Documentary Review: Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2011)

Release Date: September 10th, 2011 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Music by: Jeff Peters
Cast: Joss Whedon, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Thomas Jane, Seth Green, Edgar Wright, Corey Feldman, Paul Scheer, Todd McFarlane, Matt Groening, Frank Miller, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, various

Mutant Enemy, Thomas Tull Productions, Warrior Poets, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business. And I might add, in any form of entertainment. I feel… you gotta be nice to the fans because without them… you’re nothing.” – Stan Lee

Here we go, these nerdy fan documentaries are a dime a dozen but I guess this one got some recognition for being well produced and for featuring a slew of famous nerd-centric personalities.

I didn’t know that this was a Morgan Spurlock film until I was already watching it. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. Reason being, I think the guy’s a f’n hack and disingenuous. His most popular film Super Size Me was unwatchable to anyone that can see through a ruse, which it was. It wasn’t science, it wasn’t a real test to see how fast food effects you, it was one man’s entertaining mockumentary, sold as a legit documentary and damnation of the fast food industry. His documentary series on FX was also mostly a big bullshit endeavor where he went into everything with a bias then cherry picked info and edited everything down to the narrative he wanted. He’s the reason behind the modern alteration to an old phrase, “No shit, Spurlock!”

Anyway, this is exactly what you’d think it is. A bunch of famous nerdy types talk about their nerdy shit and their love for the San Diego Comic Con, which is barely about comic books at this point and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it once was. You missed the boat by a decade or so, Spurlock.

The only thing I really liked about this was seeing the behind the scenes stuff on cosplay. I don’t normally give a shit about cosplay but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.

As far as the interviewees, the only one that stuck with me was Stan Lee. Everything else was edited so choppy that the vast majority of comments could have been things out of context and then just thrown together for Spurlock to manufacture whatever narrative he was going for. Stan Lee’s bit was heartwarming though but that’s because he’s Stan Lee and he always has eloquent shit to say.

You’d probably be alright if you never watched this. It doesn’t do anything to inspire you to go to San Diego Comic Con. If anything, it told me to stay away because I like comics and don’t give a crap about massive celebrity panels or Joss Whedon publicly ranting about lefty hysteria.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: any of the dozens of other documentaries about nerd conventions or nerdy hobbies, there are so many.

Documentary Review: The Four Year Plan (2011)

Release Date: November 16th, 2011 (IDFA Festival – Netherlands)
Directed by: Mat Hodgson
Music by: Rob Lord

Ad Hoc Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Four Year Plan is another soccer documentary in a long series of soccer documentaries that I’ve been watching the last week or so. It follows the Queens Park Rangers (or QPR) as they are faced with relegation, new ownership and their fight to get promoted back into the Premier League.

This film was done almost guerrilla style, as the cameras were left rolling seemingly at all times. We get looks into the locker room, the boardroom and every other realm that involves running and managing a soccer team. The footage was top quality and was edited together nicely, providing the viewer with an engaging story of failure turned to perseverance.

Giving good perspective into the business side of things is what I found most interesting in this film because there isn’t a lot that I have seen in my lifetime that shows the behind the scenes meetings of British soccer with so much transparency. I’m obviously aware that they didn’t show their most secret meetings and sessions but you still got to go deeper into this world than you would expect.

In the end, it was a good sports documentary that gave serious insight into the world of British soccer, which most Americans don’t have access to. The action parts of the film were also well presented and gave it a good balance between the sport and the business.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: One Night In Turin, Hillsborough, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos and ESPN’s 30 For 30: Soccer Stories series.

TV Review: Portlandia (2011-2018)

Original Run: January 21st, 2011 – March 22nd, 2018
Directed by: Jonathan Krisel, various
Written by: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Jonathan Krisel, various
Music by: Washed Out (opening theme)
Cast: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein

Broadway Video, IFC, 77 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2016.

I have come to learn that Portlandia is one of those shows you either love or hate. Weirdly, I don’t love it but I certainly don’t hate it. I quite enjoy it most of the time and it is lighthearted and amusing and usually puts a smile on my face. So I figured I would watch through it again, after really enjoying Fred Armisen’s other IFC show Documentary Now!

Portlandia is damn funny when it is on point. However, some skits can run too long and some are just so bizarre that they get lost in the shuffle of better gags going on around them. Regardless, it is cool seeing the duo of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein commit to sketch comedy their way and to see each segment through – giving it 100 percent.

The duo of Armisen and Brownstein is one of the best comedy duos to come around in years. Their execution and the way they play off of each other is pretty flawless. It is their relationship and camaraderie that makes the show special. Where some skits may not work or run over, it is their unrelenting devotion to their roles that makes this more than a typical sketch comedy show.

Also, the fact that Portland, Oregon is the backdrop of the show, makes things pretty unique. It is a beautiful, artistic and interesting city. While the characters that Armisen and Brownstein play aren’t reflective of all of Portland, it does represent some of the oddballs you could run into in a city like Portland. I think we’ve all encountered people similar to most of their characters, at one point or another.

Also, using Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around” as the theme song to Portlandia kicks the show off with such a laid back and chill vibe, you can’t take it too seriously but it sets you up to accept what is coming. Who doesn’t get in a chill mood and feel pretty pleasant after that song?

I wouldn’t call Portlandia one of my favorite shows of all-time but I like it, a lot. Mostly because it is harmless but it is fun and it does challenge some social and political issues. Plus, it is hard to be in a funk while watching it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Armisen’s other IFC show Documentary Now!

Film Review: Young Adult (2011)

Release Date: December 9th, 2011 (limited)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser

Mandate Pictures, Mr. Mudd, Right of Way Films, Denver & Delilah Films, Paramount Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes in order to heal… a few people have to get hurt.” – Mavis Gary

It may be easy to watch Young Adult and to just see Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary as a self-absorbed asshole. It may also be easy to just dismiss her as an unlikable character and someone that isn’t relatable. But this isn’t a movie about a terrible person, it is a movie about a person with mental illness.

The film follows Mavis, shortly after her divorce, as she decides to go back to her small hometown to reconnect with the man she feels she is destined to be with, even if he is already married and just had a baby. In the process, she runs into a bullied kid from high school, Patton Oswalt’s Matt Freehauf. The two start to develop a bond and Matt becomes Mavis’ voice of reason.

As the film plays out, you start to see through Mavis’ surface and start to understand that she is not well and probably never has been. Matt is the only person that ever had patience with her and understood what was happening that didn’t just tolerate her because she was the prom queen in high school. It’s the dynamic and the solid chemistry between Theron and Oswalt that makes this movie work so well.

Mavis’ day job is being the ghost writer for a young adult book series. The movie starts with her suffering from writer’s block but then she starts to write the story, reflecting on her own life as a form of literary therapy. Theron’s narrations of her character’s written work serve to give some sort of metaphorical insight to her thought process and her eventual closure. While this is a trope that has been used to death in film, I really like how it was used here.

The biggest strength of this film is the acting. Theron was exceptional and while she is already seen as an exceptional actress, this just felt very personal and she’s never been more convincing. I’m not saying that she is mentally broken like Mavis but it just felt as if there was a real part of herself in this character. Additionally, Patton Oswalt has never been better and I’m a long time Oswalt fan.

This film was also a collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Both of them worked together on the critically acclaimed Juno. This re-teaming produced a better product, however. Yes, I really enjoy Juno but this picture eclipses it and it’s kind of disheartening that this didn’t get the recognition and fanfare that Juno did. But the Academy and the top critics are just weird in what they accept and what they don’t.

Young Adult is a better film than its lack of award show buzz would have you believe. Many critics did seem to like it but it came out in a year where people thought Moneyball deserved a Motion Picture of the Year nomination. That’s not a knock against Moneyball but c’mon, Motion Picture of the Year caliber? Really? And I’m not saying that Young Adult is the best film of 2011 but it’s a better movie than half the films that got the big nomination. And to put it bluntly, Theron put in a better performance than Meryl Streep that year, who already had more Oscars than wieners in a pack of hot dogs.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Margot at the Wedding, as the two share some themes and narrative similarities.

Film Review: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

Release Date: January 21st, 2011 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jason Eisener
Written by: John Davies, Jason Eisener
Music by: Alexander Rosborough
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman

Rhombus Media, Whizbang Films, Yer Dead Productions, Alliance Films, Magnet Releasing, 86 Minutes

Review:

“There’s something else about bears not many people know. If a bear gets hooked on the taste of human blood, it becomes a man-killer. He’ll go on a rampage and has to be destroyed. And that’s why you should never hug a bear.” – Hobo

Back when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse came out, they held a contest for fans to make their own fake grindhouse style trailers, as an interactive marketing campaign to help promote the film. Jason Eisener won the contest with his trailer for Hobo With a Shotgun. In certain parts of Canada, Eisener’s trailer was featured with screenings of the film. This eventually lead to him making a real film from the fake trailer, similar to what Robert Rodriguez did with his fake trailer for Machete.

Before this, Eisener’s only directing experience was his short film about murderous Christmas trees called Treevenge.

This motion picture is just as unique as its backstory.

Hobo With a Shotgun is an ultraviolent spectacle that is reminiscent of the old school grindhouse films that inspired it but at the same time, it is truly its own thing.

Somehow, Eisener got Rutger Hauer to star in this thing and his presence gives it a sort of legitimacy and gravitas that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. Sure, this is low budget and has cheap practical effects but so did the movies it was an homage to. But this isn’t a straight homage, it is a film with its own style that successfully taps into different realms and different genres while still feeling like a cohesive body of work.

The story is very simple, a hobo comes to town on a train. He is immediately disgusted by the culture he encounters in this new place. It doesn’t take long before he decides to pick up a shotgun and go banana sandwich on the scumbags that shit on everything good and decent. He befriends a sweet and pretty cute hooker, who starts as a damsel in distress but winds up being a total badass herself.

The thing about this film, is that it isn’t just violent. It crosses a lot of lines but in a fantastic way. There is a scene where children on a school bus get cooked alive by a psycho with a flamethrower, there are guns held to babies faces, pedophiles dressed as Santa, rapey cops, ice skates used in creative and deadly ways, a giant octopus creature, a totally f’n awesome duo of armored biker mercenaries and about a dozen other things I’m not going to list out. As shocking as a lot of the things in the movie are, you are still surprised by them and their overabundance sort of makes light of it all, as this film’s setting turns into an over the top, insane world where nothing is actually shocking and the psychos are incredibly innovative and ingenious.

If you are easily offended or can’t take violence, steer absolutely clear of this picture. If you have a strong appreciation for the art and style of grindhouse pictures, this will not disappoint you and it will probably impress you. There is a certain level of artistic merit to violent filth and this movie is a prime example of the beauty of gore used intelligently and creatively, as opposed to gore just for the sake of gore.

Hobo With a Shotgun is an absurdist’s wet dream. Well, an absurdist who doesn’t mind blood, guts and shotgun blasts.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other modern grindhouse and retro films: Planet TerrorDeath ProofTurbo KidKung Fury, etc. Also, Jason Eisener’s short film Treevenge.

Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Release Date: July 19th, 2011 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Choi, Toby Jones, Natalie Dormer, Richard Armitage, Jenna Coleman, Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” – Abraham Erskine

It was nice going back and revisiting this chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To be honest, I really hadn’t seen this since about 2012 or so. They pump out Marvel movies so fast that sometimes you get caught up in all the new stuff that the older films get neglected. At the time that this came out, it wasn’t my favorite of the Phase One set of films. I think that’s changed, however.

Captain America: The First Avenger is, first and foremost, an origin story. The first half really has to deal with how Captain America comes to be. The second half has to deal with Cap saving the world from the evil Hydra commander and Nazi officer, Red Skull.

This also introduces us to the Tesseract, which would evolve into the first Infinity Stone to be seen in a Marvel movie. This MacGuffin would be center stage in this film, as well as in the first Avengers movie where its ownership would shift to Loki. This mystical item would carry a lot of narrative weight, as it still exists in the current crop of films and still hasn’t had its power fully unleashed. I’m assuming we’ll see all the Infinity Stones in all their glory when Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters in late April.

But back to this movie.

It is a solid World War II action film that just happens to have a superhero and some crazy sci-fi elements thrown in. Shift some things around and this almost feels like a live-action version of a Wolfenstein game.

The relationship between Captain America and Peggy Carter has helped to define both characters after this film. Both had to move on without the other and under very different circumstances. It was nice coming back to this movie and seeing how it all started. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell and incredible chemistry and the weight of the scene where Cap crashes Red Skull’s ship is so much heavier now knowing the pain that both of these characters felt after losing one another.

I also liked going back and seeing the relationship between Steve and Bucky before they went to war. This is something else that didn’t have quite the weight that it has now, knowing where their journeys would go in future films.

One complaint however, is that I feel like the villains Red Skull and Zola were wasted. Red Skull could have offered so much more to the franchise and really, he should have come back by this point or another person should have taken over the mantle. Zola, who was a formidable Captain America villain would only return as a computer program.

I actually forgot that Tommy Lee Jones was even in this. It was cool seeing him though. It was also a delight to see the Howling Commandos in all their glory and to be honest, they deserve their own movie or at least a short season television show like Peggy Carter had.

This is the one Marvel film that is a true period piece. The different world this exists in was refreshing and did a lot to enrich the mythos and to expand the universe beyond the films before it.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid piece of tent pole, blockbuster filmmaking. It’s a popcorn flick that’s more fun than most and it just feels truer to the title character than even Iron Man did.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America: The Winter SoldierCaptain America: Civil War and The Avengers.

Film Review: Thor (2011)

Release Date: April 17th, 2011 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Patrick Doyle
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Colm Feore, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner

Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“I never wanted the throne, I only ever wanted to be your equal!” – Loki

As I am reworking my way through all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in preparation for Avengers: Infinity War, in about a month, I was really looking forward to revisiting the first Thor.

While I thought that Thor: Ragnarok was maybe the best Marvel film to date, a part of me wanted to go back and watch the two Thor pictures before it. Sure, I knew they wouldn’t be as good as Ragnarok but I absolutely adore Hemsworth’s Thor more than any other hero in the larger Avengers franchise. And yeah, I’ve been a massive Robert Downey, Jr. fan my entire life.

It’s not just Hemsworth’s Thor that makes these films a really fun experience though. A lot of credit has to go to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who is, by far, the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Granted, he’s not a total villain and may be more of an ally in the films now but he was certainly an evil force in the early films. No other villain has had his presence, his charisma and his longevity. Every other villain is essentially a one-off castaway. There’s a reason as to why Hiddleston doesn’t simply disappear like all the others.

The Thor movies also have an incredible ensemble of people. But then they also have Natalie Portman, who I’ve never been much of a fan of and frankly, she didn’t really enjoy doing these movies anyway and more or less didn’t want to do the second one and got herself written out of the third. But the loss of Portman also caused Kat Dennings to be written out. Really, she was more entertaining and probably would’ve worked better as Thor’s girl because the banter between the characters would have been more fun than the boring and lazy Portman.

Anyway, we see Thor banished from Asgard because he pissed off Odin, his father. He has to prove himself and his worth in order to be allowed back into his home realm. He meets Jane, a scientist, and her crew. Thor’s first mission is to retrieve his magic hammer, Mjolnir. He then must fight Destroyer and eventually confront his brother Loki, who has deceived him throughout the events of the story.

We get the return of Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, as well as a cameo by Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury and the debut of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

This feels like a smaller film than what Marvel puts out now. But I like the smaller feel. The world of heroes hadn’t yet expanded to where it would, a few films after this one. This is a cozy origin tale and really is a stark contrast to what we would all see in Thor: Ragnarok. Plus, the Asgard side of the story is broad enough to not feel like you have cabin fever sitting in a small desert town the entire movie.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Thor: Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. Also, The Avengers, as that’s the next time that Thor would show up.