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About the Author
I’m a simple guy who loves to watch and talk about movies. I go to the movies on holidays, weekends, and will even venture to the theaters by myself. I may have single handedly caused MoviePass to go under with how often I used it. Will you enjoy your time at the movies? Check out my reviews to find out!

REVIEW: The Devil All the Time

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 138 minutes
Director: Antonio Campos

The Devil All the Time is a psychological thriller that examines themes of evil, religion, and the abuse of power in rural small-town America. It is based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, who also serves as the film’s narrator. It stars Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson. The film was directed by Antonio Campos from a screenplay that he co-wrote with his brother, Paulo Campos.

The Story

The film shows how multiple generations are impacted by violence, and it analyzes how faith and evil actions mix as pious men do awful things. This really affects their congregation’s views on life and death. It also tells the story how one’s beliefs can be influenced and even determined by the beliefs of their parents. In this film, Willard Russell (Skarsgård) returns home from WW2 with PTSD, and becomes extremely religious which affects his nine year old son, Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta/Holland), in a multitude of ways. Without spoiling anything, his strong beliefs push Arvin to question the teachings of the Christian church from a very young age. This story may be the focus of the film but there are multiple other intertwining stories that make this film extremely captivating. The film has a 138 minute runtime and the story is extremely engaging from start to finish. Though a little sporadic, the music fit well in the film and allowed the viewer to step into the world in which it takes place. The direction and the cinematography helped a great deal in achieving the tone of the film. One really great decision by Campos was to make this movie on film. It adds a grain to the film that makes it feel grim and dark.

Tom Holland in a scene of The Devil All the Time | NETFLIX.

The Characters

Each actor played their respective role absolutely brilliantly. Holland provides a very mature performance that shows he can do more than web sling. The stand out was Pattinson that shows he’s becoming the new Willem Dafoe, an acting chameleon. His role is small but each second he is on screen is extremely impactful. While he was surrounded by great actors, he gave a particularly excellent and energetic performance. The film’s narration by the story’s creator helps to understand what is going on inside the characters’ minds and complements the story extremely well.

The Flaws

The film’s tone and the amount of characters can be a little overwhelming at times, but it adds a thoughtful complexity to the story. This world is dark and there are evil people living in it. Once religion is added in, it can get even more complicated.

Overall

The Devil All the Time is a southern tale about faith and fate.  It is dark, twisted, and bleak, yet absolutely fascinating. It can make its audience question themselves, their beliefs, and if this world is random, or if there is divine intervention. It is definitely worth watching, if for the performances alone. It may not get many rewatches, but that doesn’t take away from the brilliant story and acting.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Project Power

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 114 minutes
Directors: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman

Project Power is a superhero film directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost. It stars Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Colson Baker, Rodrigo Santoro, Amy Landecker, Courtney B. Vance, and Allen Maldonado.

The Story & Direction

Living in New Orleans has never been easy for Robin (Dominique Fishback). She has been forced to sell these pills to help with her uninsured mom’s medical bills. As a safety precaution, she works with police officer Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). In exchange for protection, she gives him Power pills to give him an edge against the city’s criminals. This relationship and Robin’s dealings become more complicated when Art (Jamie Foxx), a former soldier comes into town and takes down dealers to find the source of the drugs. If one takes a pill, they could self-immolate on the spot or they get powers for five minutes with each person’s abilities being different. This variety of powers allow for some fun and entertaining action sequences. The film even tries to touch on the nation’s history with drugs, health care, and experimentation, especially on it’s poorer communities and people of color.  Because this city is dealing with problems post-Hurricane Katrina, having someone releasing this drug into poor communities one can understand how this would lead to total chaos. As such, New Orleans feels like the perfect location for this film because it allows for the characters to feel grounded.

The Characters

One of the best things about New Orleans is its people, and this film takes place in all the  recognizable downtown areas to residential neighborhoods. This movement through the city helps make the characters more relatable. Frank is a cop who loves New Orleans so much that he is willing to try the product tearing apart his city, but also wears a NFL Saints jersey while on the job. Robin is told that because she is a woman of color an education is the only way to make it in the world, but she struggles in school. Art is only trying to get back his daughter or maybe something more sinister. While Foxx, Gordon-Levitt, and Fishback all perform very well in their roles and really make the film better than it should be, the writing is where this film suffers.

Jamie Foxx appears in a scene of Project Power | Photo credit: Skip Bolen. NETFLIX © 2020

The Flaws

One of the biggest issues with Project Power is that it unfortunately falls into a lot of cliche material, especially in the villain portions. One even ends up being a “mad scientist” type surrounded by a bunch of goons who take the pill before attacking the heroes in the finale. While the main characters feel grounded, they are not much more than what is described above. There’s not a lot of development to them aside from what one would come to expect from a film such as this. Furthermore, the message that it attempts to tackle doesn’t seem thought out fully, and some of the action sequences are edited poorly which can make them a little hard to follow.

Overall

Project Power isn’t as deep of a movie as it tries to be, and it’s one that likely will not get a sequel. However, the characters are played well by their respective actors and they are worth rooting for in this fairly fun film. As with a lot of Netflix’s action films (e.g. The Old Guard and Bright), there’s enough in the film to keep it interesting for its runtime. It’s not the best film put out by Netflix but it’s not really trying to be. One’s reaction to the film will go along with those taking the pills. They will either explode with anger or find some enjoyable qualities that do not make it a hard swallow. Both are understandable reactions when it comes to this film. The ideas are there for a good film even though it’s not as good as it could have been. It is worth checking out if you’re looking for a new and entertaining film with decent acting and action sequences.

Project Power is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Comic-Con@Home 2020 Recap

People go to conventions for many reasons; one of the biggest reasons is to meet like-minded people and industry peers. They can bring together people from all different geographical areas who share a similar passion for whatever the convention is about. San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) International is a non-profit, multi-genre entertainment and comic book convention held annually in San Diego, California. It has become essentially the quintessential celebration of all things nerdy. Each year, fans of TV, movies, comic books, and pop culture head to the city (that was not “discovered by the Germans in 1904”) where networks, studios, and publishers release information on their most exciting upcoming properties. Over 100,000 people pile into a big convention hall—dressed in costume, meeting celebrities, taking pictures, and/or buying products. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this was the first year since 1970 that the convention did not happen in-person.

Comic-Con@Home (2020) was certainly a risk; it had to come together really quickly under unprecedented circumstances. Would this stop people from coming to San Diego all together in the future if they continue to offer the “@Home” experience? It may have been far easier to postpone or cancel the entire convention. However, as with a lot of planned events, a lot of money prior to the pandemic was invested in putting this convention together. They had to contact people to record panels via Zoom or Skype; they then released the videos on YouTube without allowing people to comment. This makes the content not as “exclusive,” as people don’t have to be somewhere specific to see the videos at a specific time and date; you have the option to watch the videos later at your own convenience. As such, this can be somewhat of a loss for both the fans as well as the studios and networks. However, for someone who always wanted to go to San Diego for this convention but never had the time or money to do it, this was a dream come true.

Even though Comic-Con@Home was entirely virtual, it was still the source of some major announcements in the entertainment world and, if viewed, had the power to inspire and connect with fans even without direct contact. “Inspiration” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions”; without a doubt there were numerous events over the course of the weekend that not only could help fans and future industry workers be inspired, but also touched on the creators’ inspiration. The many panels showed how a lot of these people (who fans view as “A-list celebrities”) are very similar to a lot of the fans sitting at home watching these videos; to be sure, there are obvious differences, but the similarities in interests and likes still exist.

Anyone who has attended a convention knows that people want the backstory of their favorite creator, to see if there is a similar line that can push them to do what they want. This theme of inspiration was embedded in the entire weekend starting on Thursday, July 22, 2020 continuing into the evening of Sunday, July 26, 2020. As there were many events to participate in, this recap will be covering specifically the events that are applied to films.

Thursday, July 23

The New Mutants Panel

The New Mutants has been the target of constant jokes, memes, and sarcasm for how many times the release date has been pushed back. Hilariously, the film’s producers knew this would be a topic as the panel opened with a series of dates flashed across the screen. They showed “in theaters April 13th, 2018,” and then that date was crossed out. It is then replaced by “in theaters February 22nd, 2019,” which is again crossed out and replaced by “in theaters August 2nd, 2019,” “February 22nd, 2019,” “August 2nd, 2019,” and “April 3rd, 2020.” It was really great to see that the studio is embracing this self-depreciation. They are not trying to hide the fact that this happened, which I think could be a good thing. They know the issue is the release date-—if the film was bad, they probably would not have kept on pushing it back. It probably would have already been released on streaming services. For better or for worse, the studio thinks that this film is worth the wait.

Fans have been anticipating this movie for a while now because of how it would present horror elements in the superhero genre, based on the Marvel Comics team of the same name. It was directed by Josh Boone and stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga. The panel included all of these people plus the designer of the original material. The panel touched on some of the auditions of the cast members, and newly released emojis for each of the mutant characters. Due to the pandemic there is still no confirmed date on when the film will arrive in cinemas but it was confirmed it will still be released at some point. They even presented a glimpse of the opening sequence and a new trailer. This film has pushed through a lot of resistance, whether from the studio, the pandemic, or something else unknown, and that in and of itself is inspiring. The film still does look intriguing and we’ll see how it turns out when the film is finally released in theatres.

Directors on Directors Panel

Robert Rodriguez (director of Spy Kids, El Mariachi, Sin City), Colin Trevorrow (director of Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Dominion), and Joseph Kosinski (director of Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, and Top Gun: Maverick) provided a great discussion about the craft of directing and projects past, present, and future. They discussed how in some ways the pandemic has been a blessing to them; it has allowed for them to stop and reflect on what they have done already, which is something they normally do not get to do. They normally get a certain amount of days to film and that’s it. Now, if they do not like something, they can possibly reshoot it or change it when they get back to production (which Jurassic World: Dominion is officially doing now).

Talking about technology in film, Trevorrow indicated that Jurassic World: Dominion would have the most animatronic dinosaurs ever used in the franchise:

We’ve actually gone more practical with every Jurassic movie we’ve made since the first one, and we’ve made more animatronics in this one than we have in the previous two. And the thing that I’ve found, especially in working in the past couple months, is that we finally reached a point where it’s possible to… Digital extensions on animatronics will be able to match the texture and the level of fidelity that, on film, an animatronic is going to be able to bring.

Colin Trevorrow, Director of Jurassic World: Dominion

Also touching on the technology, Trevorrow stated that he used virtual reality to help him film scenes in fantasy spaces, and Kosinski stated that for his Top Gun film he used new cameras. These cameras were similar to GoPro in function but produced IMAX-quality footage.

The best moment of the panel was when Rodriguez was responding to a question of pushing back when needed and described his experience when he pitched Spy Kids. Rodriguez described how the film was based on his own family; Rodriguez is the son of two Mexican parents, and his uncle was a spy who brought down two of the top ten criminals in history. He grew up with ten brothers and sisters, so when the studios asked why he wanted to make a film with a “Latin family” it seemed pretty obvious to him. The studio thought that because it had never been done before that it may decrease the audience to only other Latin families. He pushed back with the argument, “You don’t have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By being so specific, it becomes more universal.” He “set [his] flag” and stood his ground. He is now making a film called We Can Be Heroes which is about the children of Earth’s superheroes teaming up to save their parents and the world. The film is going to be a sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D. It will star Priyanka Chopra, Christian Slater, Pedro Pascal, Sung Kang, and eleven kids from different backgrounds. However, one of his most successful films to this day remains to be Spy Kids.  The film went on to make $147.9 million on a $35 million budget and spawned three sequels. Whatever your opinion might be of the sequels, Spy Kids had a huge impact on diversity before it was really a push to make diversity important. This all came from the director believing in his idea and sticking to it.

Friday, July 24

Charlize Theron: Evolution of a Badass – An Action Hero Career Retrospective

In recent years, Charlize Theron has become a huge action star, starring in films like Æon Flux, The Old Guard, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Atomic Blonde; even establishing herself as a top-notch villain in The Fate of the Furious (2017), Cipher. On top of being an action star, she has had critically-acclaimed performances in the comedy-drama Tully (2018), the romantic comedy Long Shot (2019), and the biographical drama Bombshell (2019). The latter earned her a third Academy Award nomination. Her prior two were for Monster (2003) and North Country (2005), and her performance in Monster won her an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Female Role. As of 2019, she was paid $23 million and was the 9th highest paid female actor and about the 18th highest paid actor in the world, taking into account the top 10 from both categories. In 2016, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. They stated that “she is deeply involved with her foundation, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project helping young South Africans protect themselves from HIV.” But also, “she’s incredibly results-oriented and knows her programs really well.” They also said that “she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind,” and this panel was no different, particularly when asked, “What draws you to these roles?”

Theron said growing up in South Africa played a part as her mother loved Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson and her father loved the original Mad Max movies. But her biggest reason was this:

I’m intrigued by the messiness of being human, especially a woman. We talk about representation, not just racial or cultural representation but female representation. I remember vividly just feeling such a lack of watching conflicted women in cinema. There was a part of me as an actor that felt so unbelievably jealous of Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro who got to play all of these really f****d up people, and women very rarely got to explore that. There was almost this inert fear of putting a woman in circumstances where she might not shine. I do believe society has us somewhat in his Madonna whore complex box. We can be really good hookers or really good mothers but anything in-between, people are sometimes not brave enough to want to go and explore…It’s so sad to me because the richness of those stories are not only great entertaining stories to tell and great movies to make but it is a disservice to women in general. We are more complicated than those two things and we can be many things. Our strengths can come from our faults, from our mistakes, from our petty, from our vulnerabilities, and our madness. Those are the things that make us interesting… [All of my characters] are all survivors and they are trying to survive… That, as a woman, I can relate to.

Charlize Theron

She said her main inspiration was Sigourney Weaver’s role as Ripley in the ALIEN movies, “[Ripley] was real and she was living in this world. The amount of intelligence she brought to that role, she was completely in demand of it; she owned that role. But it wasn’t forced, and it wasn’t written, and it wasn’t acted, it was just lived. She was just living in that world in such an authentic way. And Furiosa was the first time I felt like… she just felt so real to me.”

This realness is shown in Theron’s personal character as well. She is a hard worker as she is one that “was raised to get up and do work.” This gives off a fearless quality that many in Hollywood often compliment her for, and it even happened in this interview. She said she was thankful for this but she is scared a lot of the time and is only “really good at covering it up.” She stated she is afraid because she does not know how long she’ll have roles in movies. She almost feels that each role may be her last. This anxiety-like feeling leads her to work harder at her job, be more creative, and be able to stay awake long into the night to get her work done. Theron may state that she’s not a hero but she is in a way; she speaks her mind, no matter the consequences, and takes roles to not only show complex female characters, but also represent women in the best way, as real people. She admits her flaws and perhaps hides them at times, but when asked about them she is true to herself. That is an admirable quality in a person, and Theron establishes herself as a true role model and an inspiration to people everywhere.

Saturday, July 25

The Art of Adapting Comics to the Screen: David S. Goyer Q&A

David Goyer’s most famous screenwriting credits include the Blade trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Dark City, Man of Steel and its sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This interview had Goyer discussing his writing process and how he brought these comic book characters to the big screen. While his most successful work is obviously the Nolan trilogy, one of his most controversial adaptations is in Man of Steel (2013). When he worked with Nolan they approached the Batman character in a more serious and grounded way that hadn’t been done in previous live-action versions of the character, though they did keep some comic book aspects out like the Lazarus Pit.

Many fans have thought when Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) closes his eyes toward the end of Batman Begins (2005) (when Batman beats him on the train) that it was Nolan and Goyer’s attempt to imply that al Ghul knew that he could come back after the crash like he does a lot in the comics to which Goyer replied:

…there was never any discussion that Chris or I had about that, but if you think about it, it was a fairly realistic approach. I think if you introduce something like the Lazarus Pit into that (I’m not saying you couldn’t tell a cool story with the Lazarus Pit; I think you could), I just don’t think that the Lazarus Pit would’ve gelled with that approach.

David S. Goyer

They attempted to apply the same realistic formula to Superman in Man of Steel, which to some worked well, and to others it did not. Their interpretation of Superman’s origin story brought about the arrival of the alien militant Zod, similar to that of The Dark Knight (2008) pushing Joker to come out in response to Batman revealing himself. In Man of Steel Superman kills Zod in order to save planet Earth. This decision rightfully upset a lot of fans of the character. Goyer said that the reason for them having Superman kill Zod was two fold: one, because they wanted to do something drastic, similar to the risks that he and Nolan took with Batman; and two, because they felt that Superman had no other choice but to kill Zod.

At times, he seemed unsure in the interview that everything they did was the right call for the film; however, Goyer, sticking to his guns regarding the controversial decision, shows how even a writer can be inspirational even if you do not agree with the final product.

Constantine: 15th Anniversary Reunion

This panel included starring actor, Keanu Reeves, director Francis Lawrence, and producer Akiva Goldsman who reunited to reflect on the making of Constantine (2005). This film marked Lawrence’s first film and also starred Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, and Peter Stormare. For those who are not familiar with the film or the character, John Constantine is a cynic who can communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true form. He tried to commit suicide as a child so he is trying to redeem himself to avoid eternal damnation in Hell. The film holds an approval rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes based on the reviews of 224 critics and an average rating of 5.4/10. The critics’ consensus states: “Despite solid production values and an intriguing premise, Constantine lacks the focus of another spiritual shoot-em-up, The Matrix.” On Metacritic (which assigns a weighted average), the film holds a score of 50 out of 100 based on the reviews of 41 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews.”

This film is very different from a lot of comic book movies as it deals with the occult, magic, Heaven and Hell, etc. When asked about his inspiration for this film, Lawrence stated that he looked to noir films such as Blade Runner (1982) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) instead of other comic book movies. Lawrence felt that Warner Bros. didn’t give much respect to this film mostly because Batman Begins was being filmed next door. Even though this movie is rated R, the movie was filmed to be PG-13. He states that there was a checklist they followed to the letter but then was given an R rating “based on tone.” As such, he felt that they didn’t push the boundaries as much as they could have if they had known they were going to get an R rating. The film does touch some really interesting concepts of how Heaven and Hell are actually parallel to the current world but respectively are nice and awful.

Constantine, as a character, has gotten a following in recent years after having an NBC television show starring Matt Ryan. Ryan continued this role on the CW’s Arrowverse, mostly showing up in Legends of Tomorrow. He also has voiced the character in three DC animated movies, Justice League Dark, Constantine: City of Demons – The Movie, and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Unlike Ryan, Reeves is not a blonde British man like the source material but he connected with John Constantine’s cynicism. “He’s tired of all the rules and morals and ethics, and angels and demons, but is still a part of it,” Reeves said, and he “loved his sense of humor.” Though they wanted to do a sequel, the film’s oddness and only moderate box office success prevented them from following up with a sequel even though, “we always talked about a sequel more than the studio.”

They fought for the movie to be filmed in Los Angeles because of the city’s grittiness. The film has been slowly gaining a cult status and it has a 72% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Lawrence has also had a very successful career after this film directing the zombie apocalyptic I Am Legend, the romantic drama Water for Elephants, three of the four films in the Hunger Games film series, and the spy thriller Red Sparrow. You add Reeves’ resurgence as an action star and there might be a market for a sequel that has “[John] wakes up in a cell. He has to identify the prisoner… And it was Jesus.” This sequel would be “a Hard-R sequel, I think we could probably make it tomorrow.” Fans of this movie, and the people making the film, could be enough for Warner Brother’s to be inspired to make another film.

Guillermo del Toro and Scott Cooper on Antlers and Filmmaking

Both of these directors have had big impacts on cinema. Del Toro is one of the biggest names when it comes to Mexican filmmakers and he is also good friends with the other members of “The Amigos of Cinema,” Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. This designation was due to their friendship being comparable to Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma. The world has not always been keen on bringing Mexican films to the front, but all three have changed Hollywood for the better. They all have their own type of film and del Toro’s usually is connected to fairy tales and horror. He tries to combine the idea of beauty and the beast, giving things that society has viewed as “grotesque.” He also usually ties this in with Catholic themes and is known for using practical special effects for his films. His most famous work is Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water, the latter of which won him an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture. He also has produced and/or wrote on The Orphanage, The Hobbit film series, Mama, and Pacific Rim: Uprising. Cooper has not had as long of a career as del Toro but he has had a lot of success as well. His first film, Crazy Heart (2009), won Jeff Bridges a Best Actor award of which he also was a writer on. He has directed Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), and Hostiles (2017). Where these two men come together is in Cooper’s next film, Antlers starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan. The film was previously scheduled to be released on April 17, 2020 but, because of the pandemic, it will be released on February 19, 2021.

The movie is about a schoolteacher and her police officer brother in a small Oregon town, where they become convinced one of her students is concealing a supernatural creature. It is based on the Wendigo, a mythical creature in the folklore of First Nations Algonquin tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Because of this, First Nations consultants were hired to work on the film. According to del Toro:

The Wendigo has very specific cues you have to follow. The antlers, for example, are a must… We’re not creating a monster, we’re creating a God. So the design needs to have elements that are completely unnatural, that are almost surreal or abstract.

Guillermo del Toro

This will allow for another great practical effects creation from del Toro, and will most definitely benefit Cooper, as he has never worked with creature effects. Cooper was excited to work with del Toro because they “created something that’s wholly unique.” The film will be touching on ideas of being an individual in a time dealing with climate change, how Native Americans are treated, and the Opioid drug epidemic. Cooper went on to say that one of the best things he has gotten out of making this film is del Toro. He stated that because del Toro was a young director, he knows a lot of the ins and outs of the filmmaking process. He provided insight that a producer could not which helped him make a better film. On the other side of it, del Toro stated that he produces “to learn from the filmmakers.” It was quite a pairing for these two to work together as their needs matched up perfectly.

Outside of their own work inspiring each other, Cooper and del Toro jointly said that the Coen Brothers were the directors that truly inspired them, describing The Coen Brothers’ work as “poetry” and “utterly mysterious.” Del Toro continued to say that watching films is what inspires him to make more movies. For all those out there that collect hard copies of movies, del Toro can relate as he has a collection of about 7,000 discs that he can pull from to watch. Now that is something to gravitate towards even if one does not like his films.

Bill & Ted Face the Music Panel

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was released in 1989 and its first sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was released in 1991. Now, almost thirty years later, the second sequel, Bill & Ted Face the Music is about to be released. This panel was a little different from the rest of them as it did not have the actors Keanu Reeves (Ted) and Alex Winter (Bill) reminiscing and/or answering questions about their time on the older films. It wasn’t about giving some sort of big news, trailer, or giving something exclusive—it was about the love shared between the filmmakers, the actors, and the fans. The panel included actors, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, director Dean Parisot, and writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson.

Whether you like these movies or not, the love when making them is there as well as the fanbase. Weaving, who plays Bill’s daughter in the newest sequel said, “Watching those three have that very special [time], it felt almost intimate, that was really touching and incredible… I felt so lucky to actually be there and watch that.” This love was shared by Reeves: “I can’t feel or laugh or do anything like the way that [I do] working on Bill & Ted and working with Alex… That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world for me.”

Even Kevin Smith (who moderated this panel) couldn’t hold back his love for the original film and stated that “there would be no Jay and Silent Bob if there was not a Bill and Ted.” He has even seen this new movie and said that it is hilarious. The best word he could use to describe it was “adorable,” but not in a bad way. He wanted to show that this film was very emotional for him to see. Smith is an acclaimed director in his own right, and also technically canon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, one of the things that he never stops being is a fan (more on that below in the next panel). Smith moderating this panel allowed for this love to come through from both the fans and the actors on set. This love between these people has extended over thirty years and will hopefully continue on with old fans and new fans when the next film is released.

An Evening with Kevin Smith

The final event of Day 3 was concluded with a video from director, Kevin Smith. As mentioned above, Smith is an acclaimed director who is mostly known for Clerks (1994) which he wrote, directed, co-produced, and acted in as the character Silent Bob. He also created Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Dogma (1999), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Clerks II (2006), and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019). All of these films are primarily in his home state of New Jersey and are part of a shared universe known as the “View Askewniverse.” Interestingly, this universe is technically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Stan Lee’s cameo in Captain Marvel had him reading the script to Mallrats of which he was acting in.

One thing that Smith never stops being is a fan and a self-proclaimed nerd. He never shies away from it. If he cries during a season finale of The Flash television show, he will post up on YouTube for everyone to see. He owns a New Jersey comic book store called Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. He also has a movie-review TV show and multiple podcasts. The title of this video is an obvious allude to sessions Smith held with fans at various American colleges in 2001/2002. During the sessions, Smith answers questions regarding his movies, as well as his life. While there was not so much a questions portion to this video, Smith provided his fans with an update on what’s been going on with him. While most of the video had Smith discussing his tour for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and what he is doing in the podcast world, his best moment came when he told his story of how he became immortalized in Hollywood:

When I was a kid, before there was internet and before there was cable tv, I loved Hollywood…I didn’t do sports. I just loved movies and tv…When I was about nine years old in 1979, my father said to my mom, ‘The fat one loves Hollywood. Let’s take the fat one to Hollywood.’ So [my family] got on a train to California… First stop was Grauman’s Chinese Theatre… My father says to me, ‘Maybe you’ll be here one day.’ Forty years later, my father was right. The morning of the premiere of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, me and Jay, two Jersey kids, got to stand in the forecourt and put our feet in the cement and write our names into Hollywood history.

Kevin Smith

Even if you do not care much about his films, Kevin Smith is one of those people who always feels grounded, not only in his work but also in his personality. To see someone come from a town of about 12,000 people, son of a homemaker and postal worker get to where he’s gotten in his lifetime is inspiring. He is also an inspiration to a lot of people especially after his 2018 heart attack caused by a total blockage of the left anterior descending artery known as “the widowmaker.” Following the episode, he lost a doctor mandated 58 lbs., going from 256 lbs. to 198 lbs. He has maintained that via a vegan diet and now is a paid spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Going through something like that can really change a person and even that hasn’t really changed Smith. He is still doing who he wants to except now with a healthier lifestyle which is what many of us want as well.

Sunday, July 26

First TMNT Film 30th Anniversary

On March 30, 1990, a film about crime-fighting mutant ninjas was released. Oh, they also happened to be upright talking turtles. The film was based on a comic book, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a somewhat homage to Marvel’s Daredevil in 1984. The comic was dark in tone and content, but the 80s animated series brought a more lightheartedness to the tone and the turtles–the animated series became very popular. The 1990 film kept more of the DNA of the comic while also adding in things that the animated series had popularized.

The panel was made up of producers, Kim Dawson and Bobby Herbeck; they gave viewers a history behind the making of this iconic movie and showed how much impact their film had. The film saw ultimate success by getting $202 million worldwide which spawned two sequels,Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). The turtles then saw success on the small screen in 2003, 2012, and 2018,. There was also a new animated film released in 2007 and then the live action films were rebooted by Michael Bay in 2014 and in 2016…for better or worse. The Ninja Turtles franchise has remained popular in the pop culture landscape, spawning a number of different animated shows, comic books, toys and video games. This franchise will continue for many years and impact a new generation of fans as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are set to produce a new animated movie for Paramount Pictures. There is also a rumored new live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series currently in development for the CBS All Access streaming service. It is rumored that the series is set to adapt The Last Ronin, which is the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles five-issue miniseries from IDW Publishing.

The TMNT franchise has been around for over 35 years thanks to Eastman, Laird and this film.

Wakanda Forever! The Psychology of Black Panther

This panel included Scott Jordan (Psychology Professor at Illinois State University), Alex Simmons (Blackjack), Victor Dandridge, Jr. (Vantage Inhouse Productions), Daniel Jun Kim, Dr. Vanessa Hintz, PsyD, Eric Wesselmann (Psychology professor at Illinois State University), and Dr. Stanford Carpenter, PhD (Institute of Comic Scholars) as they discuss the psychological issues addressed in the Black Panther movie and comics, including topics such as micro-aggressions, cultural representation in media, and the power of love and empathetic leadership.

On February 16 2018, the newest Marvel film was released about a character that had debuted in another Marvel movie two years prior (Captain America: Civil War). Ryan Coogler, the director, had only made two prior films, one of which was a minor success (Fruitvale Station) and the other was a huge success (Creed). Chadwick Boseman, the starring actor, had only two big starring roles at the time. Would this film succeed? Most likely because it was a Marvel film. However, no one thought it would have been as successful as it was. Dandrige even pointed out that most likely not even Marvel nor Disney knew. An example that Dandrige points out is the quick time it took for society to get a Baby Groot doll versus how slow it was to get children friendly Black Panther items. He stated that the only iteration of the character little kids had to read after the release of the film was the stories by T-Nehisi Coates, which were geared towards adults. He stated:

On a multi-cultural level, everyone appreciated what Black Panther was. You had young white kids running around in Black Panther costumes. This should have been capitalized on the onset after Civil War but it wasn’t. You can really get the sense that they didn’t know what they had. If you actually take Black Panther out of the equation on the road to Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the story doesn’t miss a beat. The only thing is that [we know] Bucky is in Wakanda.

He then goes on to point out that Black Panther (2018), by design, was a standalone movie. He states that Bucky should have been involved with the fight with Killmonger as the ruler of Wakanda clearly affects Bucky’s life. If in Infinity War, it’s easy for him to get involved, he should have been in Black Panther more. Shuri even says “Another white box to fix.” With their advanced technology, he should have been fixed by the events of this film. They fix bullet wounds within 24 hours and essentially do neuro surgery within a few hours, at most. Black Panther takes place one week after Civil War, they could easily fix Bucky within that time frame. It doesn’t make sense, aside from trying to keep Bucky and other Avengers outside of the Black Panther film. Again, it was made to be a film that was connected, sure, but not in a way that would affect the overall story, aka a standalone movie.

This panel was one of the most detailed and analytical panel I attended during Comic-Con@Home. I will be writing up a thorough analysis of their discussion in a future editorial, so be sure to check back with Backseat Directors regularly to catch that article. I also encourage you to take to time to watch this panel, as I believe you will learn a great deal, even if you’re not a fan of the Black Panther film.

Finale

San Diego Comic-Con@Home was a very unique experience, but it was also a great pleasure to be able to attend. No one knows what the future holds for comic book conventions and other large gathering events, but it is nice to know that we have the technology and infrastructure to be able to share and participate in the things we love with other people who enjoy the same.

REVIEW: The Old Guard

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 125 minutes
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

The Old Guard is a superhero film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka. It is adapted from Rucka’s comic book of the same name. The film stars Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The Story & Direction

The Old Guard tells the story of a small group of vigilante warriors who all share a special ability, and attempt to use that ability to make the world a better and safer place. Our “superhero” team is led by the fearless Andy (Charlize Theron), along with three others who are extremely skilled in the art of combat. But what is the one superpower they all share? …Immortality. Almost every time that Andy and her team are shot, blown up, stabbed, fall from great heights, or are injured in any way, they are able to heal and recover—to the surprise of their attackers. This film was advertised as an over-the-top action film, which director Prince-Bythewood definitely delivers. The action is fast, fierce, and isn’t filled with excessive CGI aspects. The film is about the characters and their extended lifelong journey together.

The Characters

Aside from the obvious star aspect, Theron’s Andy is the one in charge because she has been alive the longest. We aren’t given her exact age, but she has been around “long enough” to have more life experience than her teammates. Her team is made up of partners Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) who met interestingly on opposite sides of the Crusades. They are joined by Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) who found the others during the Napoleonic Wars. They all have died and come back multiple times and lost a lot of people along the way. They have even lost other immortal team members. You may ask, “How is that possible when they are immortal?” The answer is what makes this story very compelling as it adds a very vulnerable aspect to these “superheroes.” To say what it is would be entering spoiler territory; however, it does allow for someone to watch this intriguing film all the way through—even if the story is somewhat familiar. Theron is definitely the standout and continues to show that she is a chameleon in Hollywood. Her acting in The Old Guard shows her character’s age and wisdom. Her experience has shown that the world hasn’t changed very much and any good she has done may have been in vain.

Charlize Theron and other cast members in a scene of The Old Guard | NETFLIX.

The team finds a new immortal, Nile (KiKi Layne), whom they have to convince of their powers and her own. Nile develops a bond with Andy and their relationship is a good one to follow throughout the film. Layne, mostly known for her work in 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk, provides a funny (at times) and heartfelt performance. However, Theron’s and Layne’s performances aren’t able to fully elevate the movie’s (somewhat) unoriginal story.

The Flaws

This film’s plot is not a unique one, even though it is decent enough to keep most viewers entertained. Each major plot point is fairly predictable and some of its attempted ethical aspects are not executed well. For example, Andy’s team sees themselves as an intervention force similar to that of DC Comics’ League of Shadows. They kill people when it is absolutely needed, but their newest recruit Nile does not approve of their methods. They are “saving” people by killing others. It’s contradictory but because this film’s biggest draw is its action sequences, this ethical dilemma seems glossed over; also there are some parts of the film that feel drawn out and could have been cut. In addition, the villain is fairly cliche, even though it tries to modernize a younger villain within a pharmaceutical company. Merrick is over-the-top at times but Melling does act his part well. It almost feels that this role is Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series who grew up and became successful. 

Cast members appear in a scene of The Old Guard | Netflix.

Overall

Even with these issues, The Old Guard does build a very interesting world, and the characters are intriguing enough to watch… With perhaps future sequels. Theron is an amazing star that continues to shine in this film, even if it is slightly unoriginal. You don’t need to rush to watch it, but it’s definitely worth watching if you have some free time for a decent action film. The Old Guard is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Da 5 Bloods

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 154 minutes
Director: Spike Lee

Da 5 Bloods is a war drama film directed and produced by Spike Lee. The film stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, and Chadwick Boseman. The film follows a group of aging Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam in search of treasure they buried while stationed there. Otis (Peters), Paul (Lindo), Melvin (Whitlock) and Eddie (Lewis) journey through Vietnam to retrieve their squad commander’s (Boseman) remains for a proper military burial.

Spike Lee is known as one of Hollywood’s best storytellers and his films are typically referred to as “Spike Lee Joints.” Lee received a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University in 1983, and his first feature-film, She’s Gotta Have It was released three years later. Over the course of his career Lee has directed 23 films and only 6 of them were not written by him. He has also starred in ten of them. His most famous works are She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing (1989), Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992), He Got Game (1998), 25th Hour (2002), Inside Man (2006), Chi-Raq (2015), and BlacKkKlansman (2018). In addition to his filmography, Lee has directed a number of music videos by artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Eminem. His work has won him numerous awards including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Student Academy Award, a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, two Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and the Cannes Grand Prix. Also interestingly, prior to Da 5 Bloods, Inside Man is his biggest box office hit, and BlacKkKlansman is the only film for which he has won an Academy Award. His films have explored race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other social and political issues.

(From left to right) Director Spike Lee, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis of Da 5 Bloods | NETFLIX. Photo credit: David Lee.

The Story & Direction

As with many “Spike Lee Joints,” Lee is able to explore his themes and messages in a very compelling way. In Da 5 Bloods he is able to mix a fictional story with real-life imagery flawlessly. One of the most obvious allegories is how this film shows the duality of how war in general deals with the Black community. These men go fight for the United States against an enemy that did nothing directly to them. Then when they return to their home country, they are treated as secondary citizens. This idea can be applied to almost all veterans in general, but it is especially evident toward the Black community. The Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964 and American intervention in the war started only a year later. The country had just started to recognize that discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was wrong. Even now, there are still problems in our country involving civil rights—not just people of color, but also women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, different religious groups, and people from different countries.

RELATED:

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Spike Lee

The current social climate adds to Lee’s (mostly) engaging and thought-provoking film. The film highlights the disproportionate nature of the African American sacrifice in Vietnam; African Americans suffered disproportionately high casualty rates in Vietnam. In 1965 alone, they comprised 14.1% of total combat deaths when they were 11% of the total U.S. population at the time (1). Furthermore in 1966, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara initiated ‘Project 100,000’ which further lowered military standards which he said would provide valuable training, skills, and opportunity to America’s poor. This allowed many Black men who had previously been ineligible to be drafted along with many poor and racially intolerant white men from the US South. This led to increased racial tension in the military (2). Out of all of the newly eligible draftees, 41% were black. Blacks often made up a disproportionate 25% or more of combat units, while constituting only 12% of the military. 20% of black males were combat soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. At the end of the war, black casualties averaged 12.5% of US combat deaths (1).

The film also feeds into issues of Black patriotism, inequality, and justice. In one flashback, in the Vietnamese jungle, the five comrades learn of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They also learn of the rioting back home in response to MLK’s death and the brutal government response to the riots. The broadcaster then asks, “Why you fight against us so far away from where you are needed?” to which Lee overplays footage of the 1968 riots that look unfortunately similar to the past few weeks. The film is partially an attempt to reclaim the Vietnam War historical narrative, but it’s also a terrific heist drama. As the story reaches the completion of getting the gold, the film is only halfway. This makes the second half almost uncertain. Along the journey, there is some great cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and the audience gets to know “Da 5 Bloods.”

Cast members in a scene of Da 5 Bloods | NETFLIX.

The Characters

This film has some amazing performances by the cast: the typical jester in Otis; grounded medic, Eddie; and the character, Paul, who is still haunted by his experience. They are also joined by Paul’s son, David. Lee is able to show this squad having a camaraderie that only occurs between brothers. The film starts off very similar to films like The Best Man (1999), Bridesmaids (2011), Last Vegas (2013), Going in Style (2017), and Girls Trip (2017)—this genre of films that have a bunch of friends getting back together to do one last big event. Whether you like that genre of film or not, one thing that they always have is chemistry between the stars. This adds an authentic feeling to them, and this film is no different in that aspect. All of the actors have chemistry with each other which makes each scene enjoyable. The standout is Lindo’s character who deals with guilt, greed, and PTSD. Lindo provides one of the best performances of the year so far, and his anti-hero never becomes cliche.

Lindo’s character, Paul, represents how so many veterans suffer from mental health issues after returning home from war. The film says people need counseling which some veterans can get and some cannot. It is said early on in the film that Paul doesn’t have a lot of money, so it is possible he cannot afford it. He is shown to be very proud, so even if he had money, he probably wouldn’t admit that he needed it. Plus, the older generation as a whole do not embrace therapy, especially minority populations (3). Lindo gives this character a very special performance. It’s very touching to see his friends rally around him when he is struggling. When his PTSD panic attack hits he thinks he’s all alone and that none of his friends will understand. This isn’t the case; they all have the same struggles and are in this together, adding to the realism of their brotherhood. The other actors are good, but Lindo definitely outshines them. The notion of Black servicemen fighting overseas for a country that disenfranchised them isn’t new but the way this film approaches it feels fresh. Boseman is not in the film too much but his charisma still finds a way to show itself.  His last scene in the film is very emotional and powerful. There’s also a small subplot dealing with one of the men and a local Vietnamese woman that touches on the many Amerasian children left behind in Vietnam after the war.

The Flaws

Unfortunately, some of the characters do feel awkward as not much is given to their backstory aside from a few one-liners here and there. Boseman isn’t in the film that much even though he has been shown to be a really good actor, e.g. 42 (2013), Get On Up (2014), and Marshall (2017). This is not to say his acting is poor in any way; in fact, it is really good, but his ability sadly feels wasted. He has proven to be a starring actor. Additionally, Lee’s writing has a lot going on in this film that does not use it’s 2.5 hour run time efficiently. He could have cut a few scenes here and there to make the story feel more fluid. The film’s pacing has some problems at the beginning that can feel rushed; the film switches that up and then slows down. The editing is also choppy at times and is very noticeable. There also appears to be no age disparity between the flashbacks and “present” day. Some of the actors look the exact same and also the “camera” footage that one of the characters was filming seemed very dated in comparison to the time period the film takes place in. (Maybe that’s the only working tech they have?) It’s never explained, though it is a cool aesthetic. One potential flaw for people could be how obvious Lee’s political views are in this film, which makes sense as he has always been outspoken on that matter.

Overall

Even with the odd pacing and not always efficient storytelling, this film has a good message that it is trying to get across. Spike Lee is one of the few directors that is able to tackle messages in both good and bad ways. In films like Da 5 Bloods, he is able do it with a great amount of brilliance. This film is extremely thrilling at times, and uses genre cliches in unique ways to reclaim a historical narrative. It works on pretty much every level. It will work as a conversation piece, an action movie, and a comedy. It gives the audience superb performances, especially by Lindo, and is able to bring back Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as one of the best anti-war songs of all time. Spike Lee has made a movie that not only speaks about the past but also feel very relevant for today. Even if the obvious political opinions are taken out, Da 5 Bloods is one of the best movies of the year and is definitely recommendable to anyone.

Citations:

  1. Westheider, James E. Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War; New York University Press; 1997; pp. 11–16
  2. Appy, Christian. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers & Vietnam. University of North Carolina Press; 2003; pp. 31–33.
  3. Murry, V.M., Heflinger, C.A., Suiter, S.V. et al. Examining Perceptions About Mental Health Care and Help-Seeking Among Rural African American Families of Adolescents. J Youth Adolescence 40, 1118–1131 (2011).

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: My Hindu Friend

Rock Salt Releasing
Rated: Unrated
Run Time: 124 minutes
Director: Hector Babenco

My Hindu Friend is Brazilian drama film, directed and written by Hector Babenco, starring Willem Dafoe, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Bárbara Paz, Selton Mello and Reynaldo Gianecchini.

This film was made back in 2015, but due to the director’s passing directly after the premiere, it is only now being released this year. The reason why is likely due to the film being based on the director’s personal experiences. His stand-in character is Diego played by Dafoe who is diagnosed with cancer. While he is hospitalized, he meets and befriends another patient, a Hindu 8-year-old boy who is also battling his own sickness.

Brazilian filmmaker Babenco directed many films over the course of 40+ years. His most famous film is Kiss of the Spider Woman for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director—the first Latin American to be nominated in that category. This film is meant to be his swan song, and for that this film is fairly poetic. The film documents his real-life battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his subsequent bone marrow transplant.

The Characters

At the beginning of the movie, Diego learns that his cancer has spread to his lungs and his doctor advises that he gets a bone marrow transplant. Undoubtedly, the shared sentiment with most cancer patients, Diego wants to live. The film then becomes an autobiographical series of snapshots including a wedding between Diego and his supporting partner, Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido). The film then goes through every grueling step of treating Diego’s cancer: chemotherapy, removal of bone marrow samples, comatose nights that include visions of a mysterious otherworldly character. In an extremely meta way, Diego lets his passion for cinema and his friendship with the young Hindu boy (Rio Adlakha) give him a reason to live again, but it ends up being more difficult than he thought.

Willem Dafoe and Maria Fernanda Cândido in a scene of My Hindu Friend | Rock Salt Releasing.

Dafoe as Diego is mesmerizing as he is able to make the audience care for him and hate him at the same time. Diego is indifferent to the world and is miserable to his wife. He constantly accuses her of having affairs but expects her to be there for him when he can’t handle the pain anymore; however, because of the circumstances and Dafoe’s brilliant acting, audience members never hate him too much. Viewers understand that he’s in mortal fear of his life and he’s angry. Each scene feels very natural and realistic, and any viewer can feel the despair happening in this movie. Candido, as his dutiful partner, is also quite good, and her character’s relationship with Diego is the powerhouse point of the film.

The Flaws

The film really struggles with its balance between the serious aspects and outrageous aspects; the latter can really affect the viewing experience as they are so odd that they feel completely different from the prior scenes. They are there to be Diego’s hallucinations, but the transitions between them and real life feel really abrupt. The title of the film feels a little off since the interactions between Diego and the little Hindu boy are limited in comparison to those outside of the hospital. This may have been purposefully done; however, given the amount of hallucinations and the title of the film, it is not too clear on why it was done. The film does drag on a little bit which may dissuade some viewers.

Willem Dafoe in a scene of My Hindu Friend | Rock Salt Releasing.

Overall

It is fairly interesting to see how this film essentially had Babenco analyzing himself and (given this film is his last) it ends up giving more sympathy to the man’s career. The beauty of this film is in the small moments of this procedure where the audience gets to see the feelings of the characters. That is where Dafoe is perhaps at his best. This is another film in his resume that shows he is one of Hollywood’s most under-appreciated actors. This film may not be perfect and it is odd at times but it is very touching when it tackles themes of mortality and rediscovering life. This film is definitely worth checking out as it is a rather surreal experience that allows the viewer to see how Babenco confronts death. It is now on Amazon Prime.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

The Importance of Superheroes

Artwork from the DC Extended Universe | DC Comics & Warner Bros. Pictures

During this ongoing pandemic, yours truly was participating in the social media trend of a “30 Day Film Challenge” where participants refer to one film each day under a specific category, such as “the first film that you remember watching.” When I arrived on Day 10, the category was “Your Favorite Superhero Film“—and I hit a wall. Each day was pretty easy, or I did not take it as seriously. The Superhero film genre has hit an all-time high, with one (Avengers: Endgame) even setting the box office record for any movie ever made. We, as a film community, have started to think Superhero films matter more now than ever. I oddly thought this question was more serious than it probably needed to be.

This decision was difficult—there have been numerous films that could fall under this category, and I also started to think about what makes viewers enjoy themselves so much during these films. No matter your gender, sex, race, or ethnicity, there is a superhero film that you attach yourself to. Before early Thursday night screenings became a thing, many viewers would attend the midnight screenings dressed up for the newest movie in a connected superhero universe or as billionaire vigilantes. After leaving the theater, we spent months on end debating who or which is the best! “Who is the best Batman?” or the “MCU vs DCEU” debate. These conversations transcend the fandoms and even reach those who are not connected to social media and pop culture. Everyone has their favorite representation of a character or their favorite superhero—but why?

Superheroes are meant to inspire. They represent someone we are not, or someone that can do things that we can’t. They can provide an escape into a world where someone is there for us even when our protectors or our medical and social institutions have let us down. Anger and sadness are commonplace emotions felt throughout our society because of the regular injustices we see or even experience ourselves: unjust murders because of racial tensions and prejudices; governments’ inability or flat out refusal to act; betrayal by those we loved or considered friends; our world is full of struggles that seem to find you no matter your background or social status.

Christopher Reeve and Helen Slater pose as Superman and Supergirl respectively. | Warner Bros. Pictures

People want to believe in the existence of fictional figures like Superman or Supergirl—someone they could depend on to save them when the humans who are supposed to either can’t or won’t. We want a person like Steve Rogers (Captain America) to do what the rest of us aren’t courageous enough to do and take a stand when it’s not convenient to do so. We want someone that brave enough to say, “I can do this all day.” Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told that real life superheroes exist in our healthcare facilities, in our schools, and at other times, in the military and police. We are constantly shown and told how “not all superheroes wear capes.” But what happens when that’s not enough? Numerous times in history people who are in a position to help choose not to act. People who are recognized as “ordinary” heroes might let down those looking up to them and expecting them to be there or to be there for them. Superheroes serve a purpose in filling this void.

Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg wrote, “[superhero stories help us in] finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for a good purpose.” She stated that “superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to:”

  1. Trauma
  2. Destiny
  3. Choice
From Batman: Year One | Art by David Mazzucchelli

Trauma; such as the one that young Bruce Wayne goes through. He makes a promise to his murdered parents to fight against the crime in Gotham City. Rosenburg states that this is directly applicable to a lot of real life scenarios. Her past research has shown that many people experience growth “after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists.”

Destiny; similar to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” to fight demons. She has to be the one who does not have a normal life and will take on this burden. Sometimes we are thrown into scenarios that we may not have predicted but we have to adapt and push through anyway.

A snippet from Amazing Fantasy #15, Vol. 1 | Marvel Comics 1962

Rosenberg’s last type of experience is similar to what Spider-Man goes through. When he initially gets his powers, he uses it for selfish reasons until his beloved Uncle Ben is killed. This type of experience is similar to the first, but instead of the trauma defining the hero, it’s the choice that matters. No matter whether ‘your’ Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or Peter Porker, this choice exists. They could stay wrestling for money to pay rent; they could stay home and be a normal kid instead of saving the multiverse. The choice to do what is right versus what is easy is a choice that we, as humans, make every day. Rosenberg states that, “[superheroes] inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose” (link). We want to attach ourselves to these characters; we want to see them in ourselves; we want to see those with fantastical abilities are still imperfect and relatable, and we are comforted by seeing them struggle with ordinary problems and still do the right thing in the end.

Recent research from Kyoto University in Japan shows that this “choice” can happen even before we learn how to speak. Their study had preverbal infants shown short animations in which one character purposely bumps into another. They then showed the infants a third character who could either prevent it from happening or not do anything at all. The infants consistently wanted the third character to help and prevent the pain. This study showed that even though they could not speak they recognized what heroism was and wanted it to happen.

“Six-month-old infants are still in an early developmental stage, and most will not yet be able to talk. Nevertheless they can already understand the power dynamics between these different characters, suggesting that recognizing heroism is perhaps an innate ability.”

David Bulter – “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” (link to article)

This idea is then touched on again in the television show What Would You Do? People are shown how ordinary people behave when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to stand by and mind their own business. Each scenario has the viewer hoping for the regular people to step in and stop whatever the situation is. We all want to be that person who does what’s right even when it’s not easy. Data suggests that feelings are one of the stronger reasons why audience members connect to certain heroes (link). Personally, I attach myself to stories of people and characters who have gone through trauma and stand up to those who are wrong. As Batman, Daredevil and the X-Men deal with their respective issues, I cope with what I have gone through and deal with my own conflicts.

In the past, and still now today, society often sees comics and comic book movies as only enjoyed by children or “nerds.” With Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time, Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, and a multitude of films winning Academy Awards for both their performances and their technical aspects, this is clearly not true. More people enjoy these characters outside of children and “nerds” than ever before. There are films that are clearly made more for children than older crowds, but there are just as many that are for adults and have many more important themes. Superheroes have become the modern-day mythology that tackles issues, from the struggles of high school to mental illnesses. No matter which superhero you attach yourself to, or when you attach yourself to them, there is no denying the effect that they have on our lives.

Which superhero do you identify with the most? Or which superhero has inspired you the most? Let me know down in the comments section below!

REVIEW: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Focus Features
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 101 minutes
Director: Eliza Hittman

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a drama film written and directed by Eliza Hittman. It stars Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. It was originally released in theaters on March 13, 2020; however, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, it only made a little over $16,000 and as such was released on digital at the beginning of April.

The Story & Direction

The film is about Autumn (played by Flanigan), a teenage girl from a small town in rural Pennsylvania who finds out that she is pregnant. Not having the best parental figures, she hides her pregnancy from them. Her small town only leaves her with a few options but she decides there is only one way out of her situation. She and her cousin, Skylar (played by Ryder), scrape together what money they can and catch a bus to New York to get an abortion. The film’s pacing feels similar to a thriller at times because of what these two girls go through.

The film is very solemn and relatively simple, yet it is an authentic story of a lower-middle-class teen facing an unexpected pregnancy and doing her best to deal with it. There have been other films such as 2007’s Juno that have dealt with the same topic, however this film feels very current and also very nonjudgmental towards this young girl who must make a very difficult decision.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not meant to be a blockbuster but rather a film about choice. This film also looks into the discomforts that many girls and women feel with come-ons, harassment, and inappropriate behavior that can happen regularly. Men are not looked at in a positive light in this film, but it is meaningful in its portrayal. While not all men are similar to those shown in this film, there are definitely a good amount that are and these are the ones the film is representing. The film demonstrates that there are possibilities for men and/or boys to be scumbags no matter their age or location. Hittman shows this in the local supermarket where old men try to invite the main characters to a party while also dealing with their boss’s harassment. There are less obvious demonstrations of this from Autumn’s stepfather who describes their loving dog as a “slut,” who is “easy” to please. Their efforts to get help from a man has to be exchanged for something else in return.

Heavy, emotional themes are abundant throughout, and show how often our ability to make decisions about our own health is so often not our decision to make. Hittman shows all of this through Autumn’s story, even with the lack of a film score. The film’s silence makes the film pass slowly, but this helps to build up the plot and keep the film engaging throughout the entire runtime.

The Characters

Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in a scene of Never Rarely Sometimes Always | Focus Features

Autumn and Skylar are working-class teenagers in a man’s world. Their resources and opportunities are dependent on the men in their lives, for better or for worse; though in this movie’s case, it’s more of the latter than the former. At the beginning of the film, Autumn stands on an auditorium stage performing at a high school talent show. She is clearly one of the better performers as she follows an Elvis impersonator. She gets on stage and plays on her acoustic guitar a cover version of “He’s Got the Power,” by the Exciters. The song is supposed to be about a man who has a woman fall in love with him and changes her life. By looking at Autumn, one would think she would play a more lively version of the song but her version is filled with pain. When she sings the lyrics, “He makes me do things I don’t want to do and “he’s got the power—the power of love over me,” any viewer will know that her interpretation of that line is not the same as the original song. This is the only time in the film that shows her outgoing side, and a real effort to be herself, only for someone in the audience to mutter “slut” at the end of her performance, and her stepfather being forced to compliment Autumn on her performance.

It’s plain to see that Autumn does not have many friends, and her parents do not seem to care for her much either. Her cousin is the only one there for her in a world that would be so much more lonely without each other. Flanigan portrays Autumn as a person who expresses very little emotion, but it helps to make her more intriguing. Very little is explained about who she is through dialogue. Flannigan makes Autumn’s eyes mesmerizing as there is a mystery that is not given to the audience in an obvious way. There is no indication of how she became pregnant or who the father might be. Viewers have to see her story play out, and, unfortunately, end up having to assume the worst when it comes to her love life. The film shows numerous sexual predators, from boys at her school to men on buses and trains.

Both Flanigan and Ryder both gave amazing performances, with Flanigan’s being the standout. Each moment she had on screen was done so well. Each scene that they have together shows them becoming closer and closer as cousins and as friends. Flanigan is able to take single words and make them have meaning. There is even a scene that has no words but it is just as powerful. This scene shows Autumn and Skyler clasping hands, and given what is happening around them, you can just feel their friendship. Flanigan also shows her acting ability in a scene involving the Manhattan clinic where she is required to answer questions with the titular answers. This questionnaire pushes Autumn to answer very uncomfortable questions that most likely she has never been asked before. Over the course of the film, Hittman has brought her audience to care for Autumn. She shows Autumn dealing with many encounters with sexual predators, while she is able to push her feelings down and ignore them; however, like most of us, Autumn has a limit. She hits her limit when she has to talk to a counselor and ends up breaking down. This scene will tear any viewer’s heart out.

One of the most interesting bits of the film is that Autumn is seemingly awake for the entire film. She does not sleep for multiple days until she is back on her bus headed home. She feels absolutely relieved after her journey and after everything she has endured. Even though she is aware that her struggles are not over, she learns to take her victories when she can.

The Flaws

This film deals with a very heavy topic that may upset some who disagree with its overall message. It also can be difficult to watch, not only for its themes but also because of the grim feeling of the film. However, if neither of those things are big issues for you, then there’s not much else to critique regarding the overall quality of the film.

Overall

This film is not about Autumn’s love-life or how she became pregnant, rather, it is about her choice in the matter and the difficulties she faces once she has made a choice. This film is one of the best films I’ve seen that demonstrates women’s rights without it feeling forced. Hittman puts these two young teenage girls in a very believable situation and shows how life does not give easy paths for everyone. It’s a simple story with a very powerful message that can be viewed by almost everyone. In the case of the stay-at-home advisories, this film is definitely a stream, but if normal situations were in place, it would definitely be a “Go See It” in theaters.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Lone Star Deception

TriCoast Entertainment
Rated: TV-14
Run Time: 106 minutes
Directors: Don Okolo & Robert Peters

Lone Star Deception is a drama film about Tim Bayh who is the first black candidate to run for Governor in Texas’ history, just after the first candidate withdraws due to a prostitution scandal. Bayh has to survive assassination attempts and face down his own demons. The film stars Eric Roberts and Anthony Ray Parker and was directed by Don Okolo and Robert O. Peters.

The Story/The Direction

Bill Sagle (Eric Roberts) finds out that his nephew is being blackmailed. If his nephew doesn’t pull out of the race, a compromising video will be released. Sagle and his wealthy, white colleagues now need to figure out who they are going to replace as candidate to run for governor. Sagle chooses Tim Bayh (Anthony Ray Parker, Dozer from The Matrix), as the new gubernatorial candidate. Bayh is an African American man who works for Sagle but has zero political background or experience; furthermore, Bayh has been a registered Democrat all of his life, clearly demonstrating how well-thought out their plan was… Or not. Bayh agrees to run as a Republican just as long as it doesn’t conflict with his values. The main reason Bayh is chosen by this group of wealthy individuals is based on the premise that his race will “guarantee” them the win because “it worked for Obama.”

The Characters

Eric Roberts is the star of the movie and his dialogue shows it. While this may not be the best film of his career, the film was seemingly written for his character to do fine. The rest of the cast are honestly forgettable or not worth mentioning—at least positively.

Anthony Ray Parker and Eric Roberts appear in a scene of Lone Star Deception | TriCoast Entertainment

The Flaws

Where to begin? First off, this is a terribly written film. Real-estate-developer-turned-writer Ed DeZecallos has this story (or lack of story) full of the cheesiest of cheesy one-liners. In addition, Tim’s candidacy for Governor is compared to Obama’s 2008 presidential run time and time again. It’s really hard to tell if the writer really loves Obama or if he was the only African American politician he knew of. It’s understandable to say Obama was the first African American President and that’s why they want to use Bayh in a similar fashion; however, there are numerous other African American governor candidates and/or actual governors they could have used as examples. Maybe this was done on purpose to show that rich white men in Texas are unfamiliar with these other African American political leaders? It’s definitely not made clear through the writing. In addition to the poor writing, the story makes no logical sense. When Bill’s nephew commits suicide, those involved in the blackmailing still want to go through with it, so Bill tells his governor candidate to “handle it,” which he does through scenes that are seemingly there to push Parker as more of an action star. Obviously this is another problem that could prevent his chances of being elected, but with this type of writing that was not the case.

The postproduction on this film was also terribly orchestrated. At multiple points in the movie the scene switches from normal visuals to some type of a yellow tint and back again to normal. This might be due to how they filmed the movie or the cameras they used, however, it looks absolutely atrocious. To say the acting is bad would be a compliment to the film. Parker stumbles over the dialogue multiple times and pauses awkwardly. This may have been done to add tension but failed to do so. Rather, it was odd and the only explanation is that there was a “no second takes” policy on set.

Overall

This 106-minute film had probably an hour of extra footage. The quality feels similar to a movie put out on YouTube in 2008. Most straight-to-home movies usually have small budgets but there’s some passion that would make the film somewhat watchable—that does not seem to be the case here. If readers have absolutely nothing better to watch during the Coronavirus pandemic, they may enjoy the film as it could fall into the “so bad it’s good” genre, but that’s about it. If they have other films they want to watch, this one is definitely worth skipping all together.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Akira Kurosawa

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa

As the son of a Japanese immigrant, Akira Kurosawa was embedded into my life at a very young age. Kurosawa has inspired some of the world’s most successful directors; he was highly regarded by Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, where the latter even referred to him as “the pictorial Shakespeare of our time.”

Background

Kurosawa was born in Tokyo, Japan on March 23, 1910 and was the youngest of four sisters and four brothers. His family could trace their lineage back to 11th century Samurai. As he grew older, he became close with his elder brother, Heigo. Kurosawa later said that he and his brother “would go to the movies, particularly silent movies, and then discuss them all day” (McDonald, William. The New York Times Book of the Dead: Obituaries of Extraordinary People. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2016).  Eventually, he started working as an assistant director right before World War II.

Directing and International Fame

Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo in a scene of Rashomon (1950) | Daiei Film

He started directing films in 1941, but it was not until 1950 that he shocked the world with his film, Rashomon, about the psychological struggle over the nature of truth itself. Rashomon went on to win an Honorary Academy Award for ‘Most Outstanding Foreign Language Film’ and Akira Kurosawa’s name became forever embedded into history. Rashomon marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage. This also came at a time where the United States had defeated Japan in World War II just six years prior.

After Rashomon, Kurosawa went on to direct The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress and many more films. Over his 57-year career, Kurosawa directed 30 films and won over 50 awards worldwide for his cinematic work. Some of his accolades include a ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ Academy Award in 1976 for Dersu Uzala, a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Academy Award in 1990, and a Directors Guild of America’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1992. 

His Style

Some may say that Kurosawa’s films can feel a bit slow because there are long periods between the main plot points. However, if one is only watching a Kurosawa film for the action scenes, they are already missing the point of the film—Kurosawa uses repetition in his films’ stories to show how life is cyclical. He also uses pauses internationally so the audience will analyze what has come before the pause and then understand the following results. Kurosawa’s most important theme is drawn from his personal belief that humans are fundamentally good. A film’s ability to affect the audience through its themes and messages are qualities of a good film. Kurosawa took that one step further and embedded that idea into his film-making process.

His Impact

George Lucas showing Akira Kurosawa details of a Snowspeeder during the making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Kurosawa is the man who opened Asian cinema to Western audiences. While some film junkies may not have ever seen his films, they for sure have seen the films he inspired, or other adaptionations that are based on his films. Rashomon has inspired numerous films such as The Usual Suspects, Gone Girl, Vantage Point, Hoodwinked, and several Quentin Tarentino films. George Lucas’s Star Wars was based on Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood is a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. 2016’s The Magnificent Seven starring Chris Pratt is a very loose remake of the original 1969 The Magnificent Seven, which was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai; this film was also the inspiration behind Three Amigos and A Bug’s Life. Kurosawa has also influenced the film world in other ways, from editing to how a scene is blocked. Both current and future movie fans across the globe can learn a lot from Japanese cinema and other Asian films.

Akira Kurosawa stands between George Lucas (left) and Steven Spielberg (right) after receiving his Honorary Academy Award at the 62nd Academy Awards

Early on in his career, Kurosawa had to overcome post-WWII sentiments and prejudice, specifically in the United States—anti-Japanese and anti-Asian propaganda was abundant. Much has changed since then; there have been two Academy Awards for Best Picture given to Asian directors (Ang Lee in 2013 for Life of Pi and Bong Joon Ho in 2019 for Parasite). Four Asian directors (including Kurosawa) have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (Ang Lee, Bong Joon Ho and Hiroshi Teshigahara). Both Ang Lee and Bong Joon Ho won the Oscar for Best Director for their aforementioned films. It’s safe to say that these modern directors would not have accomplished what they have without the foundations laid by Kurosawa. Progress has been made in recognizing quality filmmaking at the international level, but we still have a long way to go.

Kurosawa’s embedded themes still resonate with viewers today. If you have not seen any of his films, Throne of Blood, Ran, Kagemusha, plus the others mentioned in this article are a good place to start. If you’d like to check out Kurosawa’s entire directing work, click HERE to see the rest of his filmography.

How many Akira Kurosawa’s films have you seen? Let me know in the comments section or hit me up on social media.

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