Film Review: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Release Date: September 10th, 1994 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore, Mark Rolston, Jeffrey DeMunn, Ned Bellamy, Don McManus

Castle Rock Entertainment, 142 Minutes

Review:

“[to Red] I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.” – Andy Dufresne

I’ll admit that I had put off reviewing this for quite awhile. The reason being is that it’s just too good. In fact, it’s almost always ranked as the number one movie of all-time, according to the public, on IMDb. Every now and then The Godfather edges it out but usually just for a little moment in time.

Honestly, I can’t really dispute it being number one, even if it isn’t my favorite movie. It’s definitely high up on my list but I also tend to like a lot of things that aren’t what normal people and critics would consider great. And my favorite films are ones I like to watch a lot. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t a film that I want to watch a lot. It’s something I have to savor about once per decade because none of us are really worthy of its greatness and I don’t see it as a motion picture, as much as I see it as a spiritual experience. It transcends its medium, fully, and it shows us how great art can be and how it can speak to us on a deeper level than we can actually quantify or truly understand.

Am I overselling it for those who haven’t seen it? Absolutely not. This movie doesn’t have a single flaw. I really looked for one this time around, even against my better judgment, as I didn’t want to nitpick it, as it doesn’t deserve to be ripped apart and scrutinized. It deserves to be exactly what it is.

As a real lover of cinema but an atheist, I guess this is as close as I can get to feeling like God is living inside of me. And while this review may come across as cheesy and ridiculous to some, I honestly don’t know how anyone can watch this film and not be profoundly touched by it.

The thing is, reviewing The Shawshank Redemption is really hard because what the hell can anyone say about it other than it is legitimately perfect and doesn’t have a single flaw?

It’s fabulously directed, superbly written, stupendously acted, has incredible cinematography, features an absolutely amazing score, is perfectly paced and it makes you feel every single scene on a visceral level, causing you to look inside yourself and search for your own purpose and sense of real freedom in a world that often times can feel dark, bleak and hopeless.

The film shows you that there is more out there and it gives you hope that you can obtain it.

Rating: 10/10

Documentary Review: In Search of Darkness: Part II (2020)

Release Date: October 6th, 2020
Directed by: David A. Weiner
Written by: David A. Weiner
Music by: Weary Pines
Cast: Nancy Allen, Tom Atkins, Joe Bob Briggs, Doug Bradley, Clancy Brown, Lori Cardille, John Carpenter, Nick Castle, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Robert Englund, Stuart Gordon, Andre Gower, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Chris Jericho, Jackie Kong, Heather Langenkamp, Don Mancini, Harry Manfredini, Kelli Maroney, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Diana Prince, Linnea Quigley, James Rolfe, Robert Rusler, Tom Savini, Corey Taylor, Gedde Watanabe, Caroline Williams, Alex Winter, Tom Woodruff Jr., Brian Yuzna

CreatorVC, 263 Minutes

Review:

Everything I said in my review of the first film in this series still holds true for this one. Reason being, they’re exactly the same in what they are. It’s just that each one features different films.

I think that I like this one a wee bit better for two reasons.

The first, is that I already know what I’m getting into now. I know that this will just fly through dozens of films and not give them the proper amount of time they deserve. As I said in the previous film’s review, I’d love to see each section spread out into a full episode and have these films actually be a streaming series.

The second reason, is that I like that the films are getting more obscure, as there were a few here I hadn’t heard of. With that, I walked away from this with a list of shit I need to watch and review.

Apart from that, this was more of the same. That’s not a bad thing, at all. I just wish that these documentaries didn’t fly through films and other topics so quickly.

I still like these, though. I know there’s a third one coming, which I look forward to, and there’s also one coming out on ’80s sci-fi flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other documentaries in the In Search of… series, as well as other documentaries on ’80s horror.

Film Review: Green Lantern (2011)

Release Date: June 14th, 2011 (New Zealand)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush (voice), Michael Clarke Duncan (voice), Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown (voice)

DC Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 123 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“You’re impertinent, Hal Jordan. You’re rash, volatile, opinionated – It seems Abin Sur found another just like himself.” – Sinestro

Man, I had high hopes for this film when it was coming out. Although, I thought Ryan Reynolds was a poor choice, despite liking him in general. He’s just not the Hal Jordan type and luckily he found his superhero calling once he started making Deadpool movies. I’m ignoring his first outing as Deadpool in that Wolverine movie though, as that was atrocious beyond atrociousness.

Anyway, this film was a supreme dud. It could’ve been great, especially coming off of the heels of how great the Geoff Johns run was in the Green Lantern comics just before this movie. Also, this had an incredible cast apart from the Reynolds misfire.

I think my hopes were also high due to how well the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were in those first few years. But I guess the filmmakers behind this didn’t learn the lessons from the bad comic book adaptations, as they took the villain Parallax and essentially made him a giant fucking cloud like Galactus in the laughably awful Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

For positives, I liked what they were doing with Hector Hammond and I also liked the world building they did with the Green Lantern Corps. I also liked most of the people in the film but they should’ve used Sinestro more, especially with Mark Strong in the role. They also sort of wasted Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett without giving them more and better material to work with.

The special effects were pretty terrible. There are some good effects moments but the film looks overly cartoon-y and the Oa scenes felt more like a Pixar movie than anything I could try and attach to any sort of reality.

Also, giving the Green Lanterns fully CGI costumes was a bad idea.

I guess the biggest disappointment out of this was that it was directed by Martin Campbell, who did two of my favorite James Bond movies: GoldenEye and Casino Royale.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other crappy superhero movies of the ’00s and ’10s.

Film Review: Starship Troopers (1997)

Also known as: Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine (original script title), Invasion (some Spanish speaking countries)
Release Date: November 4th, 1997 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Written by: Edward Neumeier
Based on: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Muldoon, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Seth Gilliam, Bruce Gray, Marshall Bell, Amy Smart, Dean Norris, Rue McClanahan

Big Bug Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“[to Rico] I need a corporal. You’re it, until you’re dead or I find someone better.” – Jean Rasczak

I shouldn’t have slept on this movie in 1997 but I missed it in the theater, as the marketing for it made it hard to peg what it was. As it picked up a cult following, however, I eventually got intrigued enough to check it out and I was really surprised by it.

I also didn’t know that it was directed by Paul Verhoeven. Had I been aware of that, I probably would’ve seen it on the big screen, as RoboCop is one of my top films of all-time and I also really liked his interpretation/loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s story that became Total Recall.

Now I hadn’t seen this in a really long time, so I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up. While it does feel very ’90s, it’s still fun as fuck and I had a great time revisiting it and honestly, it made me wonder why I didn’t revisit it more often.

This is over the top and pretty damn nutty, at times, and in fact, it almost plays like a comedy while also being a much smarter, layered commentary film than one might expect. But Verhoeven has proved, with his sci-fi pictures, that he can take what could be easily written off as hokey bullshit and turn it into something with real merit that sticks with you, makes you think but also checks all the boxes under the cool, badass and entertaining categories.

Starship Troopers is unique and cool but it’s also so unique and cool that it’s a really hard formula to replicate, which is probably why the sequels are looked at, by most, with disdain. It’s kind of similar to RoboCop in that the formula only seems to be really effective once.

Beyond just Verhoeven’s work, the film is carried by its characters and their stories. You care about these people in this batshit universe and you want to see them succeed and crush the invading insects that want to conquer mankind and use Earth as just another one of their many hives.

People for years have debated the meaning of the movie and while some might take issue with the fact that it’s not made abundantly clear, I think that it’s a lot more effective and interesting that its kind of left open for interpretation and I think that its message isn’t made clear because Verhoeven was really just exploring his own thoughts on the subjects presented in the film.

Besides, that shit isn’t even that important, as this is just a fun movie about space marines blowing up giant bugs and it can be enjoyed as simple, mindless entertainment without trying to over-analyze the fuck out of it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other releases from the Starship Troopers franchise, as well as other sci-fi films by Paul Verhoeven.

Film Review: Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994)

Also known as: Highlander III: The Sorcerer (original title), Highlander: The Magician (Sweden VHS title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1994 (Philippines)
Directed by: Andrew Morahan
Written by: Paul Ohl, Rene Manzor, Brad Mirman, William N. Panzer
Based on: characters by Gregory Widen
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Unger, Mako, Clancy Brown (archive footage)

Fallingcloud, Initial Groupe, Karambole Films Productions, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll see you in hell!” – Kane, “I’ll be the judge of that.” – Connor MacLeod

While the Highlander series should have stopped at one film, this third entry is at least much better than the second. Granted, it’s still fairly shitty.

Christopher Lambert returns as Connor MacLeod and once again, he has to fight another Immortal because sequels gonna sequel. It doesn’t matter that he killed the last Immortal (other than himself) in the first film. Actually, he does that in the second one too.

However, at least this doesn’t try to make sense out of the terrible, second film and this really just ignores that it ever happened. But that’s another problem with this series, as each new chapter just sort of did what it wanted. It’s kind of like the Terminator franchise without a big budget or bankable star.

The only good thing about this movie is that I liked the villain. While Mario Van Peebles’ Kane has the most generic name ever and he isn’t nearly as badass as Clancy Brown’s The Kurgan, I liked the sorcerer twist to the character and he looked fucking cool.

Plus, Van Peebles really seemed to be enjoying the role, as he got to be a total bastard that looked like he was truly relishing in his bastardness. Sure, he was hammy but he was good hammy while the rest of the film was shit hammy.

Other than that, this movie is a fucking mess and it’s really damn hard to sit through in one go. I had to pause it about three times to walk around the house and stare into the abyss of my empty fridge, as there was nothing to curb my boredom hunger.

That being said, this is still a more enjoyable and palatable picture than its direct predecessor. But that movie was so bad it was used to torture information out of terrorists.

God, I really don’t want to have to watch the fourth and fifth films in this franchise.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Highlander sequels, none of which come close to the cool and original first film.

Film Review: Highlander (1986)

Also known as: Dark Knight (working title)
Release Date: January, 1986 (France – Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: George Widen, Peter Bellwood, Larry Ferguson
Music by: Michael Kamen, Queen
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery, Jon Polito

Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, Davis-Panzer Productions, Highlander Productions Limited, 116 Minutes, 110 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“[repeated line by Ramirez, The Kurgan and Connor MacLeod] There can be only one!”

Any movie that starts with a Fabulous Freebirds wrestling match has got to be good. As far as I know, though, this is the only movie to do that. I should also point out that Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell and Sam Fatu were featured in that match too.

The excitement doesn’t end with the awesome opening though, as it gets right into the action, as we see the title character enter the parking garage of the arena to fight another immortal swordsman in what is one of the coolest opening sequences of this film’s era.

Also, Queen made a lot of original songs for this film’s soundtrack and they are all mostly classics, at least to ’80s film buffs and lovers of Queen.

Highlander is a unique movie. It’s also really damn cool and despite this spawning a pretty big franchise with a half dozen movies and multiple television series, none of them have been able to capture the same sort of magic that this motion picture did.

The film also has a superb villain in it, as the very tall and intimidating Clancy Brown plays The Kurgan, a mad knight who is also immortal and on the quest to be the only one left in existence. Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod and Sean Connery’s Ramirez form a bond in an effort to help destroy The Kurgan, as he is the most dangerous threat to all.

Big portions of the film focus on Ramirez training MacLeod in an effort to prepare him for the oncoming storm that is The Kurgan. The whole point of all of this, though, is that these immortals are destined to fight and kill each other until there is only one left, who then wins “The Prize”.

What’s really neat about this film and all the others, is that it spans over multiple centuries, as the immortals are all very old. Lambert’s MacLeod is young by Ramirez and The Kurgan’s standards but there is something about him that the other immortals respect and fear and ultimately, I think they all understand how he is instrumental in preventing The Kurgan from winning this centuries long tournament.

Now this movie can be a bit slow, here and there, and honestly, it could’ve benefited from some fine tuning but it’s not boring and it tells a really good, intriguing story. But based off of how this ends, it should have truly been the end of the series. It didn’t need sequels and because of that, the sequels are all sort of in their own weird continuity. I stopped trying to make sense out of the Highlander franchise years ago and just view this film as the only one necessary and the complete story. That doesn’t mean that I’m not planning on revisiting and reviewing those lesser films in the future.

I just really like this movie a lot and, unfortunately, it was milked to death in future projects and the greatness of what this is was completely diluted by what became a very mediocre franchise.

Looking at this on its own, however, Highlander is a fantastic action fantasy flick that spans centuries, has a stupendous villain and an incredible mentor-type. While Lambert is the real lead, he is the weakest of the three core male characters. But it doesn’t in any way wreck the movie and he’s convincing as this badass Scottish warrior.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Highlander film series and television series.

TV Review: The Mandalorian (2019- )

Original Run: November 12th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jon Favreau
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte (voice), Taika Waititi (voice), Gina Carano, Ming-Na Wen, Mark Boone Junior, Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Richard Ayoade (voice), Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Jason Sudeikis, Temuera Morrison

Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Studios, Disney+, 8 Episodes (so far), 31-46 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While I haven’t been too happy with Disney’s handling of Star Wars, this was still one of the television shows that I was anticipating the most.

I assumed that after the Boba Fett movie was cancelled, following the lackluster performance of Solo, that this show would end up taking some of that planned film’s ideas, reworking them into a new character and story. I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s what they did but this feels close to what Boba Fett could’ve been.

The first few episodes of this show were mostly okay but they didn’t blow me away, if I’m being honest. However, it did feel good to have someone seemingly taking Star Wars seriously once again, which I didn’t feel was the case since Rogue One, the only Disney Star Wars film I actually liked.

The middle few episodes were low points but everything really started to pickup with episode six. Episodes seven and eight were then quite awesome and they brought everything that happened over the course of the season together in a way that justified the episodes that felt more like filler than part of the larger story.

Season one of The Mandalorian was more about world building and introducing the audience to these new characters. In that regard, it succeeds greatly. But ultimately, it feels like the first act of a much larger story and not necessarily its own self-contained arc.

In any event, I’m more excited for season two than I was season one and I hope that the momentum continues to build and that this stays on the right trajectory, especially after the terrible sequel films just concluded, leaving most people with a really bad taste in their mouth. I still haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker and I’m really not that enthused about taking time out of my schedule to go see it in theaters.

I used to be a massive Star Wars fan: massive. But until this show mostly impressed me, this gigantic force in my life was dwindling away. Granted, The Mandalorian alone isn’t enough to bring me back and, at this point, I don’t think I’ll ever have a love for Star Wars like I once did.

But so far, so good. Don’t fuck this up.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: any Mandalorian heavy Star Wars Expanded Universe books, comics and video games.

Film Review: Pet Sematary Two (1992)

Release Date: August 28th, 1992
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Richard Outten
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Mark Governor
Cast: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Jason McGuire, Darlanne Fluegel, Lisa Waltz, Sarah Trigger

Columbus Circle Films, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No Brain, no pain… think about it.” – Gus Gilbert

While this isn’t as good as the first film, which I do see as fairly overrated, I did enjoy watching this one a bit more. I think a lot of that had to do with this movie being batshit crazy, though.

First off, Clancy Brown makes this entire film work for me. He’s absolutely great in this, completely committed to his role and elevates this picture much more than it deserves to be. While this isn’t on any all-time best horror film lists, his performance here should definitely be considered for lists about monsters or horror villains. He’s simply great and even if he knows he’s in a mostly shitty film, he certainly isn’t phoning it in. Brown makes you believe he is an insane, undead, dickhead sheriff with so much enthusiasm, you can’t deny that the guy is a master of his craft.

The film also stars Edward Furlong, coming fresh off of his film debut in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as well as Anthony Edwards, who will always be Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds to me, and Jared Rushton, most known as the best friend of Tom Hanks in Big.

This doesn’t feature any returning characters from the first film, even though it takes place in the same town and there are mentions of the characters in subtle ways throughout the movie. What’s weird though, is that this one wasn’t filmed in Maine like its predecessor and was instead filmed in rural Georgia. So the landscape has a different look to it. There are still lots of trees but everything has a different visual feel.

Furlong is the main character and the movie starts with him witnessing his actress mother get electrocuted to death on a horror movie set. He and his veterinarian dad move to this small town. He then draws the ire of the school bully, befriends the fat kid with the mean cop stepdad and then later learns about the “pet sematary” off in the woods.

Of course, one thing leads to another and little Eddie Furlong eventually digs up his dead mommy and re-buries her in the “pet sematary”. She comes back, along with other zombie people like the mean cop, the school bully and a pet dog.

The end is silly, the plot makes very little sense and the motivations of the characters are confusing, especially Edward Furlong turning crazy, realizing his dead mother is murderous and then switching back to normal almost immediately.

There’s some stuff I like in this other than just Clancy Brown, though. The biggest thing that sticks out, is when the school bully is murdered with a fast spinning dirtbike tire grinding into his face. Also, the car chase scene where the zombie cop is trying to murder his family was fun to watch, even if the action played out in a nonsensical way.

Pet Sematary Two is a goofy movie. But it’s that fun sort of goofy that makes a hardcore ’90s horror fan smile. It’s really just one of many Stephen King adaptations or spinoffs from the early ’90s that missed the mark, as far as its source material, but still delivered and entertained in spite of its flaws.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Video Game Review: Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (PlayStation 2)

I used to play the shit out of this game over 15 years ago when it came out on the Nintendo Gamecube around the same time as Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. This time around, I played the PS2 version, as it was available for download on my PS4.

I’ve wanted to revisit this for quite some time, as it was one of my favorite Star Wars games of all-time and is far superior to the film it was tied to in both story and execution.

Surprisingly, despite the wonky controls, this has held up pretty damn well. Plus, once you play it for a bit, the control issues are less apparent and you adjust to it. Still, the camera is a pain in the ass, as is manually aiming. Thank the maker for the auto aim feature though, which makes running and gunning in this game a pretty f’n fun experience even by modern standards.

Now I have some issues with a few early levels in this but by the time you get to the prison asteroid in chapter three, the maps for this game become a lot of fun. Plus, these environments are pretty damn challenging.

I think that the only weak thing in the game is the boss fights. They aren’t very creative and most just consist of running and gunning and just not getting hit by lasers and missiles.

The real highlight of this game though is the sixth and final chapter where Jango Fett faces off with the Bando Gora cult and their leader, former Jedi Komari Vosa. This part of the game was really creative and I wish that we could see more of this cult and Vosa in other Star Wars stories. Sadly, none of it has really been revisited and it probably won’t be now that Disney is just making up their own canon and ignoring stuff like this game.

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter is severely underappreciated out of all the Star Wars video games throughout history. When I hear people talk fondly about Shadows of the EmpireDark Forces or the SNES games, I have to throw my two cents in about this solid game.

This isn’t perfect but it is still engaging, challenging and a blast to play 17 years later.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Star Wars games that were tied to the Prequel Trilogy but I’d say that this was the best of them.