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.

Film Review: Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Also known as: Phantasm V: Ravager (trailer title), Reggie Tales (working title), Fantasma: Devastador (Brazil)
Release Date: September 25th, 2016 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: David Hartman
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Christopher L. Stone
Cast: Reggie Bannister, Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm, Gloria Lynne Henry, Kathy Lester, Dawn Cody, Stephen Jutras, Daniel Roebuck, Daniel Schweiger

Well Go Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Your playthings don’t work here. You could leave this rat race if you chose, and be with your family again, but my generosity is fleeting. You’ll have no more chances beyond this moment. Do you think I want your reanimated zombies?” – The Tall Man

Well, this is the end of the road and what a confusing road it has become.

If you thought things went really wonky in the fourth movie, this one doesn’t really answer any questions, it just confuses you even more and you never really know what the hell is actually happening or the why behind it.

One interpretation of this could be that it was all a big hallucination during Reggie’s final moments before death. Another is that this is real but that the Tall Man is just tricking Reggie. By the end of it, I don’t fucking care and this chapter felt completely unnecessary even if the fourth one left audiences hanging nearly twenty years earlier. Really, I just kind of accepted the fourth’s ending as the mysterious ending where the audience’s imagination just needed to take over and ponder the mystery.

I don’t dislike this film though.

Ultimately, it feels like this franchise should’ve wrapped up with a more cohesive miniseries or a television season, as opposed to wedging all this madness into a film that ends at a weak 75 minutes (not including credits and a short bonus scene within the credits).

This chapter in the franchise felt like one of those weird filler episodes thrown into a long television season where the writers get overly pretentious and artsy and try to turn the story into something more serious than it needs to be. Truthfully, it’s just a mess of a film, attempting to be smarter than it should be and losing sight of what it needs to be: a final fucking chapter in a franchise that started out great.

The special effects were a mixed bag but this was a film made with next to no budget and filmed in secret.

The acting was pretty much what you would expect from a fifth film in a horror franchise that’s a notch or two below mainstream entertainment.

I was glad to see the key characters come back, even the surprise edition of Rocky in that mid-credits bonus scene. I also liked the new additions to the cast: Dawn Cody and Stephen Jutras, who is a wisecracking badass dwarf not afraid to grab a titty.

The high point of the film is seeing Angus Scrimm’s final performance. Without the Tall Man, you can’t really have a Phantasm picture and recasting him would be like recasting Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger and that happened once and we all saw how bad it was. Scrimm’s lines in this were fantastic and that scene with the Tall Man and the heroes, separated by a chasm, was really damn cool.

I had really hoped that a fifth and final film would connect some dots and flesh out the cool mythos a bit more but all it did was kick the dots all over the place and erase some of the lines that were already drawn. This hurt my head.

I wanted to love you Phantasm V but you’ve become like that girl I always go back to for a good time but get trapped doing chores around her apartment to the point that I’m too tired for sex and settle for a half assed handy while I sip warm beer.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm films.

Documentary Review: This Magic Moment (2016)

Release Date: April 14th, 2016
Directed by: Gentry Kirby, Erin Leyden
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwel

ESPN Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

This Magic Moment was one of my most anticipated installments of ESPN’s 30 For 30 film series. It was a special story for me because I was there, in the Orlando area, when all of this stuff was going on. I was in the thick of it.

In fact, a friend of mine’s father had season tickets and I used to go to a lot of Magic games during the season that saw them go to the NBA Finals. It was certainly a magical time for that team and for Central Florida. Plus I was in the middle of my teenage years and basketball was one of the sports I played with a fury at that age.

Yeah, I have always been a Chicago Bulls fan but it was hard not getting swept up in the magic of the Magic when it was all happening in my neighborhood.

This is one of the best, if not the best, 30 For 30 documentaries focusing on the National Basketball Association. It is a hefty and deserving two hours. It covers everything from the formation of the Orlando Magic franchise, through the drafting of Shaq and Penny, their journey to the NBA Finals, their struggles and personal issues and closes out with Shaq leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers and Penny being traded to the Phoenix Suns – ending the dynasty that could have been.

The film benefits from the fact that everyone involved in this story was interviewed. From Shaq to Penny to their agents, coaches, team owners and other significant Magic players from that team, every interviewee was great and helped paint the picture of what happened and why. Looking back to that time, the media and egos created a lot of the issues that took the team down and it is now clear how it all fell apart. Before this film, it was all just a mystery wrapped in a lot of speculation.

It was also great to see how Shaq and Penny feel now and how they share a sense of regret in that they never toughed it out and made it work. They both admit that they would have won several championships had the team stayed together. In the end, Shaq was a huge success regardless and Penny had a very promising career ruined by injury.

This Magic Moment is a phenomenal sports documentary of a fantastic time in the NBA, historically. The Magic of the mid-’90s were special but that may be hard to understand unless you were there. This documentary does a good job of recreating that magic time, however.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other 30 For 30 documentaries on the NBA and ’90s basketball: Winning Time, No CrossoverThe Fab Five, Requiem for the Big East, Bad Boys and I Hate Christian Laettner.