” was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen and based off the book of the same name by Michael Crichton.

     The story involves John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) bringing two experts being Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) to Jurassic Park in order so that they will write it off and he can get funding but things soon go wrong when an unhappy employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) sabotages the Park’s security and attempts to sell the Dinsosaur embryos to a rival the same time a giant storm hits, putting Hammond’s grandchildren and the people at risk.

The Pros: The Premise – The Premise is really cool. A billionare obsessed with dinosaurs uses science to create them and is willing to do anything to make his dream a reality. It coming crashing down on him is expected too, and it’s fun to watch the setup and execution.

The Soundtrack – John Williams at one of his best. The soundtrack captures wonder and terror so well and I understand why this score is used in most John Williams salutes by orchestras.

Character Moments – There are some really good character moments in this…from Ellie and Hammond talking about the wonder and fear of Hammond’s creation, the nihilism of Ian and the idealism of Alan and any interaction Alan has with the kids.

The Characters – The main and supporting characters are compelling and interesting and there are more of them in this film than the others in the Franchise. In the end this is what makes the film succeed besides the brilliant theme and message.

Dennis Nedry – Wayne Knight is wonderful as this troll IT Guy who harasses Hammond relentlessly and actually had a point that he isn’t being paid that much or helped out at all. Hammond can’t see beyond himself (and neither can Nedry) and in the end Nedry ends up dead because of it when he tries delivering the Embryos to a rival company.

Ray Arnold – Samuel L. Jackson plays the chain smoking scientist who is pretty pessimistic but does his best in a very bad situation. In the end he comes through though and he isn’t anti-Hammond the way Nedry is.

John Hammond – Richard Attenborough is fantastic as the wizened old man who began as a creator of a flea circus and became a multi-billionaire. His dreams have driven him in all that he does and are really more important than people until he realizes that his dream has killed people and his selfishness created his fall. He learns from his mistakes though and I really enjoyed his character, he was my favorite.

Dr. Ellie Satler – Laura Dern is wonderful in this role as the character who is quick to take action and is always looking out for others. She also has the sense of wonder and idealism of Grant until all that comes crashing down when the storm hits. She is the one who reminds Hammond of what matters and brings him out of himself.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the Chaos Theory Mathematician and is a really fun character. He hits on everyone and has had a few marriages and kids, he fully lives a life of entropy and predicts the park falling apart. He still holds a sense of wonder though and he cares about the Grandchildren even going so far as risking his life and almost ending up killed by the T. Rex. He does end up injured.

Dr. Alan Grant – Sam Neill is great as the idealistic scientist who isn’t good with children who comes to show he can be a really good friend and mentor. He is the most courageous besides Ellie as he doesn’t think twice about taking action to protect others and he knows the Dinosaurs the best as he studied them as a paleontologist.

The Power of Nature – Nature’s power is front and center and the illusion of humanity’s control over it is shown when the storm makes it so the park is unsafe and Nedry turns on the Park and releases the cages. The dinosaurs reek havoc and are never really beaten in the end, they just beat one another.

The Tyrannosaurs Rex – The T. Rex is the main threat throughout the film, eating the lawyer and countless others, injuring the members who are visiting the park and in the end killing the Raptors. The T. Rex is the storm and it cannot be stopped, only avoided. None of the other films do that as well as this one.

The Raptors – Minus the introduction the Raptors are great. They are like the Aliens from “Alien” and “Aliens” and a force of nature that wherever they show up, someone will die. They also adapt to every situation and are only beat by a larger predator that surprises them.

Wonder in Science – The scientific wonder is fantastic! Even though the science doesn’t work that isn’t the point, the point is the celebration of the process of creation and wonder in discovering new things, which are important parts of science and being a scientist.

People Versus Dreams – Dreams are not more important than people and it is Hammond’s are to come to this realization as he wants the park to work up until he fears his Grandchildren dying. It is at that point he realizes people mattered all along.

Okay: The Kids – Kids are once again okay, didn’t believe the girl was a hacker or the boy had read Alan’s book, but that’s an issue I have with the kids in all these movies.

The Cons: The Introduction – The intro is so cheesy and bad. From the hunter’s mouth being really close to the Raptors having long enough arms to pull a heavy man into the cage…the only good part was the mist and trouble seeing things.

   “Jurassic Park” is truly a classic for a reason. It captures wonder, terror and respect for nature as well as giving us mostly complex characters and the characters who aren’t complex are a lot of fun. I’d recommend it for sure, this Spielberg and Crichton doing what they love with one of the best John Williams Soundtracks to date.

Final Score: 9.5 /10

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – Humanity’s Conflict With Nature and Finding Balance

The Lost World Jurassic Park

     “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” is a great sequel. It is a good thing Spielberg was in charge of it since he is a good director at creating complex characters and giving situations where actual stakes are involved, while still managing to give the film a heart. He is one of the greats for a reason and him directing the follow-up to the original was the right decision.

  The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by David Koepp, produced by Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson and based off The Lost World by Michael Crichton.

    The story involves Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) going to Site B, the Island of Isla Sorna to rescue his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) who has gone there in order to record Dinosaurs in their natural state for a documentary so that humans won’t exploit them. They are too late and things get complicated when Hammond’s nephew Ludlow (Arliss Howard) arrives with a team to capture the Dinosaurs and take them to a park in San Diego as well as the arrival of Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), which complicates things further.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Janusz Kaminski did a wonderful job and as expected Spielberg has a good eye for how to cast a scene. The character scenes as well as the action scenes mean something and we get the chance to get to know the minor characters by how the action is presented.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is one of the greats for a reason and in this his soundtrack is great at creating tension and rising action. Each action scene felt big because of his soaring score.

The Action – This is one of the better action movies I have seen. There are so many moments that I remember and will remember. I’ll record the ones that stand out the most as they deserve recognition.

Hanging By a Rope – Van Owen and Harding rescue the trapped Tyrannosaurus baby and after they fix it’s leg the parents destroy the van, eventually this leads to it falling over the edge and it is only from the actions of Eddie Car releasing a rope through the van that they are able to get to rescue. Eddie dies in the process though.

The Raptor Hunt – At one point the hunters are running and the Raptors methodically take nearly every single one of them out. It is only the few that survive through luck and quick thinking showing just how dangerous they are.

The Tyrannosaurus Hunt – The T. Rex proceeds to cause chaos in the camp for the capture of it’s child. One of them is captured by Roland while the other slaughters the hunters the Raptors don’t get too.

the Tyrannosaurus in San Diego – This is quintessential Monster Movie here as we see a T. Rex escape from it’s cage and proceed to decimate San Diego. It is really well done and a lot of the destruction caused is simply from people afraid that it exists. It was very well cast and showed once again just how dangerous this creature is. I liked it.

The Characters – There are quite a few great characters in this! From Dr. Harding and Dr. Malcolm and the hunter Roland as well as the Earth First activist. Each of them are more complicated than any archetype, which leads to some great interaction and character growth over the course of the film.

Eddie Carr – This minor character dies to the T. Rex’s but not before he saves his friends. He idealizes Dr. Harding but we see he is good at his job too as it is his creativity that saves our heroes in the first place. Richard Schiff did a great job and his death meant something.

John Hammond – Hammond has changed from the industrialist to the conservationist and it is a really good arc the events at “Jurassic Park” changed him. He is wonderful as the wise wizard who has learned from his mistakes while still being wily and reckless.

Nick Van Owen – I don’t like Vince Vaughn, he tends to be a dick in real life and his characters he plays. This character wasn’t as bad and him being a dick worked as he was an extreme activist who put others at risk to rescue animals. He is never presented as the good guy but you get why he is doing it too, especially since these dinosaurs are endangered by their very existence and he wants to safeguard that.

Roland Tembo – Peter Postlewaite does an awesome job in this role! He is the hunter who lives for the thrill of it and has respect for the animals he hunts as he sees himself as fulfilling his greater purpose. When his friend is killed on the Island though he decides he is done after he captures the T. Rex and has had enough of death. I don’t think he’ll stop hunting but he won’t work with people like Ludlow anymore…folks who don’t value human life.

Dr. Sarah Harding – Julianne Moore plays the naive idealist who learns to not be reckless around dinosaurs while still fulfilling her mission of saving the ones on the Island. She saves Malcolm a few times which makes up for times he had to save her in the beginning. She is a strong character who does what she wants.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the nervous scientist played by Jeff Goldblume who carries on the lessons of “Jurassic Park” about keeping dinosaurs away from human beings. He is the Spock to Sarah’s Kirk and his arc is learning how to feel for others better as we see him have to put himself out there to protect Sarah his girlfriend and to protect his daughter and support her beyond words. It is a great arc and it is him coming into his own as a person who can look beyond himself.

Respect for the Natural World – The message is through Hammond’s action. He was a man who wanted people to feel wonder and live the vision he created, on his death bed though he only wants the creatures he created to be respected as he realized he didn’t before by keeping them in cages. It is to this end that he sent them on a mission to protect his creations. It is a good arc since the Dinosaurs aren’t idealized, they are animals like anything else and deserve the chance to flourish. This basis of respect while still not forgetting humans creativity in development is part of what makes this film so great.

A T.Rex is still a T.Rex (even if you save it’s baby) – I really like that part of respect is respecting the space of hunters, be it humanity or the T. Rex. The heroes save the baby T. Rex but there van is destroyed by the T. Rexes. The nature of a T. Rex does not change and the saving of their baby doesn’t change the fact that T. Rexs eat smaller animals which include humans. I’m glad that in the conversation talk it was still smart. A tiger will still try and kill you, even if you return it’s cub back.

Okay: Peter Ludlow – Hammond’s nephew is all about making InGen profitable again but he does nearly have a change of heart when the T. Rex is reeking havoc, he only changes his mind when he realizes that the T. Rex baby could be his only out from facing major consequences for his stupidity. He was alright as an antagonist.

Kelly – Child actors have a difficult time and Vanessa Chester does alright as Kelly. She is a daughter ignored by both her parents so she acts out for attention while still trying to be successful to impress her folks. Her arc is finding confidence and building a relationship with her dad. I did think it was stupid she kicked a raptor using gymnastics, but besides that she wasn’t a bad character, just not a great character.

I remembered liking this more than “Jurassic Park” as the Dinosaurs felt like actual animals and T. Rex’s won’t save the day against Raptors since they want to eat you too…this is part of the reason I’m curious if it will still be the case when I get to “Jurassic Park.” Which will be better to me, the original or the sequel “The Lost World?” Well, well see when I get there.  Suffice to say I enjoyed this film greatly and would watch it again. It is definitely a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10. Solidly great film.

Jurassic World (2015): Best Characters Wasted and Not Enough Time With Dinosaurs

Jurassic World

      I’m glad I’m looking back at this Franchise with new eyes because the big special effects and somewhat all star cast could not made this film a good one for me. It is an enjoyable film to say the least, but as far as Monster Films or Action Films go, there wasn’t enough time with a lot of the characters and creatures to be fully invested in it. It had some great moments of action to be sure, and anytime the raptors were present the film soured, but the human characters were not enough to carry this film beyond anything more than a forgettable summer flick.

     The film was directed by Colin Trevorrow who was one of the co-writers along with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver wrote the original story and the world was based off the series by Michael Crichton. The Producers were Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley.

   The story takes place 22 years after the original with the Jurassic World as a now flourishing attraction. This has lead to creating more Dinosaurs and the creation of Indominus Rex, a Hybrid made to bring money. When Idominus escapes it is up to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) the raptor handler, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to stop it and save her nephews who have gone off road as the Park is shutting down and going into lockdown due to Indominus’s breakout.

The Pros: Simon Masrani – I wish the movie had been all about this guy. Masrani is the owner of the Jurassic World and does everything himself. He feels like a fully fleshed out character as he seeks to carry on Hammond’s legacy of teaching people humility and feeling them with wonder. In the end his trying to keep the breakout secret leads to him getting killed though when Indominus releases the dinosaurs from the aviary. There was not enough time with this guy. I would have watched the film of how he came to own the park.

Dr. Henry Wu – This scientist who makes a deal with the military is a pretty interesting guy. He is almost mad scientist like but is honest about what he is doing and the fact that all the dinosaurs in the park are hybrids in one degree or another…they aren’t direct Clones so they don’t even look how they would have looked originally. He is the practical to Masrani’s idealism and if the film had been between these two men it would have been great. B.D. Wong does a great job in the role, and he is reprising his role from “Jurassic Park” where he was one of Hammond’s scientists.

The Velociraptors – The Velociraptors are awesome! Especially Blue who has a lot of personality and is rebelling against Pratt’s control the entire time, though he does come through in the end to protect the humans when Indominus loses control over them briefly, but not before he and his pack kill a lot of soldiers.

Indominus Rex – Indominus feels like a Kaiju or Monster out of any classic monster film. It reeks havoc and is only defeated after a big battle and where it has already one. It is cool we get the psychology of it too as it is isolated and alone for it’s entire life so it is only reactive as all it has known is a cage. It was a great enemy too and it takes a pack of raptors, a tyrannosaurs Rex and all our heroes to finally defeat with some help from an aquatic Mosasauras.

Okay: The Tyrannosaurs Rex – It appears briefly at the end to fight when it released from it’s cage but that is about it. It never felt like a threat the way it usually has in film and turning it into a protector just didn’t work as it had no reason to fight Indominus. It was cool seeing it in action with it’s tiny arms though, it just should have been made relevant much earlier. It felt like fan service.

Okay/Con: Claire and Owen – These two are just archetypes and don’t feel like fully fleshed out characters. They are both jerks who come to see people outside themselves though. So they have something of an arc, but they were not enough to carry the film and even the amazing actors who played them couldn’t save the script.

The Cons: The Kids – The kids are annoying. They are meant to be Spielbergian but the older kid is just crushing on girls when he is away from his girlfriend and the little kid mostly cries and quotes facts. They feel realer than some kids in film but they still feel like a plot device so that Claire and Owen have to save the day, and not characters.

The Military – They are just there to take advantage of the dinosaurs and to make them weaponized. They are wasted and we don’t have any good military characters, which is a shame as they play such a prominent role in the film.

   This was an alright film. I was bored in a few places largely due to the human characters and how they were written, but most scenes with the dinosaurs…especially the Raptors and Indominus were great action. If we’d gotten that sooner and focused on Dr. Wu and the CEO Masrani it could have been great as they posed moral questions and perspectives that never fully got explored. If you are looking for a fun summer blockbuster you will probably enjoy this, though in my personal opinion you’d be better with “Fury Road” or “Inside Out” if you want something much greater than this forgettable enjoyable flick.

Final Score: 7 / 10

K-PAX (2001): The Power of an Outsider

K-Pax

  “K-PAX” is a good film. It’s not a favorite film as at times it was a little confusing and it could sometimes be slow, but it has some great character development, fascinating situations and the acting is really good. It is definitely a sci. fi. worth watching and the premise itself is very intriguing.

     The film was directed by Iain Softley, written by Charles Leavitt and produced by Robert Colesberry, Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin and is based off the book of the same name by Gene Brewer.

     The story involves a man named Prot (Kevin Spacey) who believes himself to be an alien from the world of K-Pax. The story unfolds as he is taken into an asylum where he is treated by Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Prot changes the people in the asylum and Mark has he provides insights some of which he would only know if he was alien as Mark seeks to discover the traumatic event that Prot refuses to speak about that drives the story forward.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Edward Shearmur did a fantastic job giving the soundtrack a sci. fi. and introspective feel. I liked how it helped us see the world through Prot’s eyes and showed us just how alien the world felt to him.

The Cinematography – John Mathieson did a wonderful job on the cinematography. Everything feels like it is a surreal dream, which I think is purposeful since so much of the film is from Prot’s perspective and how he makes others change their perspective. There are lots of moments of stark contrast but also soft scenes that contrast the use of dark and light.

The Members of the Asylum – The Asylum is a fascinating place as the people there aren’t bad. Mental illness is not presented in a negative light which was great as it humanized the flawed people. There is Bess who leaves at the end, a man who thinks everything stinks, the man who is afraid of things that can kill him and the one who Prot puts in charge and gives tasks too. All of them have a humanity to them and a stark way of expressing themselves contrasted with the Doctors and Prot who are all very reserved.

Prot – Prot is a great character. He is an alien from K-PAX (the film establishes this based on people’s reaction to when he is Robert Porter again) and we get the story of how he came to Earth. It was to save Robert’s life as Robert was his friend whose family was murdered by a killer. All of this we learn over time through the eyes of Mark Powell who is the Doctor treating Prot. It’s a sad story and we see how kind Prot is in how he wants everyone to heal and to live. All the actions he does at the Asylum help the inmates to feel joy and to get out of their routine. When he leaves it is felt by all and Kevin Spacey does a masterful job in the role.

Mark Powell – Jeff Bridges is the Doctor who ends up believing Prot while at the same time seeking out the story of his host. He learns about the tragedy of Robert Porter and takes care of Porter after. He is also alienated from his family and obsessed with his work until Prot reminds him that he only has so long to live so should make the choices in life that build relationships with those you care about, not destroy or alienate them. At the end we see he understands this as he cares for the catatonic Robert Porter.

The Message – The message is to remember to connect with others and to make choices that bring about healing in yourself and those around you. Everything Prot does is to this end and we see that his saving Robert’s life has given him happiness even if he can’t express it at the end. We only have so much time alive, so make the most of all relationships.

The Ending  – Prot leaves at the end in a ray of light leaving Robert Porter’s body who is alive now and catatonic. The inmates whisper about it and it is very mysterious and reminded me a lot of “The Green Mile.” I enjoyed the ending too as Mark’s last act is reestablishing his relationship once more with his son.

The Cons: The Other Doctors – The other Doctors are pretty bland don’t feel all that fleshed out. They don’t really have much power as agents either as everything they do is a reaction to Prot or Mark which I disliked since there quite a few of them that appeared throughout the film consistently…but we learned nothing about them or their motivations.

Mark’s Family – Mark’s family has the same problem as the Doctors. I had no idea what they wanted besides time with Mark and they felt like they were needed so that Prot’s point would be stronger about relationships mattering, but I didn’t care about them. I knew and cared about Robert’s family than I did them since Robert’s backstory of working at a slaughterhouse and the dreams he shared with Prot were much more compelling.

Pacing – The pacing was very slow which at times was good for the introspective moments but there were many times I had to make sure I knew what was going on as it was too slow to fully register a sequence of events that had just occurred. This film could have been much faster, had more character actions and it would have been better for it. The only really fast moment were when the members of the Asylum reacted and when Prot panics when Mark’s kids are playing in the water and he thinks they’re going to drown.

“K-PAX” is a movie worth seeing. The ideas are good, the main characters are great and Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are truly phenomenal. Just know that the minor characters who aren’t inmates in the Asylum are really bland and that the pacing doesn’t help. These are the reasons why that even though I liked the film, I cannot consider it a favorite or great overall. It is a good film though and there is a lot of like in it, even with the problems it has.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

The Imitation Game (2014): The Dilemmas of War and the Life and Legacy of Alan Turing

The Imitation Game

       “The Imitation Game,” deserves all the hype and rewards it recieved. This is a film that manages to cover the dilemmas of war and the choices those in power are given in regards to how a war is handled to save the most lives, it deals with equality and prejudice as we see how Turing difference in personality leads to his isolation and also the homophobia of the government that leads to his tragic end even though it was his mind and actions that helped bring about a sooner end to World War 2. More on all of this though, later on.

     The film was directed by Morten Tyldum, written by Graham Moore and produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman and based off the story Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

      The story is that of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the story of how he broke the German Enigma Code during World War 2. It follows from when he is first taken on by Commander Dennisten (Charles Dance) to break the code and unfolds from there as he tries to construct a machine and connect with the members of his Team. When he becomes leader of his Team he takes on Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) whose abilities are doubted because she is a woman by society and the military. In the present Turing is telling his story to a detective on how the events of the war unfolded.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. Every shot looks like a stark photograph and captures Turing’s alienation and isolation from those around him and from there the times he is connected to others, like his friend and most likely first love Christopher. Oscar Faura did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – This is one of my favorite soundtracks, and I soon learned why. Alexandre Desplat who also did the soundtrack for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the two “Deathly Hallows” films and countless other great soundtracks did this one too. In this he also captures the internal isolation or pressure that Turing is under as well as capturing his soaring moments too and the claustrophobia of the War.

The Script – The script is great at showing and only telling when it needs to. We learn about Turing being gay during his wedding when one of his friends on the Team tells him he’s figured it out and that he doesn’t feel romantic attraction towards his fiance Joan. The dialogue is also quick, and when Turing and Joan have their sarcastic or quippy moments it is quite enjoyable, it also captures Turing’s very literal mind and his trouble reading expressions and figures of speech.

The Characters – For the most part every character gets fleshed out. We get to see the two sides of every person or at least get a better idea of why a character does whatever they do and what their motivations are.

Commander Denniston – Charles Dance is great in this role. He is the general who cares about his men and has fought in wars before. He distrusts Turing since Turing is agnostic on War and the need for it but accepts him when he figures out they’re trying break Enigma. He later tries to get him kicked out though but is stopped when Turing goes to Churchill and becomes leader of the Team, though he nearly loses everything again when Denniston tries to shut the machine down when it is running but not giving any information. His character is a lot like Tywin, practical and invested in the big picture who doesn’t deal well with things and people he doesn’t understand.

Hugh Alexander – Matthew Goode is great in this role. Hugh is the one person comparably smart to Turing and sticks to the old ways until Turing wins him over by finally including them all in trying to make the machine work. He threatens resignation when Denniston comes to shut down the machine and from that he and Turing become friends. He is a bit of a womanizer but a good guy.

John Cairncross – Cairncross is the kindest of the Team at first but we soon see this is two-faced when he threatens to reveal Turing as Gay when Turing finds out he’s a spy. He still works with them all though and shows that agenda a double agent might have, in this case the Soviets are the allies of the U.K. so why not get them information? MI-6 knows this and supports it we learn as Churchill has been too paranoid to get the Soviets information that would help them win the war against Nazi Germany.

General Menzies – The head of MI-6 and the one person who appreciates Turing besides Joan. I don’t know if he’s good since he’s making decisions that by their very nature are grey. He lies about the existence of Turing’s machine so no one will know they have a weapon in conflict and he has everyone burn the information tied the machine at the end of the film. He is all business but appreciates those who can keep secrets, which is my he makes Alan Turing a spy, knowing that he holds more secrets than many of his agents. Mark Strong is great in this role.

Joan Clarke – Knightley plays the other outsider who gives us the feminist perspective in all of this. She points out she can’t afford to be a jerk because she isn’t a man so no one will listen to her if she is one, where they are listening to Turing even though he can insufferable sometimes. She loves his mind and when he admits he’s gay she stands by him knowing they are only together as friends. It’s a touching scene and you get the idea they are both outcasts who have trouble connecting to anyone besides one another, Turing because of the loss of his friend and love Christopher and Clarke because she is not her expected role in the sexist British society.

Alan Turing – Cumberbatch deserved a nomination for this role. In the beginning he sounds like Sherlock but soon we get the distinct voice of Turing a very literal minded person who sees himself as smarter than everyone (which in most cases he is) and has to learn empathy for others (which Joan helps him with) when he experienced none from others minus Christopher growing up. He is all about solving puzzles, agnostic on the issue of violence and in the end helps end the war 2 years earlier. Sadly all he has is his work in the end as the Government chemically castrates him and this further isolation and alienation leads to his suicide. Turing story is that of a tragedy as he is a strange and brilliant man who did nothing wrong and was castrated only because he loved men. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those throughout history and modern day like him.

The Dilemmas of War – There are a few situations where dilemmas are presented. One of Turing’s Team Members discovers that Germans will be attacking an area where his brother is and if they warn the military they can be saved. Turing points out that if the Germans learn they solved Enigma it won’t matter, more men will die and they could still lose the war. Another dilemma was in constructing “Christopher” the Machine. The old way was saving lives using people and the more energy that was put into the machine the less time to try and break the daily changing code. Continuing the machine or going the old way and saving some lives was another issue presented of conflict during wartime.

The Message – The message is that of equality and how important is to be accepting of differences and that it is our differences that define us. It is powerful and you see the horrors that LGBTQ folks still face in the United States and areas of the world. They may not have been chemically castrated in the U.S. anymore but in many places it is still a death sentence and it is the prejudice that Turing faces that most likely lead to his suicide. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those who took their life because they could not find acceptance in love in this world because of prejudice and homophobia. So many great minds gone so early, just like Turing who was only 41 years old.

Okay: Christopher – Christopher is such an important character, Turing names his machine after him…but we never get to know him fully and he’s never fully fleshed out. This is one of the few issues that I really have with this film. I wish we could have gotten to know Christopher better beyond his brilliance and kindness to Alan.

The Cons: Historical Accuracy – The film takes some major liberties with Turing’s life which this article expresses beautifully. This is an issue for me in any historical biopic and is always a con…if your pouring a lot of money into a film, at least try to make it as accurate as possible since the story was great enough to be told in the first place.: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/03/the_imitation_game_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_the_new_movie_is_to_alan_turing.html

    This is a favorite film and deserves all the awards and praise it has received. Cumberbatch and Knightley are fantastic and the story has a message that rings true to this day. The ways we love, especially between consenting adults should be celebrated and not punished. This core message, the dilemma’s of war and Turing’s Life expressed, along with an unforgettable soundtrack, great cinematography and message make this a film that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.

To Live (1994): Living and Enduring the Revolution


To Live Poster
      We continue Revolution Week with “To Live” a film so controversial that it was banned in mainland China for it’s portrayal of the Cultural Revolution and the director Zhang Yimou was banned from making movies for 2 years. Stories that confront a narrative that people tell themselves, in any country usually cause controversy in one way or another. It is for this reason the dream of revolution is ongoing. There are so many ways all countries can grow in freedom and justice, and an important part of that is being honest about past mistakes. Back in college we read this book and I was a big fan of it as Chinese History and history as a whole has always been an interest of mine.

“To Live” was directed by Zhang Yimou, written by Lu Wei, and produced by Fu-Sheng Chiu, Funhong Kow and Christophe Tseng and based off the book of the same name written by Yu Hua.

The story follows Xu Fugui (Ge You) a spoiled man who gambles away all his money and home. After his wife Jiazhen (Gong Li) and daughter leave him and return he makes money using puppets that are loaned to him from the man who won his home. From earns money in this way until he is conscripted into the Nationalist Army and later Communist Army with his partner Chunsheng (Tao Guo) before returning once more to his family. From here the story unfolds as they live through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

The Pros: The Setting – The setting is fascinating and one I studied during college. The story starts out in the 1940’s and we get to see what high society was like through Fugui and what it means to be poor too before the Revolution and Civil War and after as the next scenes are in the setting of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. These are handled subtlety too as we see how it affects the common people through Fugui and his relationship to different characters.

The characters – Like the book, the film has a great array of characters who are compelling in how they are expressed.

Long’er – Long’er is the man who cons Fugui out of his home and all his money. He’s a greedy guy but not all bad as he helps Fugui get back on his feet and lends him the puppets he used to make his living before his gambling success. He dies when the Cultural Revolution happens as Fugui’s home makes him a rich landowner which at the time, is a dangerous class in society to be. Dahong Ni does a wonderful job in the role.

Chunsheng – Chunsheng is Fugui’s business partner with the puppets and is a jokester who loves cars. He ends up joining the Liberation Army after they are picked up and put on some shows and he is later made District Chief during the The Great Leap Forward and accidentally kills Fugui’s young son. He lives with the guilt for the rest of his life and we don’t know if he loses his life as he is targeted as a Capitalist in a government purging. Jiazhen does forgive him though which is at the end all he wants. “All debts repaid.” Tao Guo does a great job.

Jiazhen – Jiazhen is the one who keeps Fugui responsible as she doesn’t care about wealth, just about their family. She leaves him since he doesn’t stop gambling, but comes back when demonstrates that he has truly changed. She is kind and aware of those around her and ways Fugui is not. For example she knows t their son was sticking up for his sister when she was being bullied and even when she’s sick she is fully their for their grandson. Li Gong does an amazing job!

Xu Fugui – I like this character more in the film than in the book. In the film he has hope for the future that is slowly broken as the The Great Leap Forward leads to his son accidentally getting killed and the Cultural Revolution leading to the death of his daughter as all Doctors are enemies since they are academics and not working class. He just wants to live and he does that really well as before he was obsessed with pleasure and drink but in the end just wants to be with his family. You Ge is great at playing both the cocky youth and the wise old man.

Great Leap Forward – The Great Leap Forward is shown to be great in many ways, but also having a cost. The people came together and industrialization did happen, the downside is the steel was bad and some people were worked to exhaustion like Fugui’s son.

Cultural Revolution – Fugui has to destroy the shadow puppets because they represent the Imperial Past, the Red Guards have power and turn on the intellectuals and teachers and everyone is afraid that they could be next. Of course if you’re connected to the Red Guards like Fugui is when a Red Guard marries his daughter, you get taken care of.

The Message – The message ends in one of hope, when Fugui tells his grandson, “And things will get better.” This might be true but what we see is that change for the sake of change isn’t always good. As many people have to be in it and abandoning the past or the elders can lead to lack of Doctors and loss of art. We see this in the mourning of the puppets, in the loss of Fugui’s children and what Fugui watches around him as even loyal Party members are arrested or targeted like Chunsheng or the man in charge of their area. Some positive can and do happen, but healthy change involves awareness of what worked before and including everyone in the change.

Okay/Good: The Cinematography – The cinematography used a lot of red and had some great color contrasts and long shots, but other times felt like a television movie in how it softened the scenes. For this reason I can’t make it a complete pro, but consider but better than okay.

Okay: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack isn’t all that unique and feels generic overall. This is a shame since a good soundtrack would have made this movie great.

Jiazhen and Fugui’s Children – The children are child actors so they could have been played by anyone as I wouldn’t call their performances unique. Their daughter is mute so communicates largely through facial expressions and their son is rebellious and defensive of his sister, both are accurate to the books but I don’t really consider their individual performances all that memorable.

I personally liked the book more because there were more details and it in my opinion it painted a much fuller picture. This film is still really good though. There are character arcs, we see how China changes during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution and how this affects the common people. We see how the radical change of Revolution so often comes with suppressing ideas and creating enemies so that the people will be focused on an outward problem rather than the internal problems of society and corruption around them and we see that most people just want to live. This is a great story about one family doing just that, living and enduring so much struggle and loss in a country that went through the same.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10.