Freaks – You’re One of Us (2020): A Jumbled Start With Character Moments That Payoff in the End

Freaks - You're One of Us.jpg

     “Freaks – You’re One of Us” is a Netflix film that had the potential for greatness. The music is wonderful, the core characters and their relationships work and it really just falls apart in messaging and how jumbled it is in the beginning. This is not a long film but it feels long because of how long it takes for character advancing moments to happen. I’ll get into more detail below but without going into spoilers this is a film I’d recommend to anyone looking for a neat take on superheroes.

The film was directed by Felix Binder and written by Marc O. Seng.

The story follows Wendy who is taking medication after an incident from her childhood. After the mysterious Marek approaches her and proves superheroes exist she begins to explore that potential within herself.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack of this film pops. You’ve got a lot of popular 80’s songs that are covers that Wendy listens to on her walkman to and from work. This use of music adds an organic element to the story and also keeps the characters grounded. No matter what some characters may claim, they never stop being flawed human beings.

The Premise – The premise of superheroes having their powers being repressed by a pill and being outsiders isn’t anything new but this film still keeps it interesting as it is our world and no one believes in superheroes as they only exist in comic books. This is really what gives the characters and their arcs the potential for greatness.

The Main Characters – The main characters all work. You have Wendy and her family who is slowly coming into her power. You have Marek who escaped from the institute and is living as homeless man and is the one who shows Wendy the potential she has and there is Elmar who is a creeper co-worker who lives in comics and whose power acts as a corrupting mechanism. The three characters work and I wish them in their power had had more interactions as it is in those interactions that the film is strongest.

Marek – Marek is an immortal who is living in hiding after escaping an institute where his power was being repressed. We learn that his family died and he blames himself for it and has been unable to kill himself since that time. Wendy is the first character to give him hope and I really liked their friendship. She is there for his death when he is finally killed after the medication has been repressing his abilities. His final ask of Wendy is to rescue and awaken more people like them.

Elmar – Elmar is the villain of the picture. He lives at home with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend and blames his dad for him mom leaving. This resentment leads to escapism into comics and his dad is pushing him to have ambition. This takes a dark turn when he discovers his power and continues pursuing his co-worker Wendy. In the end he turns Marek’s location to the institute to isolate Wendy when they won’t become superheroes with him. His final act is nearly murdering his father and kidnapping Wendy’s family. She finally defeats him and his reign of terror comes to an end. He was a character with potential to become good but he never got out of his ego and selfishness so his character arc to villiany became obvious when Wendy and Marek wouldn’t join him.

Wendy – Wendy is our protagonist. She is bullied in her job and her only joy is in being a mother to her son as her husband and her are pretty disconnected from each other initially. It is when she is off the medication and defending herself and others that their relationship heals after Elmar attempts to kill her husband. At this point she is on the run with the rest of the members of the institute she managed to escape with and we see her planning to free more people but also knowing she can never be with her family again. It is a bittersweet arc but it works.

Okay:

Wendy’s Family – Her family is okay. They are kind of stock character types who don’t get beyond that but the actors do an alright job. They are good in the dramatic scenes they are in but in the quieter scenes the husband looked checked out at times. That might have also been the character but her family is not written as well as the 3 main characters.

The Cons:

Slow Start – The start is real slow and it takes a while before we start seeing the question of “So what?” being answered. So superheroes exist and have existed, what now? There is almost too much time spent establishing Elmar and Wendy when fewer scenes would have accomplished how disconnected they felt with their families and within themselves.

Message in Medication – The problematic element of the film is how it seems to be anti-medication. It could all just be a plot device but it is hard to separate that given how the institute full of superheroes is a hospital that looks like a psychiatric ward. The fact that the doctor in charge is presented as sympathetic and only wants to help also plays into this. Given the anti-science bent behind the premise it just strikes me as problematic and a bit toxic.

This was a film that had solid leads, presents the idea of superheroes in an interesting way and overall works as a film. It is nearly good and within the narrative there is so much potential for the story to really be great. It is really only the few but strong cons that bring it down and why I can’t rate it higher. If you are a fan of superhero films and seeing new approaches to the many premises that have arisen out of comics than this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10 I would say solidly good if the start wasn’t so slow. This isn’t a long film but it feels long.

Project Power (2020): Standard Drama With a Great Idea

Project Power - Wikipedia

     “Project Power” gives us a great idea and a solid cast but falls apart from the premise not being fully realized and one of the overused villain tropes that is executed horribly. If you are looking for a quick fun forgettable watch it is worth checking out on Netflix though. Enough is positive that I did find the film fun.

The film was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and written by Mattson Tomlin.

The story follows Art Reilly / The Major (Jamie Foxx) as he hunts for his kidnapped daughter. At the same time Robin (Dominique Fishback) is a dealer of Power (a drug that gives an unknown superpower for 5 minutes) on the streets of New Orleans who finds herself pulled into the bigger conspiracy. At the same time one of Robin’s cop clients Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is tracking the Major.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a temporary super power drug that is on a time limit is great for upping the stakes. The film sets down the stakes really early on too as you see destruction happening all over the city before the 6 year time jump when we are first introduced to the drug. Sadly the premise is never fully realized. It stays surface, which is still entertaining but it could have been more.

The Action – The action is really what carries this film and keeps it from being bad. We have a lot of tight action scenes with a character going super and because of it those without powers have to use strategy and tactics to defeat the temporary supers. This action stays brutal and flows through the entire film.

The Main Trio – I liked the main characters. Jamie Foxx’s Major is an anti-hero and you get his desperation as he tries to find his kidnapped daughter. His relationship with Robin as an adopted daughter is great too as she also is selling Power to help her mother who has diabetes and will need surgery. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is the most simple, he’s a cop who takes the drug to fight other supers and is a bit of a rogue element. In the end his empathy comes through as he listens to Major and he clearly sees Robin as family too. The dynamic that develops between these three is really what carries the film.

The Cons:

The Villain -The villain is an evil corporation again. Dr. Gardner developed Project Power and is selling it to gangs and cartels. There is talk about her trying to bring about the next evolution of humanity but it is only in the text. We never see her show that she cares about anything beyond money and power and the same function applies to her minions. Evil drug corporations are such an easy out at this point and like “The Old Guard” they handled completely bad here. I hope Netflix can give us a good original film with a compelling villain, cause so far I’m not impressed.

This was an enjoyable rental that could have been more. The trio is great and if they showed up in Netflix show in this universe or as a sequel, I’d probably watch it. The cast and the concept are really what carry this film and keep it from being bad. If you like the concept or any of the cast I would recommend you check it out.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Extraction (2020): Enjoyable Action That Had Potential to be More

popcornandreels on Twitter: "Chris Hemsworth featured on new ...

     “Extraction” was a film that had potential to be good and even great. There are a lot of things that work about this movie. The performances and action are both memorable and fantastic but it is held back by the cinematography, villain and lack of development of some of the minor characters. If you are looking for a fun escape for a bit during the pandemic and enjoy action films chances are you will enjoy this though.

The film was directed by Sam Hargrave and written by Joe Russo.

The story follows Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) as he works to extract Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) son of an imprisoned Indian Drug-lord out of Dhaka Bangladesh as he is hunted by different factions within the city.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action for this film is great. There are a lot of kinetic gun and fist fights and great use is made of close corner combats on the streets of Dhaka. We get fights between market vendors and cars and upon layers of apartment complexes. It is really well done with the final fight being a holdout over a bridge.

Betrayals – One of the strongest aspects of the film are betrayals. Ovi was only caught because his father was betrayed as he should have been protected wherever he went. Tyler Rake is betrayed by his old war buddy Gaspar, played by Dave Harbour who has given up on any higher ideals beyond survival. These betrayals add tension to the film as the city is under siege from the Bangladeshi drug lord Amir Asif who had initially kidnapped Ovi and is using all his power to get him back and keep Tyler trapped in the city.

Saju Rav – Saju Rav is Ovi’s father’s enforcer and gives easily one of the best performances and has one of the best arcs in the film. He is doing all he can to protect Ovi as his own family has been threatened by Ovi’s father and if he fails they’ll be killed. He and Tyler are evenly matched and as Tyler shares his own trauma you see how their stories of family motivating them mirror each other. Randeep Hooda does a fantastic job.

Tyler Rake – Hemsworth brings a lot of depth to what would could easily be a blank slate action hero. Thankfully this is not the case as he opens up to Ovi about the loss of his own child and when see why he is a broken character whose team hopes he can keep it together. It is this empathy that he shares that further humanizes him beyond the fact that when we are first introduced to him he is on a bridge badly injured and fighting for his life. Suffice to say, I look forward to “Thor: Love and Thunder” as Hemsworth continues to shine as an action star.

The Cons:

The Cinematography – The cinematography looks like a Michael Bay film and I hate that style of filming. What I mean by the entire film has a sickly yellow sunset sheen to the entire thing and everything feel just out of focus. If a film looks bad the other cons are brought out even further as presentation should catch your eye but in a way that complements the scene, not hurt it.

Lack of Development of the Indian Members of the Team – Khan is the really cool women in charge of the Indian special forces trying to get Ovi out of Bangladesh and besides her worrying about Tyler and going in to rescue him on the bridge I know nothing about her or her motivations. This applies to the rest of the team members too. If even the “Mission Impossible” Franchise can get this write there is no reason that they could have gotten development given we spent way more time with the villain and it did nothing for the script.

The Villain – The Villain Amir Asif is not threatening and not even complex. This is a character who is a controlling bastard with nothing more to him. He is eventually killed by Khan at the end and it felt like an afterthought, which is about how much development he got in this film.

Films that don’t reach good or great is pretty common among the Netflix originals but I’m grateful they are getting made. The potential in these stories give the directors, writers and Netflix the chance to learn and make something better. I wish this film had better taken advantage of where it takes place and developed Khan and her team as they had so much potential. I wish this film had been a collaboration with Bangladeshi or Indian cinema (having a Bangladeshi or Indian writer or director for instance). That I think would have solved the issue of the areas that are underdeveloped (the supporting cast) or not developed at all (the villain). Still, if you are looking for an enjoyable action film, this is a fun escape.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

The Old Guard (2020): A Solid Concept That Nears Great

The Old Guard (2020) - IMDb

     Greg Rucka is one of my favorite comic book writers and Charlize Theron is one of my favorite actors so this film already had a lot going for me in regards to the existence of the film. Is it one of my favorite films this year? Nope. This film is really good but doesn’t quite rise to greatness due to bland villains and some pacing issues. Besides those two things this is a film I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a fantastic action film that explores deeper issues.

The film was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka and adapted from his comic book “The Old Guard.”

The story follows a group of immortals lead by Andy (Charlize Theron) who must seek out a newly formed immortal after they are betrayed they must find out who and why they were betrayed while helping the new immortal Nile (KiKi Layne) find herself in her new identity.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a group of immortals going on missions to take out bad people is honestly pretty cool. You get why they are so jaded yet trying to make a difference as you come to see how many people they have lost over the years, as well as the fact that their powers don’t last forever. This adds tension and stakes as none of the characters know when the regeneration will stop.

The Action – The action is very “John Wick.” It is brutal, tactical and is really fun to watch. Over the course of the film you get to see each of the immortals in action and from that the weapons that they came to specialize in over the years. You get to see both gun and melee combat depending on the situation and the tactics “The Old Guard” are using to achieve victory. Suffice to say, it is really well done.

The Relationships and Characters – The relationships and characters are what drive this story and elevate it from being simply enjoyable to really good. I’ll go into a few of those relationships here as they are what really made the story for me beyond the action.

James Copley – Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a CIA agent who betrays the Old Guard to a pharmaceutical company who wants to use their blood to heal people. We see that his desire to help others was the reason for the betrayal and his change of heart when he follows all of their stories and sees how their acts of protecting the innocent lead to millions of lives being saved. I’m glad he survived as he is easily the most complex character in the film.

Joe and Nicky – Joe and Nicky have one of the best written relationships in any film I’ve seen this year. They were on opposite sides of the Crusades and over the course of failing to kill each other fell in love. They have one another’s back to the fullest degree and show us that even in a world where you will outlive everyone you can still find someone you can love so truly and fully. Seriously, this relationship is beautiful. These two men are fantastic.

Andy and Booker – Booker and Andy are the oldest of the immortals and are connected in their pain and loss. Booker knows that Andy broke after her best friend and possible lover Quynh was locked in a metal suit and dropped to the bottom of the ocean. They were never able to find her and Booker after losing everyone gave up on life and betrayed the Old Guard to Copley. In the end after the Company is stopped Booker is exiled for 100 years from the Old Guard.

Andy and Nile – The other great relationship is the one between Andy and Nile. Andy is the mentor figure as Nile is coming to terms with becoming an immortal and having to fall off the map to protect herself and others. It takes her time to accept this and Theron’s Andy is perfect as she is so jaded but it is only because she cares so deeply about those who live and all those she’s lost. Andy’s the oldest of the immortals while Nile is new.

The Cons:

Drags in Parts – There are a few sections in the beginning before the betrayal that film really drags. Part of this is due to how one-dimensional the villains are but the rest is simply pacing. Still, this is one of the few problems the film had.

The Villains – The villains are a pharmaceutical company and just selfish gits. The CEO especially has no redeeming qualities and didn’t feel like a valid threat who could really take on “The Old Guard” once their sights were set on him. This was a shame as a well written villain easily could have elevated this film to great.

As a huge Theron and Rucker fan this is a hard film not to recommend. I have not read a bad comic by Rucka and even in bad films Theron is often times the best actor in the room. The film ends with a cliffhanger as Booker meets Quynh who is back from the hell of being trapped in the cage underwater. What her motives are at this point remain to be explored and this is a time I think a sequel would only help things. This was a really good film and if you are looking for a fantastic action film that explores what one would do with immortality this will probably be your jam.

Final Score: 8.6 / 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/

The Irishman (2019): A Good Reflective Crime Drama

Image result for The Irishman"

      “The Irishman” is a film that would have worked better as a show or focusing in on one story. Scorsese is a master of his craft and the film is beautiful, but I also ended up watching this film over 2 days. This film has some really strong stories within the narrative but at times drags and almost spends a little too much time in a time and place. Without getting into spoilers this is a film I’d recommend though, especially to any Scorsese fan.

The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian.

The story follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as he recounts his time in the mafia.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Scorsese has an eye for scenes and this film is beautiful. At times it feels like a documentary capturing snapshots in history, while other scenes become a drama and the tension is palatable and the scenes are personal. Rodrigo Prieto did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Robbie Robertson composed a fantastic soundtrack. It is kinetic when it needs to be and slow when it fits the narrative too. I loved his work in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and he is once again collaborating with Scorsese to wonderful results. I felt in among the characters because of how involved the music was and I definitely plan to use it for writing in the future.

The Core Character Relationships – The core relationships are what make the film work. Frank and Russell (Joe Pesci) have a mentor relationship that turns into a partnership after Russell brings him into the mob and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Frank have a best friendship that the mob ends when Hoffa becomes a threat.

The Exploration of Time – The film begins in the 50’s when Frank is a truck driver but spends most of the time with Jimmy Hoffa in the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The strongest part of the narrative is our time with Hoffa and I wish that was the story that they had chosen to tell. It is where we see Frank face a dilemma and his choices really change him, besides that he is an enforcer and later leader within the mob and that just isn’t as interesting as his complex relationship with Hoffa.

The Cons:

The Third Act and Pacing – The Third Act and really anytime we are with an old Frank really drag. I didn’t really see the point of it beyond it showing that he in the end he died alone. Whenever we are in the present the film goes really slow and at it was already dragging at points prior. As said above I wish they just could have chosen Frank’s time with Hoffa as everything else doesn’t feel as compelling and is more flavor rather than story. This film is over 3 hours and even with me taking an intermission before finishing it the next day felt like nothing was missed in the interim. That really is what brings it down the most.

I thought this was a really good film. It isn’t as strong as Scorsese’s other work but I loved that he got to work with many actors who he had worked with before. De Niro, Pacino, Pesce are all in their A game and in roles that play to their strengths. The film is also beautifully filmed and the soundtrack is breathtaking. If you are a Scorsese fan, I highly recommend this film. It could have been more but I was still happy with what I got.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

 

The King (2019): Feels Like a Pilot to a Show

Image result for the king poster

      The best thing I can say about “The King” is it made me want to read more about the “Hundred Years’ War.” The film is adapted from Henry IV and Henry V written by William Shakespeare. I haven’t seen the plays but this story did a great job of sparking that interest and honestly, I wish it had just chosen one of the plays. There is a lot of story in this film and it does feel like we don’t get the full picture of what is going on. I would say if you like historical dramas, it is worth checking out, just don’t go in expecting anything great. There isn’t enough story fleshed out so it feels like the pilot of a show versus a complete film.

The film was directed and co-wrote by David Michôd with his other co-writer being Joel Edgerton.

The story follows Prince “Hal” and his rise to power after the death of his father King Henry IV and the politics surrounding his rise in the Hundred Years’ War.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The fight sequences that exist are fantastic. The war is brutal and we see characters we know die as well as different tactics being used on the battlefield. The action really brings you into this brutal world, which honestly keeps the film from sucking.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film. I’ve come to expect this from Netflix, so this is more of the same but the wide sweeping shots of France and England really give scale to the war and battles.

The Politics – The politics could have been expanded upon more but I love that we see that the United Kingdom isn’t united and just how complicated the war for power and control is. I would have preferred more politics, especially getting more of the French point of view, but what we see in the court with Henry IV is intriguing and I liked the different voices represented on King Henry IV’s council.

Okay/Con:

Historical Accuracy – This is a film adapted from a play that was already changing history, so when adapting Shakespeare I don’t expect historical accuracy. All the same I would have liked to see characters developed further. There is so much within history to pull from and not much was done in how the characters were presented or the screen time they received.

The Cons:

The Role of Catherine – Catherine convinces “Hal” that his Justice Gascoigne lied about the assassin and he believes her. We don’t see any of her perspective prior to this and when the conflict starts so “Hal” suddenly trusting her comes out of nowhere. This was a waste as since this is adaptation, she could have played a much bigger role in the narrative and in turn we could have been given reasons earlier to know she is trustworthy.

Underdeveloped Reasons for the War – Beyond Hal’s father having been fighting for territory we don’t really get any reason for the invasion of France beyond the false assassination attempt. There is so much history here that I wanted to hear why France and England had been at war. I wanted more reasons and history and this film did not give it.

For such a fascinating time in history I would have loved more history and context. This a film that chose to keep things simple with the characters and in the process we don’t get the deeper motivations of what drives them, and that hurts the film. The film isn’t historical because Shakespeare himself shaped history to tell his dramas, and this story adapted from his stories is no difference. This is a case where the nuance of history would have strengthened the narrative. We are asked to assume to so much or given the base of motivation. This is enough for the film to be fine, but isn’t good or great. It needed more than great action and cinematography.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

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.

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019): A Film With no Likable Characters

Velvet Buzzsaw Cast & Character Guide | ScreenRant

     There aren’t many great “Netflix” films and this film continues that. I like that we are getting all these new original and oftentimes experimental films but so often these films have characters that are completely unlikable or a plot reveal that just isn’t scary or says anything. All these cons are things that “Velvet Buzzsaw” suffers from. This is a film that had so much potential (premise of haunted artwork is just cool) but it is a film that I would not recommend. The premise and initial tension are the only things holding this film up.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” was directed and written by Dan Gilroy.

The story follows art critic Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose lover Josephina (Zawe Ashton) discovers many paintings from her deceased neighbor Vetril Dease. When she steals them and the exhibit picks them up strange things begin happening around the Studio which leads to Morf investigating as his life begins to fall apart.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of haunted paintings is really neat. What if the images could come to life and get you? It is a creepy concept because art is everywhere and in this instance all it takes is the paint spreading for the horror to travel to other things that would be in an art studio giving haunted abstract art or bringing speaking robots to life. This concept done right could easily become a favorite horror film for me, this is not that film.

The Tension – The tension is one of the few good things that works in this film. Weird things happen and people start dying leading to it continuing to build. The problem is by the time the final comes around it doesn’t matter how good the tension is because none of the characters matter. They are all terrible people so you have no reason to hope they survive the scenes that build up to deaths.

The Cons:

The Characters – The characters are why this movie sucks. The premise works, the tension works but the characters are awful and even if they were wrote that way, they should at least be directed to be sympathetic. By the end of the film I hated all of them and because of it I didn’t care what happened to them so the basic horror premise became meaningless. If you have a cast full of characters and them dying is what is raising the stakes, than you have to be given a reason to care about said characters. Not a single one of these characters were sympathetic. They were all selfish and back stabbing and those who could have been sympathetic never got properly developed.

I really can’t recommend this film. I’m picky with what horror movies I watch and this film is a great example of why. I need to care about characters or else jump scares and tension building means absolutely nothing. Again, I didn’t hate this film as the concept and the tension were done well, but a story with no compelling characters is a story I will never recommend to anyone. This is a Netflix original film that really isn’t worth your time. Like many Netflix films I wish there was more to say, but it is hard to do so when the film itself says and means nothing.

Final Score: 4 / 10

 

Bird Box (2018): A Fantastic Post-Apocalyptic Horror Thriller

I loved “Bird Box.” This is a movie that has become a meme due to the sheer popularity it seems to have taken on, which given how Netflix turned “Stranger Things” into a cultural artifact it is no surprise that this movie would do the same. In both cases the emphasis is on character and fear of the unknown, which is executed beautifully in how the story is told. This is a film built on characters and tension and from there executes a beautiful masterpiece. Susanne Bier did a great job directing this film. I’m definitely interested in seeing what she makes next after this.

The story follows Malorie (Sandra Bullok) in the past as she groups up with a bunch of survivors in a home trying to make sense of the strange event that has occured that is driving people outside to kill themselves and in present day where she guides two children down the river, with each of them blindfolded to some how stave-off this unknown threat. From here the two timelines converge as we learn about what happened to our world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and does a great job of making everything vibrant. Even the house covered in paper to keep people from looking out has a sickly glow to it. Whether it is night or day you are given a reason to fear what is outside. This works well too in action scenes where characters have to act without seeing, whether it is Malorie with the kids on the river or the drive in a covered car to the supermarket. The visuals keep the threat alive, even though they never show you the demons outside of what a character perceives them to look like through pictures. The visuals and I should also mention the sound design here, keep the tension alive.

The Ensemble Cast – The cast is fantastic. BD Wong appears as a minor character who is on the empathetic side of the surivors contrasted with Malkovich’s Douglas who doesn’t care about anyone outside of himself for the longest time and the characters who are on different sides of this. United in fear they slowly open up to one another and there is just the right amount of characters from a cop in training, an ex-druggie, a grandma, a writer who works at a supermarket, Olympia the idealistic mom contrasted with Malorie’s cynicism and Rhodes’s Tom who is largely the protector and semi-leader of the group.

Creating Family – One of the running themes of the film is the creating of family. We see this in the literal sense of Malorie and the other mother Olympia about to have kids. The survivors are an expression of this too as Malkovich’s Douglas goes from someone who only cares about himself after his 3rd wife is killed in the event but is willing to risk his life for the others when the survivors are all at risk in the end. We also witness it in love that forms between Rhodes’s Tom and Bullok’s Malorie as they come to love each other and become a couple and Malorie raising the two kids and opening up to them. This is one thing the film excels at and my guess is why it is so loved, outside of how well the terror is executed. I cared about the characters and seeing how they became invested in one another was the reason why.

The Unknown Fear – We never learn what the event is. It seems to be implied it might be Lovecraftian demons (the whole looking at them would drive you crazy fits with Lovecraft lore as well as their consuming the populace in metaphorical way) it works and is my kind of horror. We only see the implication it could be these demons based off drawings from one of the men who is let into the survivors home and tries to force them all to see. The drawings are dark, tentacles and hidden terror. This is what gives me the biggest implication that they are the ones responsible but given we never see that first hand, only the impact it could also be some virus or disease that spreads through the eyes when one is outside. Either one works for me and in this case I like not knowing, the consequence of whatever it is, is enough. You fear for the characters because the moment they look they’ll hurt those around them or kill themselves.

The Cons:

Characters Not Learning – At one point the characters should know not to let anyone on the outside in. One of them does and they stand by her doing this. After this everything goes to crap. I can understand why it happened, it was empathy, but at that point the characters should have known something was up with the guy. Things had been silent for so long and some of the group had died from experiments of watching what the outside. Of course this wouldn’t be a horror movie without at least one character making a stupid mistake so I won’t hold this too much against the film, but it is still a con.

“Bird Box” is worth the hype is if you love character stories or horror films. This is a film that excels at both and manages to have less stupid mistakes on the part of the character choices than “A Quiet Place,” which is also a great film. I just think “Bird Box” does horror and tension ever so slightly better. There is power in not seeing the monster but seeing what it does and not knowing the answer in this case pays off. The story isn’t about the mystery, it is about the survival of the characters and their individual arcs and this is what the film does really well. If you have Netflix definitely check it out. This like “Infinity War” lived up to the hype.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.