Black Mass (2015)

BlackMass

Many people have been waiting for Johnny Depp to shed his Jack Sparrow persona and return to the world of acting. Although Black Mass delivered his long over due performance, that wasn’t all Scott Cooper delivered. Johnny Depp equally shares the screen with Joel Edgerton, who delivered a performance that was full of range and believability. In particular, Edgerton portrayal of John Connolly is always able to gain great sympathy from the audience, even when the character was the most despicable or self righteous.

The story itself may have been slow or less kinetic than what the movie audience has grown to expect from gangster movies. However, this is not a bad thing. The plot is organic, and although it is all being told through interviews and interrogations, each piece evolves naturally. There’s never a time when one is left scratching their heads over leaps of logic. There is a part of the movie where Johnny Depp’s character, Whitey, explains to his son that, “If nobody saw you do it, then it didn’t happen”. This phrase is part of Cooper’s meticulously crafted movie. Through out the movie, one may notice that Whitey never appears in a scene by himself. Therefore, there isn’t a time where we see Whitey’s express his inner turmoil or hear long voice over monologues. This isn’t to say there aren’t opportunities where we could have been clued in, yet we don’t witness the personal transformation of Whitey. Instead, Cooper puts us in the witness’ chair. Not only does this technique help remind us this is story compiled through interviews and research, but also it forces the audience to only focus on the crimes Whitey committed. After all, that is why we know who Whitey is in the first place. Watching him grieve over the loss of his family would have helped further develop the character, but it would have also distracted us from this movie’s intent. That is why Depp was perfect for this role. Depp has an amazing talent of embodying his character to the point where we don’t need exposition and back story to understand his role.

In a relatively short career, this being Cooper’s third directed movie, he has shown us that he is confident in his actors as well as himself and even the audience. There’s never a moment where we feel he had to dumb things down to hold our attention. Black Mass simply flows with a natural rhythm that feels right for the story he is telling.

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Human Centipede (2009)

In 2009 Tom Six released HCa film everyone knows, few have watched, and nobody wants to see. Human Centipede reminds us of the exploitation era of the seventies where films like Last House on the Left, Cannibal Holocaust and Salo were considered too shocking to watch. Unlike other modern Torture Porn movies like Hostel II or the Saw franchise, Human Centipede slows the pacing down thereby dancing on the razor’s edge between body horror and torture porn.
Is it sadistic or entertaining to watch? It is definitely entertaining. One can’t ignore the deliberate framing and composition of every shot. This isn’t a shaky cam running through a film makers sadistic imagination. From scenes of deep green’s and reds to warm amber tones, we view Tom Six painting with colors and always directing our visual focus. This even includes using paintings of bloody siamese twins. It’s pleasing when we can tell we’re moving to the next sequence simply due to a detailed shot composition.
The story focuses on Dr. Heiter, a sadistically evil doctor of Nazi proportions. Dieter Laser’s performance of Dr. Heiter is beyond extraordinary. His body language is so masterful there are times we can see rage boiling beneath his skin. One of the truly terrifying moments is when he is coaxing Ashley C. Williams’ character, Lindsay, out of her hiding place. His life is dedicated to realizing his fantasy of creating conjoined creatures, such as siamese twins or a Human Centipede, and that is the premise. A body horror premise that is so simple but it carries enough weight to gross out and scare people away from ever watching it. Yes, there is definitely a moment one may pause and wonder if it’s the Deep Throat for those with the scatological fetish. Maybe, it would be if it lacked the previously mentioned technical skill and the theme wasn’t about pain.
The theme is where we edge back against the torture porn. The genre isn’t about the actual infliction of pain and suffering. Rather, it’s about isolation and submission. Them not being able to fight back or has any power to stop their conjoined fate is terrifying. Then, when reality starts to settle in, we realize this self proclaimed doctor lacks the ability to successfully pull off this experiment. This is one of the most mature aspects of the writing. When we begin, we’re given an absurdist movie, there’s a shot of a guy mourning his three conjoined dogs, and we visit the lives of the two melodramatic girls. However, as the story progresses, we see the colors fade into a sterile white and the operation becomes more documentary style. There’s an unnerving scene of the doctor formally explaining their procedure while an unmic actor screams in the background giving it more of that “this could happen to you” tone.
Although our victims go to a point of no return, our catharsis is delivered because of Dr. Heiter’s ego. After he takes on godhood, we watch his ego stumble and become careless. One could easily imagine all the problems going wrong with this doctor’s conjunction and procurement of victims. However, there are no quick endings in this tale of madness, for not even a bullet to the head promises a quick death. In the end, the slower pacing made sure this movie never pushed to extreme shock, and the high production quality and great performances continue to make it a horror that shouldn’t be ignored.

Powers: Pilot (2015)

Powers tv

The pilot for Powers is an immaculate, paint-by-numbers, antihero, melodrama. Being a fan of Bendis for a better part of my life, it has been exciting to know one of his creator owned property will be officially adapted. However, I am not sure this is the adaptation I’ve been waiting for.
First of all, the production design is a little too sterile looking. Even when the scene takes place in an abandoned and tagged warehouse, everything looks like it has been neatly decorated. There’s another scene which takes place at a squatter house which could easily be mistaken for a million dollar nightclub. This set design is accompanied by the overdone CGI of the powers scenes. However, the CGI clearly lacks the same budget and the production quality of Agents of SHIELD. Thus, they should have focused more on practical effects. Although Arrow reshoots its action sequences in the same warehouse district countless times, it still adds to the grounded realism which Powers so far lacks.
The acting is very well done by the entire cast. However, the dialogue and plot don’t compliment the acting. The lines are often mediocre that the well acted lines come off sounding melodramatic, which sadly distracts from the scene. The clearest example is when we meet Eddie Izzard’s Wolf character. Thankfully, Susan Heyward’s ability to shoot wit and sarcasm out of Deena Pilgrim’s mouth keeps the dialogue entertaining.
The plot itself is the same one we have all seen in any antihero cop show. This is completed with the hungover and half naked protagonist contemplating his inner demons while staring out the window. However, this time not only do we get the loss of a partner trope, but also we get the loss of superpowers. In fact, the writers just keep merrily skipping through each noir trope without skipping a beat. Yet, when we peel back that nonsense, we’re left with a plot which focuses on a protagonist, Christian Walker, who is suffering through identity loss and suicidal depression. That could be interesting when flavored with superpowers.
In the comicbook world, the reason why the subgenre which comprise of comics like Powers, Wanted, SEX, Kick Ass and many others is because their subject matter often deals with issues not commonly discussed in the superhero genre. With the proliferation of the Superhero genre in movies and tv, it seemed like a good time for Powers to come out. However, the only original aspect of this show is Walker gets his powers taken away, yet that is a very small part of this show.
Nevertheless, I am only referring to the freely available pilot. It could very well evolve and progress further with the characters and the story. But, there are already other superhero shows which are more widely available which have a firmer grasp on the superhero niche. So far, the only ones who will seek out Powers are comic geeks, like yours truly, or PS fanboys. Otherwise, it’s hard to see why one who only knows about superheros through Agents or Arrow to seek this title out.

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Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters (Review)

venom

Writer: Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis once wrote a haunting Thunderbolt’s story arc called Faith in Monsters. This story tied directly into the Marvel’s Civil War era. Marvel’s United States had been rocked by the Superhuman registration act. This law required all vigilantes to “unmask” themselves and register their identities with the government. Because this paralleled with similar laws of Nazi Germany, a schism formed between Captain America and Iron Man which lead to Captain America’s assassination by Bucky Barnes. During this time, Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn has been given the chance by Tony Stark to form a new team of Thunderbolts. They are given the task of enforcing the mutant registration act. This is the context Warren Ellis’ new incarnation of Thunderbolts takes place. The Thunderbolts are a team unlike other Marvel Teams because its ranks only include B-list villains. Ellis version is no different. This team is comprised of Venom, Songbird, Penance, Moonstone, Radioactive Man, Swordman, and Bullseye while having Green Goblin as its director. However, unlike other incarnations of this team or other antihero mashups, Warren Ellis’ team is brutal and uncompromising. Warren Ellis style of writing often incorporates real world psychological profiles for his characters, and that style adds an extra element of horror to this story arc. Each member has their own unique sociopathic identity which are all revealed over the course of interviews with each member of the team. Bullseye achieves a rush of euphoric emotions whenever he kills no matter who it is or the reason why he does it. This creates a perverse and godlike affinity which is also void of any sense of morality. Then there’s the Swordsman who crafted a fetish by wrapping the hilt of his sword with his dead sister’s flesh. With this incestuous tinged belief that this bond grants him power, the sword is used to slay his victims. Moonstone is a psychologist who is a master of manipulation and had made several of her patients commit suicide for her own sadistic enjoyment. The masochist Penance wears a suit similar to an iron maiden and believes his power stems from the pain he inflicts upon himself. Venom’s description of his relationship with his symbiotic alien sounds similar to a burnt out junkie describing their need for angel dust, complete with the homicidal rampages balanced with feelings of inadequacies and paranoia. Then there’s Songbird who would be simple B-list superhero if it wasn’t for her attraction towards genocidal psychopaths like Baron Zemo. What’s interesting is how Ellis is able to pull the reader into the morbid and oppressive world of these killers. These are all psychological profiles pulled from real life serial killers, which have been featured on countless news programs. What is worse is Norman Osborn is the puppetmaster of these sociopaths. It’s a what if tale about someone like Hemler having control over an elite military unit comprised of people like Ted Bundy, Albert Fish, and Charles Manson. So why does the U.S. Government allow such a situation to happen in the first place? It’s the old fallacy of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. After all, who would know how to challenge the Masks better than the villains? As the story progresses Ellis uses his FIX news broadcast to make satirical comments about the governments morally questionable decisions and how its laws affect the citizens it claims to protect. One section highlights how S.H.I.E.L.D. renamed Superheroes as Unregistered Combatants. This is similar to the real world example of the C.I.A. arbitrary use of Freedom Fighters versus Terrorists. This sounds like a hard pill to swallow for millions of Americans who have been saved countless times over the years by people like Captain America and Spider Man. However, Ellis rips a page from Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, and he employs the use of news sensationalism and marketing as weapons against the Superhero community. For example, interspersed among the news segments are toy commercials promoting the Thunderbolts. This along with the government’s bias spin in their public statements assures the public that these unregistered combatants are a threat to American citizens. Now, it’s quite natural for the readers to feel the dissonance between themselves and the oppressive and villainous regime. In order to make this story connect, Warren Ellis also employs C-list superheroes such as American Eagle, Jack Flag, Steel Spider and ShadoWoman. These are the if you blink you may miss them heroes of Marvel’s continuity. Why use these heroes instead of the VIPs we’re all use to? While Captain America and company carry an aura of fame, C list heroes are everyday nobodies from Main Street. This allows us to see how the moral weight of such laws like the Registration Act would burden everyday people. American Eagle is a retired hero who is lured into stopping his community forming a lynch mob, ShadoWoman is a heartbroken metahuman simply trying to find a source of income, and Steel Spider is a lonely but disturbed individual with an answering machine full of messages from worried loved ones and obsessive bill collectors. Not only does each one have relatable personalities, but also each one is morally challenged with doing what is right versus breaking the law. For example, Jack Flag and his wife Lucy are a lower class couple struggling to survive in their urban neighborhood. Jack and Lucy witness a gang harassing a female victim, and we’re lead to believe this isn’t the first time they’ve witnessed this gang commit such atrocities on women. If someone was to call the cops, they wouldn’t reach this part of the ghetto in time, even if they did bother to show up. Although Jack Flag’s glory days are long gone, Jack Flag isn’t going to stand idly by in fear of the consequences and watch another innocent become victimized. After all, everyone probably is or knows someone who has reached out or intervened in a situation in hopes of stopping a violent escalation. Therefore, Jack is no different than any of the readers, and this is when Ellis finally humanizes the story. Before Ellis could reveal the first heroic moment of the series, the readers had to understand that the consequence is being hunted down by government sanctioned sociopaths. Jack Flag is no different. After witnessing a well paced and beautifully illustrated stand off between Jack Flag and the Thunderbolts, Jack Flag is left paralyzed and sent to a Guantanamo Bay for masks. Although this is a traumatizing moment, Ellis goes on to sprinkle some dashes of hope on top of the bleak nihilism. Remember no matter how much the readers want to cheer for the underdog superhero, the chilling fact remains this is a Thunderbolts series. By incorporating different writing styles and capitalizing on the medium, Warren Ellis crafted an ageless political commentary.