Review of “The Lighthouse”

Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow (Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson) are two men stationed at a remote lighthouse on a stormy, rocky island. Wake has a bum leg, so he can’t serve on ships anymore. Winslow is a young man looking for his purpose in life. Wake makes clear that, during their four-week assignment, he will take care of the light and orders Winslow to take care of all other tasks. These tasks include feeding coal into the boiler that blows the foghorn, refilling the oil that powers the light, and general household maintenance. The pair don’t get along and Winslow is hoping to get through the assignment and get paid. As their assignment is nearing an end, Winslow kills a seagull that has been tormenting him. Wake had earlier warned Winslow to not kill a seabird as they are the souls of dead seamen. The wind shifts and a storm begins, delaying the pair leaving the island.

I’ll admit. That plot synopsis for “The Lighthouse” doesn’t sound very interesting. I have intentionally left out some parts of the story as to not give away too much as the movie is best experienced with as little advance information as possible. To be honest, telling you more about the film wouldn’t help much as the feelings and emotions of the film can only be experienced by viewing. I don’t know exactly how I feel about the film from the same director of “The Witch,” but I’ll see if I can reach a conclusion by the end of this review.

The performances of Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson are amazing. There’s no hint of fear or resistance as the pair strips away all semblance of modernity and totally inhabit the time and lives of these two men. Defoe delivers a speech midway through the film that is an amazing bit of manic acting. Defoe’s Wake is berating Pattinson’s Winslow for being ungrateful and not liking Wake’s cooking. The speech is a curse, delivered unblinking and with the intensity of a laser. Defoe’s performance turns on a dime, switching from parental, to cruel, to insane, to friendly, to intimate. It is a wonder of acting.

Pattinson is an equal while being opposite of Defoe. Winslow just wants to get through his time and get paid, but Wake pushes him to talk, to drink alcohol (despite that being against regulations) and treats him more like a slave than an equal. Pattinson delivers a controlled performance, making his decent into madness all the more affecting. Winslow is the character you feel the most empathy with through most of the film. There comes a point where that begins to change as both Winslow and Wake are suffering from the stress of being stuck together on a small island, constantly bombarded with storms, with no escape. It wouldn’t surprise me if both are nominated for Oscars.

The film is a visually fascinating. The two most obvious things are the aspect ratio and that it’s in black and white. According to the film’s IMDb page, director Robert Eggers wanted the film to look similar to the earliest movies, including shooting it with old cameras and in the aspect ratio of the first films. The image is almost square. The regions of black on each side of the screen gives the film a feeling of claustrophobia and adds to the isolation of the characters.

Shooting “The Lighthouse” in black and white cements the film in the period. While it wouldn’t have been impossible to use color film, black and white provides authenticity and creates a starkness to the image amplifying the other worldliness of this story. Using color stock might have blunted the griminess and dread of this location. Watching a stormy sea of blue water would limit how depressing and angry the roiling ocean looked. The walls of their quarters stained a brownish yellow from pipe and cigarette smoke and oil lamps would give just a hint of happiness in an otherwise joyless existence. Black and white is almost a character in “The Lighthouse.”

“The Lighthouse” is rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some language. There is a disturbing scene of Winslow killing a seagull (it was a rubber stand in but still troubling). There are a couple of scenes of Wake and Winslow fighting. We see a character’s head in a lobster trap as well as a character having his intestines picked at by seagulls. We see a woman’s breasts a couple of times, as well as both Wake and Winslow naked. There are a couple of scenes where a character masturbates but we don’t see his penis. There is a brief sex scene. There are a couple of farts heard. Foul language is scattered.

A card at the end of the credits says some of the dialog was taken from the writings of Herman Melville and quotes from the diaries of real lighthouse keepers from the period. Much like Eggers’ “The Witch” that took quotes from journals, diaries and court records from the time when the film was set, “The Lighthouse” is filled with words and phrases that are unknown to modern audiences. All this makes the film that much more authentic, tense and weird. Eggers’ films are just weird. The weird of “The Witch” didn’t work as well for me as it plodded and didn’t provide any scares. “The Lighthouse” masterfully creates a huge amount of tension as the build-up to the explosion of violence and madness the audience knows is coming builds like a pressure cooker. We’re never sure when it’s going to blow, and we even have moments of hope, but the inevitable destruction of these two characters is just a matter of time. This film will be polarizing as some won’t understand the point of the picture size, black and white, the language of the script and more. But if you’re looking for something Martin Scorsese would approve of; you should see this film.

“The Lighthouse” gets five stars.

A whopping five new films open this week and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Terminator: Dark Fate—

Motherless Brooklyn—

Arctic Dogs—

Harriet—

Parasite—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and sent emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Aquaman”

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the product of two worlds: Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), princess of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, on the run from a loveless arranged marriage, and Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), the keeper of a lighthouse on the Atlantic coast. Tom finds Atlanna injured on the rocky shore during a storm, brings her in and tends her wounds. The two fall in love and produce a son, Arthur. The King of Atlantis sends troops to bring Atlanna back, but she defeats them in battle. To keep Tom and Arthur safe, Atlanna decides to return to Atlantis. Arthur shows the ability to communicate with fish. He can also fly through water. Atlanna’s advisor Vulko (Willem Dafoe) meets with Arthur and trains him in the ways of Atlanteans including battle tactics and how to use his unique abilities. Now an adult, Arthur, known in the media as Aquaman, intervenes in an attempt to take over a Russian nuclear sub by a group of high-tech pirates led by David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen, II) and his father Jesse (Michael Beach). During the fight, Arthur injures Jesse who is then trapped by a torpedo that has fallen from its rack. David begs Arthur to help free his father, but he refuses and Jesse dies. David vows revenge on Arthur. Meanwhile, Atlantean King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is Arthur’s half-brother, is plotting with King Nereus (Dolph Londgren) of the Xebel tribe, to wage war on the surface world by uniting the remaining seven kingdoms of the sea, taking the title Ocean Master, and attacking with their combined forces. Nereus’ daughter Mera (Amber Heard) finds Arthur and encourages him to come to Atlantis and challenge Orm for the throne and prevent the war. Arthur isn’t interested in being a king, but changes his mind when Orm, using Atlantean technology, causes huge tsunami all around the world, wreaking massive damage and nearly killing Tom. Vulko tells Arthur and Mera about the legendary Trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis. The magical weapon will give Arthur the power to defeat Orm and unite the kingdoms of the seas. Orm has given David Kane Atlantean weapons that Kane modifies into a suit and takes the name Black Manta. Orm sends troops and Black Manta to kill Mera and Arthur to stop them from finding Atlan’s Trident.

One of the biggest complaints about the recent superhero films from DC is they are dour, overly serious and dark. None of those criticisms can possibly be levied at “Aquaman” from director James Wan. The sixth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is bright, colorful, funny and filled with enough action sequences to keep fans happy. It is everything “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” weren’t.

The story of “Aquaman” is overly stuffed with secondary but connected plot lines. There is his missing mother, the creation of Black Manta, Orm’s plot with Nereus, Orm gathering support from the other kingdoms, the search for Atlan’s trident and a couple of more that would be spoilers. This bloats the running time to nearly two and a half hours. While there is more than enough to occupy your attention, it causes the film to feel scattershot and disjointed. With so many bits of story to service and characters to get on screen, “Aquaman” is constantly moving, never taking the time to let a moment breathe. While this makes the long run time feel somewhat shorter (still, plan your fluids), it also makes for a film that jumps from event to event and action scene to action scene, lessening the importance of each.

That said, “Aquaman” is quite the thrill ride. There are some amazing action scenes where Jason Momoa and Amber Heard (and/or their stunt/CGI doubles) get thrown around like rag dolls. There’s a foot chase scene with Mera across the rooftops of Sicily while Black Manta and Arthur battle it out in various locations. The choreography of these scenes, as well as the editing of the two together, is a masterclass for future filmmakers in how it should be done. The opening action scene on board a submarine is equally impressive for its use of the confined space. Arthur bangs bad guys off the walls and throws them down the halls. This scene also gives us an idea of Arthur’s powers as he is shot with a gun with no apparent effect and hit with an RPG that merely stuns him. He rips metal doors off and uses them as shields and weapons. All this after raising the sub up from the depths all by himself. Aquaman is a powerful hero with abilities in the water similar to Superman’s in the air.

He also can talk to fish. This often is mentioned as a joke since Aquaman is considered by some to be a secondary character in the DC universe. While it is an important part of his abilities, it isn’t the most important aspect of the character. Clearly, he’s gone through several changes in the various reboots of the comics character and aside from some cartoons like Super Friends, there wasn’t much done with Aquaman outside the pages of comic books. Now, with DC looking to emulate the movie success of Marvel, Aquaman has got to be toughened up to be considered on the same level as Superman and Batman. Casting Jason Momoa in the role was the first step in turning Aquaman into an A-list superhero.

Aquaman is as much Momoa as he is from the pages of the comic books. Both the actor and the character in the film like to have a good time with friends and family. Both enjoy a drink or 10. Both are gregarious (perhaps Aquaman less so) and enjoy laughing. Momoa is probably the best choice to play the king of the sea and he’s clearly enjoying his time in the role. He and Amber Heard have a chemistry that jumps off the screen. Even when they are just getting to know one another, and their relationship is more adversarial, there is an undeniable connection between the two. They are a team along the lines of Lois and Clark, and Bruce and Alfred. Separately, they are formidable, but together, they are unstoppable. It is a team-up I hope to see again on the big screen.

To say the design of “Aquaman” is eye-catching is an understatement. The cities at the bottom of the sea glow with a light like that of the deep-water fish you see in documentaries. The look of the advanced technology, the vehicles and the infrastructure of Atlantis and the other kingdoms is extraordinary. The sleek hydro-dynamic designs of the various subs mimic that of sea life like manta rays and dolphins. It is a world unlike any we’ve seen before, but it all makes sense.

The characters float in their underwater world in a believable way. Their images are slightly warped by the currents in the water and their hair moves in a way that is both realistic and extremely convenient as it never gets in their faces. While some of the digital de-ageing of some characters in flashback scenes is obvious, overall the digital effects throughout the film are excellent.

“Aquaman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. We see the aftermath of the pirates massacring the crew of the sub. We see a couple of characters stabbed or impaled. Despite the killings there is very little blood. We also see characters hit be energy weapons and blown hundreds of feet. There is also violence against and between underwater monsters created for the movie. Foul language is scattered and mild.

DC doesn’t have the best track record for their movies since the beginning of the DCEU with “Man of Steel.” Their only critical and financial success has been “Wonder Woman,” while “Suicide Squad” made money despite being roasted by film critics. “Aquaman” is likely to be a success on both fronts as it has been a huge moneymaker in China where it was released two weeks before opening in North America. With good reviews and the probability of a successful box office run, “Aquaman” may join the rarified air of a critically liked and financially successful movie for Warner Bros. and DC. Perhaps those in charge will be willing to take chances on their superpowered characters, give directors the freedom to experiment and take chances in presenting them in a new medium. I hope “Aquaman” signals a change in the fortunes of DC’s slate of superhero movies. It would be nice if they could give Marvel a run for their money. After all, a high tide raises all boats.

“Aquaman” gets five stars.

This holiday week has two new releases. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Holmes and Watson—

Vice—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.