Tag Archives: Thriller

Black Mirror – Season 1, Episode 1 – “The National Anthem” – A Political Nightmare in the Digital Age

  “The National Anthem” is at this point, my favorite episode of “Black Mirror.” This is an episode that shows the strength of public pressure in the media age as well as how the actions a person can take can lead to people turning against them and in turn forcing them to do the thing they least want to do. The episode is a political nightmare that shows both how quickly people move on from media events, but how when their is an ongoing crisis, how it can grab the attention of a nation and the world.

     The episode was directed by Otto Bathurst and written by Charlie Brooker.

       The story involves the unfolding of a political crisis when a young and popular Duchess is kidnapped, with the only demands for her release being, that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television. From here the crisis unfolds as the Prime Minister deals with the public and private fallout of the threat as they try to find the missing Duchess.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are really well written in this and don’t feel like archetypes, which is often a problem in short one episode stories like this. Every character is facing decision and choice. We have the Home Secretary trying to get an actor so the event can still take place and so they can get around it, you have the Prime Minister doing everything he can with the police and you have the wife doing all she can to keep her husband from doing the act. In the end it all comes to a head and no one really wins in the end except for the artist who created the event in the first place. Rory Kinnear as the Prime Minister and Lindsay Duncan’s Home Secretary stole the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and isolating, which captures the different levels of terror the government officials are going through. Everything is connected and as the media and gossip grows around the event we see further isolation of the characters from one another, forcing the event to happen.

The Power of Social Media and the Power of Public Pressure – The threat is done over youtube and the Prime Minister putting a gag order on the press just makes people question it as a cover-up and distrust the Prime Minister more. When the story is finally broke it goes out of control as we see his attempts to find the Duchess lead to the people turning against him as his use of an actor made him look like a coward and a press agent getting shot made him look like a dictator. At one point the Home Secretary even warns that his wife and family will be at risk if he doesn’t go forward with the act since he alienated the public so much. When he’s made his decision he doesn’t answer his phone when his wife is trying to reach him and we see how his duty as the Prime Minister was more important than alienating and destroying his relationship with his wife.

Social Media and Moving On – A year later the Prime Minister is popular and the press is just business as usual again. This was amazing that the public had already moved on from the horrendous act that the Prime Minister was forced to do…on the other side we see that things may appear peaceful in the public eye but his marriage is destroyed. He kept power and positive public perception but lost his soul.

  This episode achieved all it set out to do, had a great cast and fully explored the premise of how a nightmarish strange crisis would unfold in the digital age where public pressure can make a person capable of horrible things, since all it took was the threat of a person who was loved by the public to be under threat for the crisis to happen. I felt for all government officials in this, as well as the wife as in the end the choices they made were shaped by how others viewed and talked about them. In a way their agency was lost to the public will, which is in a way, what we ask of our public servants, as they represent us and our interests. I think this is a big reason why, a year after the event the Prime Minister was loved again. He’d done his duty to look out for the public good, and save a life, even though the act was nightmarish, immoral and wrong…and the cost was his family.

Final Score: 10 / 10

iBoy (2017): An Animesque Film That Explores Trauma and Healing

   “iBoy” is a decent film. It’s a made for Netflix film, which I’ve noticed has come to mean they are working with a limited budget, but this film makes the most of it by having a smaller cast, which leads to some great character exploration for our leads, as both of them are given arcs that have good payoff.

    The film was directed by Adam Randall, written by Joe Barton, Mark Denton and Jonny stockwood and produced by Gail Mutrux, Nate Bolotin, Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill and Lucan Toh.

   The story takes place in London as lonely teenage boy Tom struggles to fit in and find purpose. With prompting from his friend he goes out with Lucy, a friend and long time crush. Sadly he arrives when her house is being attacked and she is being assaulted by faceless gang members. When he runs they shoot him leading to parts of his cell phone getting lodged into his brain. When he wakes he finds he has developed powers and begins to hunt down the men responsible as Lucy works through the trauma of all she went through.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world feels a lot like Gotham as the gangs are pretty powerful in this and you get the idea that they own city, which is why Tom becoming iBoy makes sense. I could have spent more time in this world given there are only 3 characters who really get explored.

The Special Effects – The special effects are cheap but effective and I like how they show what is on the screens of phones when iBoy is hacking devices or noticing the world around him. It gives the world a cyberpunk feel.

The Main Characters – The three main characters who get explored are really what carry the film. Maisie Williams is the strongest actress in this, while the guys work but aren’t nearly on her level or have her range. They still do a decent job with what they have to work with though.

Danny – Danny is in with the gangs and is Tom’s friend…we soon see it is a false friendship by the end as he sell’s Tom out for money to the leader of the gangs and was the one filming the rape of Lucy at the beginning (it is implied anyway). I wish he’d faced some sort of justice, as everyone else in the film does.

Tom – Tom is the nerdy outcast who develops confidence when he gets superpowers. He is very much a Peter Parker analogue, and he works in that way as it is going full vigilante that leads to him forgetting Lucy, the reason he went vigilante in the first place. In the end he comes back though and works with Lucy as it is together they take down the gangs as he discovers his full power (he can turn himself into an EMP beyond just hacking tech. and manipulating electricity).

Lucy – Maisie Williams is an amazing actress, and thankfully she isn’t exploited in this as her rape by the gang members could have ended there and Tom’s story be the only arc since he goes vigilante. Instead we see her face her fear of going outside, trusting people again and she even confronts the monsters who did it and lets them live, showing she’s better than them and that she isn’t a killer. Her story is the strongest in the entire film and unlike a lot of animes where she’d just become an object to inspire iBoy she is a fully realized character.

Healing from Trauma – The film shows that healing from trauma and abuse isn’t easy and takes time. Both Tom and Lucy (who experience very different types of trauma) find one another and in the end Lucy is the one who really goes through healing as Tom just gets obsessed in his rage until the end. This is a process that is different for everyone, but I found how they expressed arc to be powerful and empowering as she takes control of her life again and empowers those around her and herself.

Murder versus Mercy – Murder versus Mercy is a huge theme in this as everyone who is bad (the gangsters) are all killers. iBoy gets close at times and it is his walking close to this that the film presents as a negative as Lucy doesn’t want him to lose his soul either.

Okay: Tom’s Grandma – She writers erotic fiction and her daughter was a druggie and she is worried about Tom…I wish all of these things could have been explored more as she doesn’t feel like a fully realized character.

The Cons: The Big Bad – The guy is a one-dimensional dude who just wants power. The only unique thing about him is he wants to use iBoy to get his money back and become even more powerful. It is implied he might be Tom’s dad but it doesn’t go anywhere. He was really a waste of a character…the lesser gang members were too outside of Danny.

  This is a film worth checking out if if you like cyberpunk or super hero films as it very much captures both those genres. In many ways ti feels like an anime, as the main character is a recluse who gets special powers whose drive is a love interest until his obsession becomes his drive (reminded me a lesser Lelouch from “Code Geass”). Maisie Williams was the best part of this film though as her arc of healing is actually explored and she isn’t just an object to inspire Tom and his motivation. They are partners and that is what made the film enjoyable as the villains are pretty weak and aren’t very fleshed out.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

John Wick (2014): An Amazing Action Flick That Shows Just How Great Keanu Reeves Can Be

john-wick

     “John Wick” is one of the best action movies I have ever watched. This is a movie that has an intriguing world, fascinating characters, amazing action and a narrative that flows. If you like action films. These are my brief spoiler free thoughts before I get into the main narrative and the details of the film, but truly, this film is worth your time.

    The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Michael Witherill and James McTeigue.

    The story involves retired assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) being pulled back into the world of assassins after the son Losef (Alfie Allen) of the Russian Crime Syndicate steals his car and kills his dog leading him to go on a killing spree against the Syndicate as he finds himself pulled into the world he left.

The Pros: The idea – The idea of an assassin pulled out of retirement to go against people he used to work for is intriguing. It gives the personal touch and motivation that can easily be lost in a studio made version of this.

The World – The world is amazing! You’ve got an assassin run neutral zone that is a hotel, through which all the different organizations have a way to interact without murder…and Wick is the best of this group as of what we learn from this film.

The Soundtrack – The music is by Tyler Bates and Joel Richard and it is good at getting under your skin. You feel Wick’s conflict as well as how amazing some themes are as they are good at showing the dulled senses of a club combined with the hyper focus of an assassin on a particularity memorable sequence.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark but uses colors to illustrate mood and tension. Red is used a lot in the club scene and we see light used when he is with his wife and has peace living with his dog. It is truly wonderful.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of this world and the fact that they chose great actors shows as much.

Aurelio – John Leguizamo plays the car repairmen for the different gangs and is friends with John Wick. He’s a great character as he is the first to show Losef he is in over his head and that he barked up the wrong tree and even confronts Viggo without breaking a sweat. It is a minor but fantastic role. Also I’ve always been a fan of Leguizamo.

Viggo – Viggo is in charge of the Russian Crime Syndicate and is a great overall villain as we see his respect for Wick but also his ego come into play. Wick lets him go free once and he lets it all go because he wants revenge for his bastard of a son. His death means something because of it because he tries to live honorably but gives it up for personal revenge.

 Winston – Ian McShane plays the owner of “The Hotel” and is a fascinating character as he gives protections to those who live in death and promotes it as a neutral zone. When it all goes to hell he honors that too and lets Wick know Viggo’s location and kills Ms. Perkins for killing the staff and targeting Vick. I want to learn more about this place.

Marcus – Willem Dafoe is Wick’s friend and protector in this as he joins Viggo to protect Wick and he saves Wick multiple times. IT is a great relationship and I wish we’d gotten more history as Marcus like Wick is an assassin capable of empathy.

John Wick – This is the best Keanu Reeves performance I have seen since “The Matrix” and I love that we get to see him emote and have anger, passion and the everything else this underrated star is capable of. The movie would be worth it just for Reeves. His arc involves losing everything but finding peace after revenge, which you rarely find in movies of this type where the broken person is the theme. Wick healed and we get his prime motivation in the end is justice.

The Ending – John Wick is at a Vet and rescues a dog and uses some of the medicine to heal his wounds fighting the Russian Crime Syndicate. He picks a Pit Bull and we see that even if that world of killers pulled him back in, he will always be outside of it. The dog that his wife gave him was his peace and it is once again at the end.

The Cons: Ms. Perkins – She wants to kill for money and knows John Wick? I didn’t know if they wanted to go ex-relationship route but she is a character is purely a plot device. We don’t learn about her relationship to Wick or much else, which is a shame and makes her a con.

Losef – Losef is a 2-D villain, he never grows up, shows complexity or regret…and just brings the film down. Alfie Allen is good but his character is awful. He deserved to have someone more than a plot device to up the anti for Viggo against Wick.

    The only things that really keep this film from being perfect are Losef being a nothing character who is just a coward and bully and Ms. Perkins having no motivation for wanting to take out Wick beyond money. This brings down what could have enriched the story further as she is the secondary main villain and we never learn why. Besides these two characters this film has tight writing and was beautifully filmed with some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in any film. This film is a beautiful work of art that is well worth checking out. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to watch “John Wick: Chapter Two.”

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Split (2017): Dropped Arcs and an Unfocused Theme Bring This Film Down

split

   “Split” is a film that could have been good, hell it even could have been great if it hadn’t missused and jumbled up it’s themes and characters it would have been as the acting in this is steller and the dialogue works. There is no reason either of these things should be he case given M. Night Shyamalan’s track record as of late.

    I haven’t watched a Shyamalan film in theaters since “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” if you’ve been reading the blog you’ve probably seen some of my reviews of that show. It is one of my favorites and what Shyamalan did to it was an insult to the show and art. I never knew someone could miss the point of the source material so bad that it would make Michael Bay’s “Transformers” look good by comparison…but Shyamalan succeeded and up until last night I would not watch his films in theaters.

     M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed this film and was one of the producers along with Marc Bienstock and Jason Blum.

    The story involves Kevin (James McAvoy) kidnapping three girls as a sacrifice for his 24th personality called “The Beast.” It is up to Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) to find a way out as at the same time Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s psychologist seeks to find what Kevin is hiding from her.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Idea – The idea of a character who holds multiple personalities that interact with another and worship a stronger mysterious one is compelling as is the teenagers escaping from a threat and having to face the monster.

The Writing – The writing is actually really good. When things are told to you they are in the context of Dr. Fletcher speaking before a classroom so show is on display. The same goes for the different personalities. We are shown rather than told who they are.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film and keep it from being bad. It is really the dropped arcs that ruin them not the characters themselves.

Dr. Fletcher – Dr. Fletcher is a great character! She is helping Kevin find balance among the personalities and interact with people normally, but she isn’t stupid either. When she is getting red flags from him she writes down how to fight him before he kills her.

Claire and Marcia – Claire and Marcia are initially presented as “mean girls” but over the course of the film you see their courage and empathy, both with one another and with Casey. That should have been rewarded as it is the relationship that develops between the three of them that shows beautiful solidarity and shows different facets of who they are.

Casey – Casey is the heroine of the story whose arc it seems at the beginning is facing her Uncle who raped her when she was a child and is to the point of the story taking place. Kevin capturing them is a claiming of her agency as we see her fight back when she wasn’t able to before. Sadly we don’t see her get justice against her uncle and she doesn’t kill Kevin (he escapes and lets her go). God, she deserved justice and that seems to be what the story is setting up but fails to deliver.

Kevin and the Identities – Kevin and his multiple personalities are intriguing. Some are more sympathetic than others like Hedwig who is a scared 9 year old but than you have ones like Dennis and Patricia who worship the beasts and still power from the other personalities. They are called “The Horde.” They eventually win out and become dominant as “The Beast” who arose out of time around the animals in the zoo where Kevin works chose to protect them. The ending has them on the loose. James McAvoy is an amazing actor and this film truly displays his range.

The Cons: The Cinematography – The cinematography looks cheap and awful. It looks like a syfy film in how the colors are off or over-saturated.

Exploitation of Rape and Trauma – Casey’s rape and trauma are exploited in this film as she doesn’t get justice for either and Kevin praises the fact that she’s broken from it. There is nothing good about that as it misses just how evil these things are.

Dropped Character Arcs – The sisterhood arc with the girls is dropped as two of them get eaten, Casey never gets justice against her Uncle or Kevin and Kevin just gets controlled by the bad personalities…what a waste. No ones arc is complete.

Exploiting Dissociate Identity Disorder – This is a real thing that people go through where what is presented in the film is more like science fiction. If you want to know more about it read and research, don’t take this film in any way as reality as it is just exploiting a disorder that is not known very well.

     This was a film that could have dealt with healing and Casey finally having justice done against her Uncle after she defeats Kevin who has kidnapped them and wants to eat them. Instead Kevin is turned into somewhat of a hero and the fact that he was traumatized is presented as a con? That is some serious messed up crap. He is not someone who should be sympathized with, he hate two girls. The best writing and acting can’t save this film because it misses the point. Casey is never allowed to heal and or have justice when it seems to be setting it up to be the case and the sisterhood that is forming between her friends is for not. This isn’t a bad film but I can’t really recommend it either. This is a film with missed potential that could have been so much more.

Final Score: 6.3 / 10

Halloween (1978): A Masterpiece of Tension and Horror

halloween-original

    John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors of all times and this is partially due to him not only being a great director but being an amazing writer and composer too. The original “Halloween” that spawned a franchise is living proof of this. I was originally going to do a comparison of the old “Nightmare on Elm Street” with the remake, but I wanted to take a risk and watch a movie I knew would be good versus the almost always crappy quality that comes with most remakes (though the Original “Nightmare” is terrible too so mostly I just wanted to watch something good). Suffice to say, I’m glad I did. This is a movie that is a classic for so many reasons that I look forward to going into more detail on, later in the review.

      “Halloween” was directed and co-written by John Carpenter while being co-written and produced by Debra Hill.

      The story starts with 6 year old Michael Myers killing off his teenage his sister in 1963. Fifteen years later he escapes his asylum when he takes advantage of a storm and the asylum preparing to bring him to court to go to trial. From here he returns to his original home and begins to kill again, leaving it up to Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) to stop him.

The Pros: The World – The world of “Halloween” is fascinating because it is like ours but also not quite like our world. Myers isn’t all human it is implied and the reaction to him escaping is downplayed from the beginning showing people in authority in this world don’t actually care that much about risks or most people…with the exception of the Dr. We see this in our world and sometimes it is worse or better but it still exists completely in the Universe Carpenter and Hill created.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is gorgeous as the light of fire from pumpkins or the light from a lamp that can quickly go dark, putting our characters into a dark shadowy world where we see enough to get the humanity of the victims or the inhumanity of the monster. The film is gorgeous and captures how open environments are where you are safe from the monster and closed environments when the monster hunts.

The Soundtrack – Carpenter created a beautiful and iconic score that I plan on using for my own writing. The film reminds me most of “Psycho” as there is an overlay of tension that pervades it and feeds into the silence when silence is used.

The Writing – The writing is fantastic! Our characters are real and sympathetic and very much who they are, Loomis is a Dr. who knows Myers and is paranoid because of it, the teenagers are different levels of free within themselves and their relationships or bound by their duties and responsibilities and all of them care about each other even as they do the crappy things teens and people sometimes do to each other. The writing in this is golden and illustrates showing rather than telling.

The Characters – As I said in the writing segment, most of the characters feel fully defined and real and it makes them compelling even as you know they are going to die as they play into the tropes and the types of people that Myers kills (sexually active teens like his older sister when hew as six). The dimension they have, even if it is only a little showing them both as selfish and selfless, gives the story shape.

The Teenagers – The teenagers are selfish and selfless and manage to feel like real teenagers, not adults playing teens, which is a lot to say of any film, but especially horror films that have bland stilted teens who are there to die. Here they exist as characters rather than props.

The Kids – The kids are there to show the mystery and terror of Halloween as it is one of them who notices Myers and calls him the bogey man. They also end up protecting the main teen protagonist Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she is babysitting and isn’t going over to the party house where Myers is slowly killing off her friends.

Dr. Loomis – Pleasence does a fantastic job as Loomis and isn’t the traditional hero as is unable to save most of the teens and only saves Laurie because she’d fought Myers prior, slowing him down and sent out the kids for help. He’s human through it all and you get why people don’t trust him as he is overly frank and sounds paranoid.

Michael Myers – Myers is one of my favorite monsters in cinema now. From the beginning he is messed up kid with sexual hangups and targets those because of it. It’s established from the beginning he doesn’t have humanity but there are elements of humor to him too, such as when he dresses up as a ghost or reacts to the environment around him. He’s threatening and as far as we know unkillable, but he is still defeatable and he’s better because of it.

The Theme  Music – The theme music is as iconic as “Jaws” and captures the beauty and tension of the this film so well. It is simple and accomplishes so much, which is a great analogy for the script and direction. You don’t need complex or big to scare or tell a great story.

Halloween and the Holiday Theme – The theme of Halloween is huge as that was when the first killing happened and in it the trick or treat theme as one could easily see the ones who are killed after having sex getting the trick after the treat they’d shared. It is those who are already cautious and ready for the trick (Laurie and the kids) who survive. Also the theme of masks and fear are big too as Myers panics when Laurie tries to pull off his mask when he is trying to kill her.

The Art of Tension and the Slow Burn – Myers doesn’t start killing immediately, there is a slow build up as he stalks the teenagers and hunts and gets to know his old home and town again. We have him breathing deeply and him always being far enough away to disappear but close enough to get our protagonists creeped out. This makes when the killings finally happen as we see him always out of site and isolating his quarry all the more suspenseful and scary.

Fear In What Isn’t Seen – Rarely do we see the killings happen, it is always out of sight and quickly and usually done in the dark. This adds mystery and terror and us reading whatever we want into Myers. He is the unstoppable and large threat who we see is capable of anything (as established at the beginning) and may not be human. We fear him because of not only what little we see but because we don’t see so much except only what little we are shown.

The Killer’s View – Tied into fear in what isn’t seen is seeing the world through Myers’s point of view. We get the monster in his heavy breathing and in how he acts like an animal, but we know he is human. He is a monster in the stalking as we know what is coming and from the beginning this is someone who acts and is a threat.

 Elements of the Monster – Breathe, size, mask, simple elements (stabbing and strangulation) and obsession. Both the physical and mental aspects of Myers are what make him so terrifying.

Great Use of Horror Tropes – Sexually active folks get killed, responsible and taking care of the kids and fine…why this works in this film though is we see Laurie getting more isolated. She wants to be with her friends and they want to be with her, but she can’t and as Myers picks them off in different ways we see her isolation grow. She’s in a place she’d rather not be having to be responsible as her friends are doing what she wants to do. Ironically it saves her but it also her curse, she hears her friend die over the phone and see how Myers displays the bodies when she finally goes over when the kids are asleep and is greeted by a nightmare she has no control to end.

  The Cons: The Sheriff and the Other Doctors – These are the guys who are antagonistic towards the Doctor and useless as characters. They are the only stock characters in the film and the only reason I won’t rate this film as perfect as the very least they could have been was not annoying since they weren’t helping at all.

    This is a movie that is not only a great horror film (easily one of the best of all time) but is also an all around great film because it does what every film needs to do but doesn’t…it shows rather than tells and it does it through camera work, editing and dialogue. This seems simple but it is something most horror films and other movies as a whole miss. A monster isn’t scary because it looks undead or is a cannibal, a monster is scary because you don’t know what it will do, except you know it will be something terrible. I wish more movies would remember that as this movie had me on the edge of my seat and was rewarding from beginning to end. Debra Hill and John Carpenter are clearly a dream team and Carpenter is one of my Top 3 favorite directors  and this film captures so many of the reasons why he is. Check this film out if you haven’t, chances are you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): A Nearly Perfect Thriller That Chokes at the End

10 Cloverfield Lane

   “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a nearly perfect “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” type movie as so much of what makes it work is subverting expectations of a reality and telling a personal story through the eyes of a single person. This story would have been a 10 / 10 if not for what it does at the very end. Also, this is not a sequel to “Cloverfield.” This is a story that stands individually and isn’t connected to the other film at all, “Cloverfield” is more of a marketing way of connecting an anthology of these type of films from what I understand…though if they choose to do a sequel they could keep going the anthology route or make them all connected within the universe as a whole. Non-spoiler thoughts before my review. You should see this film, even though the problem I have in the 3rd act brought it down from perfect to merely great.

   The film was directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle and produced by J.J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber.

      The story involves Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is running away from her fiance when she is ran off the road and wakes up chained in a bunker. From here she must figure out what happened to the outside world and why Howard (John Goodman), the owner of the bunker and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), someone who fought to enter the bunker that he helped make.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros: Tone and Tension – The tone is dark and there is an aura of threat throughout the film, from the cramped nature of the bunker…to the threat of Howard and his constant entitlement on those around him as he sees them as only existing for him. You never feel safe with the character and the outside world is threat too…making it a lose lose situation for the characters we follow.

Cinematography – Jeff Cutter is great at cinematography…this is a film that focuses on the individual and personal, the trapped and wanting to be free from that cramped space. The use of dark and light capture that wonderfully and the bunker and outside world never stop feeling like a cage until the very end.

Soundtrack – Bear McCreary is one of my favorite directors and he is a master at using music to create tension. From his work in “The Walking Dead,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” this is a guy who owns the darker soundtrack, and this film captures that brilliantly.

The Bunker – The bunker is awesome. It shows us Howard’s humanity and the threat of this person too, as we see his collection of DVDs and VHSs and how the family room looks like a family room. We also see how it is a prison too as Michelle’s room looks like an actual prison and Emmett doesn’t even have a room. This is Howard’s playground and he is the Warden of their prison.

The Mystery – The mystery is two-fold. Who is Howard and why did he knock Michelle off the road? What happened to the outside world? What was the event? Over the course of the film we learn Howard is most likely a pedophile murder, definitely a murder as he kills Emmett when Emmett says he tried to steal his gun to impress Michelle and aliens are invading the outside world, proving one of Howard’s conspiracy theories true. The reveals are handled so well and it built slowly over time.

Emmett – Emmett built the bunker and had to fight to get into it as he built it for Howard. This was a free living guy and we learn that he is full of regrets but is capable of being present with  people and living for more than himself. He is the one who tries to help Michelle escape and gives his life to help her escape. John Gallagher Jr. really did a great job.

Howard – Howard is the antagonist and is creepy and human. He is most likely a pedophile murder as Michelle discovers “HELP” written from the inside of one of the escape hatches and he sees Emmett and Michelle as entitled to him. He is toxic, even though he is given human moments too as we see him connect to Michelle at a few points as he describes her as his daughter, though we never know if he’s telling the truth and that works. This is a character who is broken and it is hard to pin down the full reasons why. Him creating the Bunker makes complete sense, and it takes a lot for Michelle to beat him and escape. John Goodman better get a nomination for this. He deserves it.

Michelle – Michelle is our hero and who begins the story running away from her relationship but over the course of the film chooses to stop running and stand…from making a gas mask and suit to protect from radiation on the outside and her fighting Howard and using all her skills to get out and finally making the choice to join the human Resistance in rebellion against the aliens. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an amazing job. I felt for everything she was going through and seeing her growth through the film is handled so well.

The Cons: The Alien Fight – This was stupid. The aliens have a boring look, where they are a mouth and that is it and they have bioships. The fight goes on way too long and happens right after she escapes the house. Seriously, there was no reason for this fight to happen. Michelle had gained control of her life already when she rebelled against Howard’s control and made her own escape. The fight serves no purpose, she already fought Howard, let her reward be that she chooses to fight on without having to deal with the aliens the moment she escapes the Bunker.

 This was a film that would have made the Top 5 I think, if not for that alien fight at the end. She was out of the house. Her being free should have been the point, as she could have learned about the Resistance in the Bunker and it would have set things up better so she still drives to Houston. Instead we get a pointless fight versus the fight against Howard, which was the one that mattered. I would still recommend this film, it truly is great…but it chokes at the end and that is why I will only score it as a solid great. This is a film that could have been perfect, but falls merely to great.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

“The Blacklist” Season 1 Retrospect – A High Stakes Crime Drama With Consequences and Loss

The-Blacklist

     “The Blacklist” is a show that quite a few friends have recommended to me, and after finishing Season 1 I find that recommendation well worth it. I’m curious to see where future stories go, I felt for the characters we lost…and we got many compelling one-off villains as well as some good overarching game players too.

     Jon Bokencamp created the show in 2013 and he clearly has an idea where things are going as we get a good arc throughout Season 1 and even all the villains of the week are connected in such a way that we get an overall narrative arc which is a difficult thing to pull off in a 22 episode structure. It is for this reason that after I finish this series when it has finally ended I’ll look at doing individual episode reviews.

    The story involved Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) turning himself into the FBI in order to bring down a mysterious organization that is at war with him. He does this through the rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) who he is connected to in some way as he provides her and the Special Task Force with a list of names of the Blacklist.

This review does contain spoilers.

The Pros: The Villains – This is a show with a lot of complicated villains, which is why I’m giving them their own section. These were the villains who stood out the most on the Blacklist who weren’t game changers or players in a larger game.

The Courier – This is a guy who doesn’t feel pain and is introduced wearing a mask. He is the one criminals use since they don’t trust each other as if either goes back on the deal he will kill them both. He is also still human too as he ends up opening up about who hired him and who he works for in order to lessen his brother’s sentence in prison. He also grew up in a family of abuse.

General Ludd – Ludd is an organization that is trying to bring down Capitalism and has a very V for Vendetta feel to them. They succeed in their attacks and it is only at the very end that their leader is finally caught and killed.

Anslo Garrick – Garrick was betrayed by Red and gets revenge by killing Zheng and nearly killing Zuma. He’s ruthless and is only a tool of the larger players but he is a good Dragon as he and the Wild Boys easily take out the Task Force.

The Good Samaritan – This is a killer who targets abusers and kills them the way they abused their spouse or child. He was a complex villain who was at the end of the day a vigilante and his way of dealing with abuse showed how he had become the abuser.

The Judge – The Judge like the Good Samaritan targets corrupt officials who put away innocent people. She is a fascinating character as she does have some semblance of justice and is celebrated by the criminals when she is brought in as she was one of their only advocates. She’s a character I’d like to see again.

Support – The support I’m speaking of is that they are Red’s bodyguards with Zheng in charge of finances while Dembe is the contact and deliver of information. They are both fascinating characters who I wish we had more time with this season.

Luli Zheng – Deborah Craig is awesome as Zheng who is one of Red’s bodyguards and in charge of his finances. We get a lot of small moments with her as she helps Red destroy his past and plan for the future. Sadly Garrick is the one who kills her in the end.

Dembe Zuma – Dembe manages to escape Garrick and is Red’s shadow following leads to unravel Berlin’s organization and bring him out into the light. He is tough and it is great whenever he’s around. Tawfiq does a wonderful job in the role.

The Special Task Force – The Special Task Force involves both the CIA, FBI and Reddington in order to bring down the names on the Blacklist. All the characters are interesting, even the ones who are weak (the closer they are to a main character basically a la Ressler and Keen).

Agent Aram Mojtabai – Aram is the hacker and tech. and is the one who helps them find the members on the Blacklist. He also has a close relationship with Elizabeth and works with her one on one often times behind the Task Force’s back. Amir Arison gives great sensitivity to the role as we see him have to use his training for the first time during Garrick’s assault when he kills his first person. We also see him stand up to Reddington when he is framed and work to catch the real mole in the agency.

Harold Cooper – Cooper leads the Task Force and has to walk a fine line in all he does as the Task Force could be destroyed at any point by the government or all the different forces that want it destroyed. He keeps others at arms length while advocating for the existence of the organization. When the season ends he is in critical condition from Berlin’s attack. Harry Lennix is fantastic!

Agent Donald Ressler – Ressler is one of the weaker agents as he is all about revenge and lives only for the job. He is a stock character but he is still compelling in his own way even though he is the least interesting member on the Task Force. He is saved by Reddington at one point and was the man sent to hunt him down back when the search for Reddington began before Red turned himself in.

Agent Meera Malik  – Parminder Nagra is my favorite member of the Task Force and the CIA representative. She is sadly killed in the finale but before that we see her help take down or take down many members of the blacklist as well as learning about her balancing her role as a mother and how her clear conscience is why Reddington trusts her. She also has a darker side too being CIA she’s tortured and we see her do so on the show.

Elizabeth Keen – Keen is our protagonist who is being used by Berlin’s organization via her fake husband Tom and by Reddington trying to bring Berlin out and protect her and of course the FBI who is her boss. Her arc is finding balance and eventually committing again to the fight and her relationship with Red after she forgives him for putting her adopted father out of his misery. She isn’t bad and is good, but she was never as interesting as Red or Malik to me.

The Manipulators – These are the game changers and manipulators whose names we receive and who we see easily walk over the Task Force at different points this season. Some are connected I think but more on that next season I think.

Diane Fowler – Fowler was the mole and Red ends up killing her even though she knows things about the past that he seeks. She is a smooth operator and the Task Force trusts her even up until the end since she covered her tracks so well.

Alan Fitch – Alan Alda is awesome as Fitch! He is the one who sets the Wild Boys and Garrick on Reddington to make a point that you don’t double cross him and the organization he is a part of. He also has an Alliance with Reddington still though and advocated his organization helping when it looks like Berlin will be on the scenes. Sadly he isn’t able to which means when Berlin comes for him and his organization he won’t have Red’s help.

“Berlin” – Berlin is the one who was using everyone on the Blacklist to his own ends. It is when they are killed that he finally comes out of hiding and reeks havoc on the city and Task Force. He is free at the end having cut off his own hand to escape and letting another be his stand in as he goes underground to plot his revenge against Red. How he knows Red is still a mystery as Red does not know him as far as we know.

Raymond “Red” Reddington – James Spader does an amazing job as Red and is the Moriarty character driving the plot as he prepares for war against Berlin and whomever Berlin maybe working for. In this we see he is a sociopath but also cares deeply about some people, whether they are Dembe, Zheng or Elizabeth and that he will go to any length to avenge those who have wronged him or the people he cares about. He is still a criminal but he is complicated as his hiding information is usually for a reason and he ends up being right about most things. I’m curious to see how he uses the tools at his disposal in the war against Berlin. He is most likely Elizabeth’s dad.

The Reveals – There are quite a few reveals. From Tom being a fake and working for Berlin to Red most likely being Elizabeth’s father as we see burn marks on his back and the one memory Elizabeth has of her father is him pulling her out of the fire. The fact that her adopted father was a criminal connected to Berlin is also another reveal.

The Cons: Fridging  – Both Zheng, Malik and Ressler’s ex were all killed over the course of the show. This very blatant fridging, especially of some of the more compelling characters is a con I can’t ignore, especially since the kills in many cases came out of nowhere from villains of the week. For characters of such importance, they deserved more than that if they had to be killed off.

   I can’t wait to keep on watching and I do plan on reviewing individual episodes in the future. Tom wasn’t on here as he was kind a plot device in my opinion and never felt like a full character. Everyone else on the other hand had great motivations for the things they did which made them compelling to watch as the world of the “The Blacklist” is a grey world where friends can be enemies and vise versa and you never know who is pulling the strings in the end or who will live and die.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.