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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Black Butterfly: A Review

Black Butterfly, a remake of the 2008 French film, seems to draw heavily on other films about writers in thriller and horror situations. Most obvious are the comparisons to Misery and The Shining, down to the shared names of the lead characters in those films and in this one. Overall the movie has much to recommend it, in theory, but little to distinguish it. The basic concept is fairly similar to Misery, in that a once-popular writer is held hostage (though not by a fan in this case).

The hostage taker this time is the drifter, Jack (played by Johnathan Rhys Meyers) who saves the writer Paul (played by Antonio Banderas) from being beaten up in a diner. He is later picked up on the side of the road by Paul. After reading Paul’s latest work, Jack and Paul come to an “agreement” where Jack helps Paul out of his writer’s block. The film attempts to make points about storytelling and the craftwork for creating believable works. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue about storytelling seems to be little more than “write from experience” with Jack threatening Paul with a knife to make his writing more realistic.

Write from experience might have been a good idea for the screenwriters to stick to since the film itself suffers from attempting to take the viewers on an unnecessarily complex series of twists. The film also suffers from moments where credibility is stretched. The entire sequence of motion is set into play by Jack saving Paul from a fight with a truck driver. This fight was entirely set up by chance and it seems unlikely the final scenes, with all the implications, would have been set into motion by luck.

 Furthermore, in the sense of menace around the small town, with reports of murders throws the aura of fear around so much that it seems unlikely anyone would pick up a stranger. Jack, as played by Rhys Meyers, is unnerving enough from the outset that the fact that someone would pick him up and offer to house him, even for a day, stretches belief. With him then in the house, why he lets him stay and doesn’t pick up on the warning signs of clearly sinister intentions seems even less believable.

 With that being said, both the performances of Banderas and Rhys Meyers are what drive the film which at times seems to be a double protagonist play in the style of Harold Pinter. Their engaging performances, more than the writing (which is rare for a thriller) are what capture the attention and retain it.

The problem with the final scene is that it stretches credibility and insults the intelligence of the viewer. Without this small scene, the film still has occasional issues but is mostly engaging and definitely entertaining. The twist before the final twist is not exactly great but it sits well enough. It is the final twist that pushes the boundaries of belief one step too far. With this kind of film, there is little new material to work with and it is no surprise that writers try too hard to make things seem fresh. They did not succeed in this time.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sleepless: A review

Sleepless: A Review


Sleepless is by no means an original film. This is not entirely a problem when watching an action movie since entertainment value supersedes originality, but with a vast number of action films being produced, having an original storyline would add points to a film of this genre. A remake of the French film Sleepless Night , this adds to the feeling that the viewer has seen it all before. The ability to know what is happening before it happens is not ideal when the movie needs to really capture the audience’s attention by building tension.

However, this is not a bad film. While it does possess a number of clichés and the entire crooked cop storyline can feel a bit rewarmed, this is a solidly entertaining film. The problem is that for fans of action films, they’ll have seen better done versions of every set piece. The chase scenes have all been done before as have the gunfights in parking garages and fistfights in kitchens. Not every film can show us a unique action sequence like John Woo but if we have to see things we’ve seen before, it’s reasonable to expect the standard to match. But, the issue with the film lies really in execution of the familiar.

The storyline doesn’t help either. There are many attempted twists to the story but they never really land. From the opening introduction of Jennifer Bryant who is completely sure that something is rotten at the police force followed by the immediate confirmation that government issued ammunition was used at a crime scene to the torture scene that happens in the middle of a baseball park for little reason other than to show the criminals they’re dealing with are bad guys, there’s a lot that seems contrived.

Plot holes are an issue as well. The fact that the Novak, the crime boss who wants the cocaine, meets with the crooked cop who happens to have picked up the cocaine and works for him but doesn’t mention the fact that he’s done so then leading Novak to continue to search for it is one of the main issues. Having every single person in Las Vegas have a gun in their glove compartment, while convenient for the film, isn’t particularly believable either. Having Vincent run through the entire film while bleeding profusely from a stab wound also brings to mind the question of if he should have bled out by now.

 By stating the film is not a bad film, I mean that someone who is unfamiliar with action films and tropes will miss the clichés.  Action film fans will have nothing special to speak about after the film is done and even those who are not fans will have trouble remembering this film in the future. Its decent entertainment but isn’t at the forefront of the genre. The issue is not all lack of execution but it seems a lack of ambition. The film is content to be a standard film of the form but has a talented enough cast and decent source material to be better than it was.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Marvel Netflix Series: The Villains

Marvel Netflix Series: The Villains

Filled with spoilers below

Over the past few months I’ve watched Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Daredevil in that order, so I’ve watched them all out of order. While this means I wasn’t really able to appreciate the interlocked nature of the series and really spot cross-series links when they showed up (a lot of the time) it did allow me to take each of the series from a stand-alone point (as much as that is possible when Marvel movies and television series have been around since forever and I’ve been reading comics pretty much my whole life).

The series are all more distinct than they are similar but one of the uniting threads is the quality of the villains they face. In Luke Cage this means Cottonmouth (played by Mahershala Ali, who seems ever present and excellent these days) and Mariah to a lesser extent although the character of Diamondback doesn’t match up to those two and seems like a late and not as well thought out entry (for every season of these shows, I’ve thought at one point or another that 13 episodes might be too much since the narrative strains somewhere between halfway and episode 10). Mariah, especially, is interesting in her descent from corrupt politician who wants the best for her neighbourhood most of all to a more dark and sinister character. Unfortunately her rise coincides with the killing off of Cottonmouth (by her) which deprives us of one of the smoother but still ruthless villains. Cottonmouth is noteworthy especially for his willingness to be a villain. Unlike Mariah or Fisk in Daredevil he isn't interested in the city and making it better. He wants things better for himself.

 In Jessica Jones, Kilgrave remains one of the most entertaining super powered villains in recent memory because of the depth in which they try to psychoanalyze him. Sure, mind control is pretty scary but Kilgrave is a supremely evil character whose warped sense of the world may be due to the fact that he has no idea how to exist in a world where he’s never had to hear no. It doesn’t make him any less evil (choosing to do unethical things is a choice, despite the reasoning) but it does make him much more relatable. After all, ethics are pretty subjective and he’s never had parents who told him (or could tell him) what was right or wrong.  

Wilson Fisk is undoubtedly the best character of Daredevil’s first season. The second season of the series is quite good as well but without a strong central villain, it lacks the focus of the narrative. The return of Stick and Yoshioka plus the introduction of antiheroes like The Punisher and Elektra are welcome additions (especially The Punisher) but the episodes in season two featuring Fisk (rapidly on his way to owning the Kingpin moniker) are the best in the season. His manipulation of Frank Castle which sends him on the way to the incarnation of the Punisher is magnificent.
Fisk rules the screen in season one because of the originality of his character. We’ve seen Kingpin for years in Daredevil comics as well as in Spiderman so getting originality into this character is a decent achievement. Having the character with a redone backstory involving killing his father (also, is the entire cast of The Wire hired by Marvel for this series?) immediately adds credibility to Fisk’s way of seeming like a man who is childish in his actions. While violent and manipulative in a very adult way, Fisk’s mannerisms and voice seem like he’s always on the verge of either crying or screaming. Fisk’s love for Vanessa and his desire to do everything to please her also has a childlike romanticism to it.

Without strong antagonists, series are not set up to succeed. In the past it was enough to have villains who were caricatures which would be made up for by the heroes commanding the screen. But as heroes have become more troubled and complex, the need for complex villains has arisen as well (it was well overdue). Hopefully the trend of quality villains continues into future seasons and series as well.