Tag: doug jones


Raze (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Women are kidnapped and forced to live in an underground prison. The only time they are ever allowed to leave their cells is when they are scheduled to fight another prisoner—to the death. The couple in charge of the tournament, Joseph (Doug Jones) and Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn), is armed with two threats. If a prisoner refused to participate, a loved one back home would die. The same would happen to the family of the participant if she died during a match. The winner of the tournament would be released and reintegrated into society. Most importantly, she, according to Joseph, would have been “transformed.”

Directed by Josh C. Waller, “Raze” is an exercise in pointlessness. The first question that comes to mind is: Who is this movie made for? Women fighting each other with their bare hands, getting dirty and bloody, screaming and howling in pain—it must be for men, right? Wrong. I believe this is a movie for people who crave to see extreme violence and nothing else. There is a plot but no story. There is only one fight scene after another—and they aren’t even well-choreographed.

There are a few flashbacks that last some milliseconds long. Credit goes to Robert Beaucage, Kenny Gage, and the director for such a lifeless, boring, astoundingly bad attempt in getting us to care about the characters. Their laziness should be taken as an affront because they actually expected us to buy into the schmaltz.

As expected from a movie with not much ambition, let alone imagination, the fights are edited in such a manic manner that one gets the impression the filmmakers are really showing nothing. Once the two fighters make the initial physical contact, the battle becomes a mishmash of convoluted hullabaloo. As if it weren’t headache-inducing enough, the intercutting with other fights makes the whole thing unbearable.

The battle area is too small—so small that it looks as though duels are taking place at the bottom of a well. And why are the fighters not given weapons? Clearly, it is much more interesting to see a character hold and wield a weapon—which is shown during the final fifteen minutes. It would have given the picture variation because someone who might not be good at punching or kicking might be a complete surprise when given a pernach or a glaive.

The second question that comes to mind is why the filmmakers bothered to make the movie when they neither have the ambition nor the skill to at least equal their inspirations. Kinji Fukasaku’s “Batoru rowaiaru” works not solely because of the violence. The characters’ age group in that film gives the material another layer. Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” works because the characters’ humanity comes first and the violence is secondary, if not tertiary.

“Raze” is a not a film for those wishing to be visually, intellectually, or emotionally stimulated. It exists solely because there is an audience out there expecting slightly more than staring at a blank screen. The other reason is because the filmmakers, for some reason, had gotten financial backing from someone, or a group, that neither knows how to nor cares about genuinely entertaining the audience. This is ninety minutes off our busy lives that we would never get back.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those with a penchant for strange love stories, especially the dark fairytale kind, will surely gravitate toward “The Shape of Water,” a pensive and melancholy look into the lives lonely and yearning individuals during the Cold War. It can be argued that perhaps the most interesting element of the film is that it works as a gargantuan metaphor for our basic need as a species to be loved and accepted, whether that someone be an ordinary citizen who just so happens to be a mute to a curiosity that is so exotic that the foreigner is considered an entirely different creature altogether. In a way, the work is a celebration of so-called freaks of society for they find a way to rise to the challenge and pave the way for the future.

Equally interesting is the structure of the picture. Unlike ordinary fantastic love stories, director Guillermo del Toro chooses for his project to have an extended exposition to the point where it takes up nearly half of the film’s running time. While this approach is certain to challenge viewers, especially those who crave unsubtle action right away, I found that this communicates the fact that the veteran filmmaker has a special confidence in the material. Unconcerned about time pressures or following expected beats and rhythms, del Toro ensures that we understand our heroine named Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a night janitor in a research center housing a humanoid amphibian to be used as a model for a weapon against the Russians, before any semblance of romance takes center stage.

Hawkins plays the mute character with such grace. It is easy to dismiss a performance when the actor does not say a word, but those who take the time to look closely and examine the intricacies of how she expresses a range of emotions will be rewarded. My advice: Occasionally ignore the yellow subtitles altogether. Instead, focus on her face, those eyes, the tension on her hands and fingers, how she holds her arms just so, and how she uses her mouth to expresses how she feels, what she thinks, and what wants to accomplish. A point can be made that it is more difficult to create a believable character, and keep her interesting, when one cannot vocalize.

Director of photography Dan Laustsen creates such a unique-looking world that it is almost like into a gem. Notice how hues of blue and green pervade the screen, not just in the laboratory where the tortured creature (Doug Jones) is kept but also the outdoors of rain-soaked streets, the gloomy apartments of singles who dream of an alternate life where they partnered, loved unconditionally. Partnered with del Toro’s direction, Laustsen’s cinematography, despite blues and greens usually pointing toward cold sentiments, can also communicate warmth, hope, and home. The penultimate and final scenes support this observation.

Despite the film having a running time of two hours, I found that this is not long enough. I wished to know more about the co-worker (Octavia Spencer) who always looks out for Elisa, the romantic struggles of Elisa’s aging homosexual neighbor (Richard Jenkins), and the villainous man (Michael Shannon) who caught the amphibian. While we do get one or two scenes that depict these characters’ personal lives, they come across rather episodic. Yet despite this shortcoming, “The Shape of Water” is absolutely worth a look-see.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“El laberinto del fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth,” written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, is one of the most compelling pictures I’ve ever seen about the power of imagination. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) used her mind as an escape from several events that she could not fully understand and deal with: moving into a new home in a countryside surrounded by the Spanish guerilla, her mother’s (Ariadna Gil) decision to be with a cruel army captain (Sergi López), her mother’s illness along with having a new sibling and the war that was driving everyone around her into a state of conflict and madness. In her fantasy world, she was an underground princess trapped in a human body. In order to get back to her royal family, a faun (Doug Jones) informed her that she must complete three dangerous tasks. What I admired most about this movie was del Toro’s ability to show us a story seen through a child’s eyes but at the same time keeping the reality at an arm’s length. Although fantastic elements are abound, this film is definitely not for children due to the intense violence and sometimes unbearable emotional suffering. I couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the director weaved in and out and through the reality and fantasy of the story. Even though we get drastic changes of scenery with each mission that Ofelia decided to take part in, tension was something we could not escape. I loved the spy/mother-figure played by Maribel Verdú. She just had this strength that radiated from within which made her a key figure in Ofelia’s life because her bed-ridden mother could not protect her. Verdú’s scenes with the smart and venomous captain gave me the creeps; the looks he so often gave her made me believe that he knew what she was up to all along. Ever since it’s release, “Pan’s Labyrinth” gained great approval from both critics and audiences and deservingly so. A lot of people consider the film as a dark fairytale. While it is that, I believe it only highlights one dimension of this amazing work. (The words “dark fairytale” sounds more like a fantasy.) A large portion of this picture was about how Ofelia looked inwards in a time of need and turned things that she could not control into something she could. That is, the more the main character was forced to grow up due to the circumstances around her, the more she gained an internal locus of control. When fantasy and reality finally collided during a key scene in the end, it was very depressing yet magical–and that was when del Toro’s vision finally came full circle.