Film Review: Dredd (2012)

Also known as: Judge Dredd (Jamaica, Japan, working title), Dredd 3D (promotional title)
Release Date: July 11th, 2012 (San Diego Comic Con premiere)
Directed by: Pete Travis
Written by: Alex Garland
Based on: Judge Dredd by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra
Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson

DNA Films, IM Global, Reliance Entertainment, Entertainment Film Distributors, Lionsgate, 95 Minutes

Review:

“In case you people have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law… I am the law. Ma-Ma is a common criminal; guilty of murder, guilty of the manufacture and distribution of the narcotic known as Slo-Mo, and as of now under sentence of death. Any who obstruct me in carrying out my duty will be treated as an accessory to her crimes… you have been warned. And as for you Ma-Ma… judgement time.” – Judge Dredd

Not enough people saw this in the theater, myself included. But I did see it as soon as I was able to stream it. I wasn’t a big fan of what the original 1995 film was and even though I knew that this one was a much more serious picture, it didn’t get me into the theater.

That was my mistake though, as I really liked this movie the moment I saw it. It hit all the right notes and was just a badass bonanza of bullets, blood and brutality!

Dredd is the movie I’ve wanted ever since seeing the original RoboCop. It’s unapologetic, goes for the gusto and doesn’t relent in its intensity. Plus, Karl Urban’s version of Judge Dredd holds a special place in my heart right next to Peter Weller’s RoboCop.

Sadly, this didn’t do well enough to get a sequel but talks of continuing on with Urban as Dredd haven’t died down. But for now, we’ve still got this to enjoy, even if it just feels like a small sample size of what could be.

This is just a hair over 90 minutes, which is fine. It’s so intense that anything more might have been overkill.

The action is damn good and this film is just a masterpiece when it comes to pure destruction.

Beyond that, this is well acted between the three biggest components: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey. In fact, Headey was incredibly good as a psychotic female crime boss that literally wore here vileness on her face. When Headey and Urban finally come face to face in the movie, it’s a fantastic moment, greatly accented by both actors’ work.

This has good effects, especially in regards to the scenes where we see the world through the eyes of the drug users. The finale that sees Headey’s Ma-Ma get doped up and thrown through a window, 200 stories to her death, was stunning. It was shot very dynamically and was masterfully crafted from the camerawork to the special effects.

These type of films are often referred to as “high octane” but this one goes beyond that. It’s a real throwback to the over the top, intense action pictures of the ’80s.

Dredd is a great template for how to do a hard R action movie. Frankly, the world could always use more of those.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the original Judge Dredd just to compare, as well as the first two Robocop movies.

Film Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Release Date: September 25th, 2012 (Part I) and January 29th, 2013 (Part II)
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Bob Goodman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley, Paget Brewster, Grey DeLisle, Michael McKean, Bruce Timm, Frank Welker, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Tara Strong

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 76 Minutes (Part I), 76 Minutes (Part II), 148 Minutes (Deluxe Edition)

Review:

“You don’t get it, son. This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.” – Batman

When I see that there is a new DC Comics animated adaptation of a famous comic book story coming out, I usually don’t get too excited. The reason being, most of them take tremendous liberties and just sort of do their own thing, ignoring the story they’re “based” on and making the whole thing nothing more than a bullshit marketing scheme to sell more Blu-rays.

I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this film, a true adaptation that really captured the spirit of Frank Miller’s most famous Batman story.

I put off watching this for a very long time and I only gave it a shot because a friend of mine that actually reads comics told me it was definitely worth my time. He wasn’t wrong.

This film does a fine job of capturing the magic of Miller’s story and it also has some solid homages to the imagery of the famous comic.

I guess my biggest gripe is that even though the animation is really good, it sort of just looks like the other DC Comics animated features. DC has a specific style to its animated films and this falls in line with it. For what this project is and what it represents, I fell as if the art should have been closer to the style and tone of the actual comic. This took a big step forward from a narrative standpoint but the visual style really should have been unique, grittier and more in line with Frank Miller’s art.

I also wasn’t crazy about the length of this but that’s really my own problem, as I start to tune out when watching animation for too long. I don’t really know how this could have been edited down and because it adapts a very rich story in a really great way, I’d leave it alone. It fills the time well and there really isn’t a dull moment.

The voice actors were all superb. Peter Weller was perfect as an old Batman and Ariel Winter, who had to have been really young when this was made, was very convincing as the Carrie Kelley version of Robin.

I’ve watched a lot of DC Comics animated stuff since the ’90s and this is certainly in the upper echelon of the things they’ve put out.

If you love The Dark Knight Returns in comic book form, this shouldn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other recent DC animated Batman and Justice League films.

 

Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 1 (working title)
Release Date: November 28th, 2012 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 169 Minutes, 182 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” – Gandalf

When these movies first came out, I was really disappointed with them. Granted, they were still mostly enjoyable but they lacked the magic that made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so spectacular a decade earlier.

I finally revisited this, as I got a great deal on the entire set of Hobbit films in their Extended Edition format, which is also the versions of the Lord of the Rings films I own. And like the other Extended Editions, this beefed up version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey became a better, more fleshed out movie.

Also, I’ve had six years to let this movie digest and I did find it more palatable this time around. Although, some of my issues with it are still there.

To start, this feels like a disjointed film, tonally. It’s as if it isn’t sure what it needs to be. Frankly, the tone of Lord of the Rings was perfect and this should have mirrored that. There isn’t really any reason why it couldn’t, as it had the same creative team behind it.

The film suffers from being too hokey at times and its the kind of hokey that is cringe. The dwarves look goofy as hell, the humor is usually off key or unnecessary and the musical bits, whether or not they exist in the book, really bogged this movie down and made it exude Disney level cheese but really bad Disney. I’m sorry but Aragon and the Mouth of Sauron didn’t break out into song and dance in Return of the King.

There’s also weird moments like the dwarf snoring and breathing moths in and out of his nose. And then there are strange, unnecessary things like Radagast the Brown having bird shit crusted to the side of his head. I also can’t leave out the insane physics of this movie and how the dwarves and Bilbo are seemingly indestructible and have incredible balance between the Stone Giants fight scene and sliding down a massive rock chute without splattering all over the place or breaking every bone in their bodies.

Another thing that hurts the film is that it relies on CGI much more heavily than its predecessors. The Lord of the Rings films had a bunch of guys in fantastic orc makeup and they looked real and totally badass. Here, we have computer animated orcs that look more like video game characters than something organic on the screen. Granted, I love that Manu Bennett plays the orc leader.

But the reason why CGI orcs don’t work for the film is because practical effects, if they can be utilized properly, just look better. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was heralded as being a huge step forward in special effects on every level. The Hobbit movies, however, are just stagnation.

The film has some strong positives though.

All of the new main characters were well cast. I loved Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin. It was also really cool seeing Lee Pace as the Elvenking, Thranduil. He wasn’t in this chapter very much but his role gets bigger in the two pictures after this one.

I also liked the additions to the story, at least in this film. The side story with the Necromancer is really cool and I liked seeing Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond come together to discuss the rising darkness in Middle Earth.

The problem with this trilogy, which becomes more apparent in the second and third film, is that this didn’t need to be a trilogy. The Hobbit is a short book when compared to the Lord of the Rings novels. This could have been expanded into two films and even included some of the additions to the story but three movies spreads the narrative too thin. Especially for movies roughly around the three hour mark.

An Unexpected Journey doesn’t quite work in the way that it should but it is still a hell of a good time for fans of Lord of the Rings.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

Also known as: Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil 5: Retribution (working titles), Re5ident Evil: Retribution (alternate spelling)
Release Date: September 3rd, 2012 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Tomandandy
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Kevin Durand, Sienna Guillory, Shawn Roberts, Aryana Engineer, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Johann Urb, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, Screen Gems, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You were the only one to successfully bond with the T-Virus, to fully realize her powers. Well, now I have need of you. The old you. So I’ve given you back your gift. You are the weapon.” – Albert Wesker

Well, it took five films but I got to the chapter that was a big step down in overall quality. That being said, this was still entertaining and fit well within the film series, even if all its predecessors were better.

My biggest gripe about this one is that it is a total clusterfuck from the writing to it wedging in characters from every previous film and in some cases, multiple versions.

This one was hard to follow. I mean, I got the gist of the plot but dead people have been cloned, there are two Michelle Rodriguezes because when one can ruin an entire movie, maybe having two will cancel that out… I don’t know. But this was a narrative mess.

The special effects and fighting scenes are pretty consistent with the other films. It’s all a mixed bag of sometimes shoddy CGI and an overabundance on Hong Kong style wire work. I’ve learned to accept these flaws, at this point, because I’m five films into this and how dare I have expectations.

The highlight for me was Alice fighting two of the axe/hammer wielding behemoths, as opposed to just the one from the previous movie. However, this fight was over way too quickly and it does what this series has always done and that’s to take the big hard challenge from the previous film and turn it into a joke. I’m not sure if this is to show how badass Alice has evolved from movie to movie or if the filmmakers just don’t give a shit. It feels like the latter.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far into the Resident Evil films series, you might as well just finish it up. This isn’t a total buzzkill, it’s just not a coherent story and felt more like poorly crafted fan service.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.

Documentary Review: Contamination: A Convention Story (2012)

Release Date: August 10th, 2012 (Wizard World Chicago)
Directed by: Corey Logsdon
Music by: Kevin McLeod
Cast: Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Alex Hyde-White

State of Mind Productions, 61 Minutes

Review:

Watching this documentary made me realize something, all of these fandom/convention documentaries are pretty much all the same. There have been solid documentaries on the topic but now there are so many of them that they just all bleed together into one big amorphous blob in my brain.

Ones like this that are about one specific convention just don’t serve much of a purpose other than being an hour-plus advertisement to the convention itself and not a really effective advertisement at that.

The problem is, I don’t live near St. Louis and even though I like horror, it’s just not enough to get me to make a trip there for this one convention that doesn’t feel special in any way because all these documentaries do is show that they’re all pretty much the same.

Look, I’m not trying to shit on this documentary or this convention but these films aren’t effective when they’re a dime a dozen and are just random ass clips of talking heads talking about how rad this thing is. These films often times have a few small celebrities in them but they are mostly comprised of regular joes giving their two cents on their fandom. I’m into geek shit and I don’t care.

Now my critique is more about these types of films and not this one in particular but this is the one that broke me. I can’t watch these things anymore, unless there is more to it than just talking to people at a con.

These con specific docs are probably cool to people that frequent these specific cons that are featured but for everyone else, it’s like, “Oh, St. Louis has a horror convention with some people there. I’ll just see those same people when they come to that con an hour away from my house in six weeks.”

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries about various fandoms: Heroes Manufactured, Comic Book Independents, 24×36, Atari: Game Over, Way of the Puck, Nintendo Quest, VHS Massacre, Going Attractions, Vinylmania, Out of Print, Records Collecting Dust, Mai-Tais, Toques and Tikis and 24 Hour Comic.

 

Documentary Review: River of No Return (2012)

Release Date: April 18th, 2012
Written by: Kathleen Wisneski
Music by: Chris Biondo, Lenny Williams

Rubin Tarrant Productions, PBS, 54 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

River of No Return was a pretty enjoyable episode of PBS’ long-running show Nature.

This episode or short film, as that’s what it is, follows biologist Isaac Babcock and his wife Bjornen on their “honeymoon”. Newly married, they set off on a year-long adventure to Idaho’s “River of No Return” where they observed the behavior of wolves, an animal that Isaac has carefully studied for over 13 years at the time of this journey.

The film is light-hearted and fun and it shows the rugged wilderness of Idaho in a way that I haven’t yet experienced. Isaac and Bjornen weather the elements and travel on foot to all the places that they expect to find the wolves they’re there to observe. The elements are often times harsh and Bjornen struggles with her arthritis but ultimately, they are able to accomplish their goal and capture the wolves on film for the viewer to enjoy.

I feel like the 50 minute or so running time was a bit short for two people who went on a year-long adventure but it is pretty customary of PBS’ time constraints for their Nature series.

If you like wolves, this definitely worth a watch. It is currently available on Netflix.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other PBS Nature episodes.

TV Review: Lilyhammer (2012-2014)

Release Date: January 25th, 2012 – December 17th, 2014
Directed by: various
Written by: Anne Bjørnstad, Eilif Skodvin, Steven Van Zandt
Music by: Frans Bak, Steven Van Zandt
Cast: Steven Van Zandt, Trond Fausa Aurvåg, Steinar Sagen, Marian Saastad Ottesen, Sven Nordin, Kyrre Hellum, Anne Krigsvoll, Tony Sirico (cameos)

Rubicon TV, Renegade TV, NRK, Netflix, 24 Episodes, 43-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I’ve loved Steven Van Zandt since I first saw him on The Sopranos, as the character Silvio Dante. On Lilyhammer, he plays an almost identical character. I’m not complaining, I actually quite enjoy it. In fact, this feels like it could be a sequel to The Sopranos and in a spiritual sense, it is.

The plot, in a nutshell, is about a top mob guy giving up his new boss in exchange for witness protection. He requests to be sent to Lilyhammer in Norway because he loved the ’94 Winter Olympics and he feels that it is the last place anyone will look for him. What happens is an awesome series of events that makes this show one of the best new shows of the last few years.

The cast of characters in Lilyhammer are unique and thoroughly entertaining. There is the sidekick and partner Torgeir, who thinks his new life is a Tarantino movie, his brother Roar, who is stupidly hilarious, Jan, the king of bad luck, and several others who round this thing out.

At first glance, this show doesn’t tread on new territory but once you get into it and see this Sopranos-like world unfold in Norway, the situations that follow are great. In fact, out of all the Netflix shows that are streaming now, I’d have to put this in the top three. It is a perfect balance of drama and comedy and Van Zandt shines as the focal point of this series: no longer being one of many secondary actors like he was on The Sopranos.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The Sopranos