Film Review: Color Out of Space (2019)

Also known as: The Color from Out Off Space (working title)
Release Date: September 7th, 2019 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Written by: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Based on: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Colin Stetson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Elliot Knight, Madeleine Arthur, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong

SpectreVision, ACE Pictures Entertainment, XYZ Films, 111 Minutes

Review:

“What touched this place cannot be quantified or understood by human science. It was just a color out of space. A messenger from realms whose existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the gulfs that it throws open before our frenzied eyes.” – Ward

Many films are called a “mindfuck” but that might actually be an overstatement when those films are compared to Color Out of Space, which takes the viewer on a maddening ride into a very unique and different Hell.

This movie is absolutely batshit crazy but I loved it. It’s a modernized adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story and it was directed by Richard Stanley, who was a pretty accomplished indie filmmaker before leaving his craft after the drama that was 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. I’m really glad that Stanley came back to making cinematic art, though, and I’d have to say that this is his best movie. That’s kind of incredible when you think about it too, as it’s his first picture in a quarter of a century!

This movie also has both Nic Cage and Tommy Chong in it, which just adds to the bonkers story and the performances it needed to pull out of its cast. That being said, everyone in this is pretty damn good and I especially liked Cage and Chong, as well as the actress who plays the daughter and the actor who plays the scientist that’s trying to save the family from their bizarre and horrific fate.

It’s actually kind of hard to define the story or give it a proper synopsis and I also don’t want to spoil too much. However, in a nutshell, a strange meteor lands in a family’s front yard and with it, strange things start happening to the people and the Earth around the meteor site. Unfortunately for the family, they are a dozen or more miles away from anyone else.

This film is also visually stunning, almost unbelievably so. Richard Stanley brought this twisted, strange tale to cinematic life and everything he did from the lighting to the special effects that he managed, just turned out perfect. As unbelievable and surreal as the picture is, you’re never really pulled out of it and that’s a testament to Stanley’s skill and how well this was all executed.

Color Out of Space, at times, can feel like sensory overload but there’s still a vibrant beauty about it all.

Going into this, I was pretty sure I’d enjoy it, but it exceeded those expectations a bit and I found it hard to look away. Also, this film just flew by.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Richard Stanley’s earlier films, as well as Mandy with Nicolas Cage.

Documentary Review: Tread (2019)

Release Date: March 8th, 2019 (SXSW)
Directed by: Paul Solet
Music by: Austin Wintory
Cast: various

Zipper Bros Films, Sutter Road Picture Company, Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

This is a film about Marvin Heemeyer, a man tired of his small town elites’ bullshit. In response, he decided to build a “killdozer” in order to get revenge on them.

Despite the name the machine was given by the media, Heemeyer didn’t kill anyone and that wasn’t his plan. Instead, he wanted an unstoppable machine of his own making to turn the buildings and businesses of his enemies into rubble. Heemeyer succeeded in destroying thirteen buildings in his small Colorado mountain town. Once his destruction came to an end, he took his own life with a gun inside of his rolling fortress.

As nutty as this story was, it wasn’t as big of a new story as one would probably expect. I vaguely remembered it but it was overshadowed by the death of Ronald Reagan and all the post-9/11 conflict that was going on.

This documentary did a solid job of giving the viewer the backstory to Heemeyer’s fateful last day.

It went through who the man was, how he came to hate the leaders of his community and how he went about constructing this mechanical beast in secret. I feel like the documentary was fair to everyone, except maybe Heemeyer, as he obviously wasn’t alive to give his point-of-view.

Everything comes to a head in the third act of the film, as we get to see that final day play out with commentary from those who were there mixed with actual clips and reenactment footage to fill in the blanks.

This is a sad story about a guy that didn’t need to take his own life but it’s also relatable to anyone who has had the system work against them. I imagine that’s most people on some level. With that, Heemeyer became a sort of folk hero, whether he was right or wrong.

Tread is a good film about this intriguing and tragic story. I wish the end had a more positive outcome but I guess “it is what it is”, as they say.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Netflix true story and crime documentaries.

TV Review: Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (2019)

Original Run: May 10th, 2019 – May 31st, 2019
Created by: Sacha Jenkins
Directed by: Sacha Jenkins
Written by: Paul Greenhouse, Sacha Jenkins, Peter J. Scalettar
Music by: J. Ralph, Wu-Tang Clan
Cast: Wu-Tang Clan, various

Showtime, 4 Episodes, 58-59 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I don’t know why I didn’t know about this documentary series until a few weeks ago. I’m a lifelong fan of Wu-Tang Clan and if I’m being honest, they’re one of the few music groups that actually had an effect on my life. They forever changed hip-hop music and culture and since that was something I was a part of in my younger years, it changed the way I was doing things and my creative approach to making my own music.

This was actually quite great and I enjoyed this immensely. It really goes through the history of Wu-Tang before they were even formed up until now.

With this, you get to have an intimate view into their lives, past and present, you meet their families and you get to hear their personal stories about their struggles and triumphs.

You also learn a lot about the group behind the scenes and how even with their differences over the years, they always find a way back home to each other.

For fans of the group, there are some sad, disheartening moments in this. However, by the time you get to the end, you really understand their bond and it’s actually really inspirational to see how they still come together and unify as a family. This sort of unity is unheard of in the music industry, especially when this group has now existed for three decades.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the Hulu drama series about Wu-Tang Clan’s lives, as well as other music documentaries.

Documentary Review: Circus of Books (2019)

Release Date: April 26th, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Rachel Mason
Written by: Rachel Mason, Kathryn Robson
Cast: Karen Mason, Barry Mason, Rachel Mason, various

Netflix, 92 Minutes

Review:

I saw this pop up on Netflix, so I figured I’d check it out, as I generally enjoy the documentaries they distribute through their streaming service.

I wasn’t disappointed, as this is a really interesting story about a religious Jewish family who opened up a gay porn store, which also became a gay porn film studio and distributor. The store rose to prominence within the Los Angeles gay scene in the ’80s and would also reach far beyond its home city.

This kind of hit close to home, as I’ve been around gay culture since my teen years. The scene in southern Florida is big and even though I’m straight, I’ve always had gay friends and also lived with a pretty legit drag queen for a bit. The era that the bulk of this story took place in just brought a lot of those great memories back.

Beyond the nostalgia, this is an intriguing story about really interesting, good people. It’s hard not to love the family that started this store and it’s just as much a love letter to them, as it is the store itself.

I especially liked how interesting the father was with his backstory and the road that life took him on, leading up to becoming a straight, religious, family man that owned a gay book store.

This also examines the impact that owning the store had on the family as a whole in an age when it was considered really taboo. I liked meeting the kids, getting their take on all of it and how they grew up with this “moral” cloud over their religious upbringing.

It was also really cool seeing people from the L.A. gay community talking about the store and what it meant to them during really difficult times in their lives.

This really hits you in the feels and it’s unfortunate that the store, during the filming of this documentary, was falling on real hard times due to the world evolving away from the old mediums of pornography thanks to the Internet.

While this documentary was made by someone within the family, it’s not in any way inauthentic or dishonest because of that. In fact, it made the experience more intimate and meaningful.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about LGBTQ cultural history, porn and small business.

Documentary Review: Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons (2019)

Release Date: May 14th, 2019
Directed by: Kevin Slagle, Brian Stillman
Music by: Seth Polansky, Noah Potter

Cavegirl Productions, X-Ray Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

I recently read and reviewed a great book about the art of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. I had no idea there was also a documentary about the subject, which came out last year.

Coming across this recently on Prime Video, I immediately added it to my queue and moved it to the top of my list.

Overall, this is a damn good film on not just on the art of Dungeons & Dragons but also the history of the game, the company behind it, the key people involved, as well as the players and still growing fandom.

This well well produced, well edited and featured so many wonderful talking head interviews from just about all the key players, that it made this a really enriching experience.

Mostly, this just made me appreciate the hard work, creativity and craftsmanship that went into developing the game and its numerous expansions and spinoffs.

If you love fantasy art and/or the D&D brand, this is most certainly worth your time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about pop culture art, unique fandoms and gaming.

Film Review: Haunt (2019)

Also known as: Halloween Haunt (Austria, Germany)
Release Date: August 7th, 2019 (Popcorn Frights Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Written by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Music by: Tomandandy
Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain

Beck Woods, Broken Road Productions, Nickel City Pictures, Momentum Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

Featured on a recent episode of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I didn’t expect much from this modern horror film. The recent Shudder originals and exclusives that I’ve encountered have been a mixed bag but mostly bad-to-mediocre.

This one surprised me, though, and it was a pretty fun experience that immediately made me think of Tobe Hooper’s great 1981 film, Funhouse. I found out after I had that thought, that this was actually inspired by it, as the film’s directors were fans of that picture.

Also, going into this, I didn’t realize that these directors were the same guys that produced and wrote John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. A film I mostly liked and also thought was much better than most modern horror offerings.

This film sees a group of teens go to a mysterious haunted house that appears to be some next level shit, as they have to give up their cellphones and sign a release form, which includes some worrisome rules like “Don’t touch the haunted house performers.” Maybe they should’ve asked for a safe word upfront.

Anyway, this goes exactly how you’d expect. The haunted house is actually a trap where the teens get murdered in horrifying ways making this picture one-part Saw and one-part slasher with the Funhouse aesthetic. It’s a really good mix and once you throw in some other weird surprises, this is just a good, fun, mindless horror film.

My only big complaint with the film was in regards to the editing. It was a bit quick and felt kind of disjointed. It made it hard to understand the layout of the haunted house. Maybe that was intentional, to make the viewer also feel lost within it but it’s not like it was an actual maze or anything, it was just a series of rooms and sections broke out into two different paths that eventually intersect again.

Other than that, the film looked good, I liked the antagonists and it definitely registered pretty high on the creep meter.

This is one of those things that could probably be spun into a moderately successful, low budget, horror franchise but unlike everything else these days, they should leave it alone and let it stand on its own merits, unaffected by increasingly shitty sequels and formula fatigue.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other more modern horror films but this is much better than most.

Documentary Review: In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic ’80s Horror (2019)

Release Date: October 6th, 2019 (Beyond Fest premiere)
Directed by: David A. Weiner
Written by: David A. Weiner
Music by: Weary Pines
Cast: Tom Atkins, Doug Bradley, Joe Bob Briggs, Diana Prince, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Stuart Gordon, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Lloyd Kaufman, Heather Langenkamp, Kelli Maroney, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Caroline Williams, Alex Winter, Brian Yuzna, various

CreatorVC, 264 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this documentary for a long time. So once it ended up on Shudder, I had to check it out. But holy shit!… I wasn’t expecting this thing to be four and a half f’n hours! Not that I’m complaining but I had to make an entire night out of this thing.

Realistically, this probably would’ve worked better as a documentary television series with an episode focused on each year in the decade. They could’ve expanded even further in that format but then this was crowdfunded and not a traditional production.

Still, this was a cool documentary and while it does jump from film-to-film too fast, it covers a lot of ground. Obviously, it can’t feature every horror film from the ’80s, as there were hundreds (if not thousands) but it does hit on most of the important ones.

This goes through the films in order of their release but it also has a few breaks between each year that focuses on other aspects of ’80s horror.

This is mostly talking head interviews with a few dozen different people, spliced together with footage from all the films they’re talking about. It kind of plays like one of those VH1 I Love the ’80s shows but it is a lot less smarmy. Well, for the most part. There is one guy that kept popping up that I wanted to punch because he was oozing with failed comedian smarm.

Overall, though, this was worth the wait. As I’ve said, I wish it could’ve given more on each film but even four and a half hours isn’t enough time to do more than just scratch the surface with the rich history of ’80s horror.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about ’80s horror and horror franchises.

Film Review: Shaft (2019)

Also known as: Son of Shaft (Germany)
Release Date: June 14th, 2019
Directed by: Tim Story
Written by: Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Christopher Lennertz
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, Titus Welliver, Method Man, Lauren Velez

Davis Entertainment, Khalabo Ink Society, Netflix, 111 Minutes

Review:

“You’re the one being misogynistic, I never even mentioned her gender! I’m an equal-opportunity ass-whooper!” – John Shaft II

I put this off for awhile, especially after revisiting the 2000 Shaft film, as I found that one to be really lackluster and not as good as my memories of it were.

However, this one was definitely better than the 2000 film and I think that had a lot to do with this installment being more comedic and lighthearted, even though it dealt with some serious stuff.

Overall, this plays more like a Bad Boys film where the buddy cop formula is played out by a father-son duo. The grandfather, the original John Shaft, joins them for the climax.

Sam Jackson is back on his A-game for this one but I’m sure it’ll rub sensitive, cancel culture Millennials the wrong way because he puts them on blast, repeatedly.

In fact, I give the filmmakers and the studio immense props for not taking the bitch route and making this an overly “woke” movie and instead, allowed it to be critical of this generation’s young adults, as seen through the eyes of the older generation.

Weirdly, though, this Shaft film seems to be a lot less obsessed with race and social politics. While I like that these issues have been at the forefront of the other four films in the franchise, it was actually kind of refreshing to see these characters just be badass and not just fighting for some sort of racial injustice.

With that, though, it sort of loses the long-lasting blaxploitation vibe that the name Shaft has carried since 1971. But maybe this was trying to convey that we were starting to enter a post-racial era before 2020 happened and fucked everything up again.

For the most part, I liked everyone in this film. Jessie T. Usher’s John Shaft Jr. was annoying but his character was supposed to be, as part of the story dealt with him being kind of a pussy and overly concerned with how society sees him. He’s a “woke” Millennial that has a grudge against his uber-masculine father, who wasn’t around when he grew up.

These character traits allowed for some great criticism of his generation, though, and Sam Jackson delivers his punches without remorse or worry that his snowflake son wants to hear it or not. In a lot of ways, it felt like the writers and Tim Story, the film’s directors, were trying to send a message to the kids of today that think they’ve got the world figured out.

It also felt that it was trying to convey the importance of fathers, which Hollywood seems to hate.

Honestly, this Shaft film felt like it was really trying to be anti-“woke”.

As far as the crime story goes, it’s a bit weak but in films like this, that stuff doesn’t matter too much. This is more of a film about three generations of men coming together, in spite of their personal issues, in an effort to force justice down the throats of some shitty scumbags.

In the end, this was a better movie than I thought it could be. I don’t think it necessarily needs a sequel but I’d be much more willing to check one out if the same creative team stayed on.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: 2000’s Shaft, as well as the original ’70s Shaft trilogy.

Film Review: Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Also known as: Jumanji 3 (alternative title)
Release Date: December 4th, 2019 (Finland, France, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg
Based on: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Marin Hinkle

Matt Tolmach Productions, Seven Bucks Productions, The Detective Agency, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Getting old is a gift. I forget that sometimes, but it is. What more could a guy possibly want?” – Eddie

To start, this wasn’t as good of a movie as the one before it but it was still an entertaining, lighthearted and fun picture that allowed for real escapism, which seems to be a lost art these days.

I also like that there are minor jabs at modern political correctness. Or it’s possible that the filmmakers just haven’t gotten the memos that the rest of Hollywood has gotten over the last few years.

This film focuses on the same core characters from the previous movie but it also adds in Danny DeVito and Danny Glover and this time, when they all enter the video game world, most of the characters find themselves in different avatars. This is kind of the big gag of this film but it runs out of gas fairly quickly.

It was initially funny seeing The Rock a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson trying to act like Danny DeVito but the joke wore thin pretty fast. Now that’s not a knock against The Rock, it’s a knock against the writers pushing it so hard for too long in the film.

But this was also offset by Kevin Hart playing old man Danny Glover. Hart was actually great at this and he was my favorite character in this chapter of the franchise because he did it so well.

We also get a few new avatars added to the cast, as there are now seven players in the game instead of just the five from the first movie.

The problem with this movie, is that it feels completely unnecessary and it’s just more of the same. Simply switching personalities around in the avatars isn’t going to carry or even justify the story. Like I said, it’s a gag that worked but flattened out quickly.

If you liked the first movie, you’ll still probably like this one. While it just rehashes the whole concept just because it can, a lot of the sequences at least feel creative. I liked the part with the moving bridges and thought that the new mountain setting for the finale was cool.

Still, I didn’t need this movie and I don’t really feel like another film is necessary but we’re probably going to get it anyway because if something makes money, Hollywood will just recycle it with as little effort as possible.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Jumanji films, as well as Zathura.

Documentary Review: In Search of the Last Action Heroes (2019)

Release Date: September, 2019
Directed by: Oliver Harper
Written by: Oliver Harper, Timon Singh
Music by: Peter Bruce
Cast: Scott Adkins, Shane Black, Ronny Cox, Steven E. de Souza, Bill Duke, Sam Firstenberg, Jenette Goldstein, Matthias Hues, Al Leong, Mark L. Lester, Sheldon Lettich, Zak Penn, Phillip Rhee, Eric Roberts, Cynthia Rothrock, Paul Verhoeven, Vernon Wells, Michael Jai White, Alex Winter, Graham Yost, various

140 Minutes

Review:

When this popped up on Prime Video, I got pretty excited. Especially, because I had just watched Henchman: The Al Leong Story and felt that ’80s action flicks needed more documentary love.

Overall, this was enjoyable and it covered a lot of ground but it also had a beefy running time. However, I felt like they jumped from movie-to-movie too quickly and nothing was really discussed in depth.

Still, this gives the viewer a good idea of how broad, vast and popular the action genre was through the ’80s and into the first half of the ’90s.

I guess the thing that I liked best was that this interviewed a lot of people that were involved in the making of these iconic films. You had actors, directors, writers and stuntmen all taking about their craft and their love for a genre that hasn’t been the same since its peak, a few decades ago.

Now this was a crowdfunded project and with that, you can only do so much. But I wish that some distributor or streaming service saw this and decided to make it much broader like a television series where episodes can focus on specific films or at the very least, spend more time on each era or topic.

Maybe someone will see this, take the bull by the horns and actually do that at some point. But this could be a solid pop culture documentary series like Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us.

For those who love the action flicks of this era, this is certainly worth checking out. Had I known about it when it was raising funds, I would’ve backed it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent historical filmmaking documentaries, most notably Henchman: The Al Leong Story and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.