TV Review: Californication (2007-2014)

Original Run: August 13th, 2007 – June 29th, 2014
Created by: Tom Kapinos
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tree Adams, Tyler Bates
Cast: David Duchovny, Natascha McElhone, Madeleine Martin, Evan Handler, Pamela Adlon, Madeline Zima, Stephen Tobolowsky, Bill Lewis, Judy Greer, Tim Minchin, Mädchen Amick, Ezra Miller, Justine Bateman, Peter Gallagher, Kathleen Turner, James Frain, Carla Gugino, Rob Lowe, Zoë Kravitz, Meagan Good, Rza, Maggie Grace, Michael Imperioli, Heather Graham

Totally Commercial Films, Aggressive Mediocrity, Twilight Time Films, And Then…, Showtime, 84 Episodes, 29 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I heard a lot of good things while Californication was on the air. I held off on checking it out until it was over, recently binge watching it on Netflix.

The story follows novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) as he tries to win back his long time baby mama Karen (Natascha McElhone) and balance a life of sex addiction, drugs, booze and his daughter (Madeleine Martin). Also, early in the series, he gets caught up in having sex with the underage daughter (Madeline Zima) of his baby mama’s new fiance. The show is accented by Hank’s manager and best friend, Charlie (Evan Handler) and his wife, Marcy (Pamela Adlon).

The show starts out really strong and each season is actually pretty good before it runs off the rails in the final season of its seven season run.

Duchovny is lovable as the childish and womanizing novelist but ultimately, he constantly does questionable things and always finds himself in trouble or making situations much worse. Sometimes, it is just the result of unforeseen circumstances but typically it is the result of a myriad of bad or careless decisions.

The constant back and forth between Hank and Karen is enjoyable for the first few seasons but it eventually grows tiresome about midway through the series’ run. Maybe that is because I binge watched it and didn’t see their relationship grow, evolve and fall apart over the course of several years time.

Hank’s daughter started out as a decent enough character but after a season or two, she becomes completely unlikable and doesn’t recognize that her father isn’t really all that bad and that despite his pitfalls has genuinely tried to put her first.

The best overall story during the run of the show was the up and down relationship of secondary characters Charlie and Marcy. They go through more real world problems and drama than Hank and Karen do and in the end, they reconnect and find each other, ending off better than they ever were throughout their tumultuous relationship. And Stu, who becomes Marcy’s husband over a season or two, was hysterical. The love triangle between Charlie, Marcy and Stu was the highlight of this entire show. And honestly, this relationship makes Hank and Karen’s look like bullshit high school level drama.

By the time I got to the end, I really didn’t care about where Hank and Karen ended up because based off of their track record, I knew it had the possibility to go in the opposite direction five minutes after the final credits rolled.

The show was pretty solid for most of its run but the final goodbye was long overdue by the time I got to the end.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Shameless, Weeds, Entourage and Aquarius.

Film Review: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

Release Date: March 31st, 2017 (WonderCon)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Ernie Altbacker
Based on: The Judas Contract by Marv Wolfman, George Perez
Music by: Frederik Wiedmann
Cast: Stuart Allan, Taissa Farmiga, Brandon Soo Hoo, Jake T. Austin, Kari Wahlgren, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci, Miguel Ferrer, Gregg Henry, Meg Foster, David Zayas, Kevin Smith (cameo as himself)

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, 84 Minutes

Review:

“They prepared well. Their reaction time is much better.” – Robin, “Robin, stop complimenting the bad guys.” – Nightwing

I don’t watch a lot of the animated films that DC Comics puts out but it was hard for me to not check out an adaptation of The Judas Contract, as it was a story I loved when I was reading Teen Titans as a kid in the ’80s. Granted, I haven’t read it since the ’80s but it was my introduction to one of my all-time favorite characters, Deathstroke.

And yes, Deathstroke is a big part of this, which was a big selling point for me.

This film starts with a sequence that sees Starfire meet the Titans for the first time. It then fast forwards to a time where she is in charge and Dick Grayson has been off being Nightwing for awhile. Dick comes back and works with this new version of the team. However, one team member is a spy for the villains of the story, one of which is Deathstroke.

I love how all of the characters were used in this and I also loved that there was a bit of profanity and a level of violence that lets you know that this isn’t a cartoon for kids. I guess this is the norm with a lot of the DC animated feature films now, which is kind of cool considering that I’m an adult that has grown up watching these characters for decades but am too old to really dig a Saturday morning cartoon at my age.

The voice acting was well done, the action was solid and the script was really good. You felt for these characters and their struggles.

You also get to see a cameo by Kevin Smith playing himself in the animated DC universe.

I was happy with this and am glad that I gave it a shot. Honestly, it’s made me want to check out some of the other animated features by DC.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other recent DC Comics animated features.

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Release Date: January 30th, 2017 (Arclight Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan, David Patrick Kelly, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, 122 Minutes

Review:

“John Wick, you’re not very good at retiring.” – Bowery King, “I’m working on it.” – John Wick

Having finally watched the first John Wick, I figured that I would check out the sequel, as it is available on HBO but is soon expiring.

This film is longer than its predecessor and it is also packed with a lot more action and I thought that those sequences were orchestrated really well. Although, I didn’t like this film’s story as much and it seemed forced in parts and disjointed in others.

Still, this was enjoyable and a good followup to the first chapter.

Here, John Wick is pulled back into his life as an assassin. He is called upon by an old acquaintance that he owes a favor to. Wick refuses, has his home destroyed and finally decides to do the favor. However, like a typical film-noir, the plot has a lot of swerves, surprises and is hard to predict. While this approach worked well in the first film, I found this one a bit harder to follow. Plus, they introduce new characters left and right and the amount of people in the film is a bit overwhelming and bogs down the flow of the narrative. But I guess when a film needs to get by on murdering the crap out of everyone and everything, you’ve got to throw characters at John Wick in order to keep piling up the bodies.

Also, the dog isn’t murdered in this movie, which is a plus.

While the first film did well and got the sequel treatment, this film, I don’t know if I have much interest in watching more of these. I like Keanu, I like the action but there isn’t much else to sink my teeth into that satisfies my palate.

Yes, this is well made from a visual, action and stunt standpoint. But I need more than that from a film. I don’t know, I admire what I see in these pictures but I just don’t feel connected to them. What John Wick goes through to setup these films is horrible but it is just backstory without any sort of real emotional context. Maybe it’s because you never really get to spend time with Wick and his wife, other than a quick sort of montage in the first film. I’m not saying that this needs to be The Notebook but I feel like they needed to show a their deep connection to really give Wick’s loss some weight. And by the time you get to this second film, the loss of his wife and dog are mentioned but the gravity of the situation is lost.

I would still probably check out the eventual John Wick 3 but I’ll go into it without any expectations other than anticipating solid action sequences and nice cinematography. Which is fine. I just feel like these movies had the opportunity to be so much better.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: John Wick, as well as Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

Film Review: The Burden (2017)

Also known as: Min börda (original Swedish title)
Release Date: January 27th, 2017 (Göteborg Film Festival)
Directed by: Niki Lindroth von Bahr
Written by: Niki Lindroth von Bahr
Music by: Hans Appelqvist
Cast: Sven Björklund, Carl Englén, Mattias Fransson, Olof Wretling

Film i Väst, 15 Minutes

Review:

I discovered a few of these short films by Niki Lindroth von Bahr on FilmStruck, which is a fantastic streaming service if you love classic film and want to watch every Criterion Collection release known to man. Okay, they don’t have all the Criterion stuff but they have a massive library and are the only service streaming them.

The Burden is a short musical comedy. The songs and dialogue are in Swedish, which makes it an even cooler experience. It is subtitled, so you don’t have to worry about that.

It’s fifteen minutes long but it flew by like it was five. It is sweet and heartwarming even if the subject matter seemed a bit sad and apocalyptic. It’s a film that sort of taps into certain insecurities but knows how to cope with it and leaves you with some hope.

The animation is nothing short of amazing and the style is beautiful.

It’s hard to really describe the film and it certainly won’t resonate with a lot of people but it actually made me laugh out loud a few times. It’s fresh, original and the songs are charming.

This is definitely the best short film I have seen from 2017.

Plus, the song is stuck in my head but not in a terrible way, in a fantastic and appreciative way.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Niki Lindroth von Bahr Tord and Tord.

TV Review: Inhumans (2017)

Original Run: September 29th, 2017 – November 10th, 2017
Created by: Scott Buck
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Inhumans by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Sean Callery
Cast: Anson Mount, Serinda Swan, Ken Leung, Eme Ikwuakor, Isabelle Cornish, Ellen Woglom, Iwan Rheon

ABC Studios, Marvel, Devilina Productions, IMAX Entertainment, Walt Disney, 8 Episodes, 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Well, this show has been trashed by just about anyone and everyone who actually took the time to give it a watch. Being that I have seen everything within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, I couldn’t just ignore this and knew that I’d have to give it an honest shot.

It’s pretty damn bad but it isn’t as horrendous as many have claimed. I saw that it was expiring soon on Hulu, so I figured I had better binge through this quickly before losing the opportunity.

To start, this should have really excited me. It stars Mr. Bohannon from Hell On Wheels a.k.a. Anson Mount. He also plays Black Bolt, a character I have loved in the comics for years. Sadly, Mount can’t speak in this part because his voice is like getting bitchslapped by God. He spends most of his time talking in sign language as Medusa translates for him. When Medusa isn’t around, he just gives very intense stares that make me think he is going to crack my television screen.

Medusa is pretty terrible and unlikable but then so are all the heroes. Crystal is damn cute but she always has this look on her face like she just sipped on a cup of tea and noticed a cat turd floating in it.

Speaking of Crystal, her story is the worst thing about the show. It is a little teenage love story that comes off like one of those Miley Cyrus Disney movies before she cut all her hair off and got her boobs out a lot. Crystal’s boyfriend is some Hawaiian surfer brah that tells her to “hang ten” all the time. In fact, Crystal is lost and trying to locate her family and surfer brah says, “Hang ten! Jump in the water with me! We’ll look for your family later!” Dude’s a total Disney Channel douche nugget and he probably calls his mom “brah”.

Iwan Rheon who was a big deal on Game of Thrones, a show I don’t like or care about, plays the bad guy but he’s just a human being. Actually, he’s a sour, jealous bitch that didn’t get magic powers like the other Inhumans and he somehow kicks them out of the kingdom and takes over the Moon. I loved Rheon on Misfits though and that was, by far, an infinitely better show than this or Game of Thrones.

I don’t know, the more I think about this show, maybe it is as bad as all the detractors are saying.

On a positive note, it was filmed in beautiful Hawaii. So all the scenery was breathtaking and amazing but I’d rather just watch LostHawaii Five-OMagnum P.I. or Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: The other MCU TV stuff but this was so bad and short-lived that I’d imagine it will be ignored in the future and that Disney will revisit these characters in a completely different way, years from now.

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.

Film Review: Death Race 2050 (2017)

Release Date: January 9th, 2017 (Turkey premiere)
Directed by: G. J. Echternkamp
Written by: G. J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita
Based on: Death Race 2000 by Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Gunter Brown, Cindy Brown
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler

Universal 1440 Entertainment, New Horizons Pictures, Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Europe, Asia, cancer; we kicked ’em all in the ass! The only thing that can kill an American is another American!” – The Chairman

There is a drastic difference of opinion on this film based off of critics and non-critics. The film has a 3.7 out of 10 on IMDb yet it has 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, however, 55 percent of people have said they like this movie.

I think that the really low rating on IMDb is due to the fact that the average person doesn’t understand the context of this film and what it is supposed to be. Looking at it at face value with no knowledge of its lineage probably makes it too confusing, zany and bizarre to make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t think that this film should have to rely on knowledge of its source material to work, it should be able to stand on its own. But since I do know the source material very well, I see this much more positively than the average bear. I think that the professional critical consensus is high because the critics understand what this is.

The point is, this is supposed to be cheap looking, insane, shoddy and really f’n weird. It is both a remake and an homage to the 1975 film Death Race 2000. This was made to be a more accurate remake to the original film than that awful Jason Statham movie was, which itself birthed some awful sequels.

I was initially unsure of what this was because going into it, I didn’t know whether or not it was a sequel, a remake or what. But it is a remake that is updated to take in some things that reflect how technology has evolved since the 1975 original. There are now VR experiences, camera drones, a drone car and a bunch of other new stuff. Still, this is as true to the original as you can get.

But maybe it is too true and that sort of hurts this film. It takes some liberties here and there but it is generally the same film and since it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cult classic Death Race 2000, it almost makes this film’s existence kind of pointless. I think it would have been better to actually just go with a straight up sequel.

I did like the cast for the most part. It is hard to replace the great cast of the original, which boasted the talents of David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove and Mary Woronov. However, Manu Bennett played Frankenstein in this film and I loved him as Deathstroke on CW’s Arrow. Malcolm McDowell plays the Chairman, who is essentially the President. The rest of the cast is made up of virtual unknowns but Anessa Ramsey stole every scene she was in as Tammy the Terrorist. Additionally, I love, love, loved the character of Minerva, played by Folake Olowofoyeku.

Death Race 2050 was a good homage to Death Race 2000 and it was fun for fans of the original but without any knowledge of that 1975 film, I could see where this would just baffle and confuse people. It isn’t the type of film that works nowadays and the political and social commentary would just be over the heads of most.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and some of the modern grindhouse revival films: Turbo KidHobo with a ShotgunKung Fury, etc.