Message from the King (2017): Netflix Makes a Revenge Flick

     “Message from the King” is a film that had a lot of potential and could have been great, but doesn’t quite get there. Revenge thrillers are hard to do, I enjoy them but in the last few years the only ones that really stand out to me are the “John Wick” films and this film isn’t that. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic, he really is the only one holding this film up, which is sad because there is so much potential as he is a South African in Los Angeles and all the differences in culture or history and similarities were just dropped. So before I get into spoilers, I recommend it if you like revenge films but there is not much else to keep you here. It isn’t bad but it isn’t good.

The film was directed by Fabrice Du Welz and written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell who produced it along with David Lancaster and Simon Cornwell.

The story involves Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) traveling from South Africa to Los Angeles to find his sister. When he finds out what happened to her his revenge quest begins as he hunts down those responsible for what happened.


The Pros: Chadwick Boseman – Boseman is the best part of this film. He plays a character who feels like a failure of a brother because he couldn’t take care of his siblings. There is also more going on with him too. After his sister’s torture and murder by the gang in Los Angeles he completes his revenge spree against the gang and we learn he is a cop in South Africa who hides his killing spree from his partners. This added more layers to the character and he was the only character whose motivation I really felt I knew, and that was entirely due to Boseman’s acting.

The Action – The action is solid and you feel a lot of the punches. It is honestly a shame there wasn’t more action as that would have strengthened the film overall. The action scenes stand out because they are at each major point in the story as his revenge spree completes.

The Cons: Many Great Actors No Characters – Luke Evans, Tom Felton and Alfred Molina are all in this playing different types of creeps involved with drugs, gangs and porn. Sadly I could not describe their characters to you as they are so poorly written. This was a missed opportunity as all 3 of these folks can act, I just didn’t see any character there, just plot devices to be destroyed by the protagonist.

I wish I had more to say about this film. There are a lot of decent actors in this (like Tom Felton and Luke Evans) but besides Boseman I’d have a hard time describing them or their motivations. This was a missed opportunity as any good revenge flick should have great villains that are more than evil for being evil or if they are, are at least fun in how awful they are. This film had none of that and would be a made for television movie if it hadn’t come out on Netflix. Again, if you like revenge flicks you’ll get some enjoyment, but beyond that I can’t recommend this film.

6 / 10 Solid action and Boseman keep it from being a complete failure.

Die Hard (1988): An Amazing and Classic Christmas Action Film

Die Hard

    I had never watched “Die Hard” until a few days ago. I’m glad I did. This is the movie that hits all the right notes for a great action film and a great film overall. It isn’t complicated but it doesn’t have to be, the characters…largely the main stars of the the hero and villain carry the film as we see them use different strategies to defeat one another. There stakes are always high and it never lets up.

     The film was directed by John McTiernan and written by Steven E. de Souza and produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver. The screenplay was based off the story “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp.

     The story involves New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) being trapped in a building where his ex-wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is when 12 terrorists lead by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) hold the place hostage. It is up to McClane and the LAPD to defeat him.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is fantastic! The stakes are always high and both Gruber and McClane are racing against time. McClane to get outside help to even the odds and to stop the terrorists, and Gruber to access the cash and hack the system. For this reason the stakes are always high as both are hero and villain have limits and time working against them.

The Action – The action is amazing! From every gunfight with one of Gruber’s minions, to the final battle up on top of the roof and Gruber blowing up the roof and the final scene with our heroes and villain hanging off an edge. It pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

The Soundtrack – Michael Kamen did a great job on this soundtrack. It’s visceral and captures the tension of the different situations John is in really well.

The Minions – The minions are a lot of fun. The ones who stood out the most were the blond German brothers and the tech Theo all who were clearly loving their roles. I actually cared about what happened to them as the team of terrorists were a close knit group and had more distinct personalities than most of the business people in the building they were holding hostage.

Sgt. Al Powell – Reginald VelJohnson does good work as the cop with a history who made the worst mistake one can make (mistook a toy for an actual gun) and is living with the regret. He is the heart and soul of the film who keeps John grounded.

Hans Gruber – Alan Rickman plays one of the best villains in action film. He manipulates everyone perfectly and it is only the x factor of John that makes throws off his plan. Even than he manages to hurt our hero pretty bad and I really liked how much humanity Rickman gives the character, especially when he goes undercover as a hostage to learn about John’s motivations for being there. When he is beaten it is earned and that is what makes him so fantastic outside of his fantastic mind.

John McClane – John is the everyman who adapts to a new dangerous situation and rises to the challenge, managing to eventually get outside help and defeat Gruber. He is a loner and we see a man who is lost and living in the past (his wife has moved on). It is in his conversations with Al his humanity is revealed and we see getting back to his kids is his primary motivation for all he does. We also see his kindness when Gruber goes undercover to set a trap for him and he treats Gruber with kindness when he thinks he’s a hostage. There is a humor to him too and he is like a cowboy.

Okay: Takagi – Owns the business being hostage and is killed by Gruber. He has courage though and we see him stand up to Gruber on multiple occasions and we see his compassion in how he treats McClane and his employees. I wanted to know more about what motivated him though, which is why he isn’t a pro and is just okay.

Holly – She is a damsel a bit too often once Gruber learns that she is John’s ex-wife. She could have been more of a damsel to the writer’s credit so I’m not putting her as a con, she just doesn’t have as distinct of motivations as some of our other characters though.

The Cons: The Business People – Whether it is Holly’s new relationship or the guy working with the terrorists, they were just sleazeballs and were weak as characters.

   Merry Christmas all! This is easily one of the best Christmas films I’ve seen (it all takes place over a Christmas party) and the dynamic between Gruber and McClane creates a visceral and fun action film that I cannot wait to watch again. I understand completely why this film spawned a franchise, it truly is that good of story. Nearly all the characters are in their A Game and the sleazeball business men aren’t enough to bring it down.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Blood In Blood Out (1993): Bonds of Blood, the Nature of Honor and Power and Agency

nBlood In Blood Out

         “Blood In Blood Out” is an amazing action film! It is a film with layers to it and has some great story arcs that it takes time (over 3 hours) to explore. This is a film that gives you time to get to know the groups, the ambitions and motivations of all the players as as well as fully exploring the different turning points leading to an ending that I honestly didn’t expect, but enjoyed.

      The film was directed by Taylor Hackford, who was also one of the producers. Written by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Jeremy Iacone and Floyd Mutrux based on the story by Ross Thomas and produced by Jerry Gershwin.

       The story is that of 3 brothers. Miklo who is half-white and half-Hispanic who leaves his abusive father in Las Vegas who hates him for being half-Hispanic, he meets up with his cousins Cruz who is an up and coming artist and Paco who is rising in a gang. When Miklo joins Paco in attacking a rival gang the retaliation leads to Cruz being mortally injured and Paco and Miklo getting into a car crash when running from the cops leading to Miklo going back to prison and Paco joining the marines. Years pass before they all meet up again, changed.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing! Bill Conti did a great job on this soundtrack! It is a mixture of 90’s action music mixed with traditional Mexican music which leads to some great thematic moments.

Paco’s Story – Paco is the tough guy of the three folks who become adopted brothers. He doesn’t connect to them but when it comes to risking it all he stays with Miklo after the crash rather than leaving him to the cops which leads to him becoming a marine to get out of going to prison and later becoming a cop. From here his relationship to Miklo and Cruz goes downhill and Miklo rises in the ranks of La Onda and Cruz becomes a heroin addict and leaves the drugs out leading to the death of Cruz’s young brother. Paco is hard until the end but focuses on the need to look after the Chicano community even though many don’t trust him for being a cop and the history of violence of white cops towards Chicanos. His arc comes full circle when he is able to forgive and be friends with Cruz again and Cruz reminds him that he and Miklo will always be brothers even if they are on opposite sides of the law. Benjamin Bratt does a fantastic job.

Miklo’s Story – Miklo’s story is the most compelling as we meet the greatest array of characters and see how selfishness and greed can lead to their never being peace or solidarity between the powerless. He is a man who never had power, abused by his father for being half-hispanic, manipulated by corrupt police and later used by Popeye and the corrupt members of La Onda too…it is only when he takes control and becomes a leader in La Onda that he finds the dignity and self respect he never had growing up. He loses family when his leg is shot off by Paco but he forgives him as in the end he does see brotherhood as more than blood even if he can’t see what the drug war is doing to his community and La Onda’s role in it. Damian Chapa is great and it is really cool that his story ends with him being the leader of La Onda after the Aryan Nation gang kills the past leader Montana and Miklo uses the time to bring solidarity to Londa and taking out the Black and White Gangs to take control of the drug trade outside of the prison.

La Onda – La Onda is fascinating as their is a council of 7 that falls apart when one of the 7 works with the Aryan Nation since he wants quick money and power and he’s addicted to what they are selling. This eventually leads to Montana seeking a peace conference with the Black Guerrilla Army (B.G.A.) but the Aryan  Vanguard uses Popeye’s actions outside of the prison to have one of the B.G.A.’s assassinate Montana. Montana’s death leads to the rise of La Onda and the death of peace as B.G.A. and A.V. getting killed off before the members of La Onda are separated which leads to them recruiting nationwide.

Montana – Montana is the calm leader and wants peace. He doesn’t see race but he sees power and how the white cops and gangs hold the most power so only those who don’t see it or don’t have power banding together can they have peace. He is also writing about the Chicano experience in the Prison Industrial Complex. He reminded me a lot Malcolm X with elements of Martin Luther King Jr. He was my favorite character in the film without a doubt. Enrique Castillo does a great job.

Cruz’s Story – Cruz’s story is finding himself and his people and growing beyond self hatred. After his brother dies from heroin he is isolated from his community until he gets clean and on the Day of the Dead makes up with his mother and father and when we see him he’s shaved his head and become a prophet figure reminding Paco of the fact that they are all family and that they are united by blood and love no matter how their paths may differ. It’s a really cool speech and it’s awesome seeing this character whole again helping his brothers strive towards healing when he was the one who was the most broken and powerless through most of the film, starting with Spider paralyzing him from the back down. Jesse Borrego had a lot of fun in the role and he is the glue between Paco and Miklo who are foils to one another in many ways as they switch roles within their community and within themselves.

Race in America – The movie is smart about race relations in the United States. This is especially shown in regards to African-Americans and Hispanics within the Prison Industrial Complex and lack of opportunities outside of the army in many cases leading to gangs as a form of agency. Best thing I can say is you should see it yourself. If you are poor you lose power and if you are power and are a people who have laws passed against you for the color of your skin it is even worse. Miklo is looked down upon for being half as well until he’s proven himself in La Onda and Paco also deals with that as being a cop in a mostly white force where the gangs are bigger in his community and Cruz is torn between that as well as it is retaliation against Paco’s gang that leads to him getting paralyzed and pulled in with drugs while he was always an outsider in the art community that mostly white because of the color of his skin. These are only some of the ways the complexity and story of race in the United States is expressed in the film.

Prison Industrial Complex – The Prison Industrial Complex is all about power and Miklo makes a good point that the State and those who work their profit from them being in the prison. Within the prison the only way to beat it is join together (what Montana was trying to do) or death of competitors (what Miklo does) in all of these the cycle of violence and status quo continues and nothing changes as those who own the prison stay on top and those who rise in the prison are still prisoners who are never given the chance to grow beyond what they were as even outside of prison people use them for being ex-cons so they can never have a real career.

Agency and Power – Agency and power are huge. Miklo’s story is fighting for his and what he sees as Chicano agency, just like Montana is trying the same thing by banding together against the Aryan Vanguard. Not many people have agency in this outside of the those who already have power (many of the white characters in the prison) and it is only by fighting back than any of the other characters get agency, including Paco who has to fight for himself to stay on the case for taking out La Onda and the drug trade. Those who were not born with power due to color of skin, circumstances or other have that much more to fight for in order to gain power due to their lack of agency. It is really well done.

Honor and Hate – There are a lot of twisted forms of honor in this as “Blood In Blood Out” is the philosophy of La Onda and it is self-destructive as their never room for healing, growth or compromise which is why when Montana as the leader tries to do something different the very philosophy of the gang is what leads to his end. Cruz is also first to get over his self hatred at being paralyzed and his time with drugs and he is able to help Paco begin healing past his regret for the car crash and his relationship and actions towards Miklo and Cruz. Hate is shown as something to grow past as it is the hate between the gangs that leads to nothing but death and the death of the relationship between Paco and Miklo.

Okay: Cinematography – It’s very 90’s where nothing is really shot in a unique way. You have close-ups and quick action shots with the only memorable cinematic scene being the killings in the prison interspersed with a Day of the Dead celebration.

   This was a powerful action film and one of the best I have watched. The only thing to keep in mind is that it is long as it establishes characters and communities and how the characters fit into those communities. The character arcs are stunning and no character is unchanged after the film. The themes of agency and power are also extremely well done and I found myself caring about all 3 of the main character and their struggles and choices they had to make as they sought healing and dignity in a world that denied them it. Suffice to say, I highly recommend it.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10