Documentary Review: Marvel 75 Years: From Pulp to Pop! (2014)

Release Date: November 4th, 2014
Music by: Lauren Pardini, Daniel Sternbaum
Cast: Axel Alonso, Hayley Atwell, Gerry Conway, Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Seth Green, Clark Gregg, Jimmy Kimmel, Stan Lee, Ralph Macchio, Todd McFarlane, Patton Oswalt, Nicole Perlman, Joe Quesada, Peter Sanderson, Jim Shooter, Kevin Smith, Jim Starlin, Emily VanCamp, Len Wein, Ming-Na Wen

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

I recently reviewed a short, made-for-TV documentary on Disney+ called Assembling a Universe. That one was a piece on how Disney and Marvel assembled a movie franchise based off of Marvel’s rich treasure trove of characters and stories.

This short documentary is kind of more of the same but it focuses mostly on the comic books themselves and how Marvel grew into what it is today.

Like the previous documentary, which came out earlier in the same year, this one is really just a marketing tool to try and get people to go see their movies. It’s made by Disney, Marvel and ABC, all of whom are essentially the same company, so this is made to sort of pimp themselves out.

Ultimately, this is an autobiographical puff piece. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things of value in it. It’s informative and gives you a good amount of info to start with for those interested in Marvel’s history but there are much better documentaries, books and magazine articles on the subject.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Assembling a Universe and Empire of Dreams.

Documentary Review: Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe (2014)

Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Clark Gregg, James Gunn, Chris Hardwick, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Jeph Loeb, Anthony Mackie, George R.R. Martin, Tom Morello, Bobby Moynihan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Joe Quesada, Robert Redford, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Ming-Na Wen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright (uncredited)

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

After watching the beefy but solid Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams, I noticed that Disney+ also featured a similar made-for-TV documentary about the making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I figured I’d check it out, as it originally aired in 2014, on the cusp of the MCU reaching its peak.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as compelling as Empire of Dreams and it plays more like a Marvel produced production used mainly to pimp themselves out and market Captain America: Winter Solider and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. But I get it, this played on ABC, which like Marvel, is owned by Disney.

It’s still an informative piece with a lot of insight into the making of the first Iron Man movie, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the MCU.

It also expands beyond that and delves a little bit into each movie up to the then still in-production Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I think that this was the first real peek into the Guardians of the Galaxy production.

The best part about this short feature is the interviews with the stars and filmmakers who helped bring this universe to life. I especially liked hearing the enthusiasm that Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau had with the early Iron Man pictures.

Overall, this isn’t a must watch but it’s worth your time if you are a big MCU fan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other filmmaking documentaries about blockbusters. Empire of Dreams, immediately comes to mind.

Film Review: Inherent Vice (2014)

Release Date: October 4th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Hong Chau, Eric Roberts

Ghoulardi Film Company, Warner Bros., IAC Films, 148 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it’s dark and lonely work, but somebody’s gotta do it, right?” – Petunia Leeway

I had really high hopes for this film.

It’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who everyone, even their pets, loves. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and a superb supporting cast. And, well, it’s a neo-noir set in the early ’70s that looked damn cool from the trailers.

Sadly, this was duller than an unsharpened pencil.

I kind of hate that I didn’t dig this but it was really hard for me not to nod off through almost every really long, drawn out scene. Frankly, the film didn’t even need to be two hours, let alone 148 minutes.

Visually, the film is stunning. Every scene and every shot looks pristine and perfect. But that’s not enough to carry a movie. I can see cinematography of the highest caliber in television commercials and music videos.

The thing is, the narrative needs to be as exciting as the visual allure. It needs to capture you, hold on and at least try to leave you breathless until the final frame.

I watched this movie and was so disinterested in it that I couldn’t remember what the film was about, where it needed to go or why Phoenix was investigating things. I felt like my mind was as numb and disoriented as the majority of the characters in the picture.

If you like movies solely for visuals and great soundtracks, than this may be your bag.

It wasn’t mine though.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: mind numbing drugs and a case of cheap whiskey while watching a Hypercolor t-shirt cook in the microwave.

TV Review: Road to the NHL Winter Classic – Blackhawks v. Capitals (2014)

Original Run: December, 2014
Written by: Aaron Cohen
Cast: Bill Camp (narrator)

Ross Greenberg Productions, EPIX, 4 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

To ring in the most recent Winter Classic event put on by the National Hockey League, EPIX ran a four-part one hour documentary series called Road to the NHL Winter Classic. Unfortunately, I don’t have EPIX but I was able to catch this a few months later, as it is currently streaming on Netflix.

The documentary series follows the two teams involved in the big event: the home team Washington Capitals and the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. It goes through their recent history and chronicles the first few months of their season – leading up to the big event. The fourth and final part of the documentary covers the big game itself, the result of it and a bit of aftermath. It is certainly worth checking out if you are a hockey fan, especially if you are a Capitals or Blackhawks fan.

The series gives a nice look into the personal lives of coaches Joel Quenneville (Blackhawks) and Barry Trotz (Capitals). It also follows a lot of the key players on both sides of the equation. It shows an inside view of both organizations and hockey as a whole. It is nice seeing some of these guys in roles other than just warriors on the ice.

Road to the NHL Winter Classic is well shot, well edited and presented nicely. I actually hope it is the start of more NHL documentary projects. Other sports need to step their game up because NFL Films has been ruling the roost for decades.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other EPIX NHL documentary series.

Documentary Review: Pepsi Vs. Cola: The Marketing Battle of the Century (2014)

Also known as: Pepsi Vs. Coca: The Marketing Battle of the Century (title card)
Release Date: 2014
Directed by: Nicolas Glimois, Thomas Risch, Christophe Weber

Indigenius, 53 Minutes

Review:

I have no idea where this documentary first appeared, as there isn’t a whole lot of information on it, even though it is streaming for free on Prime Video for Amazon Prime members.

However, I like documentaries on business history, especially in regards to iconic companies and industry feuds.

I’m pretty sure this was an episode of a TV series that was repackaged, as it plays like that. But even so, this is a thorough and highly informational piece about the rivalry between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, which also delves into the history of each company.

I learned a lot watching this but it wasn’t an exciting documentary. It was mostly interviews with some experts in this realm, as they walked the viewer through both companies marketing strategies over their many decades in business.

This also clears up a lot of the theories surrounding New Coke and whether or not it was real or an elaborate marketing hoax. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a hoax.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other business history documentaries.

Film Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Music by: Bei Ru
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mozhan Marno, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo

Say Ahh Productions, SpectreVision, Logan Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone.” – Arash

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a unique film.

First of all, it takes place in Iran but was filmed in the United States with all the actors speaking in Persian. Additionally, it considers itself to be the first Persian vampire western, which is an odd description.

In fact, I don’t know where the western genre comes into play other than one specific scene where the film’s composer is clearly borrowing from the style of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores.

Anyway, as bizarre as this thing is, it’s a really solid film. While it is full of immense darkness, it is also full of sweetness.

It’s also one of the coolest films of the last decade.

I think a lot of that has to do with some of the deliberate style choices in regards to the genre melding, the cinematography, the use of music and the personalities of the cast. But how many films have a skateboarding vampire?

At points, this is a slow moving picture but everything is presented in a way that lures you in. You don’t mind the slow build because the actors are able to convey a lot of emotion with pretty understated performances. But I also think that a lot of that credit has to go to the director, Ana Lily Amirpour, who employs a great understanding of mise-en-scène that it enhances the actors’ abilities. Amirpour crafted an impressive stylistic framework that brings everything together quite nicely, especially with the movie being carried by performance.

I love the cinematography, which is done in black and white and takes its chiaroscuro cues from classic film-noir and German Expressionism.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an enchanting film and with that, is beautiful to look at. It delivers a sort of cinematic intimacy that most filmmakers, over the last decade, aren’t able to achieve. It feels like something from another era, even if it has things within the film that date it as modern.

However, like other vampire films, it has that one plot point that always bothers me with the genre. What I’m referring to is how a being that has existed for a few hundred years can fall in love with someone in their early twenties. It’s a plot device in vampire fiction that as all too common. I get the part about being attracted to youth and innocence but I’m now 40 years-old and I can’t go on a date with a 25 year-old and find anything to talk about. I can’t imagine how that date would go if I ever make it to 200. But at the same time, it’s a trope of vampire stories and I’m not going to come down on this picture too hard for it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other arthouse vampire movies: Only Lovers Left Alive, Let the Right One In, Shadow of a Vampire, Near Dark and The Hunger.

Film Review: RoboCop (2014)

Also known as: OmniCorp (fake working title)
Release Date: January 30th, 2014 (Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan)
Directed by: José Padilha
Written by: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner, Nick Schenk
Based on: character by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Pedro Bromfman
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Zach Grenier

Strike Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures, StudioCanal, 118 Minutes

Review:

“This, my friends, is the future of American justice. How many like Thomas King will pay for their crimes now that RoboCop is here? Yes, let’s not shy away from what this means, people. Men weren’t up to the task, but Alex Murphy, a robot cop, was.” – Pat Novak

I had no urge to see this when it came out, even if I was a big fan of the first two RoboCop films and a lot of the comic books since then. This looked terrible, boring and like every other shitty remake that’s trying to milk a classic without offering up anything new or entertaining.

I wasn’t wrong. This is exactly that.

The only reason I watched this is because I just revisited the original trilogy of films and if I could sit through RoboCop 3, I could at least try and sit through this. That being said, this is better than RoboCop 3 but that doesn’t really say much about the quality of this picture as the aforementioned movie is absolute dogshit.

The only thing that makes this movie a little bit palatable is the cast. I was kind of intrigued that this attracted so many high profile actors to it and they really are the best part of the film. Gary Oldman owned all of his scenes, Michael Keaton was neat as a baddie and Samuel Jackson was the most entertaining element in the entire picture.

Sadly, none of the charm from these three solid actors rubbed off on Joel Kinnaman, who was the main star and the one thing in the film that had to work if this movie wasn’t going to be a complete dud.

The problem is that there really wasn’t a difference between human Alex Murphy and RoboCop Alex Murphy because Kinnaman played this like a robot from start to finish. He was a charisma vacuum that sucked so hard that he drained the charisma out of the more talented actors around him. As good and emotionally effective as Abbie Cornish was as RoboCop’s wife, she was stifled by her co-star’s complete inability to play his role convincingly. It’s like a wrestling match where the guy getting beat up doesn’t sell for the wrestler doing all of his signature moves.

There are other problems as well.

For instance, there are no memorable action scenes. I guess the part where RoboCop storms OmniCorp and fights a bunch of ED-209s is the highlight but its really kind of forgettable. By comparison, the two times RoboCop confronts an ED-209 in the original film, it is more memorable than this. So maybe less is more? This film kind of Michael Bays it up with an over the top action sequence that doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than wrecking RoboCop’s armor so that he looks cooler for the final showdown.

Also, the emotional journey of Alex Murphy is confusing and really sloppy. It’s not portrayed in a fluid way and I think we’re just supposed to guess at his emotions as Kinnaman gives blank stares while flashbacks overtake his circuits. Every now and then a scientist explains what’s happening but we really didn’t need this in the first two films, as Peter Weller conveyed real emotion regardless of being a robot.

There also aren’t any clear cut villains in this in the same way that there were in the other films. Sure, you suspect that Michael Keaton is evil but there isn’t a “big evil” that you need to see vanquished like Clarence Boddicker, Dick Jones or Kane from the first two movies.

Also, Alex Murphy’s death in this is weak and completely lacks the effect that his death had in the original film. Which also means that I need to point out that this film also completely lacks any real violence. The first film had a huge impact because you believed that the world RoboCop inhabited was extremely dangerous.

There were no montages of RoboCop cleaning up the streets like we got in the first two films. Those were always important sequences that helped build the world RoboCop lived and worked in. I don’t see this new version of Detroit as dangerous at all.

I did like the intro to the film though, which saw a bunch of ED-209s and RoboCop-like drones deal with a terror threat in Tehran but this felt like it was ripped right from the first act of the video game Metal Gear Solid 4. Granted, I love that game so seeing what appeared to be an homage to it was kind of cool.

Ultimately, this was pretty much a pile of shit. I think most people agree with me, as there haven’t been sequels to this and the next RoboCop movie, which is currently entering production, is a direct sequel to the first film and ignores this snoozefest completely.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: skim milk and cardboard.