Documentary Review: Ferrell Takes the Field (2015)

Release Date: September 12th, 2015
Directed by: Brian McGinn
Music by: John Jennings Boyd, Brian Langsbard
Cast: Will Ferrell

Funny or Die, Gary Sanchez Productions, Major League Baseball, HBO, 49 Minutes

Review:

This is a documentary of something real but being that this is focused on Will Ferrell, he plays it up almost as if it’s a mockumentary. I get that he feels the need to be funny but I think this would have been cooler had it actually documented this event with a more realistic approach.

Still, this is fairly entertaining.

I’m pretty sure that HBO wanted to make this into more of a spectacle for ratings purposes and I guess it works for Ferrell fans.

This short film follows Will Ferrell as he plays ten different positions for ten different Major League Baseball teams over five Spring Training games in the Cactus League. The purpose behind the stunt is so that he can raise money for cancer charities.

For fans of baseball, especially Spring Training, this is pretty cool to watch, as you see Ferrell travel Arizona and visit different ballparks. Being a Floridian, I would have rather he done this in the Grapefruit League but Arizona is cool too.

It’s fun seeing Ferrell interact with real MLB players and managers but as a documentary, this doesn’t do much to make me care about his charitable work and the true meaning behind this publicity stunt. I’m glad that Ferrell and company looked to be enjoying themselves but something more organic and natural probably would have benefited the film’s audience and the charitable work more.

I get that Will Ferrell is a funny guy but he didn’t need to be “in character” from start to finish. Show your human side, man. Be natural for once and show the world why this actually means so much to you. We can still laugh along the way because the humor still would have surfaced.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Will Ferrell’s sports comedies.

TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

Documentary Review: The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

Release Date: April 30th, 2015 (limited)
Directed by: Jon Schnepp
Written by: Jon Schnepp
Music by: Frederick William Scott
Cast: Nicolas Cage (archive footage), Tim Burton, Kevin Smith

Super Skull Ship, 104 Minutes

Review:

Superman Lives was a film that never happened but I have always been intrigued by what it could have been.

Years ago, there was a picture of a long haired Nicolas Cage in a Superman costume with his eyes half shut; it looked really bizarre. Most fans of superhero films have probably seen this famous picture at some point or another. But that really set the stage for what this bizarre interpretation of Superman was.

Hearing that Tim Burton was working on the movie and that Kevin Smith had written a script for it, made this project even more bizarre. Burton had a falling out with the studio after issues arose during the production of what would have been his third Batman movie and Smith was a comic book fanboy that was mostly known for his stoner comedies that featured Jay and Silent Bob.

No one seemed to know much else about this strange project though. So once I heard about this documentary, I had a very strong desire to check it out, especially since we got to hear the details from the mouths of Burton and Smith.

On one hand, this was a truly strange motion picture but on the other hand, it wasn’t as insane as one might think if they saw that photo of Nic Cage.

This documentary was pretty solid and it covered a lot of ground from a lot of different angles. Everyone has their own version of the events and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but this was an interesting story, nonetheless.

I’m actually glad that the film didn’t get made and that we got Superman Returns instead of this, even if it’s far from a perfect film. Superman Lives wasn’t really in tune with what Superman is. It could have been an insane and awesome motion picture in its own way and maybe the creators should revisit this concept as a movie for a new character that isn’t one that already comes with 80 years of his own lore built in.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about superhero filmmaking or films that never materialized: Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four or Jodorowsky’s Dune for instance.

Documentary Review: The Lost Arcade (2015)

Also known as: Arcade (working title)
Release Date: November 14th, 2015 (DOC NYC)
Directed by: Kurt Vincent
Written by: Irene Chin
Music by: Gil Talmi

26 Aries, Wheelhouse Creative, 79 Minutes

Review:

I had a high school friend that used to talk about all the great video game arcades in New York City. By the mid-’90s, he was living in Southwest Florida but his stories of these really cool and iconic places always made me want to go check them out. I never got to though, as they started shutting down, one after the other. But at least the Chinatown Fair was going strong. But then a few years ago, it had to shut its doors and I never got that authentic NYC arcade experience.

This documentary covers the ’80s and ’90s NYC arcade scene but mostly focuses on the Chinatown Fair and the love that the local gamers had for the last real bastion of coin-op gaming culture.

Several people are interviewed for this documentary and it does a great job of telling their stories and showing their love for the Chinatown Fair.

I didn’t go into this documentary expecting much, I just wanted to feel a little bit of nostalgia for old school arcade gaming and I was hoping that people’s love for this iconic spot would at least tell an interesting story.

It really hits you in the feels though, as everyone’s passion comes through the screen. I think that anyone that used to have a special place that used to make them feel great can relate to the film. Most of us have lost something from our youth that truly made us happy. This film is more about coping with that loss and trying to move past it than it is just about the great Chinatown Fair.

This is an engaging documentary. It pulls you in and makes you see things through the eyes and experiences of its subjects. That’s really what any good documentary should do and this succeeds at just that.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other video game documentaries from recent years: The King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts, The Art of the Game, Indie Game: The Movie, Free to Play, Ecstasy of Order, Special When Lit, etc.

Film Review: The Witch (2015)

Also known as: La Bruja (Spanish language title)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Music by: Mark Korven
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Parts and Labor, RT Features, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures, Code Red Productions, Scythia Films, Pulse Films, Special Projects, A24, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.” – William

I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it. All I knew is it was about a witch and it starred Anya Taylor-Joy, who I first discovered in Split, but who I’ve grown to like a lot with each film I see her in. And part of me is really excited to see her play Magik in The New Mutants movie, whenever the hell that actually comes out. Magik is one of my favorite X-Men related characters of all-time and Taylor-Joy seems like really good casting.

Anyway, this film is dark and brooding on a level that most films just can’t get to. This is real horror and was able to capture true despair on celluloid.

The Witch is a fairly short film at just 93 minutes but it feels longer. It moves slow but it builds tension and dread exceptionally well. A lot of emotion fits snugly within this film’s 93 minutes. The time is managed adequately and I’d say that all the scenes matter, flow perfectly and this picture doesn’t end feeling like anything else needed to be added. It’s well written and executed with the skill of a master filmmaker, which is damn impressive as the writer/director Robert Eggers isn’t a well-known or seasoned veteran, this is actually his first feature length motion picture. He does have a film coming out next year called The Lighthouse, which I am now pretty excited to see.

Anya Taylor-Joy also didn’t have much experience before this and this was her first starring role. In fact, she guest starred on a television show and had an uncredited bit part in one other film. Needless to say, she makes a massive impact in this. She proved from the get go that she had the ability to draw people in and to command attention through her performance. While the actor who played the father in this, carried some scenes, it was Taylor-Joy that carried this movie and made it something better than what it could have been in the hands of a less capable actress. Being this good, right out the gate, is pretty unheard of but from everything I’ve seen her do, I’m convinced that she is a rare talent than can probably handle the demands of any role.

This film is also enhanced by it’s enchanting and haunting cinematography. The lack of color and the dry coldness of the environment makes it feel like these characters are already lying in their graves.

It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t just horror, it is a mystery as things happen throughout the film that keep you guessing at what is actually unfolding. It isn’t as simple as there being a witch that’s messing with this family.

The ending is intense, surprising and having no expectations for this made it have a greater impact. I wasn’t expecting this to get as disturbing as it did but it was a breath or fresh air in a genre that’s been suffering for awhile.

I really liked The Witch. It looks great, is written great and stars someone who I could see becoming one of the best actresses of her generation.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: some of the better modern horror films: The BabdookItIt Follows, etc.

TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead (2015- )

Original Run: August 23rd, 2015 – current
Created by: Robert Kirkman, Dave Erickson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Music by: Atticus Ross, Paul Haslinger, Danny Bessi, Saunder Jurriaans
Cast: Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Mercedes Mason, Lorenzo James Henrie, Rubén Blades, Colman Domingo, Michelle Ang, Danay García, Daniel Sharman, Sam Underwood, Dayton Callie, Lisandra Tena, Maggie Grace, Garret Dillahunt, Lennie James, Jenna Elfman

Square Head Pictures, Circle of Confusion, Skybound Entertainment, Valhalla Entertainment, AMC, 48 Episodes (so far), 43-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

The Walking Dead really didn’t need of a spinoff. But as these things go, when you’ve got a cash cow, you’ve got to milk it until the teets come off.

What made this spinoff intriguing, however, was that it started when the zombie outbreak started. In The Walking Dead, we follow Rick Grimes, as he wakes up from a coma and enters a zombie infested world, months after the outbreak. Fear the Walking Dead starts on any given normal day and then the shit hits the fan. The first season shows society crumbling and how the main characters respond to it.

That rookie season was good but a somewhat unsatisfying origin story for The Walking Dead world. But once the show moved beyond the initial chaos, it got more interesting.

The sophomore season was broken into two halves, like a typical season of The Walking Dead. This show would follow that formula going forward. And while that season was a bit rocky, it found it’s footing in the second half, once our characters got off of the boat they lived on for eight episodes.

Season three switched things up quite a bit and by this point, a lot of the main characters were already wiped out.

But season four, the current season, is where the show really reinvented itself in a bold way. By the time you get through the first half of the season, only one person from the pilot episode is still alive. Additionally, Morgan from The Walking Dead comes on the show, officially crossing over, connecting this show directly to the events of the more popular parent show.

The fourth season also brings in a bunch of new and interesting characters and to be honest, it’s a completely different animal than what Fear was when it started out.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this show, which I have also had with the regular Walking Dead series, but it’s moving in a really cool direction.

It’s hard to tell where this will end up but I find it to be the more enjoyable of the two shows, right now. But being that this is The Walking Dead, that could change at the drop of a hat.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Walking DeadDeadwoodSons of Anarchy and Hell On Wheels.

 

Film Review: Teeth (2015)

Release Date: January 25th, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Tom Brown, Daniel Gray
Written by: Tom Brown, Daniel Gray
Cast: Richard E. Grant (narrator)

Holbrooks, Blacklist, 7 Minutes

Review:

“That which is neglected, is lost.” – tagline

This is a short animated film about a guy and his relationship with his teeth over the course of his life.

What made this work for me was two key things.

The first was the narration by Richard E. Grant. His voice was perfectly paced and pleasant to listen to even if the visuals weren’t welcoming in certain parts. Just thinking of the knife and teeth scene gives me a bit of a chill but Grant’s voice was very soothing and drew you in.

The other thing that worked for me was the animation style. I just loved the look of this, the toned down colors, the flow of the movement and most importantly, how the shaky animation lines added a certain level of tension to the proceedings.

This is definitely an art piece more than anything but this is a good example of short film as art. It is both beautiful and disturbing, soothing and stressful. How those things mixed so well together is due to the meticulous craftsmanship of the writing and direction by both Tom Brown and Daniel Gray.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Probably any of the other modern short films you can find on FilmStruck’s streaming service, where I watch most of the stuff I find like this.