Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman

“Permission to come aboard?”

For the most part, the casting choices in the DCU films have been good (even Ben Affleck as Batman was not a total loss). That is still the case for Jason Mamoa as Aquaman, which is really the only true positive thing to say about the movie. He does make a splash, but the script is down right soggy.

The film does open with an origin story (which is fair, since it is not as well-known as those of Batman or Superman). We see how Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse worker, finds a wounded woman named Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) on the shores. He heals her, they fall in love, and have Arthur. Eventually, Atlanna must return to Atlantis to stop the onslaught on Tom and Arthur after having run away from her marriage to King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren).

Fast forward to present day, and we see a grown up Arthur being visited by Mera (Amber Heard). Turns out that the new heir is Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who wants to rage war on humans above (you know, for all the stuff we have done to the ocean in the past). One of the kingdom’s long time subjects (and Arthur’s former teacher) Vulko (a nicely cast Willem Dafoe) works behind Orm’s back to prevent such a war from occurring. For Arthur to succeed, he must find the long-lost trident that would prove his worth. There is also the subplot of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), out for revenge on Aquaman after an event at the start of the film.

There are some rather wonderful underground imagery here, but it would be even better if the script had not been so ridiculously predictable. The movie is basically if Thor (or even Black Panther) had lived underwater (claiming a birthright, evil family member villain, etc) . All the fights were nice to look at, but no points in knowing the outcome: you can see it the moment they announce it. By the end, we do get another CGI battle that seems almost off the shelf.

It should also come as no surprise that superhero flicks need a good villain, and the DCU has not been the best at that (though Michael Shannon was good as General Zod and Margot Robbie was really effective as Harley Quinn). Sadly, Patrick Wilson does not measure up, and his villain is nothing short of forgettable.

Parents, the movie should be fine for kids (some swearing and action/violence, but nothing they have not seen in superhero flick before). Middle School and up.

In a year that gave us Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the best was clearly not saved for last (despite some moments I liked, especially where Arthur got his idea of how to use a whale for escape). Still, rather than giving us a breath of fresh air, Aquaman leaves us gasping for it.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

The Florida Project (2017)

The Florida Project

Bobby (Willem Dafoe) trying to have a talk with Monee (Brooklynn Prince).

There was a time in my childhood where there was a five year stretch (give or take) that I was blessed to be able to go to Disney World (the last time was a Marching Band trip in my freshman year of High School back in 2003). It has been some time, though I now have a different reason to revisit the theme parks besides new rides and additions.

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project explores the world outside of the walls of the Disney attractions of the state, a world I for one never had an inkling existed. The film shows this universe through the eyes of a six year old girl named Monee (Brooklynn Price, a stunning young actor). She lives in poverty with her mom Halley (an equally impressive Bria Vinaite). There is no explanation as to how they got into their current situation, nor a need to. The film’s plot is rather loose, but that is what is great about it: It seems like a total slice of life.

Indeed, I would have thought the film was a documentary if it wasn’t for one familiar face: veteran actor Willem Dafoe. He plays Bobby, the manager of the hotel that they mom and daughter stay at. He is all business, making sure all follow the rules, but he is also down to earth. The type of guy you know you can talk to when he is in a good mood, and even okay with occasionally letting the kids eat ice cream inside (provided it does not spill) and letting his desk be available for hide and seek. It also helps that he does look out for kids, especially in one scene where he fends off a certain suspicious character. You can sense Bobby is doing it not because of business, but because he does have a good heart. Certainly a turn from darker characters we have seen Dafoe play in the past. Expect to see him in the Oscar nominees this year for Supporting Actor (he may even win).

Parents, the movie is R for swearing and some sexual material (the only real nudity occurs when Bobby is telling a patron that she cannot tan in the nude). There is a lot of swearing (many from the kids) and thematic elements. Definitely High School and above.

Originally, I was going to say the film’s main flaw is that it doesn’t have much of a plot, but the more I think of it, the more that is not a flaw at all. Like 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Florida Project is about life in a place that we never see mentioned in daily life, and is both easy to miss yet still easy to access. I won’t give away the ending of the film, except that it is perfect, mainly for the characters we see in the last shot. Truly one of the year’s best films.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

Mississippi Burning (1988)

Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe in Mississippi Burning

Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe in Mississippi Burning

“What has four eyes but can’t see? Mississippi!” – Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman)

It is really this joke that becomes the reality of the situation of Mississippi Burning. It tells the story of two FBI men, Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) who are brought to 1964 Mississippi to investigate the 3 young men who went missing (even though we know they are killed right at the beginning of the film).

The more I watched this film, the more I realized I have been missing out on great American Cinema. I was sitting there, thinking “What type of idiot would be so racist that they would even bad mouth the FBI?” As soon as that happened, the house the two FBI men are in is attacked, and we see the flaming cross of the KKK outside their window.

This movie made me realize how much I miss Gene Hackman (who, as of this review, has retired from acting and has not been in a movie in over ten years). He can be sweet, charming, affectionate, as we see with the scenes he plays in with a young Frances McDormand. However, we all know how he was in The French Connection, and he gets tough “SOB” moments in this film as well. Seldom are the number of actors who have that range.

Willem Dafoe, always brilliant, is wonderful here too as Ward. We know right away that he wants to do the investigation the right way, with as little violence as possible. We also get the sense he is someone we would still not want to mess with.

Parents, the movie has a lot of swearing and violence, but that is about it. I would say 13 and above would be fine. They may even find it to be something rare in films: Enjoyable and educational.

Overall: Four Stars ****