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.

Film Review: Halloween (2018)

Release Date: September 8th, 2018 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle

Miramax, Blumhouse Productions, Trancas International Films, Rough House Pictures, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“There’s a reason we’re supposed to be afraid of this night.” – Hawkins

Well, the highly anticipated Halloween is here.

This film is a direct sequel to the first movie and thus, ignores everything that came after the original film. So no hospital movie, no Michael hunting little Jamie, no Paul Rudd fighting a weirdo cult, no LL Cool J as a poor security guard and no Busta Rhymes karate moves. Most importantly though, none of that white trash Rob Zombie crap. Although, I did like Malcolm McDowell.

I guess the coolest thing about this isn’t bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter (in some capacity), it’s actually getting Nick Castle back to play the Shape, as he was the original Michael Myers. Side note: did you know that the Shape a.k.a. Michael Myers directed The Last Starfighter?

Anyway, jumping right in, I thought that the first half hour or so of the movie was slow. All of that could have been condensed down to ten minutes, really. This is a slasher film and doesn’t need to give us giant spoonfuls of exposition. Just give us the quick rundown of where the story is and go for it.

After that first half hour, things really pick up but I felt that the middle act of the picture almost went too fast. Michael starts killing and he kills a lot. However, once you get to the big finale at the Strode house in the woods, it slows to a crawl again.

I get that this final act was an attempt at building tension, which it does do well, but as Laurie carefully moved through her house looking for Michael, I was just sitting in my chair thinking, “Hurry it up, already.” I mean, if she was so prepared for Michael coming for her, she should of lived in a one room cabin and not a maze full of mannequins and junk store trinkets.

As far as the kills go, it was a mixed bag. Too many kills happen off screen, which I hate in a slasher film. Commit to the f’n bit and show it! Show it all! What’s more baffling is that the kills that they do show are pretty brutal. So why give us a mixture of violent kills and off screen kills? Were the filmmakers teetering on making this PG-13?

One thing about this movie that really got me into it though was the use of John Carpenter’s music. He did the score for this one and kept it very traditional and tapped into the themes of the original. However, as the film rolls on, those famous tunes start to evolve and Carpenter did some really neat stuff musically. I’ll probably buy this film’s score on vinyl if I come across it at my local record shop.

Another positive is the psychology of this film. I don’t mean to spoil anything but this starts out like a typical Halloween film once Michael gets free but eventually you come to see that the hunter is actually the hunted. Laurie Strode wanted him outside again so that she could finally kill him and finally close this long, dark chapter of her life. Laurie becomes a badass and spends decades preparing for this night in an effort to deal with her PTSD. It’s ruined her life, her marriages, her family and she just wants to put this MFer to bed, once and for all.

However, even though I prefer this movie to H2O, I preferred the other version of Laurie Strode better. Also, that film had that great iconic moment where Laurie and Michael come face to face through a small window. That really was a great moment and gave that film more meaning than it should have had. This new film didn’t have that sort of confrontation, which would’ve actually done more to build tension than Laurie slowly walking through a dark house with a shotgun. Having Laurie and Michael look into each others eyes is something that needed to happen, it froze me in my seat when I saw that in H2O. Nothing about this Halloween came close to having that effect on me.

In the end, I was really happy with the movie. It hits the right notes, most of the time. It was also a great homage to the original film and a few other horror classics. We haven’t had a good slasher film in quite awhile and this at least satisfied the part of me that’s been yearning for a real throwback to my favorite era and subgenre of horror.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Halloween 1245 and 6.

Film Review: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 2: City on the Edge of Battle (full title)
Release Date: May 18th, 2018 (Japan)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe

Toho, 100 Minutes

Review:

My review of the previous film in this trilogy had this paragraph:

Well, I’m going to be blunt: this was terrible. It’s slow, it’s boring, everyone in it is extremely unlikable and it has a giant plot hole large enough to suck Godzilla in.

Well, not much has changed with the second movie.

But I will start this by saying that this film is a wee bit better. I at least found it to be less boring, even though it was more drawn out than it needed to be. But I liked the talky science bits in this chapter better than the first. Also, the main character was less annoying than he was in the previous movie.

This film series is taking its cues from the Shin Godzilla mythos, as Godzilla continues to evolve and adapt to whatever they throw at him. Also, there are different creatures and things in the wilderness that are biological products of Godzilla and his weird and random evolutions. To be honest, even though this opens up a lot of interesting exploration and ideas it also seems like a cheap and poorly crafted trick to throw curveballs and to lazily write through situations. “Oh, we’ve got Godzilla now!” “No! He is evolving to combat and withstand X, Y and Z!!! Damn him!!!”

The heroes seem to have an advantage here in that the remains of Mechagodzilla from millennia ago have grown and evolved in its own way to what they lamely refer to as “Mechagodzilla City”. Sorry but “Mecha City” would’ve been fine, guys. I was annoyed throughout the movie whenever a character had to refer to the city with that mouthful of unnecessary syllables. But being that there is still one more movie in this series, it should go without saying that the city isn’t as advantageous as the heroes had hoped.

Anyway, the animation style is the same. I am starting to dislike it less or I’ve just grown used to the combination of hand drawn animation mixed with CGI animation. It still looks odd to me in places and I will always prefer hand drawn animation but it does seem a bit more refined here.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan, as regular readers of this website should already now. This anime film series just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. But if the third one also improves a wee bit, that one may be somewhat palatable.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

Film Review: Venom (2018)

Also known as: Antidote (fake working title)
Release Date: October 1st, 2018 (Regency Village Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel
Based on: Venom by David Michelinie, Todd McFarlane
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Michelle Lee, Woody Harrelson (cameo), Ron Cephas Jones

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Entertainment, Tencent Pictures, Arad Productions, Matt Tolmach Productions, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Eyes! Lungs! Pancreas! So many snacks, so little time!” – Venom

If I’m being completely honest, my hopes for this film weren’t too high. However, my minimal expectations were exceeded in a lot of ways.

I guess the acting prowess of Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed can go a log way as all three were pretty damn good in this. Hardy really takes the cake though and even if his Eddie Brock differs a lot from the comic book version, I still liked this interpretation of the character. I kind off miss the blonde boxy buzz cut but that’d probably look silly in 2018… or just too f’n badass!

Anyway, this film had to create its own story, as they didn’t have Spider-Man at their disposal to tell the story the right way. Plus, even though this is put out by the same studio that owns the Spider-Man film rights, it’s not really clear if this even exists in the same universe. There are no signs to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe; none that I saw, anyway.

I liked this film’s plot though and the way that Venom comes to be, worked for me. I wasn’t too keen on Riot being the big bad of the movie but there wasn’t a whole lot they could do being that this was a self-contained movie that doesn’t seem to bleed over into the larger Spider-Man world. Plus, this takes place in San Francisco, as opposed to New York City, which could also have been a way to distance it from Spidey (and his friends and allies), at least for now. There are other symbiotes in this that aren’t just Riot, however. But he’s the only one that actually matters to the larger story.

My one big complaint about the film is the pacing. The first half hour moves at a crawl but once things get going, it really gets going. But then it moves almost too fast. From what I understand, there was a lot of footage cut from this movie. It was initially being made to have an R rating but very late in production, they decided to go with a PG-13 rating. There are moments where it seems as if something violent was lobbed off and it created some bad, choppy edits. Also, it feels as if some key narrative moments were worked out of the plot, after the film was fully shot. Like I said, it starts at a slower pace and then speeds up very quickly and it just feels like there are some time jumps and key things missing. Maybe this can be rectified with an R rated cut or an extended edition once this hits the streaming market.

I thought that the action sequences were a mixed bag. The first big one, which sees Brock on a motorcycle trying to evade big SUVs through the late night streets of San Francisco was superbly done, even if it threw a tiny bit of cheese at you. The final battle between Venom and Riot on the launching pad wasn’t so good. I mean, I’ve seen much worse in comic book movie finales but it was just a CGI shit festival and hard to differentiate between the two aliens. Couldn’t Riot have been a different color than dark grey? In the comic books, symbiotes have lots of color variations. Also, it would have helped if Venom had his iconic emblem on his chest and back.

One thing that stood out for me was the score. Often times it was subtle and atmospheric and then in big action scenes it would become a nice punctuation to the over the top adrenaline rush. The score during the motorcycle chase was stellar and it reminded me of the blockbuster scores of the ’80s to mid-’90s.

Venom is far from perfect but it’s got a lot more going for it than against it. Most importantly, it has my favorite mid-credits scene out of any of these comic book movies. It was chilling, generated the right kind of emotion in me and it made me want the follow up now, as opposed to three years down the road. If you’ve read the earliest Venom stories back when they were new, you’ll probably feel the same sense of awe when you get to this moment at the end of the film.

While this might not be as good as most of the movies in the MCU, it is more fun than most of them and to me, that’s really important.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the harder edged Marvel movies as of late: Logan, the Deadpool films and I’m assuming the upcoming New Mutants movie.