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.

Film Review: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)

Also known as: Batman ’66 (informal title)
Release Date: October 6th, 2016 (New York Comic Con)
Directed by: Rick Morales
Written by: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Based on: Batman (the ’60s TV show) by William Dozier, Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Steven Weber, Thomas Lennon, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 78 Minutes

Review:

“Quickly, Robin, to the crosswalk!” – Batman

It’s kind of cool to see the old ’60s Batman get some life again over the past couple years. There was the Batman ’66 comic series, I already reviewed all the collections, and then there were two of these animated features that were made just in time to use the voices of the original cast: Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar. Sadly, West recently passed away, so a third film in this series probably won’t happen.

But I’m here to talk about Return of the Caped Crusaders, which is the first of the two Batman ’66 movies. I’ll review its sequel at a later date.

I guess the thing that I liked best about this movie is that the tone and the humor were spot on. It really captured the spirit of the show and felt like it was written by people that cared about the source material.

I also liked that this could be much larger in scale than the show. It featured a dozen or so of the television series’ villains but had a larger focus on the big four from the series: Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman.

There is also a whole side plot where Batman turns evil and has to be saved from himself by Catwoman and Robin. If you remember the show, you probably remember the rivalry for Batman’s attention between these two characters. It just makes for some good, amusing moments.

This is a quick and action packed film like everything else DC Comics has been doing as animated features. But this one really stands out due to its style and how well it works without DC sticking to their regular animated formula.

Good, fun story and overall, a really awesome experience for fans of the old show.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The sequel to this film: Batman Vs. Two Face, as well as the 1960s Batman TV show and movie, the Batman ’66 comic and other DC Comics animated films of the last decade.

TV Review: Fuller House (2016- )

Also known as: Untitled Full House Revival (working title)
Original Run: February 26th, 2016-current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Jesse Frederick, Bennett Salvay, Carly Rae Jepsen (opening theme)
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campion, Elias Harger, Soni Nicole Bringas, Dashiell and Fox Messitt, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Scott Weinger, John Brotherton, Ashley Liao, Adam Hagenbuch, Bob Saget, John Stamos, Dave Coulier, Lori Loughlin, Mckenna Grace, Marla Sokoloff

Jeff Franklin Productions, Miller-Boyett Productions, Warner Horizon, Netflix, 44 Episodes (so far), 25-36 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2016.

It was a pretty eventful weekend full of binge watching for fans of the old ABC sitcom Full House, as it’s follow-up/sequel series finally hit Netflix.

This is definitely a show for those fans and really, those fans only. It really isn’t something to just pick up and watch without being familiar with the original series and honestly, that is perfectly fine. The producers and actors knew exactly what they were making and they succeeded in doing what they set out to do.

I consider myself a fan of the show, as I used to watch it during my childhood and then in syndication throughout my teen years. I still even catch an episode from time to time if I stumble upon it while flipping channels.

As its own show, standing alone from the original series, Fuller House doesn’t work. It is full of too many in-jokes and references to the original series and actors that it may be hard to follow for new viewers. And, at times, those references get to be overkill. The show is certainly holding on to nostalgia and to what came before but it is holding on to those things a little too hard. There are a few cringe-worthy and awkward moments here and there, which serve to hurt this show instead of help it.

Pop culture, as of late, has become obsessed with nostalgia and Fuller House is a product of that. Again, it works for fans of the old series but it doesn’t offer up anything new, worthwhile or engaging for a potential new fan who is just discovering the Full House universe.

It is too similar to the older show’s format and it just relies on it too much, instead of being daring and stepping outside of its 29 year-old box.

I like it for what it is but I don’t know if I am interested in a second season. I know that most people, other than the hardcore fans, will probably be over it once getting through the thirteen episodes.

But it was nice seeing the family together, meeting the new kids – who were fairly entertaining and experiencing the genuine feeling of love between these cast mates.

It is a show strictly for its fans and that’s about it. Although, I do like that the producers realize that the fans are older and they were able to sneak in some adult jokes.

If comparing this to the dozens upon dozens of previous reunion attempts from other famous shows done over decades, this is certainly in the upper echelon. My brain still hurts with how bad that Growing Pains reunion was years ago.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Full House and then other revival sitcoms Girl Meets WorldRoseanne (2018), etc.

Film Review: Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

Also known as: Ghostbusters (original title), Ghostbusters 3 (working title), Flapjack (fake working title)
Release Date: July 9th, 2016 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Based on: Ghostbusters by Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Charles Dance, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McDonald, Zach Woods, Toby Huss, Bill Murray (cameo), Dan Aykroyd (cameo), Ernie Hudson (cameo), Sigourney Weaver (cameo), Annie Potts (cameo), Ivan Reitman (cameo), Ozzy Osbourne (cameo), Al Roker (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, The Montecito Picture Company, Feigco Entertainment, Pascal Pictures, Ghost Corps, Sony Pictures Releasing, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I will not let the 12-year reputation of this fine institution be besmirched by you!” – The Dean

I was a massive fan of the original Ghostbusters movies. However, even with rumors of a Ghostbusters 3 for years, I never really wanted a follow up. It had been such a long time since the second film and franchise movies that go on multiple decade hiatuses never seem to recapture the magic. The sequel idea was eventually abandoned in favor of this reboot, however. But still, I didn’t want it.

The only way that I thought a modern Ghostbusters could work is if it was to introduce a new generation and for it to exist in the same universe with the original guys passing the torch so that they could finally retire. Instead, this was just a flat out reboot with no continuity shared with the original two films.

But then there was also the gender twist element to this film. It seemed to be the latest Hollywood franchise to do a full gender swap for the sake of just swapping gender. Do I care that these four characters are women? No. But Hollywood (and all of entertainment, really) is sort of forcing diversity on the masses just because they can and apparently we’re all sexist, racist, homophobes if we don’t just accept what they are making the new normal.

In any event, this film came out with a lot of backlash because people are sick of the forced diversity shtick. Was that fair to the actresses in the film? Probably not. I felt that it should stand on its own merits but I also wanted to separate myself from all the social and political commentary for a long while before giving it a fair shot.

Let me first say that this sequel was unnecessary. Had it been made to build off of the already existing mythos and served to enrich it, then that would have made this more worthwhile and given it a point beyond just appearing like Hollywood attempting to gender swap fan favorite characters.

The thing is, I like most of the people in this film and that’s the main reason why I wanted to finally check it out. That being said, I enjoyed these women, their characters and I also thought that most of the supporting cast were better than decent. I also enjoyed the cameos from the original Ghostbusters cast members.

In the end, this film worked for me. There are several reasons for this but the biggest positive was that the writers didn’t try to just rehash what the first film was. This movie had it’s own original story with some cool ideas that served the narrative well. I liked the story, I thought it was pretty creative and even if the villain was weak when compared to Gozer and Vigo, his plan was still interesting and worthy of a first outing for this team of Ghostbusters.

Additionally, this film had a lot of fan service moments. They weren’t necessary or even really expected but the studio did a good job of not using these elements to sell the film in trailers. These surprises weren’t spoiled ahead of time for me and I was glad to see them worked into the movie, especially that major homage to The REAL Ghostbusters cartoon series.

I also loved the special effects and the whole visual style of the movie. The ghosts looked cool and there was a great variety of ghost styles. While the “ghosts unleashed on Manhattan” segment from the original film is one of the best moments in film history, I felt that this film’s take on that beloved moment was executed spectacularly.

The only ghost I really wasn’t a fan of was the demon dragon thing and the whole segment trying to capture it at the rock concert was one of the film’s lower points. But surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of other low points.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t hate this like many people seem to. But I also didn’t expect to like it all that much either. I was lukewarm to this film and didn’t have the biggest urge to see it. I’m glad that I did though. It was entertaining enough, made me laugh a few times and I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel even though they probably won’t make one and will most likely just reboot the film series again, sometime down the road. That one will probably star four overweight paraplegic lesbian Fijians, one of which will be Muslim too.

But seriously, social political agenda aside, this made me laugh and had some good positives.

Also, Andy Garcia’s mayor character was damn good.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Just about any other Melissa McCarthy movie, as well as GhostbustersGhostbusters II and Bridesmaids.

Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Release Date: May 9th, 2016 (London premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Hugh Jackman (cameo), Caleb Landry Jones (archive footage)

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Genre, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[sends the world’s nuclear weapons into space] Always the same, and now all this. No more stones. No more spears. No more slings. No more swords. No more weapons! No more systems! No more! No more superpowers… So much faith in their tools, in their machines. You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel, but you can never strike god!” – Apocalypse

At this point, the X-Men films don’t give a crap about continuity and I don’t care that Days of Future Past was used to try and fix that. Fox still dismisses a lot of what’s happened and just does what works well for each movie as a standalone picture. Because you can’t have Angel appear as a late teen in a 2006 movie and then have him in his twenties in 1983, regardless of whatever Doctor Who timey wimey shenanigans you try to pull. But truthfully, I don’t care at this point. I sort of just see each film as its own reality where each movie just shares some similarities. Sorry, I’ve got to make it make sense for my brain or I have to just dismiss the absurdity of it.

That being said, I don’t hate this chapter in the X-Men movie franchise. In fact, I liked it quite a bit in spite of its flaws, continuity hiccups and the underwhelming way that they presented Apocalypse.

What made this film work for me was the evolution of Magneto, who is the best character in these films and who seems to be handled with great care. I don’t care so much about all the teens and the constant influx of new characters every time I blink my eyes. It’s the core characters that matter in these movies. That being said, I think McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is damn good too.

When I first saw this film in theaters, my initial reaction was worse than it is now. Having time to digest and reflect on Apocalypse, it really isn’t as bad of a movie as I thought it was at first glance. It is the weakest of the newer generation of pictures but it is certainly better than 2000’s X-Men and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Don’t even get me started on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as I find it less enjoyable than a piranha enema.

The plot in this is a bit rushed and shaky. Apocalypse, one of the most powerful forces in the entirety of the Marvel Universe just shows up, learns all about human history by touching a TV and starts taking over the Earth and brainwashing other mutants to be his “Four Horsemen”. It was interesting that Oscar Issac played Apocalypse because it wouldn’t have really mattered who played him, as he was just a dry, one note tyrant. Frankly, he should have been the X-Men‘s version of Thanos, at least in their movie universe.

The sequence with Wolverine is, by far, the high point of the movie. Hugh Jackman only shows up for about ten minutes but it is some of the best Wolverine action ever put to celluloid. Granted, Hollywood is allergic to celluloid now.

This is an epic film but it doesn’t feel as grandiose as its predecessor. It isn’t as good as its predecessor either and I think that is why I was disappointed with it initially. But the main players in the cast add more to their stories in a good way and ultimately, this enriched the modern X-Men movie universe.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie but I’ll still see it because these films still have more positives than negatives. But really, it’s just time for the X-Men movies to get a much needed reboot and join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The current crop of X-Men movies since James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender took over the lead roles. Also, the last two Wolverine pictures.

Film Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Also known as: Wild Pork and Watercress (working title)
Release Date: January 22nd, 2016 (Sundance)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Based on: Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
Music by: Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, Conrad Wedde
Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Rhys Darby, Oscar Knightley, Taika Waititi

Piki Films, Defender Films, Curious Film, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Shit just got real… again” – Hec

Taika Waititi may be one of the best filmmakers of his generation. Finally, after the great Thor: Ragnarok, he seems to be getting some mainstream success and notoriety. But before his take on Thor and just after his underground classic, What We Do In the Shadows, he made this film.

In this picture, we have an unlikely pair on the run from the authorities. Julian Dennison, who is now most famous as the sort of evil kid from Deadpool 2, plays Ricky Baker, a juvenile delinquent sent to live with two foster parents. When the kind foster mother dies, Ricky is left with the husband, a sort of cranky man that likes his solitude out in the bush. Ricky is to be picked up by the authorities and sent to juvenile detention, as this was his last chance with a foster family and the aging bushman named Hec isn’t capable of caring for him. Ricky and Hec butt heads over this and Ricky runs away. Hec catches up to him but injures his ankle. After some discussion, the two go on the run from the law trying to split them apart.

This is a quintessential “buddies on the run” comedy but it is unique in that it is a kid and an old man and that it takes place in majestic New Zealand, most famous in movies as Middle Earth. Sadly, they don’t fight orcs but there is a funny Lord of the Rings homage thrown into the movie.

What makes this so great is that Taika Waititi just has a great balance between serious, emotional material and comedy. This isn’t as wildly hilarious as What We Do In the Shadows but it has a similar lighthearted spirit to it. It is probably closer in tone to Waititi’s 2010 film Boy, which saw a young New Zealand kid try to reconnect with his absentee father.

I have been a fan of Sam Neill probably as long as I have been alive but it was sweet seeing him have such solid chemistry with a young kid. Dennison is a rare talent and he really carries the film, making Neill that much better. And Neill certainly has a great presence on his own but Dennison brings the best out of him. I loved this pairing, which was a bit of a surprise as I wasn’t a big fan of Dennison’s character in Deadpool 2. But that was probably the writing and not Dennison’s performance.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is just a solid way to spend two hours. It touches the heart, makes you laugh but it isn’t overly sappy or sad. It’s a good time and just another nice feather in the cap for Waititi.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Taika Waititi’s Boy and Eagle vs. Shark.