TV Review: 11.22.63 (2016)

Original Run: February 15th, 2016 – April 4th, 2016
Created by: Bridget Carpenter
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Music by: J. J. Abrams, Alex Heffes
Cast: James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Daniel Webber, T. R. Knight, Kevin J. O’Connor, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper, Annette O’Toole

Carpenter B., Bad Robot Productions, Warner Bros. Television, Hulu, 8 Episodes, 44-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I was actually pretty hyped to watch this when it was coming out, three years ago. However, my work life took a turn for the worse and I spent most of 2016 working about 70 hours per week and not having much time for anything else. I actually started this site later in that year when things started to stabilize again but by that point, this slipped down the memory hole.

However, I’ve been wanting to watch Stephen King’s Castle Rock on Hulu. So before getting into that, I wanted to go back and check this out, as it was King’s first Hulu collaboration.

The premise follows a man (James Franco), as he goes back in time to try and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s an interesting premise but it does also seem that the protagonist does it really haphazardly, as messing with the timeline can have some unforeseen consequences and it does. In fact, it has grave consequences, which I think are supposed to surprise you but for fans of time travel stories, it really doesn’t. I kind of sighed and went, “Well, it’s not like this wasn’t an obvious result of his meddling.”

What’s interesting about this though, is that King explores the idea of time itself fighting back during the hero’s journey. It almost feels like horror at times but at the same time, the effect that time has in fighting back against changes seems inconsistent throughout the story. It is really only used where it is convenient to the plot in some way or just to remind you that time is its own master.

I had a problem with that aspect of the story and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity in a lot of ways. Cool concept, half assed execution.

But still, this was damn compelling television. You get drawn into this world, this character’s mission and you do fall in love with some of the characters.

The acting is superb and this is some of Franco’s best dramatic work. But the rest of the cast is also exceptional, especially the love interest, played by Sarah Gadon, the and the best friend/partner, played by George MacKay. But two real standouts were Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald and the evil son of a bitch that was brought to life by Josh Duhamel.

Overall, this was a solid political thriller with a time travel twist. While the time travel stuff was handled pretty willy-nilly, you get so caught up in the proceedings that it feels secondary.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: The Chair (2016)

Release Date: October 8th, 2016 (Northeast Wisconsin Horror Festival)
Directed by: Chad Ferrin
Written by: Erin Kohut, Peter Simeti
Based on: The Chair by Peter Simeti
Music by: Douglas Edward
Cast: Bill Oberst Jr., Roddy Piper, Noah Hathaway, Zach Galligan, Naomi Grossman, Ezra Buzzington, Joseph Pilato, Joe Laurinaitis

Alterna Comics, Crappy World Films, Girls and Corpses Magazine, 84 Minutes

Review:

This has been in my queue for a really long time. I kept putting it off because I was afraid I would be disappointed by it. Well, those concerns were valid, as I was.

I wanted to go into this with high hopes, as it was Roddy Piper’s last movie and also featured Noah Hathaway and Zach Galligan, two guys that made 1984 a great year for my young imagination. Additionally, this was based on Peter Simeti’s graphic novel that he released through his own comic company Alterna.

Simeti has always come off as a great guy and I like the vast majority of the comics he publishes. Especially in an age where more comics than not are kind of shit.

But in the end, this was a mess of a film that was really hindered by its budget. While you can do a lot for very little, this movie sacrifices the atmosphere by really cheaping out on it. And what I mean by that is that the whole thing looks as if it were filmed in one or two corridors with a few different rooms. And then everything is so damn dark, its hard to see the film in most shots.

Now the comic book is also very dark but the visual style works well in the comic book medium, as it takes advantage of a high chiaroscuro presentation. Even the comic is hard to look at due to the overly gritty art but it works for this story. In this film, however, the style and the character of what exists in the comic is lost in the constant darkness. Really, it’s a poorly lit film but that’s only one of many technical issues that hinders the whole presentation.

The acting by the more veteran players isn’t actually half bad. Piper does a pretty superb job with what he’s given and I can’t knock his work here.

Apart from Piper, though, the film is just insanely dull. It was really hard to get through, especially with the comic as a frame of reference and being a fan of four of the actors in the picture.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the graphic novel it’s based on but I thought the comic was much better.

Film Review: Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues (2016)

Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
Directed by: Gail Simone
Written by: Gail Simone
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith
Cast: Misty Lee, Shannon Kingston, Becca Strom, Scott McNeil

Shout! Factory, Dynamite Entertainment, 74 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a fan of motion comics, so I’m going to have a negative bias towards this in that regard. I came across this on Tubi and actually thought it was an animated film, which kind of got me excited and made me want to check it out because I had never heard of this.

However, the animation style is terrible. And this is why I hate motion comics. I’ve never actually seen one that has worked well. Even the highly heralded Watchmen one was hard for me to sit through and I believe I quit before finishing. It’s just not a medium I dig, as I’d rather just read the actual comic.

Also, this was adapted from a Gail Simone story arc and it was “directed” by her, whatever that means. Simone’s run on Red Sonja, was the lowest point in the long character’s reign at the top of the female-led sword and sorcery genre.

The story is uninteresting and weak. In fact, it is full of so many “girl power” cliches that it doesn’t fit the Red Sonja character. All of this is pretty apparent in the first scene where Sonja meets these two female archers who assist her and then act like valley girls trying to be badass. When Sonja asks about their experience they’re pretty much like, “Oh my gawd! We like… totally killed some squirrels with our bows… once!” That was me paraphrasing and the actual dialogue isn’t exactly that but it is almost exactly that.

I can’t believe that this was something released on Blu-ray and commercially sold to people. It should have been a freebie at the counter in a comic shop for customers that bought anything by Dynamite. Or it should have just been inserted as a bonus in a Red Sonja trade paperback.

This was to Red Sonja what The Coming Out of Their Shells Tour was to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other motion comics, I guess. But just read comics instead.

TV Review: Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (2016- )

Original Run: November 29th, 2016 – current
Created by: Leah Remini, Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Alex Weresow
Music by: various
Cast: Leah Remini, Mike Rinder

No Seriously Productions, The Intellectual Property Corporation, A&E, 36 Episodes (so far), 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I never really had any intention of watching this but I had a few friends always bring it up to me, so I checked it out. To be frank, I don’t give a shit about religion, regardless of what the belief system is.

Anyway, I also know that just about every documentary has an agenda and that the truth is usually somewhere outside of the idea being pushed.

However, this is pretty compelling and it lets people tell their own stories in their own words. Sure, Leah Remini has an ax to grind and she sometimes steers the conversation but her ax seems like it is genuine and the more I learn about Scientology, the more I can understand why she feels that getting all of this out in the open is so important. And honestly, I support her in that.

When you start watching this show, it is hard to turn away. And as more is revealed through the testimonials of former Scientologists, the more interesting the show gets because there are so many layers to the bizarre beliefs and culture of Scientology. And really, it definitely comes across as a legitimate cult in how it tries to control and police its members.

The show can get repetitive after awhile but each episode features a new person with a new story. The thing is, everyone’s account of the way this church is run all lines up from episode to episode and if this was just a bunch of people trying to attack the church in ways that weren’t honest, I think it’d become pretty apparent. But everyone seems to consistently hit the same points.

I think this show is compelling in how it gives you an real insider’s view into the Church of Scientology but it also grabs you and holds on because so much of this seems so unbelievable. That is, until you start hearing similar stories from so many former Scientologists.

In the end, I believe Leah Remini and the people featured on the show. There’s just too much consistency from story to story for this to be a dishonest, bitter condemnation of Scientology.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Scientology.

Film Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Also known as: Star Trek 3, Washington, Star Trek Into Oblivion (working titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 2016 (Indonesia, Iceland, Philippines, Sweden, Thailand)
Directed by: Justin Lin
Written by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Deep Roy, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Greg Grunberg, Danny Pudi, Doug Jung, Leonard Nimoy (photo cameos)

Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Productions, Sneaky Shark Productions, Perfect Storm Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“[to Kirk] It isn’t uncommon, you know, even for a captain, to want to leave. There is no relative direction in the vastness of space. There is only yourself, your ship, your crew. It’s easier than you think, to get lost.” – Commodore Paris

I guess they saved the best for last because even though this film did the worst at the box office out of the three J. J. Abrams Star Trek movies, it was the best movie of the lot.

Most people probably don’t agree with my assessment of this one but I like it because it feels more like Star Trek than the two films that Abrams directed. Who would’ve thought that Justin Lin, a director most known for Fast & Furious movies would turn out something so Trek-ish. And that’s not a knock against the Fast & Furious franchise, as I find those films pretty fun and enjoyable for what they are.

I believe that a lot of the credit for this film’s narrative has to go to the writers, Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, and Doug Jung, who also had a small cameo in this. Pegg isn’t just an actor, though, as he was a creative force in several of his other projects like the classic British comedy show Spaced and the films Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and The World’s End.

This is really action packed but it feels more like a Star Trek TV episode adventure than the two films before it. It is definitely more in tune with the films of the Original Series and Next Generation eras than the two Abrams pictures before it.

With that being said, this is also fresh and new and it does some really cool things that no other Trek film has done. The Enterprise faced a new type of threat that no ship in the entire Star Trek mythos has ever faced, small drone ships that act like a carnivorous swarm of locusts. You see the Enterprise get ripped apart and as much as any fan hates seeing the Enterprise get beat, it’s an incredible sequence and one of the absolute best in Star Trek history.

For the bulk of the picture, the crew is marooned on a planet. They must find a way off of the rock while stopping the evil plans of the madman that stranded them there. Additionally, that same madman plans to attack the Federation, so not only do Kirk and his crew need to escape their predicament but they also need to find a way to defeat the man that just destroyed the USS Enterprise.

There are some solid twists and turns in the plot and none of it feels like swerves just for the sake of swerves. The plot twists work organically and overall, this Star Trek film feels the least formulaic of this trilogy.

The final battle is a lot of fun, even if I never expected to see a final outer space showdown in Star Trek cued to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”. Some old school fans might find this to be a bit cringeworthy but in that moment, it worked for me. Plus, if you don’t like “Sabotage” you’re probably a communist.

My only big beef with the movie is that after introducing us to Dr. Carol Marcus, who joined the crew in the previous film and was played by the stunning Alice Eve, she’s mysteriously absent from this picture. Why? And also, WTF, man?!

Anyway, Star Trek Beyond was just a lot of fun. It was great escapism, filled its two hours incredibly well and it deserves more fanfare than it received. Frankly, I’m really disappointed that the fourth film in this series was cancelled.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Film Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

Also known as: Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil: Insurgence, Resident Evil: Rising (working titles)
Release Date: December 13th, 2016 (Tokyo, Seoul premiere)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Paul Haslinger
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Ruby Rose, Eoin Macken, William Levy, Iain Glen

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, Davis Films, Screen Gems, 106 Minutes

Review:

“We’ve played a long game, you and me, but now it’s over.” – Dr. Issacs

I think that the things I’m looking for in these movies are different from what others are seeking. The reason I say that is that I’ve heard really bad things about this chapter in the series yet this was the best movie out of them all, as far as I’m concerned.

I think that the extended break mixed with the experience of what worked and what didn’t over the course of the five previous films, allowed Paul W.S. Anderson to weave his best tale yet and frankly, this one surprised me and took things in a direction I wasn’t anticipating.

Also, I watched all of these movies over the course of a week and didn’t have a decade and a half to ponder this series, its direction and the reveals that each chapter brought to the series as a whole.

As an action movie with a lot of horror and sci-fi thrown in, this was satisfying. Also, it did give the audience fan service but it didn’t trip over itself like the previous movie, which was bogged down by too many cameos and a mostly incoherent plot.

By this point, I’ve accepted the flaws that bothered me in the earlier movies. Six deep into this series and some of those flaws have really become tropes. Especially the Hong Kong style wire work during fight scenes, the imperfect CGI and the overabundance of green screen scenes. In regards to the CGI, it does get better with this movie.

I liked how this film was structured and the longer running time gave it a bit more room the breathe. It felt like it had more of a three act structure than the other chapters. First, you have the beginning where Alice wakes up in D.C., gets her mission and then runs into trouble on her way back to Raccoon City. Then you have a second act where she and a group of heroes defends Raccoon City from a literal zombie army. The third and final act sees Alice and some of the survivors storm the Hive to end the Umbrella Corporation once and for all.

The plot isn’t complicated but it’s well layered, is more dynamic than some of the other RE films and it has a good MacGuffin with a satisfying ending that leaves the series on a hopeful note, as opposed to the doom and gloom each previous film left you with. To be honest, I’d like a seventh film featuring Alice on her last adventure before the Earth resets. But the ending is still fine on its own.

Seriously, I am baffled by this movie. It shouldn’t have been as good as it was, all things considered. Maybe the fifth one set the bar really low and I didn’t expect much from its follow up. But again, this is my favorite Resident Evil film in the series.

Also, zombie dragons.

Rating: 7.25/10
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.

Film Review: Mascots (2016)

Release Date: September 10th, 2016 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Christopher Guest
Written by: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Music by: Jeffrey C.J. Vanston
Cast: Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Moynihan, Don Lake, Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, Maria Blasucci, Oscar Nunez, Harry Shearer

Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Well, my name is A.J. Blumquist, and I’m a former mascot, Danny the Donkey, and uh, I’m a judge this year for the Fluffies. For the two people that don’t know, uh, Danny the Donkey, my mascot alter ego, was the first one to have an anatomically correct costume.” – A.J. Blumquist

When you have something really good, you can ruin it by having too much. This can be said about cheesecake, high end whiskey, cocaine, sex with street walkers and well, sadly… Christopher Guest mockumentaries.

One could say that this isn’t Christopher Guest’s fault, he’s just making what he knows and he is a master of the genre. He can’t help that there has been a huge over-saturation of films like this and really, a lot of that could be due to how good his movies have been. But on the flip side of that, this falls flat in just about every way and there are recent mockumentaries that are much funnier than this: What We Do In the Shadows, for instance.

Guest rounds up his typical group of stars minus a few key people, most notably Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. He spends more time using newer actors in main roles and most of his great collaborators take more of a backseat here. John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Hitchcock were severely underutilized and even Jane Lynch, who got a good amount of screen time, deserved more.

Out of the newcomers, I didn’t really connect to any of them except for Zach Woods. I liked Woods in this. But even Chris O’Dowd, who I usually find funny, didn’t hit the mark here.

It’s not that this picture is unfunny, it has some funny bits, but it doesn’t keep you as amused as Best In ShowWaiting for Guffman or A Mighty Wind. It’s nowhere near as incredibly as This Is Spinal Tap and it falls short of living up to Guest’s previous weakest film, For Your Consideration.

I’m not sure what this means for Guest’s future, as other reviews I’ve seen aren’t too fond of this film and feel the same way that I do. But if he sticks with Netflix he’s probably fine, as they’ll pump out anything with a famous name on it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Guest’s other mockumentaries but this is the worst one so all the others are better.