My Post-Apocalyptic Life

The world has ended, but movies and games live on.

Power Rangers.

It broke the scale of quality.

I was a huge fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as a kid. My best friend and I would watch the show and movie every day without fail. Their sense of justice, excessive use of puns, colourful character designs, and terrible fight choreography were perfect for our overactive imaginations. We would come up with our own monsters, fight over who got to be the Green Ranger, and recreate all of the battles in our backyards. Looking back at both the original television series and the 1995 tie-in movie, it is easy to see that they are not well made, and yet, there is something so good about something so bad. Over the years, we would go back and watch them for a heaping dose of nostalgia, and to laugh at how we ever thought these characters were cool. I mean, just look at the opening scene of that original movie. The Power Rangers skydive out of a plane, one of whom was on a snowboard, and upon landing, they grab their rollerblades and skate home, all the while doing gnarly tricks. Is there any purpose to this scene? Absolutely not, but it definitely ratchets up that “cool” factor. It may have had something to do with my desire to go skydiving myself, even well into my 20’s. The Power Rangers were a product of their time, and yet, when I heard that Saban was rebooting the franchise with a blockbuster movie, I was beyond excited. Maybe not to the degree that I was for Star Wars being brought back, or every Edgar Wright movie ever, but I was there in my Power Rangers t-shirt with a big grin on my face when I entered the theatre. And then it began.

Power Rangers is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I say that without hesitation. It is for this reason that I have watched it countless times. There are so many different aspects of this film that are just wrong, that they begin to seem right. There are glaring issues such as bad acting, and then there are less obvious issues, such as an over abundance of canted angles that leave the viewer feeling like they are watching a directorial debut of a film school horror director. Every time that I watched the film I began to notice new problems and they just made me want to watch it more. I started showing it to other people, and then to larger and larger groups. I had screening parties of the film where we would make fun of the movie in a manner not dissimilar to those of The Room, or other cult classics. Drinking games were made, popcorn was thrown, and we were able to quote the movie endlessly. So while I am about to break down everything wrong with the film, know that I enjoy it thoroughly every time. Simply put, it is a lot of fun to see something this awful.

The movie suffers from an identity crisis. It is simultaneously trying to be edgy and attempting to recapture the over-the-top antics of the original series. From the opening moments, the washed out colour palette introduces us to the new grittier version of Angel Grove. The writers also appear to want to take the franchise in a more mature direction, or should I say, adult direction. As they introduce Jason, the lead character of the film, they do so with a joke about performing sexual acts on a cow. This is not the only joke that would never fly in a children’s show. They constantly feel the need to push what can be said in a PG-13 movie. Which begs the question: who is this movie aimed at? Was I the target demographic at the time of release, a 20-something adult with fond memories of a show? You don’t build franchises off of young adults. I wasn’t going to be the one buying the toys, I didn’t have the money to see it multiple times, and I was already too old to be finding the lewd humour both tame and lazy. Even if I had been the audience they were going after, there were far too many moments that simply felt too kid-oriented. The movie was released in a post-Marvel cinematic world. Those movies managed to balance humour and nostalgia for both adults and children, while being effortlessly cool for anyone who had enjoyed the comics, new or old. So the movie is confused. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. Luckily, the problems don’t end there.

The Pink Ranger was probably my first crush. Before I matured and found my new love, Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Kimberly Hart was where my little heart was at. She was a totally badass teenager with a heart of gold. The other Rangers were no slouch either though. I used to tell people as a kid that my middle name was Jason (it wasn’t) because the Red Ranger was just that amazing. Billy made science and math seem cool, and as a kid who wasn’t exactly the most popular at school for his interest in all things Star Wars and space related, that was encouraging. Zach was hilarious, always providing a pun when times were most dire. Of course, no one can forget Trini, the Ranger most likely to perform a high kick while taking on five bad guys. Here those characters are portrayed with much darker pasts. No longer are these the justice warriors that are eager to take on any evil. These are reluctant heroes, more concerned with their own problems than those of others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I actually enjoyed that they fleshed each character out, spending time with each to raise the stakes when they inevitably find themselves in trouble. With that said, the acting is hilariously bad at times, especially in moments of heightened drama. In one key scene, the five teens are opening up to each other around a campfire, telling tragic stories in their lives, but I found myself audibly laughing every time Zach opened his mouth. Their dialogue didn’t exactly help either. Certain elements were bound to be carried over from the show that were going to be a little ridiculous. When the main antagonist’s name is Rita Repulsa, you have to expect a bit of cheese with your drama, but the script is so often trying to be edgy and funny at the same time that it can never find the balance necessary. I genuinely enjoyed Billy as a character in the film, but the guy has some of the least realistic dialogue ever put to paper. No one speaks like that, and the film is all the more quotable because of it. Just wait for when he comes up with the name for when their Zords connect.

I wasn’t familiar with director Dean Israelite coming into the film, but I have become well acquainted with his style after Power Rangers. The director has a fondness for overly complicated camera movements that have nothing to do with what is happening on screen. The characters are walking into a different room, let’s have the camera flip upside down to follow them! Jason is driving up to the high school, let’s angle the camera at 45 degrees to make it more dramatic! The Rangers put on their costumes for the first time, cue the Stranger Things music and have them walk in slow motion! There seems to be no reasoning for the movements other than to look cool. Yet, when it comes time to have the Rangers actually fight enemies and get into their Zords, that style is sorely lacking. By the end of the film though, you’ll be very familiar with what a suplex is! The movie is about 90% build up, and 10% action, which I am actually totally ok with given that this is as much an ensemble piece as it is an action movie. It’s just too bad that the fighting is easily the most boring part of the film. If it wasn’t for the ridiculous reaction shots from the five protagonists, it would be worth skipping the entire 10 minute fight scene. Seeing these beautiful CW channel looking teenagers sweating profusely and screaming incoherently is definitely worth sticking around for.

If you happen to watch the original television series before getting to this movie, don’t worry, there are plenty of easter eggs. Whether small, such as a key Rita reference at the end, or large, with original cast members making an appearance or Alpha 5 saying a key catchphrase, they are welcome additions. Even at its worst, it is clear that everyone involved with the project was having a lot of fun. Famed actors Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks have extended roles, and both give the appropriate amount of gusto for the roles. Cliched moments are abundant, and each one outdoes the last.

Give this film a watch, but do so with as many people as you can gather. I realize that may not be possible given the time we live in. I personally haven’t seen anyone since I saw that woman last year, but my hope is that you will discover this place amongst a group who can enjoy its offerings. I’m sure that you will have just as much fun as I did.

Oh, and whatever Krispy Kreme paid to be put in this movie, it was well worth it. The entire plot revolves around the restaurant, and when even the villain takes time out during the key battle to enjoy a donut, you are clearly doing something right. I really want a donut now.

3 out of 5 stars.

CB

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John Wick: Chapter 2

Bullet ballet.

There is nothing beautiful about violence in real life. The crunch of of a bone being broken sounds nothing like celery being twisted in real life. It is deafening in a way that I can only describe as stomach-churning. A knife cutting into skin isn’t smooth. It sinks deep, bringing about blood of a deep crimson, knowing it has ended a life. I have left behind the life on the run that led me to know these images all too well. For this reason, I have avoided overtly violent films, and those that I watched that had needless violence put me off. Now that I have had time, now that I have had space, I felt it was time to try once again to find beauty in the bleak. The film I chose was both visceral and beautiful, using style to turn ferocity into art.

John Wick: Chapter 2 continues the elegant and intelligent action-thriller sensibilities of the first film in the series. Combining dynamic action sequences with remarkable characters and deep lore, Chapter 2 takes what worked for its predecessor and expands on it, without ever feeling as if it is overextending itself. Often sequels go by the idea that bigger is better, and this film certainly does expand in several areas, but it also keeps the straightforward narrative and intense focus that created the tension of the first film. John Wick is one of the best action series of the 2010’s, only competing with The Raid in terms of pure moment to moment brutality. It tops the aforementioned series in creating a rich world with ample areas to explore, and as we see with this sequel, the filmmakers were unafraid to take the story in directions that the audience is unlikely to see coming.

The story of Chapter 2 isn’t quite as direct as the first film, which both works for and against it. Taking place in the immediate aftermath of the original, John finds himself caught between retirement and the world that he had left behind. When his hand is forced to carry out an assassination, he finds that old friends have become enemies, and he may just be in over his head. The set up is elegant, showing his inner conflict between wanting to be the man his late wife would have wanted him to be, and being the man everyone knows him to be. Though it may not have the pure passion of revenge that the first film used to great effect, it still manages to find inherent drama in all of the relationships between John and those in his world. The characters that populate the world are richly developed, with sharp exchanges, implying history that reaches well into John’s past. Of particular interest are the manager of The Continental, Winston, as well as John’s target Gianna D’Antonio. They are powerful figures, and you feel the weight of their status within the world. The only character who doesn’t work as well is that of actress Ruby Rose, Ares. Rose plays a silent character, and has certainly perfected her menacing grimace, but her physical presence isn’t intimidating given that she has little in the way of action, despite playing the main bodyguard to the film’s antagonist. In a film such as John Wick, you expect a character in her position to hold her own, not just order others around, seeing as how her boss already does that. Her acting is perfectly adequate, it is just a bit disappointing that her character wasn’t given more to do. Otherwise, the cast is excellent, both in their performances and their writing. Once again, John is played with sophistication and a cold yet caring demeanour by Keanu Reeves. He makes playing the world’s toughest assassin look easy, and has fun doing it.

The film itself is exceptionally well made. Strong direction once again by Chad Stahelski frames the action beautifully, but he also isn’t afraid to slow the film down for important moments, using creative editing to keep the pace up, even in dialogue heavy scenes. The lavish sets are used in stark contrast to the blood splattered fight sequences. An interesting choice with the series has been to largely use diegetic music, whether the setting be a concert, party or club, the intensity is heightened even further due to great use of music that feels natural in the moment. This is taken to the next level when there is a distinct lack of music during fight sequences, focusing on the brutal sounds of fists meeting flesh, and the heavy grunts of two men fighting with their lives on the line. Chapter 2  combines realistic outdoor lighting with heavily stylized blues and purples during intense scenes to expand upon the already stylish first chapter. The films feel like two parts of a whole, cohesive instead of distinct. The film truly feels like a ballet in its choreography, all while dishing out thrills painted in red.

If you haven’t already, take the time to watch the first John Wick. If the sophisticated action sequences don’t win you over, then the rich lore and characters certainly will. Chapter 2 is more of what made the first one so successful, and the ending left me eager for more.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

CB

Moonlight and La La Land.

Fighting the intolerant world with love.

When I think of why the year of 2016 draws me back so often, the obvious answer is that it was the beginning of the end. It was a year dominated by a world divided, one that struck those down that dared to stand up. Politically, racially, economically, the world had reverted back to a time most thought was long past. Yet, in the response to all of this, the people began to fight back in any way they knew how. For me though, the year was one that revolved around one main idea: love. While many aimed to divide us, the artists fought back with acceptance, with warmth and love in all forms. I have already spoken about Arrival and its approach to a genre generally associated with violence, but all of my ten favourite films from 2016 revolved around love. Two of the best deserve to be noted, for they told stories that stick with me still to this day.

Moonlight was more than just important for the time that it came out, it was essential. The story of a gay black man trying to find his place in a world that appeared to hate him, resonated with me in a way that I could never have predicted. The universality of our search for love and acceptance, the harshness of a coming-of-age story so real that I had to resist the urge to look away, Moonlight left me with hope when it could have left scars.

La La Land was hard to ignore because of the amount of attention that it was getting on the awards circuit, but it was one that deserved every bit of praise that it received. It presented a modern day musical that was every bit as magical as the movies that inspired it. Its unrelenting optimism shone through in a time that had very little.

While Moonlight and La La Land share very little at first glance, it is their outlook on the world that brings them together, and why the two of them are remembered today. Moonlight is as real as any film that I have experienced. The film features performances that one would never know were performances at all. I forgot altogether that I was watching a film, instead I was living the life of Chiron alongside him. As a straight white male, this may seem rather disillusioned. I am not assuming that I can understand the struggles that the characters in the film faced as though I had faced similar struggles myself, but writer and director, Barry Jenkins, did such a fantastic job at portraying these moments in time, that in that theatre, I was there with them. The film follows Chiron through three points in his life. When he was just a boy, he was known as Little, as a teenager he was Chiron, and as an adult he was Black. We come to understand not only who he is, but why he was these different versions of himself and what made him tick. It is not an easy film to watch. Chiron, and the other characters around him, especially his friend Kevin, and his mentor, Juan, are so likeable, relatable and genuinely portrayed, that any action against them is felt deeply and painfully. There is plenty of pain to be felt, as Chiron’s life is not an easy one, but through that pain we also find hope. The moments of joy are louder than any hate, something that I would like to believe to be universally true. The three acts of the film are very distinct, and the second is one of the greatest pieces of storytelling that I have ever witnessed, as it cut right to my core. Moonlight is a realistic drama, with an all black cast, and a story that is completely universal, shouting love from the rooftops for all to hear.

Whereas Moonlight is grounded in reality, La La Land is one large dream picture. From the colour palette to the lighting, staging and direction, the film is begging to whisk the viewer away from the harsh world around them, escape to Hollywood and lose oneself in the love story of two people who were bound for each other. I would be lying if I said that the film had me hooked right away. The first two numbers were filled with spectacle, dazzling visuals and joyous tunes, but they didn’t convey emotion in the same way that traditional musicals have. By the time that the two leads had their first dance together though, I was completely hooked. This was a story about one thing: love. Sebastian’s love for jazz, their shared love of Hollywood, their love for each other, the list goes on. After the first two songs, the music was incredibly emotional, using mostly instrumental pieces, cutting directly to my core. Of course, the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was phenomenal, allowing us to relate to both of them, despite their inhuman good looks and talent. The film is filled with wonder, and yet, when it comes down to it, director Damien Chazelle has an understanding of what is real and what isn’t. That doesn’t stop his film from being filled with optimism even in its darkest moments. The film was magical and everything I wanted out of a romantic tale.

The visuals were stunning, the writing succinct and beautiful, the emotions rich and poignant. Both films are filled with delights even in the darkest of times, stirring emotions inside of me that I didn’t know I had. I related heavily to their characters. I came out of the theatre from both feeling overwhelmed, yet safe, knowing that there was still genuine love in the world.

I encourage you to seek out both of these films, knowing that you can rest assured that there will always be some good in the world. I know that I need that now more than ever.

Moonlight and La La Land – 5 out of 5 stars.

CB

Arrival.

Solicitude.

On the Nature of Daylight by Max Richter. Opening with a song as emotional as this is a risk. You are then faced with the challenge of delivering upon that initial promise. Arrival is one of the few films that I can say not only lived up to its opening moments, but exceeded them. Director Denis Villeneuve not only finds meaning in the abstract, but serves up genuine emotion in a script that is not simplified for the lowest common denominator. Arrival was the film that 2016 needed, to find hope in the darkness and love for the lost.

I was genuinely surprised back when the film came out that it was received as well as it was by audiences. The idea of an alien arrival film where there are no action sequences and very little in the way of spectacle seemed foreign at the time. The film was purposeful in its pacing and messaging, both of which went against most of what was taking place in the world at the time. Yet, here was a film that was happy to against our perceptions of what it should be and deliver a product that was wholly original and fierce in its depiction of optimism.

Arrival follows Dr. Louise Banks, a leading linguist expert who is taken away from her ordinary life when mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe. Their purpose is unknown, so it is up to Dr. Banks, along with a small team of other experts, to find out why they have come and what they want. It is a race against time, as other countries also attempt to come to terms with this new presence, with violent action inching ever closer.

This is not an escapist film. Director Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer had a very specific vision in mind, often dangling important information or ideas just out of our reach, asking us to invest in the film in a way that most Hollywood blockbusters would not. For the first hour I was intrigued, enjoying the beautiful visuals, the strong characters and unusual take on a well worn premise, but it was basically playing out what the trailers had set out. It wasn’t until the second half, when the simple plot elements of linguistics, romance, political tensions and even the reality that has been set before us, are turned upside down. The side stories, the seemingly unnecessary flashbacks, the small moments of glances and innocuous dialogue come back, and we realize that everything that has been set before us not only had a purpose, but they are part of a much larger picture. This is possibly one of the most elegant and, dare I say it, near perfect, scripts that I have been witness to.

This is Amy Adam’s ship. She commands the screen in an understated, but powerful performance, one which stands as a favourite of mine in her long and incredible career full of brave choices. The entire cast do an admirable job, but the interplay between Adam’s and Jeremy Renner showcases their talents like few other films have. It takes an incredibly intelligent and emotionally aware actor to be able to show a range of emotions in this way. Villeneuve never takes the easy approach, always allowing his script and the subtle moments to tell the story, instead of using larger moments and direction to tell us how to feel.

I stand by my claim that Denis Villeneuve is the modern master of tension. He finds intensity and impact in the smallest moments. The most innocent of conversations are filled with meaning, and dread under his hand. We never know what is to come, but we are always in touch with how he wishes us to feel. When he did ask us to journey with him once again with On the Nature of Daylight, the emotion felt earned. I was drawn in. The film didn’t need to make me feel betrayed or angry to feel something powerful. So often directors need to toy with our emotions to have us leave the theatre and still be reflecting on the impact days later. Here, I felt something so real, so incredibly real, that I am reflecting upon it so that I can once again feel that first connection once again.

Arrival is beautiful. It is grand, with sweeping visuals, strong design and excellent direction. It has strong music choices, excellent performances and a script that is sure to lead you somewhere that you didn’t know you wanted to go, but you will be thankful that it did. This is a slow film, deliberately paced so that you don’t feel left behind when everything comes together, but if you aren’t on the edge of your seat, I’m not sure what will put you there. This is a film that everyone should see. It came out in a time of intolerance, but it is unafraid of leading us down the path of acceptance and understanding.

I have arrived. I understand.

5 out of 5 stars.

CB

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

Optical allure.

There was a time when video game based movies were all terrible. Not merely not well made, they were all downright awful. From the famous examples of the Super Mario Bros. film and the many projects by Uwe Boll, to the high budget adaptations of Prince of Persia and Warcraft, all of the films failed at producing a reason as to why video games should be transported to the big screen. For a long time, I was actually against the idea of video game adaptations. It was my belief, as many others before me have written, that video games worked as their own medium and didn’t need to be translated to film to be validated as an art form. In many ways, I still believe this to be true. However, video game movies don’t have to be adaptations of the stories that have already been told, they can be supplementary pieces, for times when we don’t feel like engaging in gameplay, we just want to sit back, relax and be drawn into the worlds that we love.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV was a film that wasn’t received well by critics, but one that I found to be fascinating. The film wasn’t aimed at the general public, it wasn’t meant to be the film that would change the opinions of those that stood against video game adaptations. This was a film that was made for fans of the series, those who wanted to spend more time in the world of FFXV. It was a companion piece. However, for me, this was the first evidence that video game movies could work, not only be decent, but actually become pieces worth investing time in. Kingsglaive wasn’t just the best video game movie made to date, it was actually good.

The first thing one notices about the film is just how beautiful it is. The animation is stunning, striking a fine balance between realism and fantasy, one of the Final Fantasy‘s strong suits. The character models were some of the most detailed that I had ever seen up to that point, but the world itself is truly a sight to behold even today. The architecture alone begs for repeated viewings just to catch extra details. I was worried about the uncanny valley effect that previous animation efforts by Square Enix, the publisher of Final Fantasy, had with their characters, but the characters felt real, to the point where I would have forgotten that I was watching an animated feature had it not been so visually enthralling. Thanks to some strong direction, every frame of this film is filled from edge to edge with interesting pieces, always drawing your eye to something new, while never taking away from the story. This is by far the films strongest attribute, but visuals alone do not make a great film, and past that, the film falters.

I said that the film is good, and I truly believe that it is, but it isn’t great. There is a large difference there. While the visuals are astonishing, the sound is a little more hit and miss. The sound design is spectacular, further fleshing out the world, with fitting ambience and beautiful soundscapes. The score for the film is fine, though to be completely honest, I rarely noticed it, and when I did, I wasn’t in love with it the way I have been with the games of the series. It certainly didn’t take me out of the experience, so it isn’t a detractor, just something to note. The voice acting is where it comes apart, at least partially. To be honest, when I heard that they had cast major actors including Aaron Paul, Lena Headey and Sean Bean, I had my doubts. However, they actually do a phenomenal job. Aaron Paul creates a rich voice that completely stands out from his other work to create a remarkable protagonist. It is with the other characters that I had a hard time believing their performances. Not all of the acting is poor, but some of the larger characters were bad enough that it took me out of the moment, making it difficult to invest in them.

It is unfortunate that some of the acting is so poor, especially because the characters that are presented are quite diverse and interesting. They set up the conflict well, showing two sides to the war, while still creating a memorable and detestable villain. I was invested in the three leads. Nyx, the leader of the Kingsglaive (a band of soldiers that serve the king) is passionate to a fault, often putting himself in danger to save others. He makes mistakes and isn’t afraid to challenge authority. Lunafreya, is betrothed to the prince of Lucis, but is being used as a bartering tool, as she is held captive by the evil government of Niflheim. Then there is the king himself, Regis. The king holds the power of the crystal of Lucis, allowing him to keep out invaders, and granting incredible power to the Kingsglaive. This is a film about politics, deceit and betrayal. All of the characters that surround them have their own motives, whether those be for good or evil, it is always up in the air. Some of the characters work, others are let down by the pure scale of the film trying to introduce too many elements. I was interested in all of them, but with a runtime of less than two hours, there just wasn’t enough time to flesh them all out, and the performances didn’t help.

The plot of the film itself proves just as divisive. For all of its intrigue, it takes the sleight of hand one step too far, introducing too many plot twists for the audience to follow. It’s not impossible to follow along, but after the fourth betrayal, we start to become numb to the tribulations of our characters. I actually really enjoyed the political aspects of the film. I was fascinated by the different ideologies of the nations, and I thought the interplay between the different rulers was fantastic. I wanted to delve deeper into the nations and their conflict, but that would make for a rather long and dry film. Instead we have one major conflict, the invasion of Lucis. I would say the first two thirds of the film are excellently executed, creating enough reasons for us to care about the outcome, while foreshadowing the events but never giving away how the conflict will come about. It is in the last act that it falls apart. The film handles action quite well, but the sheer amount of destruction and its own ambitions undercut the emotional impact. In other words, it had Man of Steel Syndrome. I would have much preferred the backroom dealings, stealthy assassinations and hand to hand combat that takes place earlier in the film, to the ludicrous action of the finale. The ending is also left rather ambiguous due to the fact that it is leading into the game, Final Fantasy XV. This doesn’t help the last act problems, but I wouldn’t say it ruins it either. The film just feels unresolved, something that is a problem for those that just watch the film, but for those of us that played the game, wasn’t such an issue. The story was one that I became invested in, one that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it did have its issues. Had the filmmakers been bold enough to cut back on their feelings of grandeur, it would have made a stronger piece altogether.

For those that just show up for the action sequences though, there are plenty, and some of them are truly spectacular. The movement powers that the Kingsglaive possess creates some remarkable sequences. The effects of course are top notch, and the shot choices highlight the best of the animation. You simply couldn’t do what they manage here with real film. However, the editing of the film leaves a lot to be desired. There are some rather strange choices. Often fading through black when not necessary, or cutting at odd moments. I was taken out of the moment on several occasions, something that should never be caused by editing unless for a distinct purpose. These weren’t passages of time, or purposefully omitted moments, it was just poor editing. It was all the more noticeable and jarring given how beautifully the direction was.

As you could see, I was conflicted about the film. There were some glaring issues such as poor voice acting by several characters, one too many plot twists, a bombastic final act, and some odd editing choices. With that said, I have remarkably fond feelings towards this movie. I was thoroughly entertained throughout, I found myself drawn towards the characters, especially Nyx and King Regis, and I wanted more when the film came to a close. I think that it works as a piece on its own, maybe not for everyone, but for those familiar with the world of Final Fantasy, those that are willing to delve into a lore rich world, and as a companion piece to the game. This wasn’t an adaptation. This wasn’t just a story that had already been told, it was a prequel that stood as its own piece of fiction.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV will forever go down in my mind as the first good video game film. I hope that people take a chance on it, whether for the visuals, the action or the rich story of intrigue. I know I will be watching it again.

3.5 stars out of 5.

CB

Christine.

Grim actuality.

I left the CAIM today again for the first time in probably a week. Terrified though I may have been, I needed to stock up on resources. I didn’t see anyone, but every piece of dirt that moved made my skin crawl. I’ve always battled with anxiety, but this time it is actually warranted. I could run into a group of people at any time. Toronto is after all one of the largest urban centres on the continent. You may wonder why I continue to fight to live considering all that has happened. After my wife passed away, I was certain that my life was over. I was actively looking to die. But when my life was actually threatened again, the urge to live kicked in, and I knew that I wasn’t ready to go. My work here at the CAIM has become much too important to give up now. I knew people that did choose their own way out. Instead of facing the horrors of life, instead of risking getting the disease, they simply wanted out. Humans are strong, but sometimes that’s not enough. The film that I watched tonight deals with mental illness, in a very realistic fashion. Those who do not deal well with the topic of mental health should steer well clear of this film.

Christine tells the true story of a news reporter in the 1970’s who struggled with depression. The story of Christine Chubbuck is well documented, but I will avoid going into spoilers as best I can. The film follows her journey at a local television news network, as the local interest reporter. She is immediately recognizable for her serious demeanour, antisocial behaviour and passion for her work. This is her story through and through, with other characters interjected only to further our understanding of her life and reasoning for her actions. She is a character that drives others away constantly, but through strong writing and an incredible performance from Rebecca Hall, we come to not only empathize with Christine, but also understand her actions.

This entire review could be turned into a character study, for this is someone that hasn’t been explored properly in film before. She is distinct, with character traits that set her apart from the many film protagonists seen today, and it only furthers our interest to know that this is a completely true story. I originally saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, and even though I knew the story, I found myself drawn into this tale, not expecting what was to come.

Christine is like any of us. She has a stable job, she has people that support her, and yet, she struggles to find intimacy or the success that she desires. The need for perfection consumes her, which she pours into her work. We are thrown into the deep end of her story, not going from the beginning of her career, but instead right into her deepest fears. The film is paced slowly, allowing us to get to know every aspect of her life. Whether it is supporting her mother on her meager salary, her obsession with her coworker, or her serious problem with accepting help from others, there is depth to this character that is rarely seen in other movies. I would not consider this an ensemble piece despite there being plenty of talent surrounding Rebecca Hall, including one of my favourites, Michael C. Hall. This is one woman’s story, the others just come in and out of the piece when needed.

The lead performance from Rebecca Hall is truly transformative. I found it impossible to recall her work in other films until I actually went and looked it up, because she completely changed the way that she spoke, with very distinct, careful diction. She takes us through the many challenges she faces, showing the slow unravelling of her character, but never descending into overemotional territory. This is also to the credit of the writer, Craig Shilowich, who gave her time to transition through the different periods in her career and points of mental being. Shilowich uses Christine’s time teaching the kids at the hospital to tell us Christine’s inner thoughts, where at other times he leaves it up to Hall to get them across with her actions.

This is not a piece that uses invisible direction. 2015’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight, was an incredible film, one which used simple camera work to allow the performances and story to take centre stage. Here, the director has opted for a much more hands-on approach, using the camera to tell us the story along with the work of the characters on screen. I actually prefer this approach to filmmaking, but here it works both in its favour and against it. Some of the shots, such as filming Christine while the interest of the scene is taking place elsewhere is expressive, giving us even more moments with her to understand just what she is thinking. While others, such as using an incredibly shallow depth of field transitioning between characters was distracting and didn’t seem to serve a purpose other than to add style. Antonio Campos did a great job overall working with his actors and creating a visually interesting film, but I was taken aback by some of his choices to the point of being pushed out of the moment. This may not be as distracting to others however.

So who would this film appeal to? This is a deep character portrait, one with a brilliant performance from its lead actress. It delves into her mental illness, leaving us breathless in the final act. The film earns its ending, something that can’t be said for a lot of films. That may seem like an odd comment to be making about a film based on a true story, but a lot of screenwriters would have struggled to make us emotionally invested enough to care beyond pure shock value. This film should be seen by anyone that enjoys a strong drama, but should be warned that it is a slow film, though one that is very powerful if the time is invested. I would not recommend it to anyone that has triggers related to depression. This is a very hard watch. If you can handle living in someone else’s life for two hours, one which deals with very dark themes, then this would be something that you should definitely watch. Christine is an excellent piece of filmmaking, one which could have been a much different movie in lesser hands, but here it is a strong work that teaches us something. Reality is more terrifying than fiction.

4 out of 5 stars.

CB

The Handmaiden.

Desire.

The Handmaiden is the latest in director Park Chan-wook’s long line of intensely unique films. His work can be recognized for its extreme violence, shocking twists and unhinged characters, and this film only furthers those elements. I remember seeing the film back at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016 and hearing the director speak. He joked that this was his most longest and most dialogue heavy film. Those elements allowed him to play with his characters like never before, and amazingly never feeling like they are weighing the film down. Though there are many similarities to his other films, this also happens to be his funniest, creating an interesting blend of humour and unpredictability.

The Handmaiden takes place in 1930’s Korea and tells the story of a common street thief who has been employed by a scam artist to work as his latest target’s handmaiden. The film follows her struggles to carry out the plan that her boss laid for her, please her new mistress as she pretends to be a practiced handmaiden, and fight the feelings that she develops during her work. To say anything more would ruin the many turns that the film smartly lays out.

Thematically, this is a very interesting film. Everything revolves around the idea of desire. Whether that be the desire of riches, flesh or freedom, every character has different, and very clear intentions. The film plays out in a three act structure, but to play with the audiences expectations and to fully develop the perceptions we have of the characters, the first act runs for the majority of the screen time. This allows us, the audience, to come to understand, or at least seem to understand, the many wants of the characters presented to us. It is to the credit of Park Chan-wook and his fellow screenwriter Chung Seo-Kyung, that all of the little details that come to be relevant later in the film are recognizable, interesting and yet never obvious enough to draw our attention away from the main plot. By the end of the film, we have a complete understanding of what has taken place, despite the many diverging stories, the betrayals and deceit. Of course, for several minutes during the more challenging moments, we may be left stranded in an ocean of questions, but when all is revealed, we feel as though we have been given all of the pieces and only then put them together. There is not a singular reveal at the end that is impossible to see coming. The ending is earned, and if you pay close enough attention, you may even put it together before it reaches its conclusion.

The content of the film is very mature. There are large portions of the film dedicated to very stimulating sex scenes, some of which will make even the most experienced filmgoer blush. The violence is not toned down here either, despite the humorous nature of the film. What is shown is vivid, with excellent sound design creating properly cringe inducing moments. This is the first time that I can remember laughing out loud during Chan-wook’s films. They have often been funny in an ironic sense, or filled with dynamic characters that make one chuckle, but the dialogue in The Handmaiden takes a very funny, hard look at gender, society and violence itself. The lead character, Sook-Hee is especially interesting, as she develops over the film, we grow to care for her. Her portrayal by Kim Tae-ri is superb, showing a deep understanding of what makes her character tick, but also bold enough to tackle the very graphic moments in the film. The cast as a whole do a fantastic job bringing us into their world.

This film won’t be for everyone. It is very long, coming in at nearly two and a half hours. The majority of the film is purely dialogue, only occasionally dipping into thriller territory. What is there though will certainly carry you through the next portion of the film until the next stimulating jolt of electricity. The long first act will put off many, but if you can make it through the world building, you will be rewarded by a last hour that doesn’t let up. This isn’t for the feint of heart. Those who are squeamish should not approach this film, but if you enjoyed Oldboy then this will certainly be up your alley. It also won’t be for those who like to shut their brains off during a film. This is one that you need to actively be paying attention to, whether it is for the subtitles in both Japanese and Korean, or for the subtle character moments, it requires your full attention.

This is a unique film, one that I’m sure to watch again one day just to notice the many things I missed upon my first viewing. If you enjoy mysteries, thrillers or foreign comedies, this should be near the top of your list. This is certainly one of Park Chan-wook’s best.

4 out of 5 stars.

CB

The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Unchecked power.

I saw someone. At least, I think I did. It’s not often that I leave CAIM anymore, but now I’m not sure staying here is such a great idea. I mean, the goal is to one day have someone find this place and enjoy the luxuries that I have, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that just yet. I’ve been here for about two months and it is just starting to feel like home. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. I just saw the first person I’ve seen in more than four months. I don’t know if they saw me, but what if they followed me here? I’ve been meaning to set up security measures, but I’ve been so busy gathering supplies, going through the records, and frankly, taking time to relax that I haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve put a lock on the doors, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. All it would take would be a pair of bolt cutters or a vehicle and they could be in here no problem.

I am lonely. There is no denying it. I would love for a companion, but since losing my wife, I can’t trust anyone. She was my everything. If this person I saw was just a single soul like me, I guess things wouldn’t be too bad, but most likely, they are part of a travelling group, and that’s when things get messy. You see, the world was thrown into chaos when the virus struck. Governments were toppled, families were divided and religions were abandoned. That didn’t last long though. Groups emerged with their own leaders. At first it seemed like these were to help those who had survived, but with unchecked power comes brutality. These weren’t elected officials, they were men and women who were taking advantage of the situation to grab influence and become the new authority. The stories that I heard in those early days when I was still in contact with others made my stomach churn. Leaders gone mad, killing those who uttered a word against them. New religious groups killing for their gods. Or in the case of those that I encountered, men driven to the edge, turning to their desires and feeding off of the flesh of other men.

I truly do hope to meet another person someday, but that day is not today. I’m not ready to put myself in the hands of someone else. Until order is restored by the will of the people, where we are held accountable for our actions, there will be no peace.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a dramatic retelling of the 1971 experiment that took place at Stanford University. The experiment took 24 male students, divided them into guards and prisoners, and planned to watch their behaviour over the course of 14 days. Many will know the experiment, as it is a well documented piece of psychological history, one that has been recreated multiple times, but to watch it unfold before your eyes is an entirely different experience. This is a difficult piece to watch, but for all the right reasons.

At the centre of the story, you have the head professor, Dr. Philip Zimbardo, as played by Billy Crudup, a man who is so passionate about his work that he allows the results to become more important than the experiment itself. However, it is the cast of prisoners and guards that brings this film to life. Assembling some of the best young talents in Hollywood today, the film features the work of Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Mann, and many others, all of whom are used to great effect. I would go as far as to say that several of the actors turn in their best performances to date. The acting is uniformly superb. The dynamic between the guards and the prisoners is tense, bordering on unbearable. In particular, Ezra Miller as the rebellious Prisoner 8612, and the guard known as “John Wayne” portrayed by Michael Angarano, played off of each other to create scenes that were downright sadistic. Miller has a vulnerability that few other actors possess, causing us to feel his pain in every moment.

The film runs about two hours, meaning that there is plenty of time to explore each character that is presented to us. They are broken down, both literally and figuratively. Even the guards, who bully the prisoners physically and mentally are shown to be just boys who have been given every opportunity to become their worst selves. Right from the opening moments, this is an intense film. It opens with the interviews of the students who wish to be a part of the experiment. The tight editing provides few moments to let your mind wander, and the sparse score only highlights the already uneasy moments. This could have been a dull slog, or a preachy film condemning the actions of researchers, but smart choices with script keep it from veering into melodramatic territory. While it certainly doesn’t praise the actions of the researchers or the guards, the filmmakers allow us to come to our own conclusions, asking as many questions as possible about the experiment, its participants and the results. The writing is first-rate, taking actual moments from the experiment and replicating them onscreen, so as to keep the dialogue and actions as genuine as possible. The tension is always building. By the end of the first day it is hard to believe that it can get much worse, but by day five you genuinely wish that things would return to that time. My one major criticism of the film is that because the characters are so relatable, and they are always being tortured in one way or another, the film feels impossibly long. I could never take my eyes away from the screen, nor do I think many could, but it is exhausting. There are no moments of levity, leaving us with only drama, never allowing us as the audience to breathe. This is not a film that I plan to watch again, as it takes an emotional stamina that I’m not sure I have. It is an in depth look at the psyche of these characters, one that won’t leave me soon, but I’m not sure that I could bring myself to go through it again.

Before I leave off this review, it is also important to mention the talent behind the camera. Kyle Patrick Alvarez created a very physical experience, causing intense claustrophobic feelings for myself. At all times, the camera is capturing the emotions of the characters, the pain, the anguish. The script is tight, but without a director who could work with the actors to create such intense situations with believable performances, the film would be nothing. This is an excellent film, one which will have me thinking for a long time to come. If you enjoy a good drama, this should be near the top of your list. This is an important subject, one that should never be forgotten. It shows how deep we can go as humans. In such a short span of time, even though the participants knew they were all being watched, it is shocking to see what they resorted to.

Worst of all, it shows that even the best of us can become monsters if our power goes unchecked.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

CB

Stranger Things.

Fear the true villain.

I would be lying if my mind didn’t often wander to dark places. One day I will tackle all of my thoughts on religion, of existence in a world without rules, my place as a human in an animal kingdom and what it all could mean. Going back and watching certain pieces of television and cinema create deep lines of thought that leave me with far more questions than answers. When I decided to re-watch Stranger Things, I didn’t realize how nostalgic it would make me. It questions the existence of government organizations, their purpose and whether their work is right or wrong. It makes me realize that I know very little about the virus that wiped out the population of the world. How does one virus travel so fast? How did it come into being? If not now, then when will I get the answers I so desire? I will find answers.

Stranger Things is a show that should never have clicked with me the way that it did. It was a love letter to 80’s science fiction, from the aesthetics, to its characters, writing, and especially music. Having not grown up in the 80’s, and without parents that felt any sort of love for that particular period and genre of cinema, I didn’t have any connection to films such as The Goonies or E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial when I was younger. I did eventually see them, and I appreciated them for what they were, but I didn’t have nearly the emotional investment that others seemed to have. So when I sat down and started watching Stranger Things, I had no idea how deep it would sink its hooks into me. But I loved every minute of it.

When a young boy goes missing after a night of role playing, his best friends set out to find him. That is when they come across a young girl named Eleven who harbours strange and unsettling powers. Everything they think they know changes in an instant. Stranger Things introduces a dark tone immediately, setting up the story for the series before the opening credits even roll. The opening five minutes of each episode hold more drama and intrigue than most shows manage in their hour long runtime. The heavy synths that play ominously in the background help amplify the already tense atmosphere. The tension builds and is easily sustained due to the fact that we as an audience care about the characters right from the opening moments of the show. I may have related to the kids on the show more than most, having grown up in a family that played Dungeons & Dragons regularly (a big part of the show), but right from introduction of these characters, we empathize with them. They feel more than real. They pass their emotions onto us. Whether it’s the young boys who just want their best friend back, the mother of the missing boy and her struggle to keep sane, or the police chief who is reluctant to take on the case, every character is fleshed out. We get glimpses into their lives that explain why they act the way they do, and the writers have given us moments between the different characters in a wide variety of situations so that they are able to build over the course of the show’s eight episodes. Each character has clear goals, desires, fears and frustrations. Even the typical jock of the show is a likeable character. He is someone we have come across before, but is more than he initially appears. I can’t stress how important the characters are to the success of the show. Even without the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the boy, or the introduction of Eleven, I would have gladly kept coming back episode after episode to be with these characters and just go on adventures with them.

So how does the actual central mystery of the show hold up? It is nothing we haven’t seen before, but it isn’t meant to break the boundaries of the genre. It is meant to expand them and tap into our nostalgia. The writers of the show take the classic monster element of so many 80’s tales and blend it with concepts that were popular at the time in other genres. It works because it is always as creative and fun as it is actually a mystery to the viewer. It doesn’t take a cinephile to figure out what is going on within the first few episodes, but the pure horror of the reality they have created, paired with our genuine desire for these characters to succeed in their quests, makes for entertaining viewing. However, the show did introduce some mysteries that were left unsolved, mysteries that still have me working through different theories days after watching, which is always a good sign. Seeing the mystery unfold is an experience unto itself, as even at the most obvious moments, great writing and some of the best direction on television elevate this to must-watch status. I hadn’t heard of The Duffer Brothers before this show, but their work spoke for itself. Everything that was shown on screen had a purpose, something that so many shows ignore. The show somehow feels grounded despite how campy the idea of the show actually is. Great acting is certainly to be noted, especially from Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven, and David Harbour, who plays the police chief, Jim Hopper. The excellent synth heavy score always elevated my experience, never distracting from moments. Some expertly placed period songs were also a welcome element, placing us in the scene with the characters. One has to mention the set design and the lighting as well, as both are top notch. The characters fit into a world that feels real, and they look beautiful while doing it.

If there was one warning that I would give, this show earns its TV14 rating. It is genuinely disturbing at times, with graphic imagery, a terrifying monster and tension. Oh the tension. That shouldn’t ward off people that don’t like horror. There are few, if any, jump scares, but it does build throughout the season to a very intense finale. This all leads back to us caring about these characters though. If we didn’t care what happened to them, it wouldn’t feel this way at all. I definitely say it is worth the risk of at least trying out the first episode.

This show has more intrigue and pure entertainment than any other show of its year. It was the must watch show of 2016, and frankly, one of the best Netflix produced shows that ever came about. If you want to invest a few nights in a binge worthy and seriously addicting drama with some of the most interesting characters ever put to screen, please, take the time to sit down and check this show out.

Stranger Things.

5 out of 5 stars.

CB

Suicide Squad.

Supposed superiority.

The Suicide Squad comic was a completely different take on the superhero formula. Instead of focusing on a team of heroes, they would focus on a band of villains, forced into acting in the favour of the public. This allowed for a darker tone, a different type of humour and plenty of social commentary. Unlike the comic that it was based on, the movie adaptation of Suicide Squad failed to deliver on any of those fronts. The movie felt like it was a first draft, one that hadn’t quite settled on who their characters would be.

The producers of Suicide Squad seemed all too happy to take characters with long histories, squander their best qualities, and then have them merely exist with nothing to do. Some of the best villains from the Batman roster were present in the movie, from Killer Croc to Harley Quinn, Deadshot to the Joker himself. Yet only one of the characters seemed to have a purpose, and luckily he had an actor ready to take the lead in a blockbuster film. Without Deadshot, as played by Will Smith, this movie could have been a lot worse than it is. Smith’s natural charisma, paired with an arc in the film that felt genuine and relatable, allowed him to lead this team of misfits into the most dull of situations, and still have them at least be watchable. To put it lightly, he carried the film. The rest of the characters were either under-utilized, mishandled or completely squandered. The Joker is the most obvious example, bringing about the worst version of the clown ever put on screen. Since Jack Nicholson brought him to the big screen, every iteration of the super-villain has been distinct and memorable, mixing dark humour with insanity and intelligence, but never losing that balance. Mark Hamill’s take on the character had a huge fanbase from Batman: The Animated Series, and certainly Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance from The Dark Knight managed to bring a sense of realism to the outlandish character, while still retaining what makes the character brilliant. In this latest version though, the Joker feels less like a mad genius and more like a generic gangster. Jared Leto nails the psychopath aspect, but completely fails to bring the other elements of the character out. He is reduced to a lavish-living gang lord, more interested in money and his own appearance than in bringing Gotham to its knees. Had he been left out of the film, other than during Harley Quinn’s origin, it would have left us with a stronger impression of the character. Harley’s origin is important though, as it provided the movies strongest scene, something that I will get into later. Harley’s character is also done a disservice here, reduced to the most obvious (but least interesting) of her attributes: her physical appearance. Margot Robbie does an admirable job with what she is given, but she is mostly regarded by all of the characters, save Deadshot, as a piece of meat as opposed to a villain of equal stature. To get into the other characters would spoil large chunks of the film, but just know not to expect more than two-dimensional takes on otherwise interesting characters. Some are there for no reason at all, while others serve single situation purposes. However, worth mentioning briefly is the main villain, Enchantress. Not only is she poorly acted by Cara Delevingne, but her character has unclear motivations and powers that are never defined for the audience, but worst of all, the way her character acts and talks is completely inconsistent throughout the movie. Sometimes she appears to be speaking in Old English, other times she uses perfect modern American english. For a character that is over 6000 years old, it felt strange to hear her tell a character that he “doesn’t have the balls” to go through with his plan. She is one of the movies weakest elements, and unfortunately that is a big deterrent considering how important she is to the overall plot.

The story of the movie is nearly non-existent. The first half of its runtime is spent telling us how incredibly villainous these characters are, while the second is devoted to the standard fetch quest and big-bad showdown. Nothing happens in the movie that isn’t telegraphed well in advance, meaning that without the expensive visual splendor, there is nothing to hold the audiences interest. Dialogue can save a simple plot, but here it is reduced to one liners, most of which, as I remember, were given away in the trailers for the film when it came out. What’s there is uninspired, out of character or downright misogynistic. At one point, a character punches a woman in the face, and then to play it for laughs he says, “She had a mouth”. This doesn’t even mention the amount of times that Robbie’s character is gawked at by not only by the characters around her, but by the camera itself.

What the film does have going for it is visual splendour. The budget is nearly unmatched, meaning that the effects are top-notch, and the cinematography at times is also well worth mentioning. Though we only get them at the beginning, the neon colour palette is a nice touch, one that was quite different than any of the other comic book films that were put out at the time. But while the visuals might work in its favour, the sound is overbearing and far too on-the-nose. The way that music is used at all times reminds me heavily of Zac Snyder’s Sucker Punch, and not in a good way. Far too often, the lyrics of the songs were literally saying what was happening on screen. Perhaps the worst offender was Rick Ross and Skrillex’s “Purple Lamborghini“, a heavy rap song playing as the Joker and Harley drive down the street in, you guessed it, a purple Lamborghini. Not only that, but it is played at a volume that overpowers the dialogue, telling us that a moment is intense instead of showing us. However, there is one magical moment that uses music brilliantly, one moment that literally had me sit up in my seat and forget everything else. As I mentioned above, the origin of Harley Quinn is a moment that stood out as pure movie bliss. To say exactly what happens would spoil it, but it is a perfect amalgamation of cinematography, direction, writing and music that brings the Joker and Harley together, a scene that will forever define their relationship in the DC movies. It is beautiful and haunting, powerful and subtle. That moment alone left me feeling positively towards the rest of the movie, and I will definitely be watching it again to relive the magic.

For those that simply want an action movie though, this might be something that would interest them. There are more than enough action scenes to fill two movies. Bullets fly around at even the most quiet of times. The testosterone is palpable. It is well shot, never relying on shaky movements, and each character gets at least one moment to show off their powers. I hate to say it, but if you just go along for the ride and ignore the logic behind the story, you might just enjoy yourself.

Would I recommend the film though, despite all of its flaws? This film isn’t remembered as poorly as critics scored it at the time, but it still isn’t good. It is a mediocre movie, with plenty of bullets flying everywhere, big budget effects and loud noises. It is exactly what summer blockbusters are defined as. This isn’t the introduction to the villains of the Batman universe that I wanted, but in more capable hands, the characters do grow and become more interesting. Watch this if you enjoy superhero films, but The Dark Knight this is not.

2 stars out of 5.

CB