1922 (2017): The Price of Toxic Entitlement

Netflix is the streaming service that is master of the great original shows and the okay to good movies. I have never seen a great movie on Netflix and this good film is a shining of example of a problem I see running through their films, and why they don’t reach that final point that I’ve seen come out of studio films. I’ll get into what I mean later on, as we continue Horror Week with “1922” a film adapted from a Stephen King book of the same name.

The film was written and directed by Zak Hilditch and produced by Ross M. Dinerstein and adapted from the Stephen King book of the same name.

The story involves a farmer named Wilfred (Thomas Jane) who plans to murder his wife in order to own the land and to do it with the help of his teenage son.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Visually it feels like you are inside a dark storybook and the visuals of the ghosts, especially his wife and later his son is haunting. There is great use of the shadows and light to imply danger and I couldn’t look away while watching. It is easily the best looking Netflix film I’ve watched. 

The Cost of Toxic Privilege – This is a film that tackles toxic privilege, specifically in regards to males and masculinity. We see this in how he cares nothing for his wife and her interests and how he immediately plans to kill her when she is moving on and planning to sell the land and move to the city. He gets his son in on it too as his son fears moving away from the girl he’s dating. In both cases both his son and Wilfred get what they want through violence and control. Wilfred kills his wife and his son is robbing stores around the state to take in order to keep being the the neighbor girl. They never see past themselves and no one questions his wife’s disappearance because a wife in the 1920s, “Is a man’s business.” You don’t question the husband. This is toxic privilege and male entitlement and it is the demon that leads to his Wilfred’s end.

The Tragedy of the James Family – The main arc of the story is how Wilfred’s act ruins the family. In killing his wife his son loses his guide and impregnates the neighbor girl who is 14 like him. Together they run away and he becomes a crook before finally dying as all this time his wife’s ghost haunts him and forces him to confess after he losing everything he loves. The act of selfishness and murder based on something as stupid as land are Wilfred’s undoing.

Okay: Wilfred James’s Motivation – Wilfred was a small time farmer and Thomas Jane portrays his “man of the land” mentality beautifully. The problem is I felt like the jump to killing his wife felt so contrived. I get that entitlement, greed and privilege were major motivators of the act but the steps it took him to get there didn’t feel concrete. We needed to see more of their relationship falling apart before he begins justifying what he plans to do.

The Cons: The Character Arc of the Son Henry – His son loves the neighbor girl, he is worried about losing her so he helps his father kill his mother…I know 14 is a stupid age but I never believed his motivation. The fact that the actor isn’t very good doesn’t help. He was easily the weakest part of the story and film.

Most Netflix films are very clear in their themes, have small casts and look great visually. These are all reasons that I appreciate this streaming service as I haven’t ran into too many outright terrible films to come out of Netflix. They also never reach that higher place, often because they fail to develop the motivations of their characters to the fullest degree. “1922” has an amazing cast but I could not tell you fully what the motivation of the son and father was behind the murder. I know what I was told, but it wasn’t explored enough to fully make the impact it should have had. If you like Stephen King, you will probably enjoy this film as I did, just know it could have been more.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

The Mist (2007): Fantastic Exploration of Human Desperation but Writing and Acting Bring it Down

the-mist

     I am a fan of Stephen King. He has created some of my favorite books and adaptations, from “The Stand” to Kubrick’s “The Shining.” King is a writer who knows how to write what makes people go crazy and what it would take to bring out the worst in people. “The Mist” does that beautifully, while also sadly catching some of his more hokey dialogue and overused tropes. I’ll explain more of what I mean deeper in the review.

     “The Mist” was directed, produced and written by Frank Darabont, with the other producers being Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer.

   The story involves David (Thomas Jane) and his son trapped in a convenience store after a strange storm cuts off all communication and a mysterious mist moves in. From here he must try to keep the survivors from destroying themselves and figuring out what happened.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of a bunch of characters trapped in a small town convenience store is pretty cool. You have food, but limited resources, people want to get to those outside of the store and usual human personalities clashing since a store is still a confined space.

The World – The idea of another dimension coming into our own is pretty neat as well as the fear that would come with that from the populace as another world or dimension in ours is a complete unknown.

The Idea of the Characters – We have the artist father, the religious fanatic, the single mother, the old cynical man…these are all great ideas but they never feel fully realized. I do like the character ideas though.

Humans Under Fear – King excels at showing people going mad from a feeling of being trapped or attacked. We see this here as they all distrust one another, a fanatic rises from strange situations she manages to survive, people hang themselves and the main character does a mercy killing on his party so they won’t be killed by the monster that had already killed a few from the town already. People get angry, anxious and act irrational under fear…power plays happen and victims are chosen so there is someone to blame. All that is on display in this film.

The Ending – David kills the members of his party who manage to leave the store with him in his truck. He does this with their consent when they see the big monster and realize everyone they know is dead. What David realizes is after he tries to kill himself and fails since he is out of bullets is the army was only minutes away and all the pain and death could have been avoided with more patience, leaving him a broken man.

Okay: The Characters – The characters are all tropes and never get beyond it. We don’t know why the religious lady is crazy or religious, we don’t know why the old man is cynical, we don’t know why David became an artist or why any of the soldiers were serving on the base where the experiment happened. They exist only as tropes because of this.

The Monsters – The monsters are neat looking and look like Lovercraftian Dinousaurs as most have tentacles and wings. They were never scary though which is why I’m putting them at okay. The mist is scarier than the creatures.

The Cons: The Dialogue – Everyone tells rather than shows…it is part of why the characters only exist as tropes. They tell us their obvious motivation and we never get the why.

The Religious Extremist – Religious extremists in fiction are hard to write…as an agnostic who is pretty atheistic it is easy to make someone you disagree with a strawman and this film never gets beyond that. The extremist is never humanized and is the crazy from the get go. This was a disservice to the plot as she became an antagonist whose motivations were never fully explored.

  This was a decent movie. It wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination even though I really liked some of the situations the characters were put in. The problem is the characters never managed to get beyond the tropes they existed as. Not a single character was given more depth, they just were and reacted, which was safe but it didn’t contribute to the story in any way and just made some of the awkward dialogue even more obvious. If you are a fan of King, check out this film though. It does do a good job of showing what humans will do when they feel trapped and out of options and that is really where the film excels and manages to be a decent horror film and great contribution to “Horror Month.”

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

The Punisher (2004): A Great Telling of “The Punisher” and his Origin

The Punisher 2004 Poster

    I really liked Netflix’s version of The Punisher and think it may still take the prize for the most human version of the character, but this version is fantastic as well! This is a film about the death of Frank Castle, and it is handled really well. I like this character and I think I’m going to check out the comics. This film along with “Marvel’s Daredevil” on Netflix have sold me on the greatness that is this character.

     The film was directed by Jonathan Hensleigh who co-wrote it with Michael France and produced by Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd.

      The story involves Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) going into retirement after a successful undercover operation. Little did he know that the Crime Lord Howard Saint’s (John Travolta) son was killed the operation leading him to target Frank and his family to get revenge.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is really good and reminded me both of Sam Rami’s “Spider-man” and Tim Burton’s “Batman.” Because of this had a consistent comic book feel that showed where the story came from. Carlo Siliotto did a great job.

The Cinematography – The cinematography at times looks very 90’s but still manages to be quite beautiful as we get shots that contrast characters and illustrate the death of Frank Castle and his rebirth as the Punisher.

The Action – Whether it is Saint’s goons or the Punisher’s rampage…the action in this is fantastic and brutal. You really feel all the hits and losses.

The Death of Frank Castle – Saint sends his men and Frank’s entire extended family is killed by them, not only that Frank gets shot and blown up and only manages to survive because he washes up on the shore of the Witch Doctor he knew. The entire scene is powerful and even though I didn’t really know Frank’s wife and son all that well, I was still hoping they’d escape even though I knew they wouldn’t.

The Tenants – The tenants who the Punisher shares a home with are fantastic! There is Bumpo who is a cook and not quite all mentally there and a really sweet guy, there is Joan who has gone through abusive relationships and is a former druggie just like Dave whose mother was in prison. In all cases they protect Frank and show they are family as they look out for each other and for him.

Howard Saint’s Men – There are a bunch of them and all have a unique way about them…from the Russian who it takes Frank most of his energy to take out (and who mortally wounds him) the mullet, Quentin Glass and Howard’s sons. Each have distinct personalities that makes them more than just hired muscle.

Livia Saint – Livia is just as cruel as Howard as she is the one who calls on the hit to target not just Frank but his entire family. She is the mob girlfriend and is social to the isolationist Howard which leads to the pool being easy to poison as she hardly ever spends time with Howard leading him to believe she is having an affair which Frank feeds leading Howard to eventually kill her in revenge, even though it was a lie.

Quentin Glass – Quentin Glass is Howard’s dragon and is a fantastic threat. He is the one who takes out most of Frank’s family and nearly kills Frank Castle. He ends up being killed by Howard though when Frank frames him as having an affair with Livia even though he is gay so he wouldn’t have had an affair with her. His character is ruthless and a bad guy but also is humanized.

Howard Saint – Travolta is good at playing gangsters and it is fun seeing him play one here as the Punisher takes away everything from him and gives him a wonderfully brutal death. He is a good villain as he is threatening and unstable, but has goons who are good at doing their job and is only stopped because of his pride and jealousy as he destroyed the only people who could have stopped Frank Castle.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – I like Thomas Jane and want to see him in more things. He is great at this type of character (I last saw him as Detective Miller on “The Expanse” which I highly recommend). He is a very human character as we see him connect with his family and with the outcasts who take him in. This film is the death of Frank Castle as he doesn’t stay with the outcasts but makes destroying criminals his life as Frank Castle is buried and the Punisher is born.

Okay: Frank Castle’s Family – They are just kind of there. More could have been done to humanize these characters and make them fully three-dimensional rather than just victims that motivate Castle’s revenge spree. Besides this though, this is an amazingly solid film and one of my favorites.

  I highly recommend “The Punisher.” If you liked the 2nd Season of “Marvel’s Daredevil,” you will also like this. Both Thomas Jane and John Bernthal capture the broken person Frank Castle became and from that the death of his humanity and the rebirth of the vigilante anti-hero who lives only to end crime. Travolta made a great villain too and the side characters like the Apartment Tenants have depth and character that humanize Frank Castle further and help fully illustrate his transformation into the Punisher.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“The Expanse” Season 1 – An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Covers Politics, Identity and New Life

The Expanse

   “The Expanse” is the best show to come from the SyFy Channel since “Battlestar Galactica” and “Caprica.” Part of it is due to the rich political material they are pulling from the novels of the same name by James S. A. Corey. Also like “Battlestar” this is  a show that follows many different character perspective to unfold the political drama and mystery of what is going on, and manages to do a great job, while still leaving things open in regards to other mysteries that need to be solved. I seriously recommend this show if you are a science fiction fan.

   The series was created by Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus and based off the novels by James S. A. Corey.

    The story involves the mystery of the missing Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) as detective Joe Miller is seeking her out in a missing persons case and finds himself pulled into a bigger conspiracy. Elsewhere the crew of the Canterbury are drawn to a ship that Julie was last reported on and find themselves pulled into a much greater conspiracy going on between the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance), Earth and Mars.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Clinton Shorter is a great composer and the soundtrack manages to be one of the strongest parts of the series as it illustrates the mystery, the tension and the rising threat that pervades the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and reminded me a lot of “Battlestar Galactica.” So much was put into making this world feel lived and making sure the Belters, Mars and Earth each look distinct in the environments in which they live.

The World – The world of this universe is fascinating. We have the OPA who is fighting for Belter independence and goes to extremes to do so, we have the U.N. which appears benevolent but tortures is corrupt and is planning to go to war and Mars is a warrior people who protect our heroes even though they come off as fascists. No one is simple in this and all the factions and people get complexity.

The Mystery – The mystery of Julie Mao is really fascinating as through her we see how strong the OPA is and that Belter Independence will happen over the course of this show, the corruption of Earth and the power brokers like Anderson and Fred Johnson and the complexity and agendas they bring to the table as well as the new life form that Julie Mao is consumed by.

The Factions and Characters – The factions and the characters are the strongest parts of this show and really drive the action as everything is tied back to Julie Mao and through her eyes we see the good and bad of the factions and people within the galaxy fighting for freedom, power or control.

Belters and OPA – The Belters are a faction that is oppressed by Mars and Earth who take their resources and give them water and air in return. They are desperate and from the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) arose as an Independence movement. You get the motivations of them and see the complexity of Belter identity too.

Anderson Dawes – Anderson Dawes is the OPA representative on Ceres Station and shows us he is both noble and villain in how he interacts with Joe Miller. He is a true nationalist and I’m really curious to see what is going to happen with his character as he has a grudging respect for Miller and lets him go after he tries to kill him. He’s one of the few who knew Julie Mao. Jared Harris does a fantastic job.

Fred Johnson – Fred Johnson is a character drive by guilt as he ordered the destruction of a ship a bunch of miners took over after they were abused. This has lead him to become OPA and it is that which drives him and his actions as he knows Earth and Mars going to war will give his people freedom. Chad Coleman does a great job.

Dmitri Havlock – Dmitri is Joe Miller’s partner and is lovers with a Belter prostitute and is from Earth. He nearly gets killed by Belters but still is the idealist who think connection and talking can fix things. He’s a great contrast to the bitter Miller.

Detective Joe Miller – Thomas Jane is fantastic as Joe Miller! He feels like he’s out of a noir and it is his obsession and belief in Julie Mao that helps us learn about the OPA conspiracy and from that the Earth conspiracy and expansion plan as he is fired when he solves the case of what happened with Julie Mao and his boss is revealed to be OPA.

Mars -We see Mars through the eyes of Alex who used to be a pilot in the Mars military and the military vessel that captures the survivors of the Canterbury and protect them when the mystery vessel and faction attacks. In Mars we see honor and a people who maybe military but do not want war and dream of a planet that will be green and full of water.

Earth – Earth is the corrupt faction we see outside of the OPA as it is Earth factions that are creating the alien life form and it is the leader of the U.N. who is going to war. It is in Earth we see a past Empire trying to capture it’s former glory.

Chrisjen Avasarala – Chrisjen is great as a hardened diplomat who knows how to get into people’s mind. She isn’t an idealist but realizes that the future she has been trying to prevent is out of her control as it looks like Earth is going to go to war and has wanted to go to war. She stays to be an agent in the trenches to resist in her own way, though she does send her husband away for his safety. Shohreh did a great job.

The Crew of the Canterbury – The crew is the strongest part as each them compliment one another in different ways and we see how they act under pressure. They are one of the best parts of this film and truly drive everything that happens outside of Joe Miller’s investigation.

Amos – Amos is the unhinged member of the crew who is okay killing and will do whatever Naomi wants. He has the biggest kill count of the survivors and has an aura of dangerous about him so much so that even Naomi fears him. He is a good guy though and Wes Chatham does a great job portraying him.

Alex – Alex is the pilot and is one of my favorite characters as he is former Mars military and can be a coward sometimes. He brings a great perspective to things and his love of flying is always fun to see. Cas Anvar does a great job with this character.

Jim Holden – Holden is the main character who kicks off the conflict when he blames Mars for teh destruction of the Canterbury which triggers the OPA fight, Earth expansion and the creation of the new life form . Sadly he is the least interesting person on the crew as he is a Paladin type even when it puts people in danger.

Naomi – Naomi is awesome! By the end we learn she probably was or is OPA as she knows about the OPA tunnels in the station that the life form is consuming and she is the one who keeps a clear head and save the crews head on multiple occasions. Dominique Tipper is fantastic in the role!

The Finale – The final is powerful as the survivors of the Canterbury manage to get off the station before the alien life form consumes them all and we see that Holden and Miller are able to get their radiation treated. We are left with a sense of hope because they lived but powerlessness as we see this new life form growing and know that war is on the horizon.

Revolution – OPA’s revolution is going on as scheduled as we see it triggered by the framing of Mars and Earth beginning to overreach and expand. We see the reasons revolution happens to as the Belters are an oppressed faction that is barely surviving most of the time and lives by the whims of Mars and Earth.

New Life – The station that is being used for the experiment has the sentient bioweapon thing that inhabited Julie Mao and we see it kill the Earth Agent at the end…it’s cool that this is our introduction to a true alien life form and it is one that humanity created.

The Cons: Sometimes Wooden Acting – There are times when characters act (none of the ones listed above) and it comes off as wooden and artificial. In that way it does feel a little like a Sy Fy Channel show and that does bring it down.

The Motivation of the Scientists – Why are they creating new life and why is Julie’ Mao’s father find sacrificing her to create it? This was really unclear, especially as we see how many people they are willing to sacrifice to create this new life. Motivations of these guys are unclear.

   This was a great series that I highly recommend. The politics between Mars, Earth and the OPA are fascinating as heroes and villains are revealed on all sides and the overall mystery of the life that has consumed Julie Mao and consumes the agent at the end. This sets up a 4th Faction that isn’t aligned to any of the human ones as far as we know. What will come out of this, especially since it looks like Earth is going to be conquering sets the stage for the war that is to come. So much of the stage is set for wider conflicts and the main characters who drive the story have been explored in regards to their pasts and motivations which makes me curious how circumstances will change them further. This is one of the greats, now lets see if SyFy can keep it that way, rather than ruin it like the last chance I gave them with “Helix.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10