Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead is an interesting story about survival. There are those who have experienced some sort of trauma and have tried to move past it or those who are the ones trying to better themselves in a negative environment. We see two very different versions of what surviving is and it doesn’t necessarily needs to come from surviving a forest fire. We meet Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) who is struggling to work after losing three lives in a forest fire. Hannah is a smoke jumper who’s perched in a watchtower high above the Montana wilderness. She soon encounters Connor (Finn Little), a young boy who’s bloodied, traumatized and on the run in the remote forest.
It may sound like a generic storyline but it also feels like something we haven’t seen before because of the exploration of a smoke jumper. Yes, we have seen forest fires and firefighters on-screen before but this felt like a more contained storyline. Not only do we understand the trauma that Hannah experienced on an assignment before but we get to see the aftermath and how it has affected her mentally in her career. The best part of this film was seeing Angelina Jolie on the big screen again. I didn’t realize how much I missed her presence on-screen. Jolie was great in this and the rest of the cast, consisted of Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen and Jon Bernthal who all really shined.
Like many films that are adapted from novels, the pacing is the major issue that holds the film back. The beginning was set up quite nicely but it lost its footing towards the middle. The story was interesting but I wish there was more depth to Hannah’s character because of what she went through. It was all building towards the third act payoff, which worked extremely well. The cinematography and the execution of the action made the ending worthwhile. Sheridan focused in on nature while Hannah and Connor navigated through the forest. The lightning strikes and the detailed pathway they needed to take all made for an intense finale.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is an interesting watch because of its cast of characters, the execution of this simple storyline and the grand third act. Jolie and Bernthal are standouts in this film. I just wish we got to see more of their dynamic considering their characters past. There are really strong, emotional moments between Jolie and Little and they really carry this film to the final act. Each character individually brought so much to the table but then when they came together the film was elevated. The film is out on HBO Max and in theatres right now, if you miss Jolie on-screen then this film will definitely fill that void.
Monster on Netflix is a poignant story about a 17-year-old aspiring filmmaker in Harlem, who is being accused of a robbery that he was not a part of. The film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr, ASAP Rocky, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson and John David Washington. This film was truly a surprise for me because I didn’t know what I was walking into. The performances from everyone in the cast were emotional, powerful and really effective. It had a unique structure, a well-written script and interesting narrative choices to move the story forward.
On the surface the film seems like it is a generic courtroom drama with a story that we have seen quite often. The difference, in my opinion, is the execution of this story. What I found really interesting was the use of the voiceover from Steven Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), as we first see him in his jail cell. He expresses his internal thoughts as we his journey unfold. The voiceover works perfectly because it gives a different meaning to what the viewer is seeing on-screen. Since Steven is a filmmaker, the execution of this story mirrors his director’s lens in his mind and externalizes his emotions.
The film explains the negative perception that comes from the systemic racism embedded in the legal system. The film is titled, “monster” because it is one of the words used to describe Steven Harmon when he is on trial. Harmon is haunted by this word because he has never seen himself as one, and now he is questioning, what does it mean to be one? This is the emotional basis of the film and then, there is another layer of perspective, from a filmmaking standpoint that compliments this theme.
Monster is a film that is structured incredibly well because it uses its flashbacks properly. This is a very balanced way to show the events leading to his arrest in the past and then showing the trial in the present day. The performances drive the film and the direction from Anthony Mandler was intriguing. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is one of the most talented young actors working today and this is another project where he truly shines. Make sure to catch Monster on Netflix this weekend!
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is about a Navy Seal, named John Clark (Michael B. Jordan), who goes on a path to avenge his wife’s murder only to find himself inside of a larger conspiracy. You have Michael B. Jordan leading an interesting cast that doesn’t really work for some strange reason. The film has an interesting story but the execution was lacklustre. It was difficult to follow at times and the pacing of the film is not engaging enough for the viewer to sit through the runtime. There are strong action scenes but they do not make up the way the story plays out.
It is always difficult to adapt novels to screen and unfortunately Without Remorse suffered from trying to incorporate too much. The writing for John Clark just wasn’t strong enough and it pains me to say this because Michael B. Jordan is one of my favourite actors working today. For some strange reason it just didn’t work for me. His military life and domestic life were rushed in the beginning, only for the aftermath of his wife’s death to last longer than it should have. It’s Tom Clancy, it really shouldn’t have been this hard to take this action-packed story and translate it to screen.
It just does not hold the viewer’s attention long enough to make them care about the actual story or the characters. It felt like even the characters were waiting for the action scenes to happen, in order for anything to move forward. The story just didn’t flow and the writing for the characters seemed really bland. The real downfall of the film was that majority of the action scenes – which we all patiently waited for – were all in complete darkness, it was impossible to see what was happening or even who was fighting who.
Without Remorse had potential to be a great action piece for Michael B. Jordan but unfortunately it fell flat. It was hard to sit through because the writing just wasn’t engaging enough. The story was overstuffed, as they tried incorporate as much as they could from the novel. It really suffered the adaptation issues that many films face. I could see the story they were trying to tell but there wasn’t enough explanation or connection to any of these characters for any viewer to care. It is definitely not enough that Jordan was leading this film.
The one thing that we can all agree on is that everyone has had their fair encounters with bullying. No matter how minor the bullying could have been, we can all acknowledge that it exists. People can be cruel, violent, and completely horrible. Bullying, can take many forms and sometimes it is impossible to get out of that position. In Better Days, something that really stood out to me was the line, “Either you bully others or you get bullied.” and no matter your position, there is some form of it every single day. Derek Tsang wanted to address this specific issue for many years and when his producer handed him the novel by Jiu Yuexi’s book ‘In His Youth, In Her Beauty‘, he could finally tell the story through a specific lens.
Tsang wanted to shed light on this issue because it was always a fascinating subject. He addressed social platforms like YouTube and Facebook having multiple videos of young children being bullied. Smartphones have made it very accessible for these traumatic situations to appear on any platform in the matter of minutes. “That is when it really shocked me, as to how these kids can do that sort of stuff to each other. The idea of making a film to personally address the issue has been there since. It has been around for a long time but I was always trying to find an angle to help tell the story.” Tsang said.
What can most definitely be appreciated about this film is Tsang being extremely honest with his audience. He did not shy away from showing the most violent, emotionally damaging and traumatic moments at all. I’m sure everyone will appreciate the fact that Tsang wanted to make it authentic as possible, “I really wanted all of the slaps, punches and hits to be real. So that the audience can really feel the pain.” When directing one of the harsher scenes, Tsang made sure that his lead actress, Dongyu Zhou, who plays Nian, was comfortable with this level of physical contact for the scene, “She was very professional, she said she wanted that as well because she didn’t want it to look fake.” There was a level of trust that was built on this set, among the entire cast and crew because of the story they were bringing to the screen.
What was really interesting to see was the budding relationship between Nian and Bei (Jackson Yee), they started out as a very unlikely pairing, meeting in an alleyway because some men were beating Bei. Nian, who had clearly seen enough bullying/harassment at that point in the film, goes to save him, even if she was manhandled, she wanted to save someone. Nian and Bei lived two very different lives, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum and they slowly become dependent on the other. There is a mutual respect and love for one another, given the cards that they were dealt in life,
“So we told them, not only do you guys have to treat each other like boyfriend and girlfriend, but I want you guys to be family, like a brother and sister, in which you would sacrifice yourself for the other, to survive. So that’s how we really approached that relationship. I mean it was really fascinating to watch the actors slowly getting into that trust and bond as well. We shot everything in linear sequence and it just worked it out perfectly.”
-Derek Tsang, Better Days
The performances from Yee and Zhou were incredible. You could truly see their connection become stronger as the film went on and filming it in linear sequence, presented a different feel to their relationship. Anyone can resonate with this kind of bond. Tsang said, “It was more like two people becoming one entity, in their belief, in their wish, or hope in escaping this situation, or the city itself.” Tsang also shows the class system very well and dives into the hierarchy in the education system as well. There are people who will always have an air of superiority and that is something that can only be dismantled, from within the system, which created that mentality.
When asked about how children can sometimes feel ashamed that they are being bullied, Tsang mentioned that it is a very difficult position to be in. Whether you are the child being bullied, or the authority figure trying to help them. Children do not want to admit that they are being bullied because they do not even know what the consequences could be after reaching out to someone. They live in constant fear of speaking out because they overthink what could possibly happen to them. “Kids in that situation a lot of times, they find themselves very helpless. In a way we kind of wanted to convey that message in the film, that’s why we have the point-of-view of the teacher and the parents.” Tsang said. He explored all avenues and wanted to present a whole piece about those who are suffering from bullying and how to help.
Even though the story was very bleak and poignant, the journey for Tsang and his crew was very memorable. When you bond over a mutual respect for an issue and a love for your craft, that bond is like no other. And Tsang was able to find both throughout his journey. He shared a memory with me,
There is one photo that you could find online, everytime I see that photo it always brings warmth and a smile to my face. There’s a photo of us, it was taken immediately after we shot the scene, when the actor and actress shaved their head. In solidarity, I told my actors, especially my actress because it’s a big thing for an actress to shave her head. So I said, if you’re going to do it, I’ll do it with you guys. I’m going to shave my head and it was just amazing bc not only me but a lot of the crew, we all shaved our head in solidarity with the actors.”
– Derek Tsang, Better Days
In the time they spent together, they became very close and in telling this brutally honest story, it brought them even closer. Better Days is a labor of love and audiences who watch this film will understand the message. Everyone needs a bit more compassion, empathy and most importantly love in their life. For a film to have this much support off-screen, for a serious subject matter like bullying, it can be very rewarding. The importance of addressing these issues authentically will help so many others in the long-run.
Have you ever gone on a spontaneous adventure and it turned out to be the most thrilling moment of your life?
Well Bonnie Blue (Mary Birdsong) went storm chasing with her father when she was a teenager and she fell in love with every single aspect. The wind going full speed, the way the tornado formed and the colours around the shape. Most importantly sharing that with the one man in her life that she could depend on. Bonnie loved her dad and all of those adventures with him were truly something special. Fast forward many years later, where Bonnie inherited her dad’s old pickup truck and is now working as a salesman, for shingles. After all those years storm chasing, Bonnie knew about those shingles blowing off.
Bonnie was the lone wolf on her team, meaning she was the only woman on the salesman team and it looked exhausting. The workplace at ‘Flip’s’ was beyond toxic and filled with testosterone. When Bonnie walked into work, you could feel the sense of entitlement from majority of the men working there because they were salesmen. Bonnie did not hold back at all with her reactions, every single time Flip (Stephen Plunkett) said something Bonnie just looked disgusted. It showed how toxic a workplace can be and how sexist men can be. At first Bonnie wanted to make some sales for Flip but then when she realized he was playing her, things took a turn for the worst.
The ending of this film had karma written all over it and I loved that it came from the eye of the storm, which was inside Bonnie the whole time. Bonnie’s relationship with her father was incredibly strong, almost like a force of nature bonding them together and that’s how Bonnie transforms at the end of this film. It has such dry humour that the comedic moments were delivered flawlessly and had me laughing. Director Gretl Claggett made a really fun film with a deeper meaning.