Film Review: Batman Ninja (2018)

Release Date: March 24th, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Junpei Mizusaki
Written by: Kazuki Nakashima
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Yugo Kanno
Cast: Tony Hale (English dub), Tara Strong (English dub), Kōichi Yamadera, Wataru Takagi, Ai Kakuma, Rie Kugimiya, Hōchū Ōtsuka

DC Entertainment, Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks, Barnum Studio, Warner Bros., 85 Minutes

Review:

“This is madness.” – Batman

Yes… yes it is, Batman.

The only reason I checked this out is that it’s on the DC Universe app, which I now have and am trying out. Other than that, I didn’t have much interest in this.

However, some of the character designs looked cool and I thought that this might just be bonkers enough to be enjoyable. The problem is that I only made it about twenty minutes into the film before I regretted hitting the play button.

Cool and interesting character designs don’t mean much outside of a sketchbook of conceptual art. You have to apply these cool looking characters in an engaging and dynamic way and this anime fails to do just that.

This movie is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions and I’m pretty sure that the creators behind this had no idea what the hell they wanted to do apart from throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen just for the sake of throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen.

The story is all over the place, makes little sense, I can’t tell what the hell is happening through most of the film and there’s a big mecha battle because this is Japanese and it can’t exist without a big mecha battle.

This is a bunch of cool, unrelated shit thrown into a blender without little care as to whether or not it would blend well and be enjoyable, let alone remotely palatable. I had an uncle that had throat cancer and for awhile, he had to blend up every meal. His face while drinking his meals was similar to mine while trying to drink in this movie.

Batman Ninja is abhorrent and it should not have been made. It’s existence reminds me of the most famous of all of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s quotes: “Your scientists creators were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: terrible to subpar anime.

TV Review: Titans (2018- )

Also known as: Teen Titans (informal title)
Original Run: October 3rd, 2018 (New York Comic Con) – current
Created by: Akiva Goldsmith, Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters from DC Comics
Music by: Clint Mansell, Kevin Kiner
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Anna Diop, Teagan Croft, Ryan Potter

Weed Road Pictures, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 11 Episodes (so far), 40-50 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I finally got DC Universe, as it became available on the Amazon FireStick after months of dealys. So that being said, I have now checked out Titans, the streaming service’s first big attempt at original content.

While this wasn’t a total waste of time and shows some promise, it was still a pretty drab attempt at getting me excited for spending $7.99 per month on yet another video-on-demand service.

The biggest issue for me is that the characters don’t really act like the characters in the comics. Dick Grayson a.k.a. Robin a.k.a. Nightwing just straight up murders people the first time we see him confront some thugs. Then everyone else in the show kills or maims people pretty quickly and it’s fairly easy to see what we have here, which is another live action DC Comics property giving itself fully over to their gritty, edgy boy formula that only worked for Christopher Nolan, ten years ago, and Zack Snyder once with Watchmen, also ten years ago.

Also, Gotham does a good job of being gritty but it takes tremendous creative liberties and took awhile to really find its footing.

So Titans could definitely improve, as Gotham did. In fact, there are signs of better things within this first season. However, there isn’t much here to make me care about the main characters. Dick and Rachel, who will become Raven, are emo to the point of cringe but at least Starfire is interesting and Gar, who will become Beast Boy, is charismatic and could potentially be the best thing on the show.

The real problem with Titans is that the best episodes are the ones where the title characters aren’t the focal point. My two favorite chapters out of the eleven here are the one that’s all about introducing Doom Patrol and the one that serves as the origin story for Hawk & Dove. So what does it say when I’m more interested in secondary characters with minor screen time or characters who are getting their own spinoff?

I’m actually excited about Doom Patrol based off of what I saw here. And if I’m being honest, I’m not all that interested in a second season of Titans, even though I will watch it in hopes that things improve.

The season also suffers from not telling a good, self contained story. We get the season’s cliffhanger ending in the second to last episode and then the final episode, which should have been a resolution to the ten episodes before it, is nothing but a hallucination that ends leaving us exactly in the same spot that the previous penultimate episode did. It’s an absolutely terrible conclusion to a mostly mediocre season.

On the positive side, at least this moves more briskly than the Netflix Marvel shows and even though it has its filler episodes, they at least have action and progress the story in some way.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the upcoming live action DC Universe shows, as well as the DC Comics shows on the CW and Fox’s Gotham.

Film Review: The Predator (2018)

Also known as: Predator 4 (informal title)
Release Date: September 7th, 2018 (TIFF)
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Based on: characters by Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski

TSG Entertainment, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck me in the face with an aardvark.” – Baxley

I’m always game for a new Predator movie and as long as they aren’t mixing it up with xenomorphs from the Alien franchise, the results are usually pretty good.

I didn’t get to see this in the theater a few months back, as life was busy as shit. I wanted to but then a lot of the negative comments I read and heard about the film kind of snuffed out the motivation I had to see it on the big screen.

I guess I’m the odd man out though, because I didn’t think that this was terrible. While it is worse than the three previous Predator films, it is still better than both of the AvP movies.

Ultimately, I want Predator films to just be mindless fun with a lot of badassery mixed in. This film has that but it could have used a bit more of the badassery element, as the Predators came off as weak and there was more drama and comedy than actual ass kicking.

However, the action scenes were pretty good. Although the flow of the film was a bit messy and the motivations of the Predators and the humans were fairly confusing.

There’s a whole bunch of science-y shit about Predators stealing human DNA and making themselves adapt to human conditions so they can steal our planet as their own once we all die from global warming. I don’t know, that’s all pretty stupid and the film didn’t need some genetic plot twist with environmental alarmism tossed in but Hollywood’s gonna Hollywood.

Anyway, I’m not a fan of larger Predators, which is something they’ve done in the last two films. In Predators, it was just done to show that there are different types of Predator tribes but here, it was a genetic manipulation thing. I guess the large Predators in Predators could have also been genetically modified but when each of these movies has had different creative teams with lots of years between each release, its like each film, other than Predator 2, is trying to be some sort of reboot for a new trilogy that never actually happens. And that is exactly what this is, it’s the first part of a trilogy or multi-part story where there probably won’t be another sequel for another decade and then it’ll be another soft reboot.

And frankly, I don’t want a sequel to this film, I’d just prefer a badass Predator movie regardless of whether or not it has direct ties to previous films. Although, a true sequel to the first film that involves Schwarzenegger would be the best possible scenario, in my opinion. But I’d also check back in with the Adrian Brody character from Predators, as well.

This film had a lot of issues and I could fixate on things like Olivia Munn seeing a Predator ship leaving her behind, at least a mile or so away and then it crashes after traveling for a few more minutes but suddenly she arrives on foot to help kill off the alien. Or I could just try really hard to ignore that type of stuff and focus on the fact that this was pretty fun, even with its flaws.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: PredatorPredator 2 and Predators.

Film Review: Creed II (2018)

Release Date: November 14th, 2018 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.
Written by: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone, Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker
Based on: characters by Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Ludwig Goransson
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Andre Ward, Brigitte Nielsen, Milo Ventimiglia, Russell Hornsby, Carl Weathers (archive footage)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, 130 Minutes

Review:

“Because of you… I lose everything. My country. Respect. You ever see stray dogs in the Ukraine? They go for days without food. People spit on them, they are nothing. No home. Only will to survive… to fight. I have son. All he knows… [raises his fists] …is this.” – Ivan Drago

I really anticipated and then liked the first Creed movie but I was even more excited for where a second one could go.

The reason being, is even back in 2015, I kind of knew they were going to revisit the Ivan Drago storyline that was Rocky IV. Naturally, it felt unavoidable, as Apollo Creed’s son becomes his own man in the boxing realm but the death of his father is still a very big chip on his shoulder. It’s the one thing that eats away at his soul and has to be conquered for the man to become great. Plus, Dolph Lundgren is still tight with Stallone and it made sense on every level.

So even though I liked the previous one, this chapter in the Rocky franchise is a bit better. The Drago story here was great and it had so much depth that it almost improves Rocky IV, which was severely lacking in narrative and character development. Ivan Drago isn’t just a Russian machine raising another Russian machine, here he is a man, a real character, broken, tired, angry and ready to get what he feels is justice for his honor.

Dolph Lundgren was absolutely superb in this. He has more lines and screen time than he did in Rocky IV and you get to see him vulnerable. Also, his relationship with his son is really good and by film’s end, you see this intimidating Russian monster become a real father. But that also gets into a bit of a problem I have with the film, which I’ll get into towards the end of this when I start talking about the few negatives this movie had.

As can be expected with Rocky films, especially after Rocky Balboa and Creed, the movie was solid in its writing, its direction, its score and its acting. From a technical and performance standpoint, there isn’t really anything bad you can say about how this looks and feels on screen.

One person that really captured my attention was Phylicia Rashad. I loved her in the first one but she had more time to shine here and she really takes over the scenes she’s in. She doesn’t overshadow the other actors but her presence and her spirit lifts up their already good performances. Every scene she’s in is meaningful and frankly, why hasn’t Rashad been in more films and television over the years? Maybe she doesn’t want to work as much after her long stint on The Cosby Show and Cosby but this role made her feel like a well aged Clair Huxtable, as I just felt like she was America’s mom once again. She is probably the strongest character in this franchise apart from Adrian, considering what she’s lost and how she still supports Adonis and Rocky, despite what she could lose in doing so.

I was surprised to see Brigitte Nielsen in this. It was absolutely great that she appears in two key scenes. The reason I was surprised by it, is I hadn’t heard anything about her participating and assumed she just wouldn’t be in it due to her divorce from Stallone a few years after Rocky IV. While she doesn’t really share scenes or dialogue with Stallone, I hope the two of them found peace with their divorce from three decades ago. Seeing her in this though, made me wish she had a real verbal exchange with Lundgren and Stallone on screen.

As far as the negatives go, there are only three and they’re minor.

First off, the speech scenes where a character is down and they need to be lifted up by someone else weren’t as strong in this film as they have been in Rocky-related movies of the past. They were okay but they lacked emotional impact and real oomph. None of them were really memorable, except for the scene where Ivan Drago has to get through to his son Viktor. In that moment, Drago has to swallow his pride, stop blaming Rocky and admits that he simply lost a fight, all those years ago.

That brings me to my second negative, as it also involves Ivan Drago.

The scene where Ivan and Rocky come face to face, Ivan unloads on Rocky about what Rocky cost him. Rocky kind of just sits there and takes it, not saying too much. Part of me was waiting for Rocky to tell Drago that he lost more: his best friend, his mind, his body, etc. Because if comparing notes, Drago took more from Rocky. But that didn’t happen and I felt like it needed to, to make Drago think and reflect on his loss and how he’s not just a victim.

The third negative is that you are obviously pulling for Adonis but as the final fight starts to come to its end, there are events that hit you emotionally for Viktor Drago. His mother abandons him, as she leaves her seat when the fight takes a turn. It’s a scene that is done so effectively that in that moment, you want Viktor to win. While I think empathizing more with the Dragos can definitely be explored, the way it’s done in that moment, sort of took the momentum away from the fight and the ending. It felt as if the film was going for a twist but then didn’t commit to it.

Now those negatives don’t ruin the film but they do prevent it from being a great motion picture. Still, I certainly want a Creed III and I want to see the Dragos find peace and to regain their family honor. I think the next natural step is for the two sons of the franchise’s biggest tragedy to both overcome the effects of it and find a bond with one another. And for Rocky and Ivan to embrace… but that’s probably asking a lot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first Creed, as well as all the Rocky films before it.

Film Review: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)

Release Date: March 23rd, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Alan Burnett
Based on: Suicide Squad by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, John Ostrander
Music by: Robert J. Kral
Cast: Christian Slater, Billy Brown, Liam McIntyre, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Gideon Emery, Tara Strong, Vanessa Williams, C. Thomas Howell, Greg Grunberg

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, DR Movie, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I know I’m going to Heaven – anyone who can put up with Mr. J deserves a break.” – Harley Quinn

It seems as if these DC Comics animated movies are getting better and better. Pretty much most of the stuff that Sam Liu produces and directs is top notch. Also, I love that these are for an adult audience.

While I pretty much hated the live action Suicide Squad movie, I’ve been a fan of the comics for some time. This animated feature does a pretty good job of capturing that magic in a way that the live action film completely missed.

The voice cast in this was really good too and I especially enjoyed Christian Slater as Deadshot. I hope he plays the character more in the future and if this spawned its own series, I’d watch the followups.

This movie is violent but it works, as this film is presented in a grindhouse style. Now the look of it is crisp and clean like other DC animated films but it has that modern grindhouse edge to it in it’s credits sequences, editing style and musical score. While the modern grindhouse thing really peaked with Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movie over ten years ago, it’s interesting seeing that style in this format.

The story is also good and it sets up a situation where these characters have a sort of loophole to work around the protocols the government has in order to control these villains forced to do good. There is a lot of back stabbing, twists and turns.

This also features a ton of villains whether they are members of the Suicide Squad or not. And while a lot of characters are crammed into this 86 minute picture, everything flows well.

This is solid. It’s one of the better DC Comics animated features to come out.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC animated features for adult audiences.

TV Review: Cloak & Dagger (2018- )

Original Run: June 7th, 2018 – current
Created by: Joe Pokaski
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Cloak & Dagger by Bill Mantlo, Ed Hannigan
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Olivia Holt, Aubrey Joseph, Gloria Reuben, Andrea Roth, J. D. Evermore, Miles Mussenden, Carl Lundstedt, Emma Lahana, Jaime Zevallos

Wandering Rocks Productions, ABC Signature Studios, Marvel, Disney-ABC, Freeform, 10 Episodes (so far), 42-49 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I watched this right after I quit watching Runaways in the middle of its inaugural season. Sadly, this is pretty cringeworthy too and I couldn’t finish it. But at least I got further before my body couldn’t physically hit the “play” button around episode 7 or so.

Cloak & Dagger is lame as hell. Where is the superheroing? 7 episodes into this and they’ve barely explored their powers. This is just teen drama crap that feels more like it belongs in the Twilight franchise than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where it is supposed to take place.

The acting isn’t terrible but it’s nothing to praise. I mostly like the characters but if I’m being honest, they do not feel like the Tandy Bowen or Tyrone Johnson that I’ve gotten to know in the comics over three decades.

Also, why is this in New Orleans? I mean I love New Orleans but these characters are from New York City and often times cross paths with Spider-Man, Daredevil and other street level heroes of the Big Apple. Honestly, this feels completely separate from the larger universe it is supposed to be a part of.

The writing is slow, dull and I don’t care about the story one friggin’ iota.

The writing is also the biggest source of this show’s cringe. The dialogue is rough, unrefined and sounds like it was written by an intern that won’t get hired by the studio after graduation. Also, this gets pretty sociopolitical, not that that’s a bad thing but the show tends to hit you in the face with Mjolnir when trying to make those statements.

I have no urge to finish this or to watch a second season. I doubt that the show will last much longer and this is just further proof that the MCU is stretching itself way too thin, regardless of each project having its own filmmakers or showrunners. It’s just becoming so tiresome and this put me past the point of exhaustion. I wouldn’t call it “superhero fatigue”, as some people have called this market over saturation of superheroes, I would just call it a lack of the right people to steer these multiple ships.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Marvel’s Runaways, as both are mind numbingly bad and nearly unwatchable.

Film Review: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Release Date: September 27th, 2018 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Written by: Drew Goddard
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman

Goddard Textiles, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 141 Minutes

Review:

“Shit happens, get the whisky.” – Father Daniel Flynn

I’m glad that I went into this not knowing much about it. I saw one trailer, awhile ago, but my memory sucks because I’m getting old and I probably rival Roger Ebert in his prime for the amount of films that I watch. But I did know that this was a neo-noir, written and directed by Drew Goddard and starring a bunch of people I like.

Well, this is one of the top films I’ve seen in 2018. That being said, I’ve been to the theater less this year than any other because we had a terrible summer and even most of the indie stuff isn’t motivating me to get out there. But man, my FireStick probably deserves a break, as I’ve ran it through the wringer.

If you haven’t seen this, I don’t want to give away too much. The less you know, the better. This is the sort of film that takes you on a real journey with twists and turns and big reveals, curveballs and surprises. The real highlight though, is seeing these great talents together, playing off of each other and playing each other.

The story takes place at the El Royale, a nearly defunct hotel literally split in half by the California-Nevada border. It’s a place that used to be frequented by big wig celebrities and politicians. Now a group of strangers are staying there and their lives all become intertwined, as each brings their own baggage into the situation.

Some of the film is told in flashback to show you what led each character to the hotel. This isn’t a movie bogged down by flashbacks though, as they all happen pretty quickly and are just there to fill in some context and add some seasoning to the larger narrative.

The first act of the film actually reminded me of Clue, not that this was a comedy but you witness a bunch of strangers meet in a lobby at a place they are spending the night. Each seems to have a secret and to not be who they seem. But once the plot gets rolling, this isn’t a whodunit murder mystery, it’s more complex than that.

The one thing that really stands out about this film apart from the great story and the great acting is the cinematography. The lighting is superb and the shots are great. Being that this hotel is equally split by the state border, a lot of shots take advantage of this and showcase this symmetry or dichotomy. The California side of the lobby has the bar, the Nevada side has slot machines and each half of the room has a different color scheme. I also loved the use of fire in the climax, as it made everything feel truly Hellish.

While this isn’t a massive Hollywood blockbuster, this is something that should be seen on the big screen. So you should probably get out and see it while it is still in theaters. As of right now, this is definitely a frontrunner for my personal favorite film of the year.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other notable neo-noirs: Blood Simple., The American FriendBlue Velvet, No Country for Old Men, Fargo and Lost Highway.