Film Review: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Also known as: 3 (trailer title)
Release Date: April 3rd, 2007 (Uruguay)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Baker, Elya Baskin, James Cromwell, Willem Dafoe (cameo), Cliff Robertson (cameo), Joe Manganiello (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 139 Minutes, 137 Minutes (Editor’s Cut)

Review:

“Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself. It’s the choices that make us who we are, and we can always choose to do what’s right.” – Peter Parker

While this wasn’t as bad as I remembered, there are still some things that are very off about this picture.

Starting with a positive, I do like the visual tone of this film the best out of the trilogy. It abandoned that overly copper, sunset look the other ones had and most of the film takes place at night or in normal daylight.

However, the improvements in the visual look are overshadowed by the film’s very shoddy CGI effects. It’s kind of baffling but this is the worst looking film of the three when it comes to digital effects. I’m not sure if the studio cut some corners or were rushed but most action heavy CGI sequences looked like a video game. It was distracting and pulled you out of the magic.

I think it’s possible that they overextended themselves in trying to include both Venom and The Sandman, as it’s damn near impossible to create those characters, in all their glory, without the use of CGI. In fact, their battles in the film needed to be larger than life spectacles.

Now the problem isn’t the use of either villain but it’s the use of both of them at the same time. Plus, Harry Osborn also becomes the new Green Goblin.

This picture suffers across the board because trying to wedge in three villains just didn’t work from a narrative standpoint and it forced the effects artists to focus their efforts into multiple effects heavy characters.

Now the film did a superb job with The Sandman’s story and if this movie just focused on him, it could’ve actually been incredible. The Sandman gets thrown to the side at multiple points throughout the movie though, as they then have to rush through Venom’s origin in the most half-assed way possible. Then they have to deal with Harry and his Goblin thing, Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship issues, introducing Gwen Stacy and even having Peter turn into an emo douche because I guess that’s what the Venom symbiote does in the movie universe.

The narrative is disjointed as hell but where it’s good, it’s great. But every time you really get into a portion of the story, it shifts gears or throws something stupid at you. The misfires and shifts are pretty maddening, especially when there are things in the film that work and come across as spectacular. It’s like you can see the real love for these characters rise up like cream to the top but then the filmmakers stir the coffee again. By the third act, they just keep throwing hot coffee in your face.

In a nutshell, this is a clusterfuck but it’s a clusterfuck that has greatness in it. I still like the movie despite its massive flaws and for fans of Harry Osborn, his journey comes to a beautiful end. With it, the film hits you right in the feels, as you feel the pain that Peter and Mary Jane share over the loss of their dear friend and how wrecked their own relationship has become.

The film does leave you with some hope but the ending is still kind of a downer. Granted, they planned a followup (or three) to this film but those movies never happened.

In the end, this movie was a weird end to the film series. I know it wasn’t intended to be the send off for these characters but it left the film series in a strange, uncertain place. I would’ve liked to have seen this cast get to make at least one more picture but that ship has sailed.

Maybe a comic book sequel could work but with the comic industry being in the shitter, waiting to be flushed, that’s probably wishful thinking. Plus, they’ve already rebooted the film series twice since this came out.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Also known as: Spider-Man: No More, Spider-Man 2: Lives, The Amazing Spider-Man (working title), Spider-Man 2.1 (recut version)
Release Date: June 25th, 2004 (Lithuania)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Alvin Sargent, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Alfred Molina, Donna Murphy, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Baker, Daniel Gillies, Vanessa Ferlito, Elya Baskin, Hal Sparks, Joel McHale, Emily Deschanel, Joey Diaz, Chloe Dykstra, John Landis (cameo), Willem Dafoe (cameo), Cliff Robertson (cameo), Phil LaMarr (uncredited), Peyton List (uncredited)

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 127 Minutes, 135 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“We need a hero, couragous sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero, people line up for ’em, cheer for them, scream their names, and years later tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who told them to HOLD ON a second longer. I believe theres a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble. And finally gets us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want most, even our dreams.” – May Parker

I always thought of Spider-Man 2 as the superior film between the first two. However, having revisited them for the first time in over a decade, I think they break even. And that’s a good thing, as the first was a wee bit better than I remembered and this one was just about the same.

I like the story and the stakes in the first one better but this film has what I consider to be one of the greatest moments in superhero film history, if not the greatest.

That moment comes at the end of the train battle where Spider-Man exposes himself to the people on the train while he is risking his own life to save them from a horrible death. Those people, in a very powerful moment, stand up for Spidey and vow to protect his identity. Shit gets me misty… every fucking time.

The rest of the film is pretty great too and while I get bored with there being a lot of romance in superhero films, Sam Raimi did a stupendous job with these pictures, as he truly captures the emotions and the heartbreak of the characters, showing both sides of the equation equally and fairly.

A lot of the credit also has to go to Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who played these roles greatly while also having incredible chemistry. Sure, their story gets a bit fucked up in the third film but I’ll review that one in about a week.

Another thing I like about the film is how Raimi foreshadows things to come. Spider-Man is exposed to the public, which sort of foreshadows his identity becoming known to his love Mary Jane and his best friend Harry Osborn, who has vowed to get revenge on Spider-Man for the accidental death of his father.

It also foreshadows stories to come after this film by including Dr. Curt Connors, the man who would become The Lizard, as well as J. Jonah Jameson’s son, who would become Man-Wolf. Granted, Raimi never got to explore these characters more, as Spider-Man 4 and the films following it were eventually cancelled after the third movie misfired pretty hard.

It also felt like the groundwork was being laid for a Sinister Six story, which would become a focal point of The Amazing Spider-Man films that followed but that series was also cancelled in favor of another reboot that brought Spidey into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe via Captain America: Civil War and his own solo films and guest appearances that followed.

Anyway, getting back on the topic of this film, my only real criticisms of it are the same as the previous one and that’s the visual style of it and how it looks overly copper. Granted, that feels like it is less of a problem here and the visual aesthetic was a bit more fine tuned and natural looking.

Apart from that, I just don’t like Dr. Octopus as much as I liked the Green Goblin. Both characters had weird designs and outfits in these movies but with the films being so good, you quickly look passed that. But Octopus feels kind of generic and uninspiring. While I like Alfred Molina in the role, I felt like he needed more meat to chew on and a much better look. In the end, however, you do really sympathize with him when he realizes what he’s done and decides to undo his work in an effort to save New York City and redeem himself in the eyes of Peter Parker, a kid he likes and respects.

Wrapping up two movies, this picture has an absolutely perfect ending. If the series ended here, it probably would’ve been remembered even more fondly but we did get that third film that derailed everything and it sort of left a stink on top of the series. Plus, after this, it would’ve felt almost criminal not to continue on.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: Spider-Man (2002)

Also known as: Spider-Man: The Motion Picture (working title)
Release Date: April 30th, 2002 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Randy Savage, Octavia Spencer, Macy Gray, Lucy Lawless, Jim Norton

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben

Spider-Man blew my mind when it came out in 2002, as the vast majority of comic book movies before it were terrible. Also, Marvel didn’t have a good track record up to this point, other than 2000’s X-Men, which was just one movie that seemed to have taken a step in the right direction.

Sam Raimi made magic, however, and seeing this for the first time in a very long time, I’ve got to say that the magic is still there. Frankly, I loved this movie in 2002 and I love it now in 2020.

Side note: how the hell is this 18 years-old already?

From top to bottom, this is a solid picture. Sure, I have some issues with the creative direction but it achieved what it set out to do, which was to tell a great origin story, close to the source material, and to entertain and give fans something spectacular.

On top of that, it’s well acted, everyone plays their parts well and even if Tobey Maguire wasn’t 100 percent perfect as Spider-Man or Peter Parker, it’s hard not to love him and become invested in his journey. I’m from the camp that really liked Tobey Maguire and I still think he’s the best live-action Spider-Man, overall.

I also thought that Willem Dafoe was genius casting as Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin. While I’m not a fan of the Goblin’s suit in the movie, as a character, his was pretty close to perfect. It actually kind of sucks that they only really got to use him in one film but the story that emerged from his demise makes up for it, as these movies become just as much about Harry Osborn’s journey, as they are Peter Parker’s.

This is just so well crafted and executed that it set the bar really high for the series. It would actually be eclipsed by the second movie, which I once considered a near masterpiece. We’ll see how I still feel about it in another week or so. Let’s try not to talk about the third film until I review that one. I have a feeling that time did it some favors in spite of its creative misfires.

Anyway, the emotional high points of this movie still hit me right in the feels and regardless of having seen this multiple times, it’s all still very effective. The Uncle Ben stuff really feels like a punch to the gut, even if you know it’s coming and you’ve already experienced it.

Apart from the Goblin costume, my only real gripe about the movie is the overly copper look to it. It’s not terrible but I’m not a fan of everything sort of looking like it was shot at sunset, excluding the night scenes. This just feels really filtered and overly vivid. It’s an obvious creative choice but it’s not one that makes the visual presentation look more like the comics. Well, maybe the comics of the time but it kind of detracts from what could’ve been a more colorful, more cheerful look to the film, more akin to the classic artwork and tone of Steve Ditko.

One thing that really stood out to me quite a bit was Danny Elfman’s score. What happened to movie scores? There really aren’t very many that are that memorable in modern times and this one just really points that out, as it’s dynamic, energetic, fun and I’d say, by this point, iconic. While it’s not on the level of Elfman’s Batman scores, it feels more refined and complex and it doesn’t come off as derivative of his older work, which some of his scores do.

Spider-Man still is one of the best superhero movies ever made. I think it’ll maintain that status forever, as it helped push Marvel properties down the right cinematic path and it exceeded 2000’s X-Men by quite a bit.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: John Carter (2012)

Also known as: John Carter of Mars, A Princess of Mars, Barsoom (working titles)
Release Date: February 22nd, 2012 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
Based on: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Haden Church, David Schwimmer, Jon Favreau

Walt Disney Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Did I not tell you he could jump!” – Tars Tarkas

I got to be honest, I didn’t think I’d get much out of this film but I was pleasantly surprised.

I never planned to watch it but I recently started reading Dynamite Entertainment’s comic book adaptations of the Barsoom stuff (titled Warlord of Mars) and I wanted to see how similar the comic book version of A Princess of Mars was to this film, a live action version of the same story.

They were pretty close, for the most part. Having never read the novel though, I’m not sure which is closer to the source material. I’d assume the comic though, as Disney loves to put their own stamp on their adaptations.

This is an action packed, epic adventure story. It’s grand in scale, is a hell of a lot of fun and is basically a swashbuckling romp on Mars. It’s like if you merged Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies together and then threw them into outer space.

This was also one of the most expensive movies ever made but completely flopped at the box office and has become one of Disney’s biggest failures. The sad thing is that it wasn’t shit and the film did a fantastic job of world building: setting up future sequels. Honestly, having seen this now, I wish it would have evolved into a franchise.

I thought that Taylor Kitsch was convincing as John Carter and his chemistry with Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris was pretty good. But I actually preferred his relationship with his badass Martian dog, Woola. I smiled every time this cosmic canine was on the screen.

Plus, the Michael Giacchino score is superb. I loved the themes in this picture.

My only real complaint about the movie is that I didn’t like some of the character design. I’m not sure how true to the books the look of the Martians was but I preferred the bulkier, heavyset versions in the comics, as opposed to these skinny ones in the film. Still, the actors that played the Martians (primarily Willem Dafoe) did a solid job.

Additionally, the CGI was questionable in the quality of the characters. The special effects work great for the ships, vehicles, landscapes and architecture but the living, breathing characters felt artificial. And that’s kind of baffling considering the immense budget of this top tier motion picture.

None of the flaws are enough to distract you though. The total package is good and I enjoyed it enough to not want to nitpick the shit out of certain things that don’t wreck the film.

I hope that this being a massive flop won’t deter future filmmakers from taking on the Barsoom material. John Carter is a worthy enough character to live on in various forms forever. I just hope that someone can eventually make something that the people want to see because the Barsoom mythos is rich and deserving of further adaptations.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy films and Aquaman.

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