TV Review: Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009)

Also known as: Los Conchords (Spain)
Original Run: February 26th, 2016-current
Created by: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Directed by: James Bobin, Taika Waititi, various
Written by: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Taika Waititi, various
Music by: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby, Kristen Schaal, Arj Barker

Dakota Pictures, HBO, 22 Episodes, 26 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Having just watched Jemaine Clement in the fantastic What We Do In the Shadows, I was inspired to revisit Flight of the Conchords, as I hadn’t watched it since it was last on HBO in 2009. Also, I had never seen it in its entirety and in the proper sequence. Now I have and I’m glad I did. By the way, both seasons are streaming for free on Amazon’s video-on-demand service, right now.

So, as much as I loved this show when it was current, I loved it even more revisiting it several years later and after seeing Clement’s career evolve. It was nice to get back to basics and see him and his crew at their best. I wouldn’t call this their creative peak but I would say that it was where they were the most in-tune to the versatility of their talents.

Following a New Zealand band, the Flight of the Conchords, and their lives trying to make it in New York City, is a unique experience. The show ties together entertaining stories, hilarious musical segments and great characters that are unlike any other. Being that everyone in this show is pretty much an exaggerated extension of themselves makes it feel authentic despite its absurdity.

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are a perfect duo and play off of each other so well, that there is nothing unnatural or forced about their relationship. Kristen Schaal and Rhys Darby are also great members of this show’s cast and are both believable and lovable. Arj Barker, who plays their best friend, is fantastic as Dave. In fact, if you have time, go to YouTube and search for “Dave’s Pearls of Wisdom”.

This is one of the best comedies HBO has ever aired and they have aired several comedies that are now classics. I wish that the show went on for more than two seasons but the quality of work was so strong, and the ending was pretty fitting. There are few shows that feel this satisfying throughout their entire run.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other films and shows created by this same group of guys: What We Do In the Shadows, Eagle Vs. Shark, etc.

Film Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Also known as: Fantastic Four 2, Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four: The Next Chapter (working titles)
Release Date: June 12th, 2007 (London premiere)
Directed by: Tim Story
Written by: Don Payne, Mark Frost, John Turman
Based on: Fantastic Four by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher, Doug Jones, Beau Garrett, Laurence Fishburne (voice), Brian Posehn

Marvel Entertainment, Constantin Film, 1492 Pictures, Dune Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 92 Minutes

Review:

“…I stayed in and studied like a good little nerd. And fifteen years later, I’m one of the greatest minds of the 21st century. I’m engaged to the hottest girl on the planet. And the big jock who played football in high school, he’s standing right in front of me asking me for my help, and I say he’s not going to get a damn thing, unless he does exactly what I say and starts treating me and my friends with some respect.” – Reed Richards

After revisiting the first film in this duology, which was really just an unfinished trilogy, I thought that I’d watch this one again too. Granted, I didn’t expect to be wowed by it, as I wasn’t wowed in the first place when it came out 11 years ago. But I’ve been slowly working my way through the Marvel films that existed before the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man in 2008.

I thought that I preferred this one to its predecessor from what I remembered. However, having watched them again, this is the shitty one of the two films. Both are really shitty, mind you.

There is so much wrong with this film that it’s hard to pick where to start but I guess a lot of it can be lumped into one thing: tone. The tone just doesn’t work and this picture doesn’t seem to know what it’s trying to be. This is a mish mash of extreme cheese, rom com cringe, buddy movie antics, sci-fi thriller elements, terrible villains and a pail full of wet turds.

The extreme cheese portion of the movie is the type of stuff that will make you puke in your mouth while experiencing uncontrollable shivers. If you don’t believe me, just watch the Reed Richards dance scene. Ioan Gruffudd is probably a nice enough guy but this whole sequence makes me hate him, the director and the special effects team. And ultimately, I cried inside because Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis had to be a part of it.

The rom com cringe comes from all the Reed Richards and Susan Storm marriage bullshit. There’s this ongoing joke throughout the movie about how their wedding keeps getting interrupted, it’s played up for comedy when it’s really not that funny and always takes a turn towards a serious attempt at stopping a threat which is poorly executed each time and falls victim to the extreme cheese residue that seems to be smeared over the celluloid that this was filmed on. Plus, this is one of the most unconvincing romantic relationships I have ever seen on screen.

When it comes to the buddy movie antics, the first film handled this stuff much better. I actually loved the relationship between Johnny and Ben in the first chapter. It carries over into this one but this story is more about how much of a fuck up Johnny is and it’s just not as funny. And since he becomes a responsible grown up by the end of the picture, it probably would’ve been worse in the third picture that didn’t get made. But where they try to push the buddy comedy shtick here, it just feels like a soulless copy of what’s already been done.

Then the film also tries to get serious and be a real science fiction thriller. The problem is that you are so bogged down by the cheesy bullshit that it doesn’t fit. I guess the best way to describe the confusing tone is to imagine taking a movie like Step Brothers and then trying to edit it together into one film with Terminator 2. The shit just doesn’t work and it’s weird.

Plus, Jessica Alba’s Sue Storm looks even more unbelievably bizarre in this film than the previous one. She’s a beautiful woman but the blonde hair and blue eyes are so exaggerated here that she looks like an alien in some scenes. I mean, it’s really fucking distracting. But in some scenes she looks fine too. Really, her whole look throughout the film is grossly inconsistent and when she does look weird, it’s super weird because 30 seconds earlier she probably looked okay.

I have to discuss the villain problem as well.

For one, I hated Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom in the first movie and he’s just so much worse in this one. The dude does everything he can to not wear the Doom mask, which is the main thing that makes the villain visually terrifying. But then when he does wear it, his dubbing is fucking deplorable. He doesn’t sound like a mad scientist in a cool mask, he sounds like a male dance choreographer trying to berate six year-old ballet students that don’t have the attention span to commit to his community theater production.

Then there is Galactus. Or isn’t there? One of the most powerful villains in the entire history of Marvel Comics is simply a cloud in this film. A fucking cloud. I don’t think I need to say anymore about that.

Also, the plot makes no sense by the time you get to the end. The Silver Surfer is helping Galactus eat planets because if he doesn’t, Galactus will eat his homeworld. But then in the end, Susan Storm convinces the Silver Surfer to stop him. So how does he do it? The Surfer flies into the cloud, tells the cloud he isn’t his servant anymore and then the cloud blows up and goes away. Couldn’t the Silver Surfer have just done this like fifty planets ago? Hell, couldn’t have just gotten Galactus’ power and then instantly turned on him without actually leaving his own planet and not only saving it but also all the worlds he prepared for his master like duck confit with a side of foie gras and truffle risotto?

Fuck, this movie is so stupid.

So I must put this movie through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: 2005’s Fantastic Four and the 2015 reboot. And I can’t forget 1994’s unreleased Fantastic Four film, which can be tracked down and seen nowadays. However, all these movies are terrible.

TV Review: Mad Men (2007-2015)

Original Run: July 19th, 2007-May 17th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Carbonara, RJD2 (opening theme)
Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Maggie Siff, John Slattery, Robert Morse, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Kevin Rahm, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton, Alison Brie, Joel Murray, Peyton List, Harry Hamlin, Linda Cardellini, Rosemarie DeWitt, Randee Heller, Caity Lotz, Ray Wise, Stephanie Courtney, Patrick Fischler, Alexis Bledel, Anna Camp,

Weiner Bros., Silvercup Studios, Lionsgate Television, @radical.media (pilot only), Lionsgate Television, AMC, 92 Episodes, 47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Last night saw the end of an era, as the series finale to Mad Men aired. The show was one of the best shows of the last ten years and frankly, one of the best television shows of all-time.

Sure, maybe I’m late in reviewing it because it is now over and it has been on television since the summer of 2007. I also didn’t have this blog back then and I like to wait and review television shows after they have had time to establish themselves.

Chances are, most of you reading this have already seen the show and formed your own opinions. Most of you probably loved it or at the very least, liked it. Sure, there is the minority that didn’t and that is fine. Regardless, it is what this show brought that makes it so iconic and important.

As viewers, we were thrown back into the 1960s. The time and the style of the show ignited nostalgia in a lot of folks and thus, had them engaged from the first scene: Don Draper sitting in a bar trying to solve the dilemma of marketing Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

The strongest element of the show was not its style however, it was its substance. With that opening scene, you knew that you were in the past, where things were quite different. A time where minorities and women were treated generally, pretty poorly. Also a time where cigarettes could be marketed and people were a lot less concerned about the health risks of smoking, drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. As the show traversed its way through the 1960s and into 1970 – in the final season, our characters were faced with a multitude of issues and many of them had to deal with the consequences.

There isn’t anything in this show that hasn’t been dealt with our addressed in entertainment before but what this show did, was take all of these issues and put them in one place. Mad Men was a brilliantly executed smorgasbord of the social, economic, political, health and safety issues of the time. It also doesn’t hurt that the show was just always stunning to look at and perfectly acted.

Whether it was the set designers, the creative directors or the wardrobe people on set, it all became a happy and perfect marriage and gave us something special and unique. It has also paved the way for other shows on non-premium cable television to take more risks and not be fearful of being too edgy.

Without Mad Men, AMC wouldn’t have become a television powerhouse. For those that forget, AMC used to just show old black and white movies and that was it. Mad Men opened a door at the network that led to shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, Hell On Wheels, Halt and Catch Fire, TURИ: Washington’s Spies, The Killing and the soon to debut Preacher, Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands. Mad Men also inspired a resurgence of period dramas on other networks – some successful and some, not so much.

With the last episode now having aired, I can say that Mad Men lived up to its continued hype and never disappointed. It was quality from day one and maintained its superior level of television storytelling all the way up to the very end. And ultimately, it had the balls to take everything it told you from the beginning and flip it on its head at the end.

The show had a unique ability to reinvent itself and its characters without the viewer realizing it in the moment. That being said, the characters on Mad Men could very well be the most human characters in television history.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Magic CityHalt and Catch FireThe Astronaut Wives Club and Manhattan.

Film Review: Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Also known as: AvP2, Alien vs. Predator: Survival of the Fittest (working titles), Colorado Nights (fake working title), AvPR (short title)
Release Date: December 25th, 2007
Directed by: The Brothers Strause
Written by: Shane Salerno
Based on: characters by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett and Jim Thomas & John Thomas
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Johnny Lewis, Ariel Gade, Sam Trammell, Robert Joy

Davis Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 94 Minutes, 102 Minutes (Unrated Version)

Review:

“This plan is stupid. Let’s just leave town now.” – Dale

The quote I used above is the same thing I said to my friends when they planned to see this movie. No, really… it is.

I wasn’t too enthused about going to this picture because I wasn’t much of a fan of its predecessor. Being that this was a sequel to that, I figured it’d be even worse. It was.

Granted, I did like the setting and what this film could have been.

It didn’t take place inside of some subterranean bullshit temple under Antarctica. This was set in small town Colorado and featured forests and an environment similar to the original Predator while also having a feeling similar to First Blood, the greatest of all Rambo movies.

Additionally, this film gave us the Predalien, a hybrid of both ultraviolent alien species, which on paper, should have been an incredibly formidable beast that upped the ante, threw this thing into high gear and pretty much should have been able to rule the world with its minions and babies.

What we got though was a dull movie where the filmmakers didn’t seem to care too much about the Alien and Predator franchises and really just wanted to make a gore filled slasher flick with aliens. And not even a good slasher flick, which are really hard to screw up because slasher fans have such a low bar and really just want to see a cool monster and a lot of creative yet violent killing. These directors were handed two of the absolute coolest monsters in motion picture history and they still couldn’t make it work.

The biggest blight on this film is the cast. Pretty much everyone is horrible in this. Not a single character is remotely likable and you certainly don’t care when their life is in danger.

The incapable cast and aimless direction made this a spectacle of violence where there was no tension and no real drama. No one mattered, therefore it didn’t matter that the whole town was essentially just a meat processing plant for the monsters to tear through. When the whole town gets nuked at the end, you don’t give a single, solitary shit about it. You also don’t care whether or not the helicopter carrying the heroes is going to outrun the blast.

Why was this so bad? How was it so carelessly crafted?

At least it was rated R and had some solid gory bits but that certainly doesn’t give this thing the license to suck complete ass.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: The other films from the Alien and Predator franchises but this is the worst so any other film in the pairing would be a step up.

Film Review: Big Man Japan (2007)

Also known as: Dai-Nihonjin (original Japanese title), The Demon, The Electric Man, The Man of Electricity (Alternate Japanese English titles)
Release Date: June 2nd, 2007 (Japan)
Directed by: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Written by: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Mitsuyoshi Takasu
Music by: Tōwa Tei
Cast: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Ryūnosuke Kamiki

Phantom Film, Shochiku, 113 Minutes

Review:

Some movies are so bizarre and unique that they sort of just exist on their own and there isn’t much you can compare them to. Big Man Japan is one of those movies.

The film is sort of a parody of the kaiju and tokusatsu genres in Japan. It is filmed in a documentary style and follows Masaru Daisatō, who is his generation’s version of Japan’s protector, Big Man Japan. BMJ, as I’ll call him for short, is a regular man that when electrocuted, grows to kaiju size and fights off evil kaiju that happen to show up and wreck havoc in Japan’s urban areas. The twist, is that Masuro doesn’t really care all that much about his duty and is sort of a lonely drunk that doesn’t have much to do when he isn’t called into action. When the action does happen, he’s pretty out of shape and not very good at his job. Masuro has a wife and child, who he barely sees, as well as a manager that takes advantage of him and sells his body to advertisers while she reaps the benefits and Masuro continues to live near poverty level.

The majority of the film is about Masuro’s life but there are plenty of kaiju battles between BMJ and a bunch of different monsters, each of which is incredibly strange and very original. We don’t have a rehash of GodzillaUltramanKamen Rider or Super Sentai styled giant beasts, Instead, we get humanoid looking giants with weird deformities and unusual powers. There’s a hugging monster, a stink monster, an infant monster, an eyeball tossing monster and a bunch of others. Each battle is different and entertaining but ultimately lead to BMJ fudging it up in some way. The final monster is a devil that BMJ can’t handle but he ends up having help from a family of giant space heroes that are an obvious parody of the heroes from Ultraman. In fact, that whole battle switches to an Ultraman styled fight once those heroes show up. It is a fitting and satisfying ending to the film, especially for fans of the Ultraman franchise.

The special effects aren’t great and are pretty silly looking. The battles aren’t a huge part of the movie, even though there are a lot of them, but the effects during those battles initially pulls you out of the film due to their lack of realism when compared to the documentary style of the rest of the film. However, after a battle or two, you adjust to the effects and they start to work just fine. Besides, they fit within the more modern tokusatsu style but may look cheap and unrefined to someone comparing this to an American blockbuster.

Hitoshi Matsumoto starred in, directed and wrote this film. He exceeded in each task and gave us something highly enjoyable, goofy and really, original. That’s hard to do but Matsumoto really hit it out of the park for his first feature length motion picture.

Big Man Japan might not resonate with everyone and it certainly only speaks to a particular audience, which is pretty minuscule in the United States, but it is so outside of the box that it is a worthy experience for those just wanting something different. I really like the film but I also love the kaiju and tokusatsu genres.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: General tokusatsu television programs from the era.

Film Review: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Release Date: May 19th, 2007 (Cannes)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant, Stephen Root

Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Miramax Films, Paramount Vantage, 122 Minutes

Review:

“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

While the Coens have made some fantastic films over the last several decades, going back to 1984’s Blood Simple, this picture is in the upper echelon of their rich oeuvre. Yet, in a lot of ways, it calls back to Blood Simple in style and for blending together different genres in a unique way. It is also very similar to Fargo, as both films follow a small town cop dealing with a grisly crime from out-of-towners and it is accented by a lot of violence on screen.

Some have called No Country for Old Men a western, others have called it a film-noir. While it takes place in more modern times than the traditional settings of those genres, it does share elements of both. It is very much a neo-western and also a neo-noir in its narrative style. I think that is a big part of what makes this such an extraordinary picture though. It is a hybrid and reinvention of multiple styles but it all weaves together like a gritty, balls out tapestry of masculine intensity.

Other than being in the very capable hands of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the film boasts an incredible cast, mostly of badass men.

First, you have Josh Brolin and this is the role that really put him on the map and sort of resurrected his career, as he isn’t remembered for much before this other than in his teen years when he played Brand in 1985’s The Goonies. He was perfectly cast here, as a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes a case of money and finds himself in way over his head. Essentially, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Then you have Javier Bardem as the evil hitman Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s Chigurh has become one of the greatest villains in movie history, mainly because of how unusual he is as a person and in how he executes his targets. Chigurh is scary as hell, period. His method of killing is to use a bolt pistol on his targets. A bolt pistol is a tool that uses compressed air to send a bolt through the heads of cattle before their slaughter. In a sense, Chigurh is a remorseless, cold blooded killer and his choice of weapon goes to show that he sees human beings as nothing more than cattle that need to be put down if they find themselves in his path. Although, the fates of some characters are decided by Chigurh flipping a coin, similar to Two-Face from the Batman franchise.

The film also gives us Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Jones plays the sheriff that is trying to contain the violence that is running rampant in his county, Harrelson plays a bounty hunter and acquaintance/rival of Chigurh, while Corbin plays a sort of mentor to Jones’ sheriff character. With Jones, we see a sheriff that also finds himself in over his head and is admittedly “outmatched” by the evil in his world. Harrelson, while a bounty hunter, finds himself in the sights of another killer. Like Brolin, these other characters are also on the side of the coin that they aren’t familiar with.

No Country for Old Men is known for its level of violence. While there is a lot of it, I don’t think that it is as violent as the book. However, seeing it come alive on screen is effective. It isn’t done in a way that is gratuitous or to be celebrated or used as a cheap parlor trick to sell the movie, it is presented in a way that shows it in a negative light, something that the sane characters abhor. It exists as almost a commentary against itself but to also shed light on a very real level of violence that exists along the U.S.-Mexican border. While this takes place in 1980, not much has changed in that region.

Two things that really make the film as impactful as it is, on an emotional level, are the film’s score by Carter Burwell and the cinematography by the veteran Roger Deakins. For Deakins, this film was sandwiched between his work on In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are some strong visual similarities between the three films and they are three of the best looking motion pictures of 2007.

At this point, No Country for Old Men is considered to be a classic and for good reason. It won four Oscars, the most important being Best Picture. It also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It shared the most nominations with There Will Be Blood but it beat it out in awards won. As to which is better, that’s open for debate.

Documentary Review: Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows (2007)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2007
Directed by: Kent Jones
Narrated by: Martin Scorsese, Elias Koteas

Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Entertainment, Sikelia Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

I remember seeing this on television a decade ago and it is where I really discovered who Val Lewton is and why his contribution to the film industry was so important.

When I was a kid, I discovered classic film early, as my mother and grandmother were both avid watchers of AMC, which at the time still stood for American Movie Classics. I also watched a lot of TCM, or Turner Classic Movies, when that cable network debuted. I got pulled in to old school horror, as I loved the Universal Monsters movies, Vincent Price’s Edgar Allan Poe pictures and the movies put out by Hammer with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I didn’t quite experience Val Lewton’s body of work though, until years later.

My appreciation for all that other stuff, really gave me the foundation to appreciate and understand what Lewton was trying to do for RKO Radio Pictures. His mission was to run the B-movie unit for the studio, where he and the artists he brought in, would create films to rival what Universal was doing with all their successful Monster franchises.

I’m glad that I found this on television a decade ago and it was really fantastic revisiting it now, as it is streaming on FilmStruck.

It is produced and narrated by Martin Scorsese with Elias Koteas jumping in to narrate Val Lewton’s actual words.

It is a nice and quick documentary that covers a lot of ground and gives a good amount of time to each of Lewton’s pictures. It also gets into how his collaborations with Boris Karloff came to be and how Lewton initially didn’t want to work with Karloff but quickly grew to love the man’s work, as he helped contribute to these films, which were much more psychological and intelligent than the majority of Universal’s horror pictures.

Lewton created horror movies that had a noir style about them. In fact, his films sort of built a bridge between German Expressionist horror movies like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the film-noir movement of the 1940s.

If you love classic horror or film-noir and haven’t seen Lewton’s films, you need to. You should also check out this documentary, which is a great primer on the man and his work.