Film Review: Aquaman (2018)

Release Date: November 26th, 2018 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan
Based on: Aquaman by Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Djimon Hounsou, Julie Andrews (voice), John Rhys-Davies (voice)

Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Films, Mad Ghost Productions, 143 Minutes

Review:

“You think you’re unworthy to lead because you’re of two different worlds? But that is exactly why you are worthy!” – Mera

People talked this movie up quite a bit when it came out but I didn’t see it in the theater because the holidays are busy for me and this is not a Tolkien movie.

But I had high hopes as several people I tend to trust told me that I’d like it. Well, they were wrong. I mean, I didn’t hate it and if you are comparing this to the other DCEU films, it’s actually the second best. However, that’s not a high threshold to try and beat.

First off, I like Jason Mamoa and I like Jason Mamoa in this movie. However, he’s basically playing Jason Mamoa and not Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman. Well, at least not how Aquaman has been written for decades. And couldn’t he have gone blonde? He could’ve kept the long hair and beard, as Aquaman has had that look before but I guess Arnold Schwarzenegger did a good job of once playing Conan without brunette locks.

But the thing is, he doesn’t feel like Aquaman and he really just feels like a badass buff dude with similar powers to Aquaman.

I thought that Amber Heard was pretty on point as Mera, though. She needs a bit more confidence if she’s to be the tough as nails future queen but this was a good start, assuming they make more of these, which they probably will.

Most importantly, though, Mamoa and Heard had damn good chemistry and that’s what had to carry this movie and it was certainly a strength when everything else around it felt like aquatic Candyland.

Other than a handful of good actors, mainly Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Temuera Morrison, the rest of the film was pretty lackluster and underwhelming.

It had action, it was fun for the most part, but a lot of the film felt too dragged out once you got to the middle. It had really good pacing for about 45 minutes but then the plot just seemed to be a mixture of different genres and this didn’t have a clear identity as to what it was. Some of these genre twists seemed like they were more in conflict with the film as a whole than being a collection of interesting ingredients there to make the dish taste better.

I didn’t like how Black Manta was handled and he’s just sort of a henchman and an afterthought in this film. He’s much more badass than that. Read Dan Abnett’s first few story arcs on his run of the Aquman comic. There, Black Manta was a dangerous terrorist that had Aquaman and Atlantis in the palm of his hand. I know that they introduced him in this film to build him up for later but I just don’t feel like they did it effectively and it’ll be hard to take him seriously as the big baddie when he was just portrayed as Mr. Laserface and then get knocked down a cliff. Plus, with his helmet on, the effect they used on his voice mixed with the actor’s line delivery, reminded me of Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

Patrick Wilson was pretty good as the Ocean Master but the way he was written was confusing. He’s willing to do pure evil to maintain his throne but he doesn’t seem to commit to the bit and he just sort of accepts his fate when his mom shows up and tells him to love his brother.

This film is an example of something being fun and entertaining but not being good and not being something that I particularly like. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and that goes for all the films in the DCEU. But that also doesn’t mean that I won’t watch the sequel, I probably will but I doubt I’ll see that one in the theater either.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC Comics movies within the same shared universe.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch (uncredited)
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash, Lance Reddick

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, MJW Films, DefyNite Films, Summit Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep… a final gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope… an opportunity to grieve unalone. And your son… took that from me.” – John Wick, “Oh, God.” – Viggo Tarasov, “Stole that from me… killed that from me! People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!” – John Wick

Well, I finally got around to seeing John Wick after putting it off for four years. Why did I put it off? Well, people hyped it up so damn much that I knew that if I went in with said hype, I’d probably walk away disappointed. I needed some time for that to cool down and to separate myself from it. I actually intended to watch this before John Wick 2 hit theaters, last year, but I was incredibly busy around that time.

Having now seen it, it doesn’t live up to the hype but it is still a balls to the wall, unapologetic motion picture and I love seeing Keanu as a complete and total badass murdering the crap out of scumbags in such an amazing and calculated way that he makes the Punisher look like Richard Simmons.

It is quite obvious that John Wick takes some cues, in style and narrative, from the the Hong Kong gangster pictures of the ’80s and ’90s, especially those directed by John Woo. It also has very strong film-noir tones, whether it knows that or not. There’s crime, plot twists, deception, a femme fatale character and a visual style that borrows heavily from classic noir as well as neo-noirs from the ’60s through the ’80s. I see a lot of visual similarities to the neo-noir work of Wim Wenders, most notably The American Friend, as well as notes of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

As far as the story goes, John Wick is pretty much the greatest assassin in the world. Just after his wife dies, a crew of shitheads break into Wick’s home, kill his dog and steal his car. The shitheads have ties to the Russian mob boss that Wick used to work for. Wick goes on a one-man killing spree for revenge and doesn’t care who crosses his path: his old boss, his old rivals and his old allies. With Wick reentering the world that he left years earlier, he is once again in the thick of it and won’t be able to just walk away when the dust settles. Of course, this was established to setup all the future sequels, which I have a feeling, Keanu Reeves will do until his body won’t let him anymore.

And speaking of Keanu’s body, he trained like a madman for this role and continues to do so now that this has become a franchise. He does all the driving, all the fighting and has become a legit badass in the real world because he wanted to play John Wick as realistically as possible. Seriously, if you want to be impressed, go watch some of Keanu’s training videos for these movies.

This is in no way a perfect film but if you are a guy that wants his action raw and soaked in diesel fuel next to an open fire, then you will enjoy this. It reminds me of the spirit of those ’80s Cannon Films except with much better cinematography and more capable talent in front of and behind the camera.

I was surprised to see so many actors I love pop up in this. I guess I never paid close attention to the cast details other than knowing that this had Keanu Reeves and John Leguizamo in it. But anything with Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane in it, automatically gets a hefty helping of gargantuan gravitas piled on to whatever is already there. Plus, you’ve got small roles for David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters and “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. I also have to point out the good performance by Adrianne Palicki, who always seems to play the same character, but definitely came with a harder edge in this movie.

John Wick is solid. Damn solid. It doesn’t need to be a perfect film and it doesn’t want to be. It’s fun and manlier than an Everclear drinking lumberjack piledriving a bear through the hood of a Hummer.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: John Wick 2, I’d have to assume. As well as, Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

Film Review: The Loveless (1981)

Also known as: Breakdwon (Locarno festival title), Black Leather (Sweden), U.S. 17 (working title)
Release Date: August 7th, 1981 (Locarno Film Festival)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Written by: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Music by: Robert Gordon
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Gordon, Marin Kanter, Danny Rosen, J. Don Ferguson

Pioneer Films, Atlantic Releasing, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You never can tell on a day like this – things could be goin’ jake one minute, then, presto – before you know it, you’re history.” – Vance (narration)

Man, oh, man… what a cool movie.

I can’t believe that I have waited this long to actually watch The Loveless, as it is Willem Dafoe’s first film, as well as the directorial debut of Kathryn Bigelow (alongside Monty Montgomery, who has done some really cool shit as well).

The film is essentially a character study of two people: Vance, a motorcycle riding ex-con, and Telena, a young girl from a very small town who has a horrible, abusive father. Things change for both Vance and Telena when they come in contact with one another and two people who feel like standard archetypes, evolve into very human and complex characters.

I guess what really made this film work is the subtlety of the storytelling. It didn’t need to spell everything out for you. It just played out and the emotions of the characters were pretty clear. Sadly, the film leaves you with an incredibly tragic ending but despite Vance appearing like a real shithead, you felt for him. You also really feel for Telena and her fate is a real punch to the gut.

In its simplest form, this is a movie about an ex-con biker gang that rolls into a small town, pisses off the townsfolk but refuses to budge or put up with their Podunk bullshit.

Dafoe’s Vance is a well layered character who you feel has something of real significance to offer the world but he is a victim of his own flaws that is uncompromising to his detriment.

His gang is mostly made up of actual shitheads but I liked Robert Gordon’s character and it was cool seeing him in this, as he’s a musician I have listened to for quite some time and he actually provided the music for this film.

If you are a fan of rockabilly music and the style, you’ll probably really enjoy this movie. It has a sort of punk edge to it, even though it takes place a few decades before punk rock was even a thing.

You can see where it was inspired by The Wild One, the classic bike film starring Marlon Brando. Yet this still has its own voice and stands strong on its own.

This picture also flows really well with Streets of Fire, where Dafoe plays another rockabilly biker that is a more despicable character than Vance in this film.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The Wild OneStreets of Fire and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

Film Review: Out of the Furnace (2013)

Also known as: Dust to Dust, The Low Dweller (both working titles)
Release Date: December 6th, 2013
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Music by: Dickon Hinchliffe
Cast: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoë Saldana, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower

Appian Way Productions, Scott Free Productions, Red Granite Pictures, Relativity Media, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Working for a living? I gave my life for this country and what’s it done for me? Huh? What’s it done for me?” – Rodney Baze Jr.

*written in 2014.

Out of the Furnace is produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio. It also stars Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower and Zoe Saldana. With all those names, one would expect a pretty compelling film. What I saw was actually a disappointment.

Written and directed by Scott Cooper, who did the highly acclaimed Crazy Heart, this film falls sort of flat.

In a nutshell, the film was a bit slow and it felt mostly uneventful and very predictable. Where there were good spots to build some serious tension, the ball was dropped. In fact, tension was nearly nonexistent except in quick instant doses where it appeared and ended within a short single scene. There was no build up, no real emotional investment to be made in the characters and it was a string of missed opportunities for a better story or at least a more layered story.

Part of the problem with the film, is that it is a revenge story where the victim being avenged was an unlikable prick and an idiot. I was more invested in seeing the evil asshole in the film get taken out over how he treated his date in the opening scene than what he did to the idiot prick.

The film’s climax, the big payoff for the revenge we’re supposed to be wanting, is pretty straightforward, there are no surprises and it plays out as expected and I felt no emotional pull in the end.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad film, it is just that I was expecting something of much better quality with all these people involved. It is slow, seemingly pointless and a forgettable film. Nothing sets it apart, nothing makes it special or memorable. It just simply exists, as a story of mostly unlikeable characters that no one will want to relate to.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.

Film Review: The Hunger (1983)

Release Date: April 29th, 1983 (US), May 10th, 1983 (Cannes)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Ivan Davis, Michael Thomas
Based on: The Hunger by Whitley Strieber
Music by: Howard Blake, Denny Jaeger, Michel Rubini
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, Beth Ehlers, Dan Hedaya, Willem Dafoe (bit part), Bauhaus

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll be back. You’ll be back. When the hunger hurts so much it knows no reason! Then you’ll need to feed. And then you need me to to show you how.” – Miriam Blaylock

The Hunger is pretty well regarded by vampire aficionados and a lot of the goth kids I knew in high school and in my twenties. It’s a pretty cool and interesting film and considering that it has David Bowie in it, there is already an added magical element that he brings to everything he does.

The main star of the film however is Catherine Deneuve, who plays the vampire Miriam Blaylock. This is a character that resonated with a lot of vampire fiction lovers and for good reason. She was different, as were the vampires of the film. Here, they are explained through science instead of being simple supernatural creatures that we just accept for the fantasy element surrounding their historical representation in fiction.

Also, this film deals with issues that weren’t really seen in vampire fiction at the time. Here, we see killers that have to deal with the challenge of finding their victims, dealing with dead bodies and having to keep their ancient secret on top of the stresses of modern life and better science.

Deneuve was convincing and stellar as Miriam and her scenes with Bowie, who played her aging mortal lover, as well as Susan Sarandon, the new apple of her eye, were all pretty damn good. The film is slow, at times, but its pacing kind of works to its advantage and really, it isn’t a very long film to begin with.

The style and cinematography have a very strong neo-noir aesthetic. I’m not sure if that was intentional but the narrative has a classic noir aspect to it, as well. There is a femme fatale, twists and turns, some lover trickery and heinous crimes being committed. Is there such a thing as a goth-noir?

The beginning of the film is heavily accented and the tone set by the performance of the band Bauhaus, who do their most recognizable hit “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. It’s a very fitting way to kick this film off, as it gives homage to the king of classic cinematic vampires while referencing his death and telling you that you are now getting into something new in vampire fiction.

I like The Hunger but not as much as its hardcore fans. I get and understand their appreciation for it but it is far from being the greatest cinematic representation of vampires. Maybe in 1983 it was a refreshing take but I’d much rather watch Neil Jordan’s Interview With A Vampire, which I feel has been more influential on vampire cinema, fiction and culture.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Interview With a Vampire and for Bowie fans: The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Film Review: The Florida Project (2017)

Release Date: May 22nd, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

Cre Film, Freestyle Picture Company, Cinereach, June Pictures, A24, 115 Minutes

Review:

“Excuse me. Could you give us some change, please? The doctor said we have asthma and we have to eat ice cream right away. ” – Moonee

The Florida Project was a motion picture that I wanted to see since I first saw a trailer several months back, around the time it was playing at Cannes. Growing up in Florida, it was something that definitely felt relatable. Plus, Willem Dafoe’s performance was being heralded as his best ever. Considering Dafoe’s long list of amazing films, that’s a pretty bold statement.

To put it as bluntly as possible, this is the best film that I have seen so far in 2017. From my standpoint, I have more of an invested interest in it, as it correlates with not only taking place where I grew up but also with some personal stuff in my own life.

I’ve grown up around people like this. I have people like this in my family. Hell, the hotel where these people live is like every hotel I bought and did drugs in when I was in my teens and twenties. I’ve known girls like Halley. I’ve dated girls like Halley. I actually have a cousin who is similar to her, just switch out the prostitution part for drugs. Her son now lives with his grandmother, as my cousin is in and out of jail, rehab and back and forth between drugs and sobriety. But every step of the way, I have seen these scenarios pan out, time and time again.

If a film can be too real, this is it. Sean Baker wrote and directed a masterpiece in regards to its subject matter. This feels authentic and seeing everything pan out the way that it does, mostly from a child’s point-of-view, is heartbreaking. The fact that a lot of what you see is spontaneous and often times off script, gives The Florida Project a documentary feel, especially in regards to the kids and their banter.

I’ll get to Dafoe’s performance in a minute but the real show stealer here is the six year-old Moonee, played by Brooklynn Prince, who most assuredly deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance here. I have not seen a child resonate on screen like Prince in a very long time. She delivers her lines like a veteran and has a presence that transcends the 35mm celluloid that she was captured on. Her final moments are like an emotional punch to the gut. She is the glue that holds everything else in this picture together, as well as the heart and soul of the story.

Willem Dafoe was perfect as Bobby, the manager of the hotel that most of the characters live in. Dafoe is perfect in everything though but here, he truly represents us, the audience. He is the compassionate eyes and ears, a good person that has to seemingly carry the weight of the world on his shoulders but puts himself out in front because his heart aches for these characters, specifically Halley and Moonee. He’s an everyday blue collar guy that can’t help himself from trying to put a Band-aid on the world where he can. Dafoe doesn’t even have to say much because we know that he’s thinking what we are thinking and he’s able to convey it through his subtle facial expressions and body language. He’s the underappreciated hero of the film but has to deal with the weight that he can’t save these people at the end of the day.

Bria Vinaite has never acted before this. She really was Halley, though. Everything about her performance felt completely genuine. She constantly made poor decisions but you couldn’t not feel for her. Like Bobby, you wanted to help lift her up and show her that there is a better way to live. But helplessness and hopelessness are incredibly hard things to overcome. And the situation in which these people find themselves in, is not an easy one. When you’re pushed against a wall, it’s hard not to slip or to do bad things to make a quick buck. For Halley, the gravity of her situation prevented her from seeing the bigger picture. Vinaite took what could have easily become an unlikable and despicable character and gave her a real sense of humanity and an energetic spirit. After all, she’s just an incredibly young girl, lost in the world and borderline homeless, trying to raise a daughter.

The Florida Project is also impeccably shot. To me, it feels like a beautiful homage to the state I grew up in and have lived in my entire life. It highlights a lot of the bizarre places, shops and other things that you will find around Disney World. It really shows everything that is just outside of the Magic Kingdom, in the real world, that most people outside of Florida don’t even know about. It’s amazing to me how this film captures the darker side of things that are hiding in plain sight, obscured by the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle.

In a certain regard, the picture parallels how Sean Baker used Hollywood in his 2015 film Tangerine. The environment really becomes a character in the film and its uniqueness gives it an otherworldly fantastical feel that sort of offsets the harsh realism of what’s really happening to Baker’s characters. This isn’t an easy film to sit through, emotionally speaking, but the film’s atmosphere and its young characters give you a sense of optimism and joy.

Sean Baker really knows how to write and film people. This film is truly a treasure and showcases this talented director’s skill and his great sense and understanding of humanity. I haven’t seen a new film this good in quite awhile. I hope that when award season rolls around, this is getting some serious buzz.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Murder On the Orient Express (2017)

Release Date: November 2nd, 2017 (Royal Albert Hall premiere)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Michael Green
Based on: Murder On the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Music by: Patrick Doyle
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman

Kinberg Genre, The Mark Gordon Company, Scott Free Productions, 20th Century Fox, 114 Minutes

Review:

“My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world. ” – Hercule Poirot

Anytime that Kenneth Branagh is working on something, I am interested. Not everything he does is great but he puts his own spin and personal touch into every picture. So when I heard that he would be taking on the role of Hercule Poirot, I got enthused about this project. When I saw the rest of the cast that was attached to this, that enthusiasm became excitement.

I guess I was most excited about seeing Branagh come together with Johnny Depp but Depp plays Mr. Ratchett and is therefore, the murder victim. Depp does an amazing job, especially in his scene opposite Branagh, but he is in the picture and then leaves pretty quickly.

The cast is pretty star studded, boasting the talents of Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz and others. Everyone pulls their weight well and this whodunit mystery is well played from every angle.

Being that the majority of this film takes place in pretty close confines and that it never gets visually stale is due to the luxuriousness of the sets and the surrounding outside geography. Ultimately, the real props go to the cinematographer and the director for capturing such an enchanting environment.

The story is pretty good and for the most part, follows the book with a few new embellishments. While I haven’t read the book, I did look into its plot and wanted to see if this film had the same ending. It mostly does. But having not read the book, I found the mystery fairly easy to figure out. And there just wasn’t anything all that surprising.

To be completely honest, I did like the movie. I really loved Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot. However, it was mostly just an entertaining mystery that was good to kill a few hours. It’s not too memorable, other than the cool ensemble. It’s also a much tamer picture than I felt it should be. Sure, a guy dies a horrible and violent death but the film sort of dismisses the actual brutality of it all.

The end of the film teases that Poirot is heading to the Nile, which is a reference to the Agatha Christie novel Death On the Nile, another Hercule Poirot tale and possibly a future sequel to this film. I would watch another one, for the record.

Rating: 7.5/10