Bright (2017) – Criticism/Review

The great thing about Netflix is that it is essentially an indie studio with almost endless liquid assets to finance shows and films alike. They’ve broken apart the cable stranglehold on what we watch on TV and now claim shows from Marvel’s cinematic universe as well as original titles like Big Mouth. In addition, this indie mentality with the finances of a major publicly-traded studio comes with the promise to execute strange ideas extremely well.

This is going to be spoiler heavy, so you have been adequately warned.

Imagine, if you will, a film similar to Rush Hour or Beverly Hills Cop III sent through a siphon of high fantasy. This is essentially what the writers of Bright have done. It’s a buddy cop drama set against a world where races from traditionally fantasy genres have existed since the dawn of time. Orcs, centaurs, elves, humans, faeries, all kinds of stuff. The immediate backstory we’ve been given is that these races are all coming off the heels of a very long war that has consumed their thoughts of each other for as long as anyone can imagine.

Ding dong! Social commentary knocking! It doesn’t take long from startup to see where parallels between contemporary society and the world of Bright are evoked in the expressions of specism/racism.

One of the protagonists, Jakoby, is an orc scorned by his race for not being orcish enough, and is disliked by humans because he’s an orc. Profiling aside, the general traits of the races from fantasy realms remain the same. Elves are highly intelligent, orcs are brutish and can take a lot of punishment, humans are humans, and centaurs are centaurs. Honestly, not a lot of innovation is seen here, but we do have the blending of genres that captivates enough.

The driving plot point is the acquisition of a stolen wand, belonging to an elven mage who aligns herself with the cult attempting to resurrect the “dark lord”. The R & D team probably could have spent a little more time coming up with an actual name for this dark lord, and in fact if there is it was somewhat lost in one of the hectic exposition dumps.

Right off the bat, we’re introduced to the metaphors of race when an orc criminal gets away from our protagonists Jakoby and Ward (who is a black human played by Will Smith, so he’s played this role before in Bad Boys but not e-x-a-c-t-l-y). Ward is upset, and an internal investigation attempts to get a confession out of Jakoby that he let the criminal go so they can give him the ax. You see, Jakoby is the first orc police officer, and being with the LAPD we see corruption at every turn from his perspective.

Eventually we’re met with the plot device, the wand, and the secondary item of intrigue: an elf woman named Tikka. Together these two things serve to bridge the narrative from buddy cop drama into high fantasy kingdom-saving.

In this world, not anybody can wield wands. If you’re not a bright, when you touch a wand it makes you explode violently. Wands also have infinite power, with notable examples being able to bring people back from the dead and level a city with the flick of a wrist and an incantation. The larger plot revolving around not-racism-but-still-racism begins when the two officers respond to a call where there is a safehouse full of corpses and the wand (which at this point we don’t know belongs to the elf I mentioned way up above). After the wand is discovered, all the officers on scene try to convince Ward to kill his partner and frame him for something or rather. I don’t quite remember, actually. Anyways, Ward proceeds to kill all four officers there in one smooth slowmo sequence with very little in the way of difficulty. Jakoby is shocked at this, having no awareness of the plot, and is eventually talked down from arresting his partner.

They are set upon by a street gang, afterwards, who is led by a man paralyzed from the waist down. Having witnessed blue-on-blue actions and knowing there is a wand in their possession, a chase begins. The street gang becomes a perpetual bad force until about the midway point.

Magic is governed by the federal government, and it appears to have similar regulations to firearms apart from the “bringing people back from the fucking dead” part. So when these events unfold and the officers find the wand, a subplot revolves around the FBI’s search for the officers.

To recap, we have a number of different stories going on. The two officers and Tikka, the cult, the FBI, the LAPD, and a bunch of gangsters. This presents neverending intrigue as each faction wants some form of power from the wand…. just kidding.

The officers want to be rid of it, the FBI want to contain it, the LAPD wants the credit, and the gangsters want it because it has infinite power. Also the cult wants it because technically it’s theirs. That elf lady. From the beginning. It’s her wand.

Tikka reveals all of this when she is near death, interestingly enough, saying that because they’ve been through things together she trusts the two officers. Which is definitely a bold statement, considering the shootouts and car chases we’ve witnessed so far.

In the larger context of the world story, Jakoby and Ward are part of a prophecy, where they are foretold to be the ones to put an end to the dark lord. After everything comes to pass, loose ends get tied up, the FBI gets their story straight and Ward very much agrees in an official “on the books” manner that there was never any wand. Nevermind someone being brought back from the dead, no one is supposed to know that there was a wand.

The gangbangers get banged, the cultists all die, the LAPD gets to save face, the officers are commended, and the FBI closes the book on something that ultimately had no connection to magic whatsoever, or so they say. None of these things on their own are really original ideas, drawing from all sorts of inspiration ranging from Lovecraft to Grand Theft Auto, but put together it really does play a good balancing game.

All in all, I think this was a pretty fun little piece of cinema. There was nothing overtly new about the writing or the base concepts, but the worldbuilding that went into it was stellar enough for me to see it as a new creation. You can find almost every trope of high fantasy and buddy cop dramas within it, but the writing blends them together and makes its social commentaries (not exactly subtly) fun to see develop. It’s a popcorn movie, for sure. You don’t need to get bogged down by plot threads stretching from the movie to the TV series to the comic to the licensed bags of fresh oranges. It is what it is, and if the initial premise is something you can buy into, it’s perfect for that meaning.

If you’re a fan of either genre, this is for you. But if you’re like me, who enjoys the hell out of The Elder Scrolls and Lethal Weapon, this is only going to be doubly playing to your senses of taste.

Verdict: I’d buy it on blu-ray. But I don’t know if I can do that, seeing as it’s a Netflix exclusive. Oh well.

Also, if the VFX artists who put all that work into sculpting the different races’ faces could get credit, that’d be great.

It (2017) – Criticism/Review

We’ve talked about horror before at Radio Reality City, but never before have we done a full on review! So let’s take a look at a film I watched this weekend, the immortal and widely-known “It”, first penned by Stephen King. This is the second time it has appeared in a visual medium, and for the sake of the review, we’ll be looking at this 2017’s iteration. ITeration. Hell yes.

I walked into the movie knowing nothing but what a lot of the internet said: “It’s good”. I’m not really one for horror, but I do like the idea of terror; the dread that eats away at you and causes fits of paranoia or suspicion among friends. In a journal this past Friday the 13th I described what I think works in works of horror, and since I didn’t know anything about It I went in not expecting what I was getting. So with the word of virality and my own apprehension towards the trope of children combating evil, I walked into the theater with a Monster energy drink and a box of Buncha Crunch.

Before we talk about the actual movie, I’ll have the reader know that I loved The Shining film directed by Stanley Kubrick. I’ve also seen the Creepshow series of short films, also written by Stephen King. To that end, it could be construed that I unequivocally enjoy Stephen King’s work, but that’s up to you. I tend to separate individual works by artists to do away with bias.

Also this is going to be spoiler heavy, so please fuck off now if you’re worried about that.

So, It opens with a bedridden 12 year old and his 8 year old little brother sitting in the former’s second story bedroom. It is raining, so that automatically means melancholy, right? That’s how weather works in symbolism. Rain=bad or sad. Bonding is had when olderboy makes youngrunner a boat and they seal it in wax. It’s foreshadowed heavily that youngrunner is “chosen” by the evil entity when he goes into the basement and retrieves the wax to seal the paper boat. A glowing pair of eyes seems to stare at him from a cabinet, but is just revealed to be bottles reflecting light after clouds break outside for just a moment.

This is the first knock at the way Pennywise works. Fear, paranoia, and desperation. Think of him like a Freddy Kruger or Babadook type monster. Feeding on the mind in order to physically sustain itself.

Nothing happens, but youngrunner is spooked and runs upstairs. Boat is wax-sealed, olderboy and youngrunner have a moment that creates olderboy’s character and then youngrunner goes outside to float the boat in the gutters, following it to see where it goes. I guess that’s what kids did in the 80’s, because there was fuck all else to do. (Yes I know the story is 20 years updated so that the second movie takes place in the 2010’s).

So this kid is running, right, and doesn’t notice this road barrier coming up because he’s paying attention to this fucking boat, and absolutely smashes head-on into it. He drops dazed to the ground, and I start laughing to myself in the theater at this point because I’m not sure why that they needed to shoot a scene where that happens. But I understand as the boat starts to get away from him, eventually just out of reach as youngrunner (named Georgie) watches it fall into a storm drain on the side of the street.

This is where we meet Pennywise, actually 5 minutes into the movie. That sort of surprised me, but his early introduction is required in order to instill the dread into the ‘reader’.

Pennywise is a demented looking clown who talks like an intelligent bum with the soul of Ted Bundy. He talks like he’s luring youngrunner down into the drain, toying with him by holding the boat and keeping a conversation going. If Pennywise weren’t a sewer clown it might actually have been a funny conversation. Youngrunner shows visible apprehension to reaching down the drain to get it from Pennywise, and Pennywise senses this.

At this point I noticed that Pennywise has been staring at Georgie the whole time and drooling every so slightly. Which is a fantastic fucking detail that I think deserves mentioning. Later in the film, you learn that Pennywise literally eats children to sustain itself, and needs to eat to live. So we see him drooling in this opening scene, and for the most part it is just really creepy but quite unsettling when we learn that eat-child detail later on.

Pennywise convinces youngrunner to reach for the boat, and as he does, Pennywise’s mouth contorts in to a maw of sharp teeth, and he TAKES THE KID’S FUCKING ARM OFF. Blood, gore, screaming, whole nine yards, Georgie falls back into the street with blood mixing with rainwater around him. The scene goes on for a few more moments before Pennywise drags him offscreen into the sewer and all that’s left is the puddle of bloody water.

This opening scene is important to describe because it really sets the tone for the movie.

It’s something of a no-no to have gore and children mixed in American cinema, so it was good to see a horror movie (not Deadpool) fully embrace an R rating and not be afraid of it. It was fantastic, and I sat up in my seat, excited to see the rest of the movie.

What followed was a Stranger Things crossed with The Babadook styled adventure. Stranger Things because it’s set in the 80’s and enjoys itself by having some very retrowave musical cues, and the themes explored are quite similar to a Stand By Me children-versus-evil thing. It’s an 80’s movie made in 2017. The Babadook because the entire point of Pennywise is quite similar to how scenes in The Babadook were shot. Also the ‘style’ of monster mentioned above is a very effective one, since there’s only so much of your emotions you can control when under stress.

Each protagonist in It has their own fears, and Pennywise exploits these by appearing as things they are afraid of to increase his own influence over them. During these sequences he appears as the character’s personal fear, and for short moments as the clown that his common form is. This leads the characters to all acknowledge that they’ve been terrorized by the same entity. “The Clown” they all surmise at about the midpoint of the movie.

This group of misfits also has had some run-ins with the local bullies, who themselves have internal struggles that are exploited by Pennywise. The bullies are chasing one of the “Loser’s Club” (the protagonists) before he meets the club, and get off track. Chased loser gets away, and one bully stumbles into a sewer system threatening what he thinks is his quarry. During this, he is confronted by Pennywise. He also dies, so that’s cool, offscreen but before it cuts away we see Pennywise as the clown glitch-walking towards the camera.

The way they shot most of the chase sequences are like requiem, with the camera focused on one point of Pennywise’s face while the space around them moves. It’s a little disorienting, but they make it work. A few jumpscares here and there, but you aren’t being constantly assaulted because more of the story is about how he is terrifying and not horrifying. I point to Lovecraft as I describe this.

This one scene is different, though, and Pennywise glitch-walks (easiest way to make me feel afraid of something). What I mean when I say glitch-walk is that he is clearly moving, motioning forward, but with each step he teleports five feet or so in the general direction of the person he’s after. So you see him stepping, but he’s twitching and staring at you and just appearing closer and closer until… the camera cuts away. For me, that was the scariest part of the whole thing. Jump scares are good for a cheap startle, but they’re without substance. Anyone can be jump scared.

I give a lot of credit to the actors playing the losers, because they did really well. They curse, they yell, and action realistically. I especially liked Eddie as a character because his fear of germs is exploited by Pennywise at one point (appearing as a plague-ridden, deformed hobo), and the screaming he does backing away from the creature is incredible. The kids trade blows about “your mom” and yell “fuck” where anyone would, and to that end I appreciate that the movie doesn’t baby its audience. Like I said with the opening scene, the tone is really set with how seriously they’re taking the making of this movie.

So each scene has a weight, and once you know that the monster is out there it makes you as the observer slightly paranoid to see where he’s going to appear next.

Bearing in mind that we’re going to learn in the second movie that Pennywise is actually an otherdimensional creature that’s lived for millions of years and you can see where King might have taken some Lovecraftian influence. Cosmic Horror is the best horror, and it makes the ending of It so much better.

I’m a fan of action movies for the same reason as I am cosmic horror. I’d prefer a Woo film to a heavyweight Marvel movie any day because Woo films are choreographed beautifully. Marvel movies are real popcorn cinema bullshits, where you go for the spectacle and the story is very secondhand. In well-choreographed action movies, the personalities of the characters don’t just appear as fighting styles. Like in Jackie Chan movies, he’s not an unflappable powerhouse that tanks every punch with a straight face. He winces, he gets his ass kicked, and he scrapes by just as surprised as the audience that he survived. It’s a fight with personality.

‘It’ mixes the two together at the final confrontation. They’ve injured Pennywise a few times up to this point, but the protagonists have all been literally too afraid to actually do damage to him. He’s been too powerful with their fear to be hurt significantly.

The losers force him to retreat into the sewers, and go armed and dangerous into his lair. During their approach, one of the aforementioned bullies is manipulated by Pennywise to murder his dad and demands the death of the protagonists. This hints that Pennywise is running scared and is feeling threatened, so he sends his leader bully to go deal with it. Leader bully gets fucking tossed down a well to death. So that’s good. Kinda ended that threat a little quickly, if you asked me. That scene doesn’t last the 5 minutes the opening did.

So the protagonists finally have him. Pennywise. But wait, Georgie is here in his lair, and he’s alive! Olderboy who’s been looking for him this entire time takes this opportunity to shoot Georgie in the fucking forehead with a sheep-euthanizing gun. Clearly, this was a ruse by It, for a second time this fucking kid gets destroyed on screen. Not-Georgie violently transforms into Pennywise, and the protagonists finally face off with him.

Pennywise makes a few last attempts to trigger the fears of the protagonists as best he can, almost working, but the losers stand fast. He lashes out, tosses a few children into walls, and gets smacked once and recoils. The losers regroup, cautiously stepping towards It, and then realize they can do him in right here right now.

What follows is a 3 minute fucking beatdown on this evil 4th-dimensional clown while he desperately cycles through every fear he can to regain his power. Doesn’t work. It gets his fucking ass handed to him by a bunch of children. So the reason I mention choreography in fighting movies is because this 3 minute beatdown executes on every single person’s personality, mixing with the fear and resentment they have for It while these kids fight with every thing they know.

Just as an example of what I’m talking about: during the fight, It transforms into a manifestation of a female character’s abusive father, causing her to hesitate. To which she responds by sending a length of fucking rebar through his jaw.

I think it’s important to mention this, because this is the payoff for these characters being afraid of It for the entire movie. This is the moment where those bets are off and they have the thing cornered. And it’s beautiful. All these little moments for the entire movie raise the stakes, as It gets more blatantly violent and the losers discover more of the extended plot that’ll play into the sequel, to end with one final absolute “fuck you” to the manifestation of their most extreme fears. “If it bleeds…” and all that.

The movie wraps up with the losers taking a blood oath to meet up with It eventually appears again. Some sideplots are wrapped up, and everyone walks away presumably to meet up in the sequel in two years.

So what do I think of this wonderful 80’s monster flick with a tinge of Lovecraft and a lot of Stand By Me? I think it was fucking great. All told, I went in expecting to be disappointed because when everyone said Twilight was good I was disappointed by that (New Moon was good, though). But it was an amazing little adventure in the small town of Derry, and I absolutely will look forward to the 2019 sequel.

Lovecraft Influence: Event Horizon Levels

Audience Dread: Like My 3rd Breakup so 3/4

Tropes: Palatable and Diversified

R-Rating Worthy: Way More Than Deadpool

Nostalgia Trip: I Want To Watch Stand By Me Now

Beatdown: Like Cleon in The Warriors

Final Verdict: Great Movie Go See It