The Lighthouse (2019): The Haunting Light

Image result for The Lighthouse 2019

     “The Lighthouse” is worth the hype. This is a film that feels that taps into the human psyche and the terror of both isolation and the monsters people are capable of being. It does all this while still having nuance within the script and giving us complicated characters. It helps that it is beautifully filmed. I really hope we see more films like this. It certainly feels like a film that Hitchcock would make or any of his contemporaries. From the almost stage nature and the symbolism and depth that carries the film, beyond the amazing performances by Pattinson and Dafoe. Before I get into spoilers, I highly recommend this film.

The film was directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, with Max Eggers being the other writer.

The story follows Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who is contracted out to be wickie for 4 weeks on an Island of the coast of New England. He meets impatient man in charge Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), and begins to experience strange visions after finding a statue of a mermaid buried within his bed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – This film is beautiful. The use light in black and white is used to create a haunting and isolating environment. Jarin Blaschke truly did a beautiful job.

The Writing – The script feels like a stage play at times while still being natural. Characters will give monologues and the two of them read from a book, and that book becomes part of the theme and narrative. Myths and legends are weaved into the lives and lies of our characters. This is all used in the theme of the dreams tied to what the characters preach about. There is a sense of the supernatural through the entire narrative.

The Characters – Dafoe and Pattinson fully inhabit their characters. You have the superstitious Wake whose story about his bad leg is all lie but clearly is connected and worthy of the light from the Lighthouse. Both of them are so incredibly flawed and seeing them build trust with one another that falls apart is tragic and powerful. Each of them carries lies from their past and origins and over the course of the story those truths are revealed and come at costs to the different characters. Each of them are people who wouldn’t have a relationship as colleagues unless they had to. Wake likes his solitude and has committed crimes to keep it and has regret from it just as Winslow regrets what has driven him here. He clearly doesn’t want to be a drifter but feels as if he has no choice and because of it he can’t trust. Neither of them are good people but them being complicated makes their going mad all the more fantastic to witness.

Isolation, Loneliness and Lies and delusions – Some of the major themes of the story involve the isolation of our characters, the lies they tell one another and the loneliness they each face. The characters are consumed by visions and delusions. Winslow dreams of a mermaid and killing or having sex with it and sees visions of tentacles rising from Wake and him looking like a sea deity. The only time the characters aren’t alone is over meal time or when Winslow finally drinks with Wake. It is here we see the connection they come to share that is destroyed by the truth of their actions and past and the all consuming madness of the light.

The Consuming Truth – What ends up being a major theme of the story is consuming truth. As the characters go mad they learn more about one another see in the end the revelation of the lies and truth destroys their sanity and lives. It is powerful as both characters are murders and in turn meet their ends as they attack one another and give mortal injuries that signal that there is no escape for either from the truth.

The Haunting Light – The light from the Lighthouse is used hauntingly throughout the film. Winslow goes from not caring about it it becoming his obsession. He kills to see the light and in turn it leads to his eyes burning and him being punished by the gulls. The light is never peaceful and even when there is ecstasy it always has a dark implication. Wake masturbates to it and it is when Winslow watches him do it he sees tentacles above for the first time, an early sign of his madness. It is unknown if the light brings about the madness or simply reveals it but it is center to the story and I loved it.

I loved this movie. It is truly worth the hype. I really want to see Pattinson’s Batman now and this easily one of the best performances Willem Dafoe has done. If you like movies full of rich themes, psychological horror and are beautifully filmed, this is the film for you. This film doesn’t feel long at all. This might be my favorite film of the year and I can’t wait to see what Robert Eggers creates next.

10 / 10 The film is perfect and well worth your time.

Aquaman (2018): A Beautiful Mess

         “Aquaman” is a mess. It isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t especially good. I’d put it around the same place as “Suicide Squad” in that a lot of the writing and performances are what bring down so much potential in what could be an amazing story. This could have been “Wonder Woman” if the acting and writing had been up to that quality, sadly it is not. I still enjoyed a lot of things about this film, just as I did with “Suicide Squad” though. This film is beautiful, the experienced actors are fantastic and it made me want to read the comics and learn more about the characters. This world is amazing, even if the execution is extremely flawed.

     The film was directed by James Wan who wrote it along with Geoff Johns and Will Beall.

The story follows Arthur Curry / Aquaman (Jason Momoa) who is called back home when his half-brother is attempting to unite the Underwater Kingdoms to destroy humanity above. Arthur must find the mythical Trident of Atlan to unite the Ocean as his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) sends the pirate David Kane / Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) after him and Mera (Amber Heard) to prevent them from challenging his rule.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe and Ocean Politics – I want to read the comics after watching this film. There are 7 Nations based off the 7 seas who are sunk down to the ocean due their hubris and each Kingdom evolved into a different kind of fish person. Atlantis is the largest of the Kingdoms and King Orm wants revenge on the surface dwellers for pollution and destruction of the ocean, so is going about uniting the Kingdoms by paying off a mercenary pirate (Black Manta) to do so to make the other distrust humanity. When his betrothed Mera (from another Kingdom) brings his half-brother Arthur / Aquaman down to challenge him, they fight and Orm wins! After this he goes full on expansionist and begins uniting or destroying the remaining Sea Kingdom (3 are lost before the film begins) and seeing it all unfold…it is a great backstory and I wanted to know more. This world is more interesting than most of the characters driving the action. The 7 Kingdoms fascinate me and there is such a rich amount of lore in this movie.

The Cinematography and Action – This movie has some of the most beautiful action in any DC film. You have giant sharks and ships with lazers fighting on the deep ocean floor. You have monsters rising from the depths and even a chase in Sicily that manages to hold a good amount of tension for Mera and Arthur as they escape from Black Manta and his mercenaries. The color pallet is as vibrant as the fish in the sea and the action is up there with “Tron” in how that color is used to illustrate underwater action. The big final battle was especially compelling and kept me entranced the entire time. It was also the only time I like Arthur Curry as a character.

Queen Atlanna – Nicole Kidman plays Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna. We could have got a whole movie just about her as she drives the initial action escaping to the surface world to escape from an arranged marriage. It is there she falls in love with a Lighthouse Keeper who rescues her and they have a happy life until Atlanteans find her again and attempt to bring her back for judgement. After this she is presumed dead since she is left to face judgement in the Trench (after she returns back to the sea to protect her husband and Arthur) where most are sent to die. She survives, but after that is just there as support for Arthur. I loved her agency early on in the film and wanted to know more about her backstory. Kidman gives so much to this part and really deserved more.

King Nereus -Dolph Lundgren is an underrated actor if this film is anything to go by. I know he was in “Masters of the Universe” and now 2 films in the Rocky Franchise as Ivan but I never realized how charismatic he was. Here he plays Mera’s father and one of the Kings of the 7 Sea Kingdoms. He is manipulated into joining Orm when humans attack them and stands by Orm until Mera finally calls out how evil he is for standing by Orm’s destruction of others in order to rule. He was compelling that way and the most political of all the Kings, as the others were isolationist (the Crab People) or Philosophers (the fish people). His people were most like the Atlanteans and he was good as a somewhat antagonist. His love for his daughter trumped his hatred of the humans though.

Karathen – Julie Andrews plays this giant Ocean Monster at the bottom of the sea. She is so cool. It is small part as she protects the legendary Trident Atlan that Arthur needs to be King, but once he has it she joins him in the battle against Orm. She is amazing and her reveal is a sight to behold. The fact that getting to her involves fighting a bunch of feral fish men adds more tension to how quiet her lair is and the threat against Arthur as he could easily fail to retrieve the Trident like so many before him.

Nuidis Vulko – Dafoe plays the adviser to the King and was the one who helped Arthur develop his powers when he was a child. He supports Orm up to a point, even though he always wanted Arthur to return. We don’t get much on his motivation but it is Willem Dafoe and he adds layers to a sadly very underwritten character. He serves the realm like Varys and in doing so will serve even the most selfish and cruel of kings until there is one who is better.

Mera – I want to see more of Amber Heard’s films. She is the only main character with any level of charisma and acting range and I loved her fish out of water situations. She is first introduced to humans when she escapes with Arthur and seeing her interact with the surface world is charming. She also can take care of herself and saves Arthur on multiple occasions, and manages to hold her own against the best of her people. Her arc goes from hating the surface world to finding the innocence that exists within it (specifically a child’s kindness to her changes her point of view). It is an organic change and I wish she’d been the lead. She would make a much better Queen than Arthur would a King.

The Cons:

Flat Acting and the Leads – I’m covering a few things here because it applies across the board. Black Manta only ever shows anger and doesn’t have the moral complexity of a Killmonger or Thanos, at least in how he is written and acted, Orm is a little better but even his hatred of the surface world and willingness to kill and hurt his own isn’t explored either, leading to either very flat or very ham scenes, and Arthur’s arc makes no sense. He goes from a surfer bro pounding beers to the wise King of Atlantis. There isn’t an inbetween here and he is largely grating in how he continues to mock everything around him for the majority of the time he is on screen. Momoa not having that great of range for the character doesn’t help. I really appreciate how great Hemsworth is as Thor as both are similar in that they love fighting and drinking and need to come into their own as Kings. I believed Thor becoming King and that he was someone who had grown up. Arthur felt like an entirely different character than he was even a few scenes before after he becomes King. This was whiplash that I blame on the writing, the flat performance and Momoa’s limited range as an actor.

Telling Rather Than Showing – A huge thing that brings down the film is how often we are told the plot. There were moments we could have been shown, either in a painting or an artifact, but instead more often than not, Mera or an ancient King is explaining the plot to us and why so and so must get the artifact. It hurts the flow of the story and there is far too much of it. This telling reminded me very much of Episode 1 and 2 of the Prequels where we are told plot points rather than shown them and all that changes is location. The fact that Momoa has as much range as Hayden Christensen also brought back Prequel flashbacks. This film needed a rewrite for these scenes as they played into another problem, the agency of our hero.

Arthur Curry and Agency – Much of this film is Mera taking Arthur to locations to get exposition or to find a Mcguffin. It starts when she takes him to Atlantis to challenge Orm and after that it never stops. The only agency Arthur has is choosing whether to come with her or not and after they are being hunted by Orm it is no longer a choice since they’ll try to kill him anyway if he stops moving. This leads to major whiplash when Arthur goes from Surfer Bro to Wise King in the span of a scene. We never saw him make choices in regards to the people he would be leading. The choices were all actions driven by Mera to make him King, one reason she should have been the lead and been Queen. This was far more her story than his but he is the main character. If we had been shown him facing more choices and growing into his role as King, that transformation would have been believable. I never felt he was truly at risk because he never had his darkest moment. His father was always saved, he discovers his mother is alive, Mera is fine and he doesn’t care about the war between the Ocean Kingdoms. If any of these things had changed to give him a reason to take responsibility this film would have been good. All we needed was greater choice and consequence for Arthur and even Momoa’s limited acting wouldn’t matter as much.

This is not the worst of the new DC films and I had fun. This isn’t a film I’d ever buy, but it made me interested in the world of the comics and I really enjoyed the universe it all takes place in. The biggest detriment is the writing and some very flat performances. Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry never felt like he had agency. He is brought everywhere so I never felt like it was him making a choice, it was just him punching things until it worked. It made me admire the first “Thor” film and Thor as a character a lot more. I did like the Aquaman I saw at the end of the film, so there is promise for this series if there is a sequel, I just hope the villains aren’t as flat next time around and that Arthur is more complex and has more agency. If you are looking for a good escape over the holidays, you will enjoy this film and should give it a shot though. The movie is a beautiful mess and so much flawed fun.

Final Score: 7 / 10

An Aside: Pitbull ruins Toto’s “Africa” in this movie with his remixing of it in a song called “Ocean to Ocean.” Listen at your own discretion. You’ve been warned.

 

Top 5 Ways I’d Fix the Film “Death Note” (2017)

       It has been a while since I’ve watched such a terrible film that rather than review it the only things I can think about are the ways it could have been saved, and at least been made passable. The last time I did this was for “Twilight” and this is that level of garbage quality. I’m working on a larger review for the anime of “Death Note” currently as I recently rewatched it and the level of quality holds up. It was one of the first animes I ever saw and it is what made me appreciate how anime can be used to discover deeper philosophical ideas and gives us complex characters. This film has none of that and is a failure on nearly every level with the exception of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk. So that is the 1 / 10 I would have given this film, it is all thanks to a single actor’s performance.

In setting the parameters for how I’d fix this film, I can’t change the casting. L is still black and Light, his father and Misa/Mia are white. I accept this could possibly still work and with this Top 5 I will show 5 ways that could have helped it work. Though with a mess like this, I know that not all of it will be salvageable. I’m here to save what I can and give you a passable film.

5 – Give It a Soundtrack Similar to the Show 

First lets start with the opening theme song, which is metal in theme and gives us the stakes right off the back. We have intensity and drama and the lyrics are meant to capture the revolution that Light wants to bring about with himself as God. It is full of rage and sadness which encapsulates the humans caught up in the drama of the “Death Note.” We also get some dark instrumentals, which capture the dark tone of the characters such as L’s theme, which is methodical and like a heartbeat. This is a show that is so compelling because the music pulls you into the characters’ heads and doesn’t let you out. The fact that it is a crime drama and thriller isn’t lost in the soundtrack that Yoshihisa Horano and Hideki Taniuchi created for the series. This is a soundtrack I will keep coming back to and getting rid of the cheesy 80’s score in the movie and creating a soundtrack pulling from these 2 themes could have helped carry the terrible writing that covered the script of this awful film.

4 – Give Us a Single Protagonist 

This is a film that did not know what it wanted. L and Light have no clear agenda or clear cut philosophy as we see Light ready to abandon his the moment Mia wants to kill his father and we see L abandon his when he is worried about Watari. Because there wasn’t a clear arc there was no clear story. We had 3 main characters – Mia, Light and L…but none of them had a clear agenda or were fleshed out all that well. Mia was a psychopath who just wanted to kill but we see that she loves L, L wanted to bring Light to justice but was ready to go all Kira to save Watari and Light spoke about wanting to bring criminals to justice but never did. If we had been given a clear protagonist this would have been solved. In the show it is easy to flesh out the themes and arcs because Light drives the action and L, the Police, Near or Mello are a reaction to his actions, this keeps the narrative going and in the end, “Death Note” is about Light and exploring the premise of his utopia. This film had no real protagonist and in doing so none of the characters were fleshed out or clearly defined. I couldn’t tell you what any of these characters want and that is due to lack of a clear focus or single driving force for the narrative.

3 – Show Don’t Tell

One of the major problems the show had is it revealed everyone’s role in the plot right off the back. Light reveals he has a Death Note to Mia and brings her in on his game of becoming Kira and L reveals his face to Light and says he knows he is Kira and will bring him to justice. This is all tell and no show. One thing that could have saved this script is if it had taken a note from the show. We should be getting reveals during the climax and when it will make the greatest impact upon our characters. In the show L tells Light he is a suspect but it isn’t until much later that he speaks about certainty he is Kira and Light plays the role of dutiful son. In this Light is a brat and crybaby who pretty much admits to L that he is Kira when they first meet. It is shoddy, crappy storytelling and if the reveals had been held off later so they actually meant something we’d have more time to explore and see who these characters are. That way the reveals give us another dimension. The only reveal that is in this film is that Light was manipulating Mia the entire time…though given she’s presented as the primary antagonist it doesn’t reveal Light to be evil, it just shows he has some level of self-preservation.

2 – Adapt An Arc From the Show

Okay, I can’t change the fact that the leads have been cast and it takes place in Seattle. This will make it difficult given their acting isn’t all that great, but they can still be in an interesting story. Give us an arc from the show. Give us the Yotsuba Arc where the Death Note has passed onto the member or a corporation who is killing off his competition and it is up to Mia, L and Light to work together. They can still debate the ideas of the Death Note and be under suspicion but now we get a thriller and a mystery as we don’t know who holds the Death Note. All we know is one of the leaders in a Corporation has the Death Note…and given this takes place in Seattle they could Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks or countless others to explore it which would give us more nuance and depth and pull us away from the awful teen romance that was the focus of the film this time around. This is only one of the arcs from the show, they could also have Kira’s Cult be explored and Have L in the place of Near and Mello and show the means he has to go to in order to reveal Light as Kira or they could give Mia and Death Note and have her actually act like Misa’s character and have them both under suspicion of L doing the main arc L goes through in the show. That is 3 arcs they could have used right there and they don’t have to change casting or anything, they just have to know the subject matter they are adapting and pull from the great stories that already exist within the show. Any of these could have given us a clear theme versus the listless mess we get with the film.

1 – An Unambiguous Ending 

This is a film that sucks all the way through, from start to finish…it messed up so bad it couldn’t even give us a clear ending. At the end Light is talking to his Dad and he mentions that he realizes he was choosing between 2 evils and his father asks him which one he is. Did they expect a sequel to come out of this? Light or L should be dead and Light should be free showing us that his ends were justified or that he can no walk away and give up the Death Note or with him dead and L finally bringing him and Mia to justice with Ryuk ending it with writing Light’s name in the Death Note. Hell I’d settle for the death of either L or Light because it would give clarity to a film that had none. A good ending can make a bad film okay. This film had a terrible ending and all it had to do to fix it was give us the death of Light or L and with it a clear point on what side was correct.

These are the Top 5 Ways I’d fix this god awful travesty of a film. Again if I was scoring it it would be 1 / 10, so a lot could be done to fix it, and most of these things are basic storytelling ideas. How would you fix this film if you were given the chance? If you had to adapt “Death Note” how would you go about doing so? Curious to hear your thoughts and it is a shame this film wasn’t deleted before Netflix brought it to the small screen.

What Happened to Monday (2017): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Explores Identity and Human Value

  “What Happened to Monday” is the type of dystopian Science Fiction that I love. It feels like a Philip K. Dick novel, which has lead to some of my favorite films adapted from his work…from “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and the original “Total Recall.” The films give us future tech. but also a world that is fascist and dehumanizes it’s population in some way, this film is cut from that same cloth and is executed so well it has become one of my favorites.

The film was directed by Tommy Wirkola, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson and produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, Fabrice Gianfermi and Philippe Rousselot.

The story takes place in a overcrowded, polluted dystopian future where families can only have one child. When Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace who also plays her daughters) has 7 identical twins her Grandfather Terrance (Willem Dafoe) hides their existence by having them adopt their mother’s identity and pretending to be one person. When Monday goes missing years later it is up to her sister’s to solve the mystery and keep their secret safe.

The Pros: Self and Identity – One of the major themes that the film explores is the issue of identity, given that the 7 sisters have each adopted the identity of Karen Settman and can only be themselves when they are trapped in the house. This leads to some of them to fully embrace the idea of the character and believe they are them, forgetting the day of the week they are as each of them deals with it in different ways by either escaping (Tuesday is a druggy) or embracing their roles outside of the identity of Karen as we have the one always in training to protect and the tech. who is tracking all the events that happen in the search for Monday. Each of them express who they are in different ways and in the end we see how that connection to identity shapes the survivors as there are a few name changes at the end tied to the history of the characters.

Individualism, Collectivism and Human Value – The film starts out showing how global warming has been leading to mass destruction and starvation and the steps the government takes to make sure the overall human population can survive. This is most scene in the one child policy and how C.A.B. takes the siblings when that happens so that they are out of the competition for food. At one point Glenn Close’s character debates with one of the sisters on that very question and points out how if more people had been like their mother the world would be dead given the lack of food. This question is never fully answered and the fallout of the finale leaves things open as far as what will happen to humanity. Glenn Close’s character was a villain whose intentions were good but we see how in going collectivist it misses the point of the value of the individual contrasted with the beginning that showed how individualism taken to the extreme with no thought of the world and future lead to the dystopia in the first place. The film comes out on the side of individualism but given the opening, I believe it leaves things open enough as to what the future of this world and ours hold.

Okay: The 7 Sisters and the Danger of Stock Characters – Noomi Rapace is an amazing actress. We see her play 8 characters, each with different levels of depth. Honestly this film would have worked better as a show as a few of the sisters I couldn’t even place in regards to their motivation, they only existed as a stereotype (the tough woman, etc.) She did give a lot of depth to certain characters though, the greatest being Saturday, Friday. Monday and Tuesday. We can see where their conflict comes from too as Dafoe’s performance as their grandfather is amazing given he is willing to go any length to protect them (if one loses a finger, they all have to if they are continue playing the role of Karen Settman so suspicion will not occur) to keep the lie going, even though that leads to harm to them all and shows just how broken this world and he himself is. Each of the sisters carry that damage with them as well as carrying the lie of Karen Settman, the role each must play during their day of the week. The stock types make the reveal a little predictable at the end but it still managed to surprise me in other ways in regards to who lives and dies when the government is hunting them and in regards to what happened to Monday after she goes missing.

This is a film I highly recommend. I’m staying away from spoilers because it is an easy film to catch, as it is on Netflix currently. I was never bored during this film and the action and ideas kept me waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t know whether it will make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is certainly one of my favorite films. Dafoe and Rapace owned the roles they played and the ideas of identity and human value are explored so beautifully through the world and the sisters that I can’t help but recommend this film. This is an original and isn’t based off any prior property. I really want to see more sci. fi.’s of this level of quality in the future, that pull from themes and show the different costs of existence, society and identity.

Final Score: 9.6 / 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

Odd Thomas (2013): Great Characters and World But Dialogue Doesn’t Always Work

Odd Thomas

     What sparked my viewing of this film is that i wanted to do a review where Anton Yelchin’s acting was on display, especially with his recent tragic death…I wanted a way to honor him. This was a great film in which to do so. He is amazing as the main character in a series of books from one of my favorite authors (though I have yet to read the “Odd Thomas” Series by Dean Koontz). The film doesn’t quite reach favorite, but that is due more to the writing than anything else, which at time feels unnatural and almost too clever.

     The film was directed by Stephen Sommers who was also the writer and one of the producers. The other producers were John Baldecchi and Howard Kaplan and the film is based off the book series of the same name by Dean Koontz.

This review does contain SPOILERS

   The story involves Odd (Anton Yelchin) who helps the police chief Wyatt (Willem Dafoe) capture murders after her communicates with their ghosts.  When a rise in bodachs occurs around a mysterious figure Odd fears for his town and the horrific event that their rising means and works with his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin)  to stop it.

 The Pros: The World – The world is fascinating and I can’t wait to read more about in Koontz’s books. This a world full of spirits, the dead and maybe even demons. This element of the supernatural makes the town fascinating and Odd’s genuine good nature and tragic story gives power to the events that take place.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is wonderful as it portrays both anything around the dead as different than around the living. Mitchell Amundsen did a good job. It is easily one of Stephen Sommers’s best looking films.

The Characters – The three main characters are fantastic…the members of the conspiracy are forgettable…but Wyatt, Stormy and Odd really drive the plot and it is their interactions in this fascinating world that elevate the story to great.

Stormy – Stormy like Odd is odd and is a fun character. She is witty and smart and as much a fighter as Odd who just wants to get out of town. Seeing their relationship is sweet as she keeps Odd grounded and doesn’t let anyone push her around. Addison Timlin really does a great job in the role.

Wyatt – It’s Willem Dafoe, you can’t go wrong. In this we see a guy who trusts Odd to the point that he is nearly an outsider on his own police force. He trusts anyway and it is thanks to his trust that Odd is able to figure out the conspiracy to murder the mall. Wyatt is shot but survives and has some great comedic moments with Odd as he has an awareness around people Odd and Stormy don’t.

Odd – Anton Yelchin is amazing in this role! This is a character who is oblivious to others flirting with him outside of Stormy and has a major idealistic streak as he sees Stormy and him being together forever because of what happened at a fair and what a robotic gypsy gave them, yet is realistic enough to hide his powers after his mom was thrown into an asylum for how her powers drove her crazy and his dad’s reaction. This is a character imbued with empathy, sorrow and compassion and I can’t wait to read his story in the books. This is a character who is genuinely good.

You Can’t Save Everyone – Stormy dies and there are a few other deaths…not being able to save everyone is a major theme of the film. The fact that Odd finds the killers by being helped by the victim’s ghosts really plays into that too. He can save more people but he can’t save everyone.

The Ending – The ending is good, I liked that Odd saves the people in the Mall but can’t save Stormy and that in the end he is the one who lets go after we have it established he’s the one helping spirits let go. It is a touching end and I get why he leaves the town after.

Okay: The Dialogue – The dialogue is at times almost too clever for it’s own good. You know when characters speak only in witty one-liners? This film has that problem sometimes…largely between Stormy and Odd but other characters too. It’d have been more annoying if it wasn’t smart but it felt unnatural which kept it from being a pro.

The Conspiracy – The reveal of the conspiracy is pretty cool but the reason behind them being Satanists and what they get out of being Satanists is never explained. For a world full of the Supernatural a group of Satanists was at the end of the day just a bunch of killers and would-be killers. This was a shame as there was so much that could have been done in regards to their motivation, which I felt we never got to know.

The Cons: The Power of the Bodachs – The Bodachs power is never explained. They can possess people and kill them if they notice someone notices them, but they never did fully against Odd except with the leader of the Conspiracy. Where they came from and their purpose beyond feeding off misery was all we got too, I guess they come from Hell but what is the purpose of Hell in this world where Odd is putting spirits to rest?

   This is a film that was great but never reached favorite largely due to the elements that were never fully explained or defined. The purpose behind the conspiracy of Satanists didn’t seem to be anything beyond causing mass panic and murder but to what end…the Bodachs seemed at times all powerful and other times completely powerless so them being the things triggering the event or that would bring Hell to the town just didn’t make sense. Just like the Bodach’s origin was never explained or how they fit into the world of the living dead, same with Hell…it exists I guess, but to what end? These questions are what kept it from being a favorite though it is still a film I’d highly recommend. Anton Yelchin is amazing as Odd and truly showed why he was the younger greats. R. I. P. Anton Yelchin.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003): Shooting for a Bigger Point

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

     “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” would make a great min-series. As a film it doesn’t quite work as there are a ton of characters and revenge stories going on and right around the middle it gets really muddled and overindulgent but picks up a lot again at the end while finally having El Mariachi change! As the ending to the Mexico Trilogy, it wasn’t the best…that still belongs to “Desparado” but it was better than “El Mariachi” both in soundtrack and cinematography.

     The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez who also wrote, produced and composed the music for. With the other producers being Elizabeth Avellan and Carlos Gallardo.

     The story picks up where “Desparado” left off with El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and Carolina living their life with their daughter after they defeat the corrupt General Marquez. The general survives and gets revenge on El Mariachi killing his wife and daughter leading El Mariachi to seek revenge.  Around the same time Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) commissions him to kill the Drug Lord Armando Barillo (Willem Dafoe) leading to a final face off as all the factions come together as both Barillo and Marquez want to overthrow Mexico’s President.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stark and like a dream sequence making the violence beautiful in how it is presented. It’s not as beautiful as “Desperado” but it still has some very beautiful scenes and color combinations.

The Soundtrack – Soundtrack is the best it has been so far and has a reflective somber tone intermixed with high action beats to reflect the scenes going on.

Armando Barillo – Dafoe does a great job as this drug lord who the CIA is trying to take down. He is emphatic at first and later we see how smart he is when he fakes his own death and even survives past Marquez. It is only a Mexican agent who kills him in revenge after Sands gives him the prompting and opportunity. The agent wasn’t memorable at all though, versus Dafoe.

Ajedrez Barillo – Eva Mendes is wonderful as the daugther of Barillo. She is the one who captures Sands and has them drill out his eyes. She’s cruel and smart and only has a moment of stupidity when she goes to check on Sands body and Sands shoots her in revenge.

Jeffrey Sands – This is one of Depp’s more memorable characters. He is a smooth operator and speaks very calm. I enjoyed his performance as he was a character who was odd and driven and all about the job. He doesn’t let losing his eyes end his mission either and we see that even with loss he can fight and joke making him one of the better action heroes out there. He’s also crazy like most of the characters in this film.

El Mariachi – El Mariachi’s arc goes from taking out small time drug lords in the prior films to taking out Generals in this one. It is here he finds purpose beyond revenge as he gives his money to the people and with his new Band where they take on a Nationalist identity of fighting for Mexico as they protect the President from Marquez and Barillo. He gets Carolina’s locket back and we see him singing for her and fighting for his country. It’s a powerful story.

The Ending – The message is that a person can make their home better. In the first 2 films El Mariachi couldn’t see beyond revenge and himself but later he is fighting for the populace and in this the populace rises up with him against the corrupt General as now El Mariachi has become a folk hero. He embraces this role and it is in that his love for his country and the people keep him going as he is no longer driven by revenge and wishing to die.

Okay/Pros: The Action – Rodriguez has always been good at action and this is film is no exception. A con could even be that it had too much action and was really excessive at times much to the detriment of the story. Specially the hospital attack I was really bored on and it wasn’t until the final confrontation during “Day of the Dead” where I was pulled back in.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is all over the place. I didn’t care about the Mexican agent, Barillo and his daughter needed more fleshing out and El Mariachi is just kind of there, we don’t see much of his life beyond his music and revenge up until the end. There are a lot of good ideas here they just aren’t clear because of how muddled the script is.

The Use of the Fridge – El Mariachi has now lost his girlfriend, Carolina and daughter as the motivator for each film. This is a tired trope and way overdone. I wish he’d had something more and that we could have seen some of the women in his life kick ass like Carolina did in the flashbacks. The fridge is a terrible trope largely because it is overused. Rodriguez didn’t have to do anything but repeat the plot of “Desperado” for El Mariachi’s motivation and that is just sad.

     Minus the fridging of his girlfriend in the first film and Carolina and his daughter in this one, as well as the muddled script, this was a good film I’d recommend. It is more polished and interesting than “El Mariachi” which felt like a film made by a director just starting to direct but wasn’t as tight and polished as “Desperado” which never felt excessive in any major ways. This one did have a better message though as the vigilante finally looked beyond himself and to the people he should have been protecting all along. That is what made this film really good besides the very colorful characters.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Also, here are the reviews for “El Mariachi”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/el-mariachi-1992-a-good-but-rocky-start-to-the-mexico-trilogy/

and “Desperado”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/desperado/

As we complete the Mexico Trilogy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Of Story The Nostalgia From Loss and a Life Lived

The Grand Budapest Hotel

      Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors and this is my favorite film he has done…it’s either this or the “Royal Tenenbaums.” both capture drama, are full or rich and real humor and have an element of tragedy pervading through them. Both are also stories being read too, which I think is Wes Anderson in his element. I’llAb get into more of what i mean in the assessment. This is also my second time watching the film, as I saw it when it came out in theatres before I started the blog.

    “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was written, directed and produced by Wes Anderson with the other producers being Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales and Scott Rudin.

      The premise of the story begins with a girl at the monument of one of her nations heroes somewhere in Eastern Europe in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. The hero was the man who wrote the novel only known as the Author (Tom Wilkinson as old author, Jude Law as the young author) the Novel is “The Royal Budapest Hotel.” The story begins with how the author met Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham old Zero, Tony Revolori as young Zero), the owner of the The Grand Budapest who tells the story of how he began there as a Bell Boy the drama he and the Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) are pulled into when one of his clients is murdered and  Gustave is blamed for it after getting “Boy with Apple” from her inheritance. Gustave H and Zero steal the picture, the story unfolds from there.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a story within a story and how it relates to the present is powerful…the fact that the story begins with a child reading the story and showing us that the author looking back on the past shows that things have changed over time, but the traditional music playing the cemetery shows an awareness of time too and how even as things change they stay the same.

The Cinematography – Wes Anderson uses a lot of physical sets and paintings and some actual beautiful locations. This gives the world a very lived in feel and Anderson’s masterful use of shooting a scene symmetrically gives so much charm as well as bringing about some great tension when it needs too.

The Script – The dialogue is witty, comedic and tragic, which is saying a lot since at time the Author is literally reading us what is happening. Though telling is going on it is shown in such a way that it doesn’t matter that we were told, it all fits into the overall narrative and lends weight to when the story stops and Mustafa shares where he is with the author and the losses he has experienced in his life.

The Characters – Wes Anderson has so many of his old crew in this film…from Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, as well as countless others who make small to large appearances as intriguing characters. I’ll get more into the details but this and the story are the strongest parts of the film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – The Hotel is living history. We see when it has become more run down and modern with the usual clients who keep their solitude like “The Author” and the Hotel of the past where it was full of rich clients and tons of workers where legacy is huge and the Hotel is an institution. The Hotel itself is a living character in a film in a matter of speaking and a lot of the minor characters who don’t have names or have very small parts (Owen Wilson here during the military occupation when he is the Monsieur Chuck since Gustave is in hiding with Zero).

Madame D – Tilda Swinton plays the rich heiress who fears for her life for good reason and has a deep love for Gustave H. We learn she always loved him and The Grand Budapest Hotel and what scenes she is in she is amazing as she is the stress to Gustave’s calm. They also have great chemistry together. Her death sets everything in motion.

Dmitiri and Jopling – Dmitri (Adrien Brody) plays the son of Madame D (the one killed) who killed his mother in order to get her fortune. He is a fascist and has Gustave arrested and blamed for the murder of his mother. He is evil and goes to any means to get what he wants, largely using his enforcer Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Jopling is brutal, at one point killing the lawyer in charge of the will and killing the man who learned about the murder in order to keep it covered up. The two of them are also a sign of the encroaching war and fascism upon their nation that is going on too. They are priveldge with no awareness of people, the opposite of Gustave, Zero and Agatha.

The Prisoners – Gustave makes friends with the prisoners since through Zero he gets them cupcakes which later become their way to get tools from Agatha and Zero to break out. It’s a lot of fun and one of the prisoners dies in the escape before a taxi driver is killed the rest of the convicts showing how Gustave is not of that world…especially after he hurts Zero for being an immigrant and not doing everything perfect but apologizing when he’s so repulsed by his words and privilege. The scenes are so rich and the prison feels deadly and the escape means something and has a cost.

The Society of the Crossed Keys – The Society of the Crossed Keys is a group of Monsieurs  who help Gustave escape and find out where the butler of Madame D is hiding and help Zero and Mustafa get there. There is Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and others who play Monsiuers who have been in Anderson’s other work. It is a great scene and is callback to all the people who have made so many of Wes Anderson’s great movies possible.

The Chase – Zero and Gustave go undercover as monks to meet up with the Butler who confesses that Madame D was murdered and has the evidence but Jopling kills him. They chase Jopling which leads to Jopling falling to his death after Zero knocks him off the cliff. They than steal his motorcycle to get back to the Grand Budapest Hotel as Inspector Henckles pursues them.

Deputy Vilmos – Jeff Goldbloom does an awesome job as the Deputy who is in charge of the will and the finances from the Grand Budapest Hotel. He is taken out by Jopling when he refuses to submit to Dmitri. He has integrity and his resistance leads to Dmitri and Jopling eventually being defeated. He’s one of the good few.

Inspector Henckles – Edward Norton plays one of the good people. When some of his men are roughing up Gustave for defending Zero because he doesn’t have his paper he lets them go free and even later writes a card for Zero to travel freely through the country. He is one of the good ones just doing his job and he greatly admires Gustave which adds sadness that he has to hunt after the prison breakout. Luckily the document the butler hid leads to Gustave’s freedom and their relationship being good again.

Gustave H. – Ralph Fiennes plays one of my favorite characters  that Wes Anderson has done. He sleeps with old ladies, wears tons of perfume and has high standards for the Hotel. The Hotel is his life until he builds an actual brotherhood with Zero who all his money goes too since Gustave has no family and all we know was that he was at one point a Bell Boy like Zero and worked his way up. He is a major people person though and makes friends with prisoners, monks and is highly respected by the Society of the Crossed Keys. He is a great man who stands by Zero too against fascist thugs who oppress immigrants and in the end this costs him his life when he stands up for Zero after Zero and Agatha’s wedding. R.I.P. Gustave H. He even admits that when he was angry how horrible it was that he bashed Zero being an outsider and never does so again. Everything he has becomes Zero’s.

Agatha – Saoirse Ronan is the glue of the story and the person who keeps Zero going. They marry and both start out with having nothing but one another. This all changes when they support Gustave in his escape and help find out that Dmitri murdered his mother. After they marry and we see she is the clear headed one to Zero’s idealism. From this we get part of why Zero misses her so much. She died of an illness that was easily treated in the modern time of him telling his story and we learn Zero kept the Grand Budapest Hotel because he and Agatha had great memories there. She is also really smart as she hides tools in the cupcakes for Gustave’s prison break.

Zero Mustafa – Both Tony and Abraham do a great job as Zero in the different points in his life. Young Zero is idealistic and committed fully to the Hotel, while old Zero is lost in memories of his lost Agatha and that humanity is cruel and so many of the good people like Gustave H. are dead. His life is contrast. As Zero he had community, Agatha and Gustave but had lost his family in the war in his home country making him a refugee and outsider…and in the present he doesn’t have any of them but is one of the richest people in the country. His story is one of sadness but also human connection as he saw something in the Author. He is one of my favorite characters and I love his relationship with Gustave and Agatha.

The Message – The messages I found were that the past is always with us, and that as much as things change, elements stay the same. That you don’t need money to be happy and that there will be people who will stick with you through the toughest of times. Money as a corrupting influence was huge as so many people were wealthy while the nation was in extreme poverty both in the past and in the modern era.

The Ending – The Author relates how after the story was done that if the Hotel was kept for Gustave, and Zero says Gustave was a man outside of time but that he kept the hotel for Agatha, “We were happy here.” That’s why he sleeps in the servants quarter when he visits. It ends on a sad note where the story touches the heart of the little girl reading the book showing how even though this is all the past, it is still touching the present and is still relevant.

   I think this is my favorite Wes Anderson film. It has politics and war as well as family and human relationships and the sheer depths they can reach, as well as having a diverse, rich cast of characters and a point about how timeless stories are. As a writer this speaks directly to me. There are stories that are timeless whose themes stick with us for as long as we live and fully define what it means to be human. This movie is about our humanity and both the good and bad about what it means to be alive. Definitely my favorite movie of 2014.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect Wes Anderson film.