Film Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

Also known as: G.I. Joe 2 (working title)
Release Date: March 11th, 2013 (Seoul premiere)
Directed by: John M. Chu
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, D. J. Cotrona, Byung-hun Lee, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Arnold Vosloo, Walton Goggins, Elodie Yung, Rza, Matt Gerald, James Lew, James Carville (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Skydance Media, 110 Minutes, 123 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“I came here when I was fourteen, with a life expectancy of thirteen. I was bounced around from home to home until this… became my home. Guys would line up outside that door to fight me. They whooped my skinny ass so much I started to enjoy it. Until one winter, I grew eight inches, gained sixty pounds, punched a guy so hard he couldn’t move his arm to tap out. Then when the Joes came recruiting to the hood, I’d already beaten down half of it. I became a Joe to serve. In the field. So if we’re fighting uphill, we take the hill.” – Roadblock

I really wish this movie would have done much better at the box office because it course corrected in a great way and fixed the mess that was G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

On one hand, this is a sequel but on the other hand, it is also a soft reboot. It doesn’t necessarily ignore that the terrible first film exists, it just buries it and moves on. But as awesome as this turned out, for the most part, the damage from the first picture was so severe that this Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis action extravaganza couldn’t save the G.I. Joe franchise on the big screen.

That being said, it still isn’t a perfect G.I. Joe film but it felt like a good bridge between the shit this crawled out of and the great movie that could have followed, based off of what this picture set up for a future story.

To start, Dwayne Johnson was genius casting and this should have been the perfect franchise for him to lead. While he isn’t exactly who I would’ve envisioned for Roadblock, he definitely filled the shoes of leadership after Duke presumably died and General Hawk also presumably died or went on vacation somewhere.

Other than Duke and Snake Eyes, there aren’t any other G.I. Joe members from the first movie present. I’d like to think that maybe some of them would’ve been back in a third film, as none of the actors were necessarily bad, it was just the first movie that was a massive pile of shit.

The film does bring back Cobra Commander, Storm Shadow and Zartan on the Cobra side of the equation and we do get a brief glimpse of Destro but he’s essentially left out of the main plot, in what I would presume means that he would’ve been back in a third film with his Iron Grenadiers in an effort to start a Cobra Civil War, which was a great event in two different G.I. Joe comic book series.

While I could speculate on what the future of this franchise could have been for quite awhile, this is a review of this film and not a wish list for a movie that will never happen.

So getting back to the film, it flows nicely and I like that it was kept pretty grounded and didn’t try to overdo things like its predecessor that tried to be more like Iron Man and Transformers than G.I. Joe.

My only real complaints about the film are the same that I have with most modern big budget blockbusters of recent years. The musical scores are dull and not memorable or iconic, the fight scenes are hard to follow due to super fast edits and shaky cams, and the film’s visual look is boring, sterile and generic. These are all things that could’ve been easily tweaked and would have made this a much better picture.

Now I mostly like the story, other than I’m tired of killer satellites as weapons of mass destruction. This is a trope that has been done to death more times than a beaver has built a dam. Although, I will give the writers props on coming up with a fairly original version of a killer satellite.

Unlike the first movie, I loved the look of the characters, especially Cobra Commander. I don’t know what the fuck he was supposed to be in the first film but he looked like Doctor Satan from House of 1000 Corpses trying to cosplay as Glacier from World Championship Wrestling in the ’90s. Now Cobra Commander looks right. In fact, by the end of the film, he looked fucking perfect.

They also refined the look of Snake Eyes and got rid of his weird rubber lips while making Storm Shadow look more badass. Plus, the introduction of Firefly was great, he looked great and he was played by Ray Stevenson, who is pretty damn great in everything. I was kind of pissed that he got killed but this is a comic book movie and they could easily bring him back if they made a third picture.

For an old school G.I. Joe fan, this is a movie that just felt right. Especially, after the first one was a massive misfire that insulted the fans and confused the normies. It gave me hope because it showed that Hasbro and the studio listened to the fans’ criticisms of the first movie. Less than ten years later, studios just blame fans as being “toxic” while dismissing their criticisms because apparently fans are idiots and studios are run by geniuses that think that failure somehow means success.

In the end, I wish that this would’ve done better and that it would’ve kept the G.I. Joe franchise on the big screen for years to come. Granted, this could’ve easily just gone the route of Transformers and gone right back to being an embarrassing piece of shit.

I guess we’ll never know.

But I also guess we’ll see how Hasbro and the studio handles the material once it is rebooted. Rumor has it that G.I. Joe will be part of a larger connected universe with Transformers, M.A.S.K. and other toy franchises but fuck all that. I just want them to make a good, consistent G.I. Joe movie series before they try to go too big and ruin the whole thing for another generation.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the early days of the original Marvel Comics run, as well as the first two seasons of the ’80s G.I. Joe cartoon.

TV Review: The Orville (2017- )

Original Run: September 10th, 2017 – current
Created by: Seth MacFarlane
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Written by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Music by: Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely, John Debney, Andrew Cottee
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, Jessica Szohr, Victor Garber, Chad Coleman, Norm Macdonald, Jason Alexander, Patrick Warburton, Rob Lowe, Robert Picardo, Larry Joe Campbell, Kelly Hu, Rachael MacFarlane (voice)

Fuzzy Door Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox, 12 Episodes (so far), 44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Orville. I intended to watch it last year, after the first season wrapped up, but life throws curveballs and I didn’t get to it until the current, second season, started.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a show that looked to be a parody of Star Trek from the man behind Family Guy. I’m not a big fan of that show but I also don’t really dig animated comedies, at least since the earliest days of South Park.

This doesn’t reflect the same sort of humor style or tone of Family Guy, however. It’s just really f’n clever and beyond the comedy, this show is written in a way that makes it very clear that Seth MacFarlane truly is a fan of Star Trek and most notably, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It feels as if it most directly parodies TNG and some of Voyager. But I can’t really call it a parody, even if it seemed to start out that way.

Yes, there is a lot of humor but it is almost secondary and as the show progresses, it learns to balance itself better between comedy and real drama. In fact, the comedy is used perfectly in how it eases tension and emotions in the right moments.

As of now, having seen about 15 episodes of this show, I can say that it is the best version of Star Trek since Deep Space Nine left the air in 1999, twenty years ago. The Orville is more Star Trek than modern Star Trek. It understands the source material it borrows from better than any of the film or television writers that have tried to resurrect it over the last two decades.

Everything about The Orville just feels right. If it maintains its momentum, I’ll have to adjust the rating and make it higher. I’m skeptical that it can maintain this trajectory over the long haul but I also don’t think that it’ll ever devolve into something terrible.

Thus far, I love this show and I can’t thank Seth MacFarlane enough for plugging a large hole in my fanboy heart.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch (uncredited)
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash, Lance Reddick

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, MJW Films, DefyNite Films, Summit Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep… a final gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope… an opportunity to grieve unalone. And your son… took that from me.” – John Wick, “Oh, God.” – Viggo Tarasov, “Stole that from me… killed that from me! People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!” – John Wick

Well, I finally got around to seeing John Wick after putting it off for four years. Why did I put it off? Well, people hyped it up so damn much that I knew that if I went in with said hype, I’d probably walk away disappointed. I needed some time for that to cool down and to separate myself from it. I actually intended to watch this before John Wick 2 hit theaters, last year, but I was incredibly busy around that time.

Having now seen it, it doesn’t live up to the hype but it is still a balls to the wall, unapologetic motion picture and I love seeing Keanu as a complete and total badass murdering the crap out of scumbags in such an amazing and calculated way that he makes the Punisher look like Richard Simmons.

It is quite obvious that John Wick takes some cues, in style and narrative, from the the Hong Kong gangster pictures of the ’80s and ’90s, especially those directed by John Woo. It also has very strong film-noir tones, whether it knows that or not. There’s crime, plot twists, deception, a femme fatale character and a visual style that borrows heavily from classic noir as well as neo-noirs from the ’60s through the ’80s. I see a lot of visual similarities to the neo-noir work of Wim Wenders, most notably The American Friend, as well as notes of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

As far as the story goes, John Wick is pretty much the greatest assassin in the world. Just after his wife dies, a crew of shitheads break into Wick’s home, kill his dog and steal his car. The shitheads have ties to the Russian mob boss that Wick used to work for. Wick goes on a one-man killing spree for revenge and doesn’t care who crosses his path: his old boss, his old rivals and his old allies. With Wick reentering the world that he left years earlier, he is once again in the thick of it and won’t be able to just walk away when the dust settles. Of course, this was established to setup all the future sequels, which I have a feeling, Keanu Reeves will do until his body won’t let him anymore.

And speaking of Keanu’s body, he trained like a madman for this role and continues to do so now that this has become a franchise. He does all the driving, all the fighting and has become a legit badass in the real world because he wanted to play John Wick as realistically as possible. Seriously, if you want to be impressed, go watch some of Keanu’s training videos for these movies.

This is in no way a perfect film but if you are a guy that wants his action raw and soaked in diesel fuel next to an open fire, then you will enjoy this. It reminds me of the spirit of those ’80s Cannon Films except with much better cinematography and more capable talent in front of and behind the camera.

I was surprised to see so many actors I love pop up in this. I guess I never paid close attention to the cast details other than knowing that this had Keanu Reeves and John Leguizamo in it. But anything with Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane in it, automatically gets a hefty helping of gargantuan gravitas piled on to whatever is already there. Plus, you’ve got small roles for David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters and “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. I also have to point out the good performance by Adrianne Palicki, who always seems to play the same character, but definitely came with a harder edge in this movie.

John Wick is solid. Damn solid. It doesn’t need to be a perfect film and it doesn’t want to be. It’s fun and manlier than an Everclear drinking lumberjack piledriving a bear through the hood of a Hummer.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: John Wick 2, I’d have to assume. 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.

TV Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013- )

Original Run: September 24th, 2013 – present
Created by: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell, John Hannah, B.J. Britt, Mallory Jansen, Ruth Negga, Adrian Pasdar, Kyle MacLachlan, Powers Boothe, Mark Dacascos, Blair Underwood, Constance Zimmer, Patton Oswalt, Bill Paxton, Gabriel Luna

ABC Studios, Marvel, Mutant Enemy Productions, Walt Disney, 88 Episodes (so far), 41-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I remember watching the pilot to Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it premiered and I wasn’t a fan of it. I immediately lost interest but as that first season rolled on, I started to hear good things. When the series entered into the phase of setting up Captain America: The Winter Solider, people couldn’t stop talking about it.

So once the first series came to an end, I binge watched it. I have now also watched season two in its entirety.

One thing I can say about this show is that it took about half a season to find its footing but even then, it is pretty inconsistent.

The show has high points and it has some very low points. If you are a fan of Joss Whedon’s style, you will probably love the show. I’m not a Whedon fan however and I find the style to be superfluous, predictable, forced and tedious at times.

The characters are likable enough but no one stands out. You don’t truly care for any of them and as great as Phil Coulson was in the movies that came out before this series, in the show he just becomes an uninteresting one-dimensional character. In fact, each episode almost serves as a way to forcibly remind the audience of how cool Coulson is supposed to be.

Most of this show just rides on by and none of it feels as important as the producers and many of its fans make it out to be. I get that it is used as a vehicle to develop more background to the plot of upcoming Marvel films but in that it falls victim to itself and feels more like a show on rails than something free to go its own way. It gets distracted from dealing with its own separate narrative, as it is forced to tie into the plots of the films. While that worked well the first time around with Captain America: The Winter Soldier it didn’t work so well with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The second season was pretty uninteresting and the highlight of the series was the last third of the first season, which dealt with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the aftermath of that. While the show is now establishing the mythos of the Inhumans, who will be getting their own Marvel movie several years from now, the plot and the execution hasn’t been as cutting edge and exciting as the showrunners have anticipated.

This isn’t a bad show, there are things I like and I will continue to keep watching in an effort to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe continue to unfold but I would almost rather binge watch the seasons after they end than force myself to sit down and watch this religiously every Tuesday night at 9 p.m.

At its very best, this show has had great moments. I just hope that there are more of those in the future and less filler and drawn out plots that could be dealt with much quicker. I also hope that at some point Patton Oswald becomes a full-time cast member because his contribution to this show is the best thing about it. I also hope we haven’t seen the last of Kyle MacLachlan’s Mr. Hyde, as he was the highlight of season two.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has promise and potential and if it fulfills that, it could become a stellar show. As of right now, it falls below its superior sister show Agent Carter and it can’t hold a candle to CW’s The Flash or Netflix’s Daredevil.

Update:

I have now gotten through four seasons of this show. Season three was really slow and just a bore overall. However, season four introduced Ghost Rider to the Marvel cinematic mythos and things really got interesting. Season four was broken into three parts, where the middle bit wasn’t interesting but the end caps were stellar. In fact, the last third of season four, titled Agents of Hydra, was the absolute high point of this show and you actually discover that you care about these characters more than you realize. If the momentum can continue on from the last portion of the fourth season, then this show could be one of the best on television. Unfortunately, it has a long history of inconsistency.

Rating: 7/10