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.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 3 (working title)
Release Date: December 1st, 2014 (London 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, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 144 Minutes, 164 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“You are changed, Thorin! The Dwarf I met in Bag End would never have gone back on his word! Would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin!” – Bilbo Baggins

While this trilogy lacks when compared to its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings, it was still better than most big budget movies of the last decade and I was pretty excited about revisiting the third and final chapter, even though The Desoltation of Smaug was weak by Tolkien movie standards.

And this is the best of the Hobbit film series.

This is also the shortest of the three movies and I think that says a lot about the structure and flow of this film, as a short novel didn’t need to be stretched out into three really long movies.

This one jumps right in where we left off, as Smaug flies out to destroy the nearby town on the lake. My only real complaint about that though, was that the battle with Smaug was a cliffhanger and once you get to it here, it’s resolved in just ten minutes. I thought that the Extended Edition would rectify this a bit but it didn’t. Still, the opening of this film is fantastic and one of the best sequences out of all the Peter Jackson live action Tolkien movies.

Once that’s quickly resolved, the rest of this movie pretty much just deals with a gigantic fantasy battle of epic proportions. Everything leading up to this was the real story and most of the context. This film just decides to throw down and give us a real war, up close and personal. And while that might not seem like the makings of a great film, this is still really good and definitely the most fun Hobbit film to watch.

And it’s not just action for the sake of action, there are some real creative things that come into play. I love the elves shooting a massive volley of arrows only for the dwarves to respond with their “whirly bird” giant arrows that immediately destroy the elves attempt at a strong and deadly offense.

Additionally, the battle and every phase of it serves the story well, moves things forward and finds time to explore the main characters and their true motivations while making them all sort of find the spot where they need to be going forward in life.

Apart from the giant battle and Smaug, there is the big confrontation in the evil castle that sees Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel do battle with the spiritual forces of Sauron. This was one of the Peter Jackson additions to the story that wasn’t in the book but this was a satisfying finale to my favorite plot thread in these films. Jackson did a stupendous job with this portion of the Hobbit series and even if it wasn’t initially supposed to be there, it fits very well within the overall story arc of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I also like how this movie wraps up, as it doesn’t give us a really long, overly drawn out resolution like The Return of the King.

The Battle of the Five Armies might not be Lord of the Rings good but it is still a pretty fine fantasy epic motion picture. And it has really got me excited to want to revisit The Lord of the Rings trilogy once more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Documentary Review: Future Shock: The Story of 2000 A.D. (2014)

Release Date: September 21st, 2014 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Paul Goodwin
Cast: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Dan Abnett, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland, Dave Gibbons, Scott Ian, Karl Urban, Nacho Vigalondo, various

Deviant Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I don’t know if I’m just burnt out on these type of documentaries but this one didn’t keep my attention.

Reason being, it didn’t tell a story, really. It did go through the history of 2000 A.D. but everything was done in a heavily edited interview format. There was no narration and this felt kind of disorganized.

Being an American and not as familiar with this comic as someone from the UK, I was hoping for a good, comprehensive history on this. It probably works well for UK fans but Stateside I felt like it missed the mark.

Granted, it was cool seeing a bunch of creators, whose work I love, talking about 2000 A.D. with a lot of passion. I liked seeing the bits on Judge Dread and the stufff involving Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. Their two cents are always worth the price of admission when it comes to talking about comics of the past.

Still, even though this was full of people I wanted to hear from, it was quite long for what this needed to be and for how it was presented.

Maybe get some narration, organize the sections a bit better and tell a more cohesive story.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries of the last few years.

Film Review: Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (2014)

Release Date: October 25th, 2014 (previewed)
Directed by: Brendan Jackson Rogers
Written by: Stephen Biro, Mitch Hyman
Based on: Bubba the Redneck Werewolf by Mitch Hyman
Music by: George Shaw
Cast: Fred Lass, Malone Thomas, Mitch Hyman, Gary Norris, Sara Humbert, Chris Stephens, Gail Fleming

Two Rubbing Nickels, And You Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

This looked like my cup of tea and the IMDb rating seemed acceptable at 5.7. Plus, I have really been into the revival grindhouse trend in indie film over the last few years. Sadly, this was a big disappointment and I found it really hard to get through, even at just 80 minutes.

Apart from a few hot girls, there wasn’t much here that I wanted to see. Even then, there isn’t a good abundance of bare boobies, so this kind of just fails at being a modernized grindhouse style motion picture.

I can only really compare this to the shittiest of Troma Entertainment movies. It’s like a really bad Toxic Avenger sequel, which really, is all the Toxic Avenger sequels. I had hoped that this would, at the very least, have been on par with WolfCop but it doesn’t come close to it.

The humor was terrible and not funny at all. The special effects were abysmal but thankfully, not Birdemic bad. This just doesn’t do anything well or even mediocre.

I’m not sure who the audience is that likes this or found it engaging enough to hike that IMDb rating up to 5.7, as it’s not even close to that.

This is a tough movie to watch and it takes you to a place that is worse than just simple boredom. Boredom seems exciting by comparison.

The rockabilly band that did a lot of the music for the film wasn’t bad though.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Badass Monster Killer, Dreaming Purple Neon and Tarnation.

Documentary Review: Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker (2014)

Release Date: July 17th, 2014
Cast: Bob Uecker, Tom Berenger (narrator)

MLB Network, 60 Minutes

Review:

The MLB Network recently aired a short documentary about the life of Bob Uecker, as told by him and his friends and colleagues.

For those who don’t know, Bob is the funniest guy in the history of baseball. He wasn’t a great player but he went on to be a great broadcaster and had a good career beyond that, starring in films like Major League and the awesome ’80s sitcom Mr. Belevedere. As a kid, I also remember him showing up in the WWF (now WWE) to add a little flare to their broadcasting staff during Wrestlemania events. He was always funny and always entertaining.

The documentary pretty much interviews Mr. Uecker, Bob Costas, Al Michaels and others who have known Bob well over the years. It covers his baseball career, his broadcasting career and everything else. It even showcases his hilarious appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker is a nice little piece on a Hall of Famer and legend. It’s an intimate and fulfilling experience if you are a fan of this man. I am, so I enjoyed it greatly.

And since there isn’t a trailer available, enjoy one of Uecker’s Miller Lite commercials.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Battered Bastards of Baseball, No No: A Dockumentary, Ken Burn’s Baseball.