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.

Brightburn (2019): An Enjoyable Horror Take on “Superman”

Image result for brightburn poster

    “Brightburn” was a film I enjoyed. It is good but it could have been great if it had been willing to explore the deconstruction of Superman and Smallville further. This is clearly what it takes inspiration from and gives us a horror alien invasion story in the process.

The film was directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian and Mark Gunn.

The story follows the Breyer family after a mysterious ship crashes near their farm carrying a mysterious child they name Brandon. This dream soon finds itself becoming a nightmare as Brandon begins to discover he has powers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Family – The family is the best exploration within this premise. We see a mother who hasn’t been able to have kids now having a son she loves and a dad who wants to be a father too. Elizabeth Banks is great as Tori Breyer and David Denham (Pam’s former fiance from “The Office”) does the distrusting anything new as a threat really well. There isn’t a happy ending for either of htem but the fact that this is a horror movie, I’m not going to spoil it. Watch their relationship with Brandon, which is the best part of the film.

The Horror of Power – We see Brandon go from someone who hurts people for revenge and to cover up things, to killing the ones he loves. This arc for his character made sense given the alien technology telling him to take over. It isn’t good in regards to “Superman” mythos, but I can see where they were taking that mythos when they were making this horror film. I might look more fondly on this film I enjoyed, depending on where they take a potential sequel.

Okay:

The “Kryptonite” – The one thing that is implied to be able to hurt Brandon Breyer is metal from the ship he came on. We never fully see this though and the reason why this is, isn’t explored. This was a major loss. This was originally going to be a con, but there are enough implications that the parents know it hurts him in how they act around him in relationship to the ship. This isn’t great but it isn’t a total loss of developing Brandon’s “kryptonite.”

The Corruption of Brandon Breyer / Brightburn – Brandon Beyer’s corruption is shown in two ways. The first is when he realizes he can’t get hurt after putting his hand in the blade of the lawnmower after throwing it, and the second are the visions of an alien voice telling him to “Take control.” The idea of him becoming a bully because of his power is far more developed than the alien side of his story. It is in the way he uses his ability to not get hurt to hurt and kill others once he realizes he can. The alien side needed to be developed more. It is clearly something driving him but we never get the purpose behind it. The alien side calling him to take control simply exists, which is why I only rate his corruption as okay.

The Cons:

Developing the World – The small town and characters overall feel underdeveloped. They experience events but we never get their deeper thoughts on things. In this way like “Us” this works almost better as an episode in a show. This is what makes it a con. I had no favorite character in this film but I did find the idea of the film appealing. There is potential in this world but beyond Michael Rooker appearing as a paranoid tv announcer talking about other superhumans who are causing problems elsewhere. I loved that bit of world building, but Brightburn needed to feel more lived in, and it didn’t. Same with the alien species that Brandon Breyer came from. We know nothing about them beyond Brandon’s desire to take control. This was an easy chance at world building that should have been explored more.

This is a film worth checking out, if you were a fan of super hero films or horror films. The film isn’t great but it is enjoyable. Even with the story needing to be longer and more developed it still kept me drawn to the screen through the run. If they make sequels I would most likely see if they keep this quality, though I hope they can be better. This is a premise that deserves to be more and if has sequels, there is the chance to do so. As someone who only got into horror films in the last few years, I saw this as promising.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Top 5 Films of 2018

           Today was a busy year for me. Married my best friend, got a new job and because of all the planning and saving lead up to said events, like the wedding, I did not see as many films as I usually do. I also did not seek out bad films this year, and if I was going to see a crappy film I better to have least thought it would be good. Because of this there is only one film I can say I didn’t at least have fun with, and that film was “Mute.” Seriously, that film has beautiful cinematography but the story and characters are absolute garbage. It feels like a bunch of hacks got their hands on “Blade Runner” and that was their creation. So one film that I saw that I wouldn’t recommend for 2018.

Some of the fun forgettable films were “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Aquaman,” “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” and “Ready Player One,” that I would only ever see once. They were good for the experience but I don’t ever plan to buy them.

Now for the honorable mentions. There were a lot of great films that came out this year, some of which were in pretty steep competition for 4th and 5th place. Choosing those films took a while. For the great films that weren’t in the running for 4th or 5th place there was the Coen Brothers “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” which is a wonderful western vignettes, there is the heavy metal fantasy horror of “Mandy” that is beautiful and stunning with it’s visuals and music and I did enjoy “Solo: A Star Wars Story” even though it has a really stupid name. These were some of the greats that came out this year that weren’t competing to be on the list.

Now for the honorable mentions. For the ones that were on the list or nearly made the list at different points there is “Black Panther,” which has an amazing cast, one of my Marvel’s best villains in Killmonger and a great soundtrack. The reason it didn’t make the list in the end is I did find the story a bit predictable and had seen those story beats before in other films, but I did still enjoy it immensely.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/black-panther-2018-seeking-justice-in-a-broken-world/

The other runner up was “Avengers: Infinity War,” like “Black Panther” we have a great villain, an amazing cast and solid soundtrack. Where it falls apart is in how it is Part 1 of 2 and if 2 fails that will effect the overall story and at times it was a bit cluttered because of all the moving parts. I also found the big battles with large armies in both “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” not as creative as they could have been given how powerful the characters are. Visually more could have been done to raise the stakes and tension. Both are still favorite films by the way, but that kept them from making my Top 5.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/avengers-infinity-war-2018-the-power-of-a-compelling-villain/

The final film that nearly made the list was “A Quiet Place.” “A Quiet Place” is one of my favorite horror films and feels like a classic Spielberg horror film akin to “Jaws.” Where it doesn’t work is character stupidity and the monsters, when you finally see them they look stupid. This movie showed me that it is often better to not see the monster at all if you can’t come up with something frightening. The film’s horror worked because of what you didn’t see, once you saw the horror went away.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/a-quiet-place-2018-the-beauty-of-silence/

Now for the Top 5 films of 2018.:

5) Bird Box

Directed by Susanne Bier

Where “A Quiet Place” ceased to be scary once you saw the monsters, “Bird Box” kept me invested through the entire film. This was a film where it is all about what you don’t see. Whatever disease or cosmic horror has effected those who have gone outside it leads them to insanity or to kill themselves, all it takes is you looking outside for them or it to get you. As a concept I already love it and what makes it work is a wonderful cast of complex characters. John Malkovich plays the bitter man whose house the survivors are staying in who loses his wife early on in the event but who develops empathy over the course of the film. Sandra Bullock’s Malorie also has a similar arc where she learns to trust and develop empathy and even eventually love the people around her.  BD Wong and Trevante Rhodes also do an amazing job as the more empathetic characters who already care and are taking care of others whose actions help shape Malorie and the survivors. The horror element of not seeing what the terror is is the basic plot of the film. I was invested in the events of the film and want to see what Susanne Bier does next. This film has received a lot of press and become a living meme of sorts. It definitely isn’t everyone’s pot of tea but for me it was worth the hype.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/bird-box-2018-a-fantastic-post-apocalyptic-horror-thriller/

4) Sorry to Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

“Sorry to Bother You” is Boot Riley’s first film, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. This is a film that is a surreal trip and exploration of race, class, passing and tackling corrupt people and systems as well as how easy it is to get caught up in and becoming a part of those systems of oppression. The story follows Cassius “Cash” Green who becomes a telemarketer to pay the rent. He soon finds himself pulled into a conspiracy when he joins his friends on strike and his bosses give him a chance to take the Golden Elevator up where all the big sales happen. The story is very Terry Gilliamesque akin to “Brazil” as we see Cash changed as he rises up among the elites as it all presented in a dreamlike state before the horror is revealed underneath. I won’t give away any more, but if you like films that have a deeper point you will probably love this film.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/sorry-to-bother-you-2018-a-surreal-exploration-of-race-class-and-privilege/

3) Hereditary

Directed by Ari Aster

“Hereditary” is a brilliant film that explores layers of trauma. For much of the film I questioned if the supernatural element was even there because the layers of pain that exist in the abuse that the mother has faced from her own mother and in turn carried onto her children is so heartbreaking and real. It truly is no wonder why all the characters are on edge and lashing out as the story unfolds of a family’s history and the darker secrets that were kept from the mother Annie who has experienced the brunt of this trauma and manipulation. The way they express the story through symbolism is stunning too as Annie is a famous artist who creates scenes of her life growing up in miniatures that give visual cues through the film. The ending is one of the most difficult horror scenes to get through as it takes you deep into some pretty horrible events but they payoff is amazing. If you are into horror you will love this film as it is easily one of the best horror films I have ever watched.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/hereditary-2018-layers-of-horror-and-history-in-a-beautiful-miniature/

2) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed by Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman and Bob Persichetti

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a masterpiece. This is a film that was made by Sony, so already my expectations were pretty low going in given their history of messing up the Spider-Man Franchise, but this film changes everything. This is easily the best Spider-Man film I have ever watched. We get complex heroes in Peter B. Parker, Gwen Stacey and Miles Morales (whose coming of age and becoming Spider-Man is the heart of the story) and wonderful villains like the Kingpin and Liv Octavius. This is a film that I hope suceeds as I want to see more of Gwen Stacey’s story as The Ghost Spider / Spider-Woman, I want to see more of Miles Morales and his story and I want to see the potential stories that remain in the expanse of possiblities that is the Spider-verse. This is a film that stands solidly on it’s own and even if nothing comes out of it, it was easily the best Super Hero film of the year for me and is one of the best animated films of all time (they mix different animation styles for the different characters and it works amazingly). If you haven’t seen this film yet, check it out.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-2018-the-best-spider-man-film/

1) BlackKklansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Coming in at first we have “BlackKklansman.” This is a long film that doesn’t feel long at all given how well the character beats and message flow through the film. The story follows the first African-American cop Ron (John David Washington) in the police force in Colorado Springs and the racism and both personal and systemic that he comes up against. Sidelined within the force he calls David Duke and in turns forces the force to infiltrate the KKK in how he’s forced them to action. From here his complex relationship with Flip (Adam Driver) unfolds. This movie is full of great tension as Flip has to explore the prejudice him for being Jewish while helping the police force take down their operation they have planned in the area. The film has an amazing ending and even if the film didn’t have the exploration of racism and prejudice it’d be worth it just for the buddy cop relationship between Flip and Ron. I didn’t know what to expect going in but I came out impressed. This is an all-star cast and the writing is nearly flawless while also having some impressive cinematography that illustrates how trapped so many of the characters feel during the film. For me, this was easily the best film of the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/29/blackkklansman-2018-a-powerful-and-relevant-masterpiece/

Darkman (1990): A Masterpiece Exploring the Transformative Nature of Revenge

Darkman

    “Darkman” is a fantastic film and really gave me a huge appreciation for Sam Raimi’s work outside of the first two “Spider-man” films. This is a film that has depth to it’s characters, fascinating villains and a protagonist who is one of the more original to be created in fiction. Darkman is a character who changes over the course of the film and his creation is tragic, which lends strength to the story’s narrative and kept me watching.

     Sam Raimi directed the film and wrote it along with Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin. It was produced by Robert Tapert.

    The story involves Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) who is scarred when Durant (Larry Drake) the mobster attacks his lab to steal a document his girlfriend Julie (Francis McDarmond) was planning to use to explore city corruption. He survives the experience and goes underground becoming Darkman and seeking revenge against the mobsters who killed his assistant and scarred him.

The Pros: The World – The world reminds me of Gotham with there always be darkness and smoke over everything and the mob being in bed with big business as they pretty much do a takeover of the city. It makes sense why Darkman isn’t an idealistic hero, this city has no room for idealism.

The Transformation – The transformation is dark and powerful as Peyton is dropped into a vat, has his arms burned and loses his ability to touch. This leads to him getting super strength and also making him mad.

The Cinematography – Bill Pope did an amazing job on the cinematography. The scenes are clear and there is great use of shadows and light to give the tone of the world and our characters. This is a dying city.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman did a fantastic job on this soundtrack! His haunting score captures the horror of what Peyton Westlake goes through and captures how his desire for hate and revenge transforms him.

The Characters – The characters are all solid and have reason behind what they do, even the villains who would be lesser under different direction and actors.

Louis Strack Jr. – Is the corrupt billionare who wants to rebuild the city with the stolen money from the mob. He’s ambitious and was a man who came from nothing. He is also smart too and figures out when Darkman has taken the identity of Durant to get close to him and to rescue his girlfriend. He is tough to beat and his words about Westlake losing himself are proven correct. Colin Friels did a good job.

Robert Durant – Durant is the mobster who has a pretty great team. He works for Strack and is the man who nearly kills Darkman on multiple occasions, once when he is still Westlake and he kills Westlake’s assistant, the second when he targets Darkman’s hideout. Larry Drake was great.

Durant’s Minions – The minions are a lot of fun. One of them is a curly haired nerd, another has an artificial leg that works as a machine gun (and is used to kill a rival gang at the beginning) there is the muscle who looks like the Kingpin and the brains who survives until the end.

Julie Hastings – Frances McDormand is awesome! I really liked her in this where we see her see past Westlake’s appearance even when he can’t…and the fact that she was the one trying to reveal the corruption in the city. She’s a great character and I wanted to see more of her in action.

Peyton Westlake/Darkman – Liam Neeson is a wonderful hero. As Westlake he plays an eccentric mad scientist who is a strong empath and who loses all of that when he is burned making him a man who lives only for revenge. He is lost in it even as he is able to get his face back due to him being a scientist creating artificial skin…in the end that can’t change how his actions of revenge against Durant and Strack have changed him. In the end he becomes Bruce Campbell and disappears into the crowd knowing he can only be the avenger as his humanity is lost.

How Revenge Transforms – In the beginning Westlake is holding onto who he once was, but when he goes to Hastings in the pouring rain she runs away and fear and he sees his appearance and blames that and not the fact that he couldn’t speak, from here he seeks revenge and we see how the manipulation and his anger come to consume him to the point that he reacts at a a Carnival and attacks a man, which later leads to him going underground as he fears what his anger will make him do to good people like Julie.

   There really isn’t much that can be said that this film does wrong. It has a unique feel and flavor to it, our characters change over time and have to make choices that advance the plot, and in the end it sticks to the tragic tone as Westlake is forever alone when he realizes the person he has become is a danger to everyone. The only reason I didn’t give it 10 is I wish Strack had been less slimey and that we’d gotten more time with Julie doing her job before the transformation. Regardless, I highly recommend it and find it to be one of the best superhero films I have ever watched. I am going to be checking out more of Raimi’s work later. I really like his style.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10