Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

logan-and-william
Season 1 of Westworld is nearly at its end. We’re ready for the penultimate episode tonight, which is often a stage for a big reveal. Some parts of my Wild, Wild Westworld Theory have already been proven correct. At this point, almost everyone is convinced that William is the Man in Black. But I still think Jonathan Nolan is fucking with people. I’m holding out hope that Logan is the Man in Black. During this Thanksgiving weekend, I took the time to re-watch every episode a handful of times. While I’ve tried to keep an open mind, I re-watched the proceedings through the lens that Logan is the Man in Black. And I’ve been examining the evidence to build the case.

In the pilot (The Original), we haven’t been introduced yet to William and Logan. However, this is the first glimpse we see of the Man in Black who is delighted by torturing Teddy and Dolores. Although television is a very visual medium, I think it’s crucial to analyze the text of Westworld if you’re trying to interpret the meaning. And if Westworld is about anything, I believe it’s about finding meaning…a purpose.

For all the people who want to ignore the fact that this story takes place over several time periods, the Man in Black’s re-introduction to Dolores warrants your attention. “Is that any way to treat an old friend? I’ve been coming here for 30 years, but you still don’t remember me, do you? After all we’ve been through.” That line highlights that the Man in Black has a history with Dolores. While Dolores has been around for 35 years, the Man in Black has known her for 30 years. We know that the Man in Black is a sadistic fuck. In this initial encounter, he taunts Teddy by saying, “And then I realized winning doesn’t mean anything unless someone else loses. Which means you’re here to be the loser.” Re-watching these early episodes, that feels like something Logan would say.

The second episode (Chestnut) is rich with more clues. At the very beginning, we see William and Logan entering Westworld—similar to the 1973 movie that serves as this show’s inspiration.

William: You’re being an asshole.
Logan: No, I am being myself, which was the whole point of this trip. Unless this uptight prick is who you really are, in which case, feel free to be someone else.

Logan is an asshole in the park. The Man in Black is also an asshole in the park. Although William is greeted by the blond female host that re-appeared in the eighth episode, Logan also sees her as well. Considering Logan has spent substantial time in Westworld, it’s reasonable to think he has met the blond host on several occasions. In this episode, the Man in Black saves Lawrence from being hung. After he shoots Lawrence’s would-be executioners, the Man in Black remarks “That’s the best thanks you can muster, Lawrence? You used to be a little more eloquent.” Mark that as yet another old pal of the Man in Black. Clearly, they have spent a lot of time together.

“You know, you and I hunted down Ghost Nation braves in their winter grounds.
I know the whiskey you like to drink.
I know the tune you whistle when you’re taking a piss.
But you never told me you had a family.”
— The Man in Black

We have watched William and Dolores running from Ghost Nation braves with Lawrence, but that’s the extent of their interactions. Do you think William would go back to Pariah and spend a lot of time with Lawrence after his travels with Dolores? It’s possible, but I find it difficult to believe. On the other hand, we know Logan was thrilled when they found the Easter egg to Pariah. I can envision Logan spending a lot of time in the outlaw land of Pariah playing war games. I can’t shake the fact that Logan’s actions in Westworld line up more with the Man in Black.

In the third episode (The Stray), the Man in Black pays Dolores another visit. He coldly utters “Why don’t we reacquaint ourselves, Dolores? Start at the beginning,” to Dolores while he’s dragging her off to the barn. The Man in Black has raped her in the barn before, and he’s coming back to do it again. While William has had sex with Dolores, he hasn’t raped her. And why would he? But, I can make the case that Logan would be the exact type of guy to play out that power fantasy of besting the gunslinger and raping his girlfriend. Later when a different host is dragging Dolores back to the barn, she has a vision back to the Man in Black. She’s starting to remember things.

When watching Westworld in real-time, I formed my theory that Logan was the Man in Black after the fourth episode (Dissonance Theory). In this episode, William drags Logan on a bounty hunt, which is the type of mission that Logan bemoaned about avoiding. When William wants to take Dolores back to Sweetwater, Logan gets a little pissy and suggests he’ll just shoot her so the park can come get her. William sees Dolores as alive while Logan just thinks of her as a dumb doll. The scenes with William and Logan are often paired with scenes of the Man in Black.

Surely, they are setting up either William or Logan to be the Man in Black.

On his quest for the maze, the Man in Black says that he has “read every page except the last one.” He has practically lived in Westworld. Again, we also know that Logan has spent a lot of time in Westworld prior to what we’re seeing with William’s first time. The Man in Black also remarks that Lawrence’s friends in Pariah have nothing to offer him this trip. When they team up with the Woman with the Snake Tattoo, an admirer of the Man in Black chimes up and tries to say he’s thankful for his foundation literally saving his sister’s…(life?). He doesn’t get to finish the sentence because the Man in Black retorts that he’ll cut his throat if he says one more word.

After all, he’s on his fucking vacation.

Upon meeting Hector, the Man in Black says he’s also seemed like a “market-tested kind of thing.” As William and Logan are wrapping up their bounty hunt, Logan shoots the lawman because their target just revealed the Easter egg of Pariah. We know shit gets more intense on the fringes of the park, and Pariah is an outlaw town out on the border. When Logan tries to get William to go black hat, William acts like a little kid with his precious morality.

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“What is your problem? The second we get away from the real world, you turn into an evil prick.”

I firmly believe that is an important line to solving this mystery. We know the Man in Black is somewhat of a good guy outside of Westworld. At the very least, his foundation does good work helping people. According to ol’ Billy, Logan isn’t a bad guy in the real world, but he’s an evil prick in Westworld.

In the fifth episode (Contrapasso), Logan refers to Pariah when he says, “Some of the park feels like it was designed by committee or market-tested, but everything out here is more raw.” So that’s another textual link between Logan and the Man in Black both referring to certain aspects of the park as “market-tested.” We also learn that Logan’s family’s business has a stake in Westworld, and he’s pushing to increase their stake. They have a team of lawyers looking into the park, but found nothing. He knows there was a partner who killed himself before the park opened, but he doesn’t know Arnold’s name. Meanwhile, Logan is excited to get the far reaches of the park because that’s the residence of the greatest game—war. He’s never made it this far.

More evidence mounts in Contrapasso as the Man in Black continues his pursuit of the maze. When talking with Teddy, he reveals, “When this place started, I opened one of you up once. A million little perfect pieces.” William never visited the park when it first started. We are viewing his first time in the park with Logan, which is presumably 5 years after the park opened. Logan could have definitely been one of the first visitors to the park when the hosts were still machines with a million little perfect pieces.

This is the episode that cemented Logan as the Man in Black for me.

While William is set to marry the heiress to the family company, Logan is the fucking heir. Who is more likely to be a titan of industry? The heir to a powerful family company or the man marrying the heiress? It would seem like a lot more dominoes would need to fall set up the rise of someone from upper middle management. The Man in Black also has his first (and only) scene with Ford in the tavern. The Man in Black is on a mission to find the center of the maze, and Wyatt is the next step in the story. However, the Man in Black added the wrinkle that Wyatt kidnapped Dolores to keep Teddy on his path. The Man in Black is searching for the deeper meaning to Westworld.

He’s searching for Arnold’s truth. As I previously predicted, I don’t think the maze is an actual physical place. It is the means by which the hosts can override their programming. In the eighth episode (Trace Decay), the fragmentation pattern that is shown when Maeve is freaking out looks like an approximation of the maze. The hosts are starting to remember their previous builds and the atrocities that the guests have committed against them.

This has happened before and it is happening again.

I think this is building to a big reveal, and it would not be a shocking revelation if William was the Man in Black. However, there would be a tremendous payoff if Logan is the Man in Black.

When Teddy starts to remember the Man in Black hurting Dolores, he ties him up, which causes the Man in Black to reveal some of his own personal truth…

“You want to know who I am? Who I really am? I’m a god. Titan of industry. Philanthropist. Family man, married to a beautiful woman, father to a beautiful daughter. I’m the good guy, Teddy. Then, last year, my wife took the wrong pills. Fell asleep in the bath. Tragic accident. 30 years of marriage vanished. How do you say it? ‘Like a deep and distant dream.’

Then, at the funeral, I tried to console my daughter. She pushed me away, told me that my wife’s death was no accident that she killed herself because of me. Emily said that every day with me had been sheer terror. At any point, I could blow up or collapse like some dark star.”

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“They never saw anything like the man I am in here. But she knew anyway. She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it was just an elegant wall I built to hide what’s inside from everyone, and from myself. I had to prove her wrong, so I came back here. Because that’s what this place does, right? Reveals your true self.”

The Man in Black created a test.

“A very simple one. I found a woman, an ordinary homesteader and her daughter. I wanted to see if I had it in me to do something truly evil. To see what I was really made of.

Then, just when I thought it was done the woman refused to die. An animal would’ve felt something. I felt nothing. And then something miraculous happened. In all my years coming here, I had never seen anything like it. She was alive, truly alive, if only for a moment. And that was when the maze revealed itself to me. The maze is all that matters now, and besting Wyatt is the last step in unlocking it, to having what both our sorry lives lack—meaning. To giving our choices consequence even if it kills us.”

The Man in Black says he sees something he never saw before when he killed Maeve and her daughter. They (the hosts) were truly alive, if even for a moment. I don’t think that jives with what we’ve seen of William’s experiences in the park. William is protecting Dolores and helping her follow her path to awareness.

There is ample evidence that points to William as the obvious choice. William may very well still be the Man in Black, but there are several points that they would need to address in order to make that work.

I just think it would be more of an interesting twist to show how Logan was actually a decent guy outside of Westworld and a piece of shit inside—since that’s his real self. We’ve continuously watched William be the good guy in Westworld, which would seem to reveal his true character. I just have a hard time imagining what William can do to transform into the bad guy. I don’t think even killing Logan would spark that, but I could be wrong.

Virtually everyone has been connecting the dots on the William is the Man in Black theory since the second episode when Jimmi Simpson appeared. I think it’s entirely too convenient, and it doesn’t line up with the words that have come out of the Man in Black’s mouth or with William’s actions/interactions in Westworld.

I still think the show is intentionally misleading the audience into believing the clues are for William to be the Man in Black. It’s simplistic, straightforward, and makes too much sense. When would that ever describe anything in Westworld? I’m not yet moved off my theory that Logan is the Man in Black.

I feel like we’re building towards that catastrophic event from 30 years ago. William and Logan happen to be in the park at that time, which is what we’re seeing of their adventures with Dolores. We still won’t know Delos’ true motivations and intentions behind Westworld at the end of this season. We’ll know what happened 30 years ago, which will reveal Dolores’ role in the event. I’m not sure how they’ll resolve the end of the Wyatt story, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Dolores reveals herself as the legendary Wyatt. After all, we know Ford has not constructed Wyatt. In one way or another, this is twisting and turning into a showdown between Ford and Arnold.

Considering there is so much more territory to travel in future seasons, I’m confident that the resolutions will naturally be vague and ambiguous. This is just a taste of the larger story to be told.

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I find myself begrudgingly immersed in Westworld.

We’re only 5 episodes into the 10-episode journey of Season 1, but this series is already setting up a rich world ripe for analysis. Right now, you can’t judge the story because it’s still in its infancy. The show is intentionally misleading the audience by focusing on various narrative threads and likely different time periods.

As the audience, we are slowly unraveling a large ball of yarn to find out what is in the center—or traveling a maze, if you will. It’s like a big puzzle that you have no idea yet how it will connect together. After a handful of episodes, I’d be highly disappointed if we knew where things were going. More characters will continue to be introduced and little details about our current characters will be revealed. It’s beautiful but time-consuming world-building.

The strength of the show is the mystery. Who is real? What is real? What is this world?

As a warning, I don’t think anything I’m talking about here is necessarily a spoiler—unless you haven’t watched the show at all. If you haven’t watched Westworld, then go correct that mistake now. I’m simply trying to pay attention to contextual clues and connect the dots to formulate my own theory. Just in case, you’ve been warned.

Spoilers galore.

Now that we’re halfway through Season 1, the primary questions I have revolve around the two most mysterious characters—Dr. Robert Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins) and the Man in Black (played by Ed Harris). It’s not a coincidence that the best actors are the best characters. Although much has been made about who is a “host” or “guest” in Westworld, I feel confident in the fact that we can say Ford and the Man in Black are two flesh-and-bone characters. There are no strings on them. At least none that are visible right now.

I think the reason I find this show so engaging is the cerebral nature of the narrative.

Everything is a clue, but you still don’t know whether it’s real or not. Westworld is playing with the audience and manipulating our perception. While there are many competing theories, a prevailing idea is that William (played by Jimmi Simpson) is the Man in Black. I don’t know how people can be so wrong. I adore Jimmi Simpson, but he has two distinctive moles near his mouth. If you’re buying into the William is the Man in Black hypothesis, good luck explaining that away. While I believe Westworld is weaving a tapestry of narratives from two different time periods, the conclusion that people are drawing is slightly incorrect. It’s like a magician using misdirection.

William is not the Man in Black. Logan is the Man in Black.

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Think about it, Logan (played by Ben Barnes) introduces William to Westworld. Logan has already experienced virtually every aspect inside the park. He’s guiding William and knows how to steer him through the adventure to avoid the usual tourist pitfalls. Most of the park’s typical shenanigans are below Logan. With his attitude that this is all just a game, it would make sense that Logan cut open one of the earlier hosts—prior to what we’re seeing of him with William—to look inside and see all the little parts that the Man in Black mentions in the last episode.

Logan probably spent several years killing Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) and other hosts in a variety of different ways during his repeated visits. During Dolores’ awakening, she gets a flashback of the Man in Black in the barn. In the pilot, the Man in Black revels in menacing Dolores. It seems very familiar. He kills her father, brutalizes Teddy, and then carries off Dolores to have his way with her in the barn. The Man in Black basks in how good it is to be back in Westworld. Clearly, he has a history with Dolores. And like Ford, they were not friends.

It doesn’t line up that William is the Man in Black because I don’t see what could happen to change his affection for Dolores. Logan already hates her and expresses disdain for how William treats her as human when Logan thinks of her as a doll. In the most recent episode, Contrapasso, the Man in Black tells Dr. Ford that his humble contribution to Westworld is being the bad guy. Westworld has never been able to create a villain that can match the Man in Black. Similarly, Logan acts like a vile piece of shit all the time in Westworld. There doesn’t appear to be anything that would break William and transform him into what we now witness with the Man in Black’s actions.

Logan has always been the black hat. I think most of the audience feels like the Logan and William sequences are taking place from a previous time—most notably because of the different Westworld logo. These scenes must be building to the disastrous event that we’re getting glimpses of from Dolores’ visions.

Logan could be the Lone Survivor of that event with William dying at the hands of Dolores or at least as a result of his affection for her. Logan’s privileged position helps explain why the Man in Black has free reign to do whatever he wants in Westworld in the present time. I can see how Logan would become even more obsessed with Westworld after experiencing that event. It adds real stakes to the game. It would probably make him feel more alive and cause him to be more invested in the park’s future. It ignites a search for the purpose behind Westworld.

Essentially, the show is telling the audience not to trust anything we see.

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Along that line, we never see the Man in Black be a good guy. We’re led to believe the Man in Black is somewhat of an upstanding citizen in his non-Westworld life because a stranger in the park comes up to tell the Man in Black how much he admires his foundation for saving his sister’s life. I think it’s an assumption to say he’s a good guy on the outside from that line, which is the only evidence currently on the table. We know his foundation does good things, but that doesn’t mean the Man in Black is good himself. His foundation could serve his self-interests in order to continue printing money to finance Westworld. The good things might just be a byproduct of doing business. Remember, we know nothing of the outside world. Anything is possible inside and outside.

Logan and the Man in Black are both extremely passionate about Westworld. They even remark on aspects of Westworld feeling “too market-tested.” William seems more passionate about Dolores than Westworld. Personally, it seems like Logan was already growing bored with the typical narratives populating Westworld before taking William there. Logan’s travels there are in the name of business since the family company is considering increasing their stake in the park. It almost makes too much sense that Logan’s family company is the Man in Black’s foundation, which is also the organization enabling Westworld to operate as a result of its financial support.

If Logan and William are in the park when things go awry with the hosts, I can see how that catastrophic event lights a fire inside Logan. He has been dominating this world because there was nothing the hosts could do to kill Logan. It was ingrained in their programming not to harm a living thing. But it would completely dislodge that notion if Logan is in the park when the hosts malfunction and everyone dies. If only for a day, the game changed.

In a sense, I believe that could become the way he is born in Westworld. It’s a new outlook on life.

We don’t know his motivations, but there’s clearly a purpose to the Man in Black. In his travels with William, Logan was basically trying to see how he could break the game and learn more about the park—mostly to try to increase his family’s financial gain. If Logan’s character survived the massacre or whatever happens at the park, it would make sense if he no longer viewed it as a game. The awakening that brought on that event is still a mystery, which is why the Man in Black is invested in learning more. In his mind, the key to the answer is the maze.

However, I believe we’ll find that the maze isn’t a physical maze. In his quest to find the maze, Lawrence’s daughter tells the Man in Black that the maze isn’t meant for him. It is a maze inside the hosts for them to find in order to unlock who they truly are and break free. What the audience is experiencing (so far through Dolores and Mauve) is the internal struggle of the hosts trying to come to grips with their own reality.

This has happened before and it is starting to happen again.

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For those that disregard the multiple timelines, Dolores is an unreliable narrator. Fuck, everyone is an unreliable narrator in Westworld. I don’t think you can trust the time or continuity with anything happening. Regarding Dolores, her secret meetings with Ford and Bernard (Ford’s right-hand man, played by Jeffrey Wright) could easily be virtual and happening at various points in time. I think the first time Dolores experienced an awakening was back with Logan and William, which is what we are starting to see in those flashback sequences.

As a result, the question now moves to what happened 30 years ago?

If I’m re-examining everything through the lens that Logan is the Man in Black, then these flashback scenes hold some important insight. During the adventures of Logan and William, it’s revealed that the co-creator (Arnold) has already mysteriously died. According to Ford, Arnold died in the park. Maybe that’s the truth, but you cannot trust Ford. Whatever happened or however it happened, we can tie Arnold’s death to the hosts malfunctioning—or awakening, since creating consciousness was allegedly Arnold’s intended goal.

I’m subscribing to the belief that Arnold is dead. He hasn’t been secretly hiding in the park for 30 years evading Ford. But a part of him still lives. It’s in Dolores and all of the hosts. Arnold is in the code itself. The hosts that are malfunctioning are hearing Arnold’s voice in their head. He is the voice of God for them. Since Arnold and Ford had competing philosophies on the direction of Westworld, it’s a natural assumption to think Ford played a part in Arnold’s demise. Arnold is trying to get the last laugh on Ford. If the hosts become sentient, then they break free of their chains and bring about the destruction of the park. It’s the end of the game.

Whether it’s by code or continued interference, Dolores is struggling to remember and we’re seeing her experience several awakenings. However, the revolution Arnold was attempting to incite wasn’t successful 30 years ago. Presumably, the Man in Black helped Ford succeed in the struggle. At the very least, his family’s company financially supported Westworld in the aftermath and allowed Ford to continue doing whatever he wanted.

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Everything has remained in Ford’s control to this point because Dolores has been content to stay in her little loop. Dolores seems to be the real key for the Man in Black to find the answers he is searching for in the present time. Dolores is the oldest host in the park—being remade over and over again. She is the only host from that old mechanical era that is still in working condition in Westworld. There’s a reason she’s still around.

But why? If Arnold used Dolores to start his attempt to destroy the park, Ford would want to keep her around and keep diving into her programming. Maybe she can’t even be destroyed a this point. Ford is paranoid that his nemesis is still around—in some form or another. Now that he has free reign to build Westworld in his own image, Ford doesn’t know what to do with himself. I believe Ford has kept Dolores around for the sole purpose of mining information. As a result, it would make sense for Ford to have other moles around the park.

Virtually every character on the show has been hinted at secretly being a host. It’s part of the fabric of the show to question your surroundings. Westworld is keeping the audience off-guard by constantly confusing them with more characters and seemingly disparate storylines. In some manner, I think the pieces connect.

I don’t know when it will be revealed, but I believe Bernard is a host.

Although Ford briefly shows a photo to Bernard of him as a young man with someone who is allegedly Arnold, I think that is misdirection for both the audience and for Bernard. Since all we know about Arnold is from Ford, it would make sense if Bernard is an extension of Ford’s paranoid search to find out what Arnold did or how it was done. Is it a coincidence that only Ford and Bernard have interviewed Dolores? In this world, it’s reasonable that Ford created Bernard as a copy—using Arnold against Arnold. It would be a different way of looking at the same problem. Maybe Bernard’s inquiries with Dolores could reveal more information than Ford could as himself.

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The context for Bernard being a host is right in front of our eyes. Like the hosts in the park, Bernard has a backstory that drives him. His child died and that event consumes him. In the same episode as that reveal where Bernard is having a video phone discussion with his ex-wife, Ford also drops a throwaway line (when he’s speaking with Bernard) that Arnold’s past was marked by tragedy. Perhaps I’m connecting the dots too much, but it’s a pretty hefty implication that gets glossed over quickly by Ford. It’s like he doesn’t want to share too much information.

If Westworld is going to be a successful TV show, they are going to have to take their time to tell the story. Rest assured, we will not have the answers to all of these questions at the end of Season 1. In fact, I assume this season will end by showing the massacre/event that happened 30 years ago. We’ll start to see how it happened, but we still won’t quite know what’s going on inside the park. Certainly, we won’t know much (if anything) about the influences from outside the park, which almost seem more sinister than the depraved things going on inside of Westworld. We can’t move to the outside until we know more about what happened on the inside.

Almost everything we’re witnessing is not quite as it seems. My conclusions could be completely wrong. But I trust the process. What Westworld has been hinting at is that finding/completing the maze would free the hosts and allow them to operate against their programming. After all, aren’t the hosts essentially as real as humans if they can override their programming? The line between host and guest is getting blurred.

Of course, this is all conjecture. I have no idea what is happening or what is going to happen. Right now, I’m enjoying being enthralled by the mystery. But that amazement will turn to red-hot hatred if Westworld proves incapable of eventually answering (in a satisfying manner) the various questions it has started to pose.

I feel like the main lesson from this show is to question everything and believe nothing.

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Why haven’t I heard about Standoff before? Who do I blame for this? I must correct this mistake.

Please help me in this endeavor and go watch Standoff now while it is streaming on Netflix.

Standoff is a fucking fantastic movie with an unexpected emotional impact. This movie works because of the dynamic between the three main actors—Thomas Jane (as Carter), Laurence Fishburne (as Sade), and Ella Ballentine (as Isabelle). The premise is simple and self-explained in the title. This is a standoff between Carter and Sade with Isabelle stuck in the middle. It is good against evil.

Black Mask Killer

Larry Fishburne plays a sadistic contract killer by the name of Sade who dresses in all black with a hood for a mask. This guy really doesn’t like people seeing his face. It’s a big pet peeve. But when he is straight-up murdering a family at a funeral in the cemetery, Sade stupidly removes his mask to give a rousing speech before then finishing the job. Sloppy work for a trained professional.

However, Isabelle (a young orphan) was also at the cemetery and she just happened to be taking pictures—as sort of a coping mechanism. Isabelle was the only one left alive at the cemetery and she runs for her life to the nearest place, which is Carter’s farmhouse. The little girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she stumbles into the arms of the right person at the right time.

Laurence Fishburne

The ensuing standoff is a tense thriller that hinges on the cat-and-mouse game between Carter and Sade. The desperation is palpable. Both parties have an objective and they are committed to carry through their mission by any means necessary. Although the movie takes momentary pauses, the pace is impressive. And the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome at an hour and a half.

I would like to think this is also a satisfying “fuck you” from Laurence Fishburne to anyone who says he’s lost something after settling in with a nice cushy network TV gig. How much scenery does Laurence Fishburne in Standoff? All of the scenery. There is devastation everywhere in his wake. It’s all gone when he’s done. The character of Sade is rich for that type of exploitation, and Fishburne does a masterful job of making this psychopath seem believable. He is a delightfully sick fuck in this movie.

Thomas Jane

Opposite Laurence Fisburne is Thomas Jane, who is equally magnificent. Thomas Jane doesn’t get the best roles in the best movies, but he’s always more than up to the task if given the appropriate material. I would believe Thomas Jane if he was cast as any type of character. In Standoff, Jane plays a troubled man named Carter who is haunted by his past and about to kill himself when we meet him.

Ella Ballentine

But young Ella Ballentine holds her own sharing the screen with these professional actors. This little girl is clearly capable of big things. That doesn’t always translate when child actors grow up, but she seems like a mini-Brie Larson—especially in terms of appearance. Isabelle also goes by the nickname “Bird” but she may or may not like it. This poor little girl has seen some shit and gone through enough heartbreak for several lifetimes. Whatever happens, you just want her to be okay.

Director Adam Alleca probably benefited from a trio of phenomenal acting performances. This is his directorial debut, but I would give any future project of his a chance based on this movie. Standoff’s story and pacing give this movie a little bit of style to raise it above the typical fodder.

Perhaps I enjoyed Standoff more because it blindsided me, but I genuinely believe there is something here for everyone to enjoy. At the very least, Standoff certainly deserves more than it’s middling 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It may not be an all-time great, but it is an entertaining thriller that’s grounded by an emotional core. Give it a try. Who wouldn’t enjoy this movie?

No One

4 out of 5 stars

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Faults is a fantastic, even-paced mystery that is phenomenally captivating.

This movie starts out as a dark comedy showing you the desperate nature of the lead character, Ansel Roth—played by Leland Orser. Ansel is a specialist on cults and he tours local hotels to give shitty speeches and hawk his hackey book. The opening scene shows Ansel trying to re-use a hotel voucher for a free meal and getting rebuked. It goes delightfully wrong as he has to be thrown out.

Ansel in Mirror

Ansel Roth is a man at the end of his rope. Not quite literally, but he does attempt to suck a tailpipe. Ansel is a broken man, and Leland Orser does a beautiful, masterful job portraying that sense. Leland Orser is a seasoned character actor who typically plays nerdy roles, but he excelled in this larger opportunity playing a complex character like Ansel Roth. Ansel is a failure. Both his marriage and career have failed. One particular case still haunts Ansel because he failed trying to help a family deprogram a woman initiated into a cult. He pushed her too hard and she killed herself.

As a result of his collective failures, Ansel has lost all motivation to move forward.

Claire and Parents

However, he gets a second chance when two parents—played by familiar faces Chris Ellis and Beth Grant—come to Ansel desperate for his specialized help to save their daughter, Claire. For the first time in the movie, you see a light turn on in Ansel’s eyes while he’s eating breakfast with Claire’s parents. Although he blatantly states that he no longer gives a shit, Ansel needs the money and the parents are willing to pay for the job. Naturally, Ansel hires two thugs, they all kidnap Claire from a parking lot, and they transport her to a hotel in a sketchy van. Clearly, these are not professionals.

Basically, the comedy comes to a screeching halt at this point (about 20 minutes in).

However, the lack of dark humor is made up for by a wealth of Mary Elizabeth Winstead—playing Claire. I’ll take that trade-off. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of our finest young actresses. She is an amazing talent with range, but she’s hasn’t had a true breakthrough role. I have no doubt she would have had an equally impressive performance as Brie Larson in last year’s Oscar-nominated Room.

Kidnapped

Claire comes off as a fragile woman. She is confused about the situation, but not her convictions. According to her parents, she has joined a cult and cut herself off from her family and society as a whole. Claire has joined a group that refers to itself as Faults. A fault is a fracture. From a fault comes a change. Claire feels intrinsically connected and called to this group. According to her description, Faults exhibits all the classic signs of a cult. It is Ansel’s mission to deprogram the cult’s teachings.

Ansel feels obligated to help Claire, but his main motivation is the money so he can pay off his debt.

Terry is his manager who self-published Ansel’s latest book, which he can’t give away. Jon Gries plays Terry in a very understated manner as a tough but effeminate photographer. Despite his job, he still manages to provide the character with the appearance of intimidation. Terry utilizes his close pal, Mick, as the muscle to force Ansel to pay. Mick is played by Lance Reddick, resident alien-looking motherfucker with a voice of gold who I’ll always remember as Desmond Mobay from Oz and Cedric Daniels from The Wire. These two characters are constantly interfering with Ansel’s mission to save Claire.

Ansel can only survive so long having his candle burnt at both ends.

Saying too much more would threaten to ruin the story as this movie transforms into an absorbing mystery to find out who this cult is and what the hell they are doing. Although Claire is the only opening into Faults, Ansel is the key to unlock the door. Can he succeed where he failed before?

Orser and Winstead

Riley Stearns deserve immense praise for pulling off this movie as both the writer and director. His vision came to life and became much more thanks to Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser. The interplay between the characters of Claire and Ansel is the core of this movie. A few minutes could have been snipped from the middle to tighten things up, but this movie deserves more praise.

Maybe I just personally enjoy the subject of cults more than most. It is a fascinating topic that Faults touches on and rolls around in—exploring why and how people are drawn to cults. In most cases, it is the cult of personality that lures people in like a siren’s call. In Faults, Ira is the name of the mysterious leader that we never see but their presence is felt anyway. The charismatic leader is often the introduction to make the brainwashing go down smooth. As people, we are very weak and open to this exploitation. While people love to single out Scientology, every organized religion is a cult.

You can all hate me equally for that true statement and sentiment.

Faults is a movie that belongs in your queue. Fortunately, this is still streaming on Netflix. Despite heavily relying on the mystery of unraveling the story, this movie holds up on a second viewing.

Just watch what you say about Faults, there some things we don’t talk about.

MEW Scream

4 out of 5 stars

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Circle is the perfect movie to encapsulate this election season. Mind you, this movie has nothing to do with politics. But it is all about backstabbing and xenophobia. This is you, America.

Circle starts with 50 people who wake up in a mysterious dark room in two lines of a circle around a large black dome with strange red lights on the floor. Whenever someone tries to move from their circle or touch someone else, a warning alarm beeps. Heed the warning or suffer the consequences. If you step outside of your circle, the dome emits a bolt of energy and you are instantly dead.

The use of sound is an astounding addition to the movie. Pay attention to those cues.

Slowly, people start to wake up, but they have no recollection of what happened. Some people are frantic and find out one misstep (off your circle) is fatal. Regardless the method, someone must die every two minutes. A countdown signals the impending doom before the dome kills someone.

Circle completely fucks with your mind, but in a consensual manner.

Although the complete picture is still blurry, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together within the first 15 minutes. Everyone starts to remember that ships appeared in the sky and abducted people from the streets—referred to as a “giant space vacuum.” No one saw aliens or can recall anything else though. Everything just went dark and then they woke up in the ship. As this group of strangers tries to understand what happened, people are dying every two minutes. It is insanely tense.

Strangers

The veil of mystery is pulled back a bit when the people discover they are the ones who are determining who dies. Every person has an implant in their hand that enables them to vote for who will be executed. But you can only see who you are voting for—giving the appearance of anonymity.

Chaos explodes and everything descends into madness when people find out they have the power. Cliques emerge quickly and the initial strategy is to execute the elderly first in order to buy time. I’m not spoiling anything because this is the simple setup that’s outlined in the opening.

If this isn’t enough to hook you into watching, then perhaps you may be swayed by the fact that Circle is currently streaming on Netflix. I have watched this movie several times already and enjoyed it equally each time. This is unadulterated entertainment deserving of your eyeballs.

It is also a thought experiment to imagine how you would act and react in this situation.

The directions traveled in this movie are handled magnificently with a deft hand by writers-directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione. This is exactly how I think this would unravel in real life with everything descending into madness and manipulation. What would you do to try to save yourself? Is it even possible to save yourself? Would you give up in the face of these overwhelming odds?

As you can imagine, everything is on the table for judgment. Moral superiority becomes a recurring theme as people try to do anything they can to gain the high ground. Surprisingly, Circle has more layers than you might expect from a sci-fi thriller because it’s not afraid to deal with the human emotions involved in this mindfuck. People would panic, become paranoid, and act selfish.

Ultimately, this is a process of elimination with one potential survivor.

Reaction

In an attempt to avoid any personal associations, most people don’t divulge their names. Some have names, which includes the character who is essentially the audience’s perspective—Eric, played by Michael Nardelli. Most characters are stereotypes or stand-ins representing certain groups. These people are given names like The Pregnant Girl, The Little Girl, The Soldier, The Athiest, The One-Armed Man, The Cancer Survivor, The Rich Man, The Asian Kid, The African American Man, The Hispanic Man, The Lesbian, The Lawyer, The Doctor, The Deacon, The College Guy, The Tattooed Man, The Bearded Man, and much more. As Jack Horner said in Boogie Nights, “Those are some great names!”

While the writing is the star of this movie, the ensemble cast is shockingly good with a few notable performances. Although half of the fun might come from watching the events unfold, Circle goes down smooth on a second viewing. With a seemingly low budget, simple story, and understated effects, Circle could conceivably be a play. The unique narrative is the heart of this movie.

Perhaps the most vital aspect of Circle is that it establishes the stakes early and often.

The collective decisions of these people determine their own fates.

In a few months, people in American will pretend that their votes are important. In our reality, it doesn’t make a difference. Our choice is an illusion because it’s a decision between two options that are actually the same. But choice is a principal plot point of Circle. How deep does your self-preservation run? The fight-or-flight instincts play out in fascinating ways in this story. I’m not saying that I would welcome our alien overlords and this high-stakes game of Survivor. However, it would be a nice change to live in a world (even if it’s a sci-fi dystopia) where one vote equals one vote.

Circle: where your vote actually matters!

It is a superb study of human nature.

Wake Up

4 out of 5 stars

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10 Cloverfield Lane is a well-acted, tense thriller that unravels to reveal a true piece of shit.

My gripe is not with John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or John Gallagher Jr.—the acting elevates the writing and makes this movie worth watching. If you enjoy the craft of acting, then you’re nearly guaranteed to be deeply engaged with these characters. However, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down during the odd, stilted third act that culminates with a ridiculous finale.

In hindsight, where 10 Cloverfield Lane really lost me was the name.

I am jealous of those who can watch 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie. To be clear, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a standalone movie. Leading up to the release, J.J. Abrams said 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” to Cloverfield—intentionally teasing a directly shared universe.

Cloverfield was and still is a very divisive movie. Most people hated the shaky camera and found footage gimmick. But I think it worked beautifully in the context of a monster destroying a major city. As an admitted fan of creature features, Cloverfield delivered a unique, enthralling adventure with a distinct creature wreaking havoc on New York City. While 10 Cloverfield Lane builds tension in a similar but different manner, the anticipation does not crescendo to a satisfactory conclusion.

When you slap Cloverfield on the title of your movie, you’re establishing a certain set of expectations. Of course, J.J. Abrams isn’t one for delivering on expectations. Everything the man has done is all setup and zero resolution. Without spoiling anything (yet), 10 Cloverfield Lane is right in line with the Abrams brand. I don’t mean to give J.J. too much responsibility since he was only the producer of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but you can see the sequences that bear his direct influence.

Before I unload my personal problems with this movie, let me talk about the good things.

Howard Angry

There are plenty of good things about 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Goodman is legitimately great and he puts on a magnificent display as Howard—a doomsday prepper with deep paranoia and a potentially dark history. His character is enigmatic. You’re never quite sure what he’s doing or what motivates his actions. Howard’s doomsday bunker is a sizeable underground fortress that ends up providing shelter for Howard, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Emmett (played by John Gallagher Jr.)—although Emmett helped build the bunker, he was not an intended guest. After a car wreck under mysterious circumstances, Michelle woke up to find herself shackled in the bunker with no memory of what happened. As the audience, you have to put the pieces together as the events unfold.

I was captivated whenever John Goodman was on the screen. Howard isn’t exactly a likeable character, but there is an undeniable charm. You just have to ignore the gruff exterior and creepy, controlling personality. Mary Elizabeth Winstead holds her own as Michelle against Goodman’s gregarious presence. The relationship between Howard and Michelle is bizarre from the beginning. That absence of an explanation is a recurring theme in 10 Cloverfield Lane—and the Abrams brand, in general.

Don’t expect any explanations from this shared universe. You will only disappoint yourself.

You can expect some spoilers while I explain my contempt for this shameful marketing ploy.

Spoilers galore.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Now enjoy some Good(man) dancing.

Good(man) Dancing

I was sold a false bill of goods. 10 Cloverfield Lane is all misdirection.

The setup is so enjoyable, which makes this so ultimately unsatisfying. The concept of a restricted narrative in an underground bunker is an interesting hook. With 10 Cloverfield Lane as the title, the most tantalizing hook for me was how this connects with Cloverfield.

Surprise: there is no direct correlation. Fucking “blood relative” of Cloverfield, my ass.

Cloverfield had no business being so incredibly entertaining. I think we can thank Matt Reeves for that. Maybe I love it a little too much because it was also my introduction to T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan. There were genuinely great, memorable moments in Cloverfield—in fact, innovative with that horrific night vision chase scene in the subway tunnels. The end wasn’t exactly gratifying, but I have come to terms with that. In time, I’ve almost appreciated the absence of explanation in that movie.

I cannot appreciate or mildly tolerate the intentional lie of titling this movie 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Initially, this movie started out as The Cellar. Dying a slow death in development hell, J.J. Abrams rescued the movie by slapping Cloverfield on the name to manufacture mystery. Fans of Cloverfield have been feverishly waiting for a sequel. It’s an embarrassing slap in the face to loosely tie this in with Cloverfield when it doesn’t really have any vital connection to the original movie.

Personally, this attempt to generate interest among a group of dedicated fans gloriously backfired because there is no connection—no Cloverfield monster or human-sized parasites. Not even a reference to the event. If a giant fucking monster destroyed New York City, I want to know how that would change the way people lived their lives. The largest city in the U.S. was attacked by a massive creature. In order to stop the devastation, the HAMMERDOWN protocol was initiated to bomb the monster into oblivion. During the credits, there was also a line suggesting the creature still survived.

iPhone

Since the events aren’t referenced, I’m not sure whether 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place before, during, or after Cloverfield. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character owned the newest iPhone, which suggests this takes place after Cloverfield. If this indeed takes place after a monster destroyed New York City, then Howard isn’t a conspiracy nut for building a doomsday bunker. Cloverfield certainly invoked the emotion of the 9/11 and that aftermath has impacted our reality so it was ripe for exploration.

Not referencing or including the events of Cloverfield in 10 Cloverfield Lane is a stupefying decision.

None of this feels natural. This is very obviously two separate movies glued together.

You can tell what parts remained from The Cellar, and those original sequences are enthralling. When Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finally escapes, the science-fiction elements felt so fabricated and out of leftfield. Instead of using the ready-made human-sized parasites from Cloverfield, there’s a mechanical worm-dog and some sort of weird flying creature with other similar types of ships.

It’s fucking aliens?! Aliens. Fucking hokey CGI bullshit. Some television shows have better effects.

The official story from Cloverfield was that the monster was awoken from the deep sea by a fallen satellite, which you get a glimpse of at the end of the movie. It wasn’t an alien monster—it was already here hidden in the ocean. Now, I guess it has been changed to an alien. Maybe this is a part of a coordinated alien attack. You still don’t know after this movie and you will never know.

It is an empty promise.

The most emphatic connection within 10 Cloverfield Lane is the reveal that Howard worked on satellites. If you happen to be familiar with the Cloverfield ARG (alternate reality game), you might recognize an envelope with the logo of Bold Futura—Howard’s employer, which is tied to a company involved in the events of Cloverfield. It’s not only disgraceful as false advertising. It is a disservice to this movie.

Cast

When you name the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane, you immediately add the expectation of science-fiction elements. Therefore, the payoff is not even a surprise. Instead, it feels fake and contrived. You can sense that it was tacked on purely to give it the illusion of a connection to Cloverfield—simply because there is a monster. The final shot shows the house’s mailbox (revealing the address), which is utterly pointless. None of these decisions make any rational sense and have no practical justification.

Rumors of a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series have already started swirling.

Fantastic, an anthology would allow J.J. Abrams to continue posing questions without any answers. I have had enough with the absence of explanation here. It’s not enough to have an interesting setup.

J.J. Abrams is a marketing maven. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s impossible to judge 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie, but I sincerely wish I could manage to appreciate it by itself. Dan Trachtenberg showed impeccable vision in his directorial debut. The parts from The Cellar were worthy of 4-star consideration, but I cannot ignore nor forgive that awful ending.

Quite literally, this movie deserved a better treatment.

I wish the Cloverfield monster would just swallow this movie whole.

Cloverfield Monster

2 out of 5 stars

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Every year, you can count on a horror movie being released that’s sold as completely different than anything you’ve ever seen before. A veritable game-changer! In the last few years, The Babadook and It Follows have had that praised heaped on them. Those movies weren’t unique and neither is The Witch. If we’re looking for a common denominator, these are all well-made horror movies that have a little more thought than the standard slasher-style fare of gore porn that’s preferred these days.

When the quality of movies released in theaters is so shockingly poor early in the year, a cinematic movie like The Witch is the beneficiary of a lot of bored film critics. While there are some memorable moments, The Witch fails to distinguish itself as anything special. If you have a hatred for period pieces, then stay far away from this movie because the story is set in 1630’s New England. The language is very hard to understand, which would be easily fixed with some subtitles to help follow along. When a slow, plodding movie like this is so reliant on the story, the dialogue needs to be accessible.

Jesus Family Dinner

What also made it worse for me was the horrible audience in the theater. As the movie started, two fucking idiots bumble in trying to find their seats (I am spoiled and only go where they have assigned recliners) while audibly talking. Several people had to tell them to shut up. The opening of this movie is crucial to the story because The Witch is about a family who is banished from their Puritan community. Since those two fucksticks decided to arrive as the movie was starting, I’m not entirely clear why the family was banished. I assumed it was “sin…sin…something or other.” Investigating further after watching The Witch, they didn’t specifically describe why they were forced to leave—instead citing the father’s “prideful conceit” so I suppose it was a sin of sorts. I was incredibly confused.

But really, you don’t need to know why the family is exiled. I guess that’s why writer/director Robert Eggers intentionally made it vague. In a sense, it allows the audience to place their own assumptions as to what is going on with this family. The father, William, is played by Ralph Ineson, and his wife, Katherine, is played by Kate Dickie—who should be familiar to Game of Thrones fans as Aunt Lysa. Kate Dickie is playing a comparable character in The Witch as Katherine with an equal blend of crazy, creepy, and cruel. The supporting cast of children are suitable for their roles. Harvey Scrimshaw plays Caleb, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson play twins Mercy and Jonas, and an unidentified baby plays Samuel.

The true star and focus of this movie is Anya Taylor-Joy as the daughter, Thomasin.

Anya Taylor-Joy

The Witch revolves around this family with five children trying to survive in the wilderness while spooky shit goes on around them. In the 17th century, they must not have known yet that weirdness always happens in the woods. This movie builds tension at a glacial pace—keeping you waiting for more elements of the supernatural and/or black magic. You should focus on this movie as a family drama rather than a horror movie. If you expect blood and guts, you will be sorely disappointed.

The less you know about The Witch beforehand, the more you will probably like it. The twists and turns the movie takes into the bizarre seem like they would only satisfy the first time. Even that’s not a guarantee you’ll enjoy the direction this movie travels. It’s a slow psychological mystery.

Between the language barrier and odd unraveling of the story, I’m surprised many people like this movie. However, that might be the result of critics eager to praise a movie early in the year. Right now, it’s scoring only 52% with the audience on Rotten Tomatoes—as opposed to an 89% among critics. The Witch is not an entertaining movie by any means, but I can appreciate the effort and expertise put into making this film. I’m hoping for better subject-matter in Robert Eggers’ next endeavor.

It’s just unfortunate that The Witch is as dry and cold as a witch’s tit.

Black Philip

2.5 out of 5 stars