Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

Also known as: Thoroughbred (festival title)
Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Cory Finley
Music by: Erik Friedlander
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.” – Amanda

I’ve been wanting to see this for about two years, after reading about it following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It was said to be “smart”, “quirky”, “unpredictable” and a mashup between American Psycho and Heathers.

It really isn’t any of those things, unfortunately. Okay, maybe it has a small dose of Heathers mixed in but it certainly doesn’t come close to the darkness one experiences in watching American Psycho.

I also didn’t find it to be “smart”, “quirky” or “unpredictable”.

I don’t want to take a big shit on this film, as I did moderately enjoy it and bits were amusing. Plus, I thought Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin’s performances were terrific.

I just couldn’t buy into Olivia Cooke’s Amanda with her emotionless, dead pan delivery. I get that this is what her character is supposed to be but she doesn’t truly commit to the bit. You see, even though she isn’t supposed to care about anything, she is still conveniently driven by things in a way that seems to betray her own character.

Cooke’s Amanda was the apathetic angsty teen that acts overly depressed and always talks about it, probably for attention at first but somewhere along the line has bought into her own bullshit. I’ve dealt with major depression my entire life and people who act like her are typically attention seekers, even if they are legitimately broken. But I don’t think she was intended to be portrayed that way, I feel as if the director/writer actually bought into her bullshit too. But I guess that really just makes it his own bullshit.

Amanda is not quirky. She also isn’t smart. And as far as the plot goes, it isn’t unpredictable, it is actually very predictable. From the get-go, you know there is going to be a dark twist of some sort by the end and you also know that the stepfather will die somehow. But when that twist comes, it’s not all that shocking or surprising, it just limps its way into the narrative and all the ultraviolence that should come with something that’s compared to American Psycho, happens off screen.

I’m not saying that gore was necessary for this film to work but this was tame when compared to the things that modern critics have associated it with.

The big scene where the shit hits the fan is comprised of a still longshot that lasts a few minutes, as Amanda is passed out on the couch and you hear a loud, violent commotion upstairs. It’s a trope that’s been overused by indie filmmaking darlings for decades and its mostly lost its effectiveness. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many movies over the years.

But the point is that there is nothing new here and the promised shocks and surprises limp into the plot like a rat stuck to a glue trap.

Thoroughbreds isn’t a terrible motion picture but it is an underwhelming and disappointing one. It’s only real saving grace was the performances by two of its top three stars.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Heathers and Jawbreaker.

Comic Review: Wizzywig

Published: July 4th, 2012
Written by: Ed Piskor
Art by: Ed Piskor

Top Shelf Productions, 282 Pages

Review:

I may have been late to the game in discovering the work of Ed Piskor. I was introduced to him through his most recent work on X-Men: Grand Design and its sequel Second Genesis and then I really developed an appreciation for him through Cartoonist Kayfabe, a YouTube channel he runs with Jim Rugg (and sometimes Tom Scioli).

Being pretty impressed with his X-Men projects and his passion for the medium and the industry he works in, I wanted to go back and read some of his more personal, earlier work. A friend of mine highly suggested Wizzywig due to the fact that I love Mr. Robot and have always been intrigued by hacker culture and history.

My friend didn’t steer me wrong and I absolutely loved this graphic novel.

The main character, Kevin, is based on a few famous hackers from back in the day. His story is sort of an amalgamation of their stories but it is done really well and comes off as pretty damn accurate. I have to give props to Piskor for the research he did and how he weaved an engaging tale around a subject that can be difficult for the layman to follow.

Ultimately, you really care for the characters in this book and it is a sad and tragic story. In a way, it deals with the main character’s mania and obsession over what he can do and how he is a victim of his own compulsions.

I love the art style; it was clean and consistent on every panel. I also thought the lettering was fantastic.

This is a story that is basically this character’s life and there is a lot to unpack with it but it flows well, has a good energy to it and there isn’t a dull moment. Every panel deserves to be on the page and while that should be an obvious standard in this medium, so many comics spend too much time wasting away their real estate on pointless drivel.

Wizzywig is a solid piece of work by Piskor and it has made me want to go out and pick up some of his other comics that I’ve missed.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other work by Ed Piskor, as well as stuff by his Cartoonist Kayfabe colleagues Jim Rugg and Tom Scioli.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part III (1990)

Also known as: Three (fake working title)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Donovan Scott

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Listen up, Eastwood! I aim to shoot somebody today and I’d prefer it’d be you. But if you’re just too damn yella, I guess it’ll just have to be your blacksmith friend.” – Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen

The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. It’s damn near perfect and the films are still just as enjoyable now, as they were thirty years ago.

Each one is a tad bit weaker than the previous but since the first one is an absolute masterpiece, the sequels are still better than 95 percent of all the movies ever made.

Part III is my least favorite chapter in the trilogy but it is still one of the best popcorn movies a film fan could ask for.

This takes the Back to the Future formula and throws it into the Old West. I like that they did this and it opens up the series for some fresh takes on some of its tropes but I also feel like the western twist maybe wasn’t strong enough on its own to carry the whole film. What I liked most about the second film, the one I find to be the most entertaining, is that it jumped around and showed us a variety of different times and alternate timelines.

Also, I feel like going further back in time to the Old West might have worked better in the second film. Like maybe they could have flip-flopped the second and third pictures. Which also could have given us the wonderful Mary Steenburgen in two movies instead of just this one where she was actually a bit underutilized. Sure, you’d have to rework some narrative details.

I am going off on some tangents and most people will probably disagree with my take but in the end, this was still a superb motion picture and one of the best from its era.

While it is still exciting it is a bit bogged down by the scenery and is the slowest of the three films, which also adds to my thoughts on it not being the best choice for the final chapter. This feels more like a second act and when it ends, it ends quite abruptly.

But I love the tone of the film and it still captures the amazing Back to the Future spirit. It also probably would have played better, at least for me, if they kept making these and just didn’t cap it off at three films like every other movie franchise of its time. They could’ve given us two more of these pictures, had they made them shortly after this one and frankly, I’m pretty sure they would have maintained the same quality had they utilized the same creative team.

Back to the Future, Part III is the weakest of the three but the bronze medal winner in the strongman championships is still stronger than just about everyone else in the world.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Comic Review: Scud, the Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang

Published: June 30th, 2011
Written by: Rob Schrab, Mondy Carter, Dan Harmon
Art by: Rob Schrab, Jack Gray, Dave Hartman, Jim Mahfood, Zac Rybacki, Dan Streng, Doug TenNapel, Ashley Wood

Image Comics, 781 Pages

Review:

If you like comic books with lots of crazy action and offbeat humor, than this may be the title you’ve been yearning for.

I had a friend in high school that used to read Scud all the time. I wasn’t big into it but I would still often times read through the comics he brought to school. Over time, I grew an appreciation for the character and the style and it was one of the first indie comics to really show me what else was out there beyond the Big Two.

Over the years, I had picked up a few single issues but I really wanted to give the whole series a read since it was only 24 issues long and not some monster epic like Dave Sim’s Cerebus, which also steered me towards more indie work.

Luckily, the whole run of Scud, the Disposable Assassin is collected in a thick paperback called The Whole Shebang. It’s certainly worth owning for any serious comic book reader or collector.

This release is a big fat brick of nearly 800 pages but reading through it was a breeze. Scud is just entertaining as hell and I love the art, even if other artists came in from time to time.

There aren’t many comics that actually make me laugh out loud but Scud is one of them. While I understand that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, those people probably don’t like tea and can’t be trusted anyway.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: stuff by Doug TenNapel and Mike Mignola.

Comic Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Issue #8 – Team Up with Cerebus

Published: July, 1986
Written by: Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Dave Sim
Art by: Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Dave Sim, Gerhard, Michael Dooney, Steve Lavigne

Mirage Studios, 45 Pages

Review:

Fans of Dave Sim’s long running Cerebus comic series, as well as the original run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, should probably be really happy with the end result of this crossover.

I believe that this was the first crossover for either intellectual property and even though it took place in a single issue, as opposed to some mega event like nowadays, it hit all the right chords and worked really well, as two very different worlds collided and fit snugly and organically in the same shared space for 45 pages.

I think that this story benefited from coming out at the time when both creative teams were at their creative peak. Granted, Cerebus evolved and changed a lot but this was more tied to his earlier stuff, where he was simply an anthropomorphic aardvark that existed in a sword and sorcery world of parody. Pairing him up with a foursome of anthropomorphic turtles made for a natural fit, even if one character was like Conan the Barbarian and the other four were ninjas. Regardless, they’re all still badass warriors that come together to help a damsel in over her head.

Out of all the TMNT crossovers that I have read over the years, this one is probably my favorite. It’s also a solid one for Cerebus but I need to revisit his crossover with Spawn to see which of these I prefer more.

The coolest thing about this story is that we get to see the merging of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s art style with that of Dave Sim and Gerhard. It all meshes really nicely and it looks and feels natural. I especially loved the different styles of lettering sharing the same panels.

For real comic book collectors that have an affinity for either of these franchises, this is definitely something you should have in your comic book library. Plus, it’s aged rather well and is still a very worthwhile read.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: old school black and white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dave Sim’s Cerebus and other Turtles and Cerebus crossovers.

Documentary Review: Crumb (1994)

Release Date: September 10th, 1994 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Music by: David Boeddinghaus
Cast: Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Charles Crumb, Jack Harrington

Sony Pictures Classics, 120 Minutes

Review:

Robert Crumb is a pretty intriguing guy. He’s one of the greatest cartoonists of his generation and he made several iconic comic strips that will go on to outlive him. The man is such a unique character that he can carry this documentary on his own.

And I guess that’s a pretty good thing as this film just sort of follows him around on average days. It doesn’t really go too much into his work and his impact, it kind of just assumes that you already know who he is. Some important career things are mentioned and discussed a bit but this really is more or less “a day in the life of…” than a retrospective or biographical work.

But that’s kind of a problem for me.

You see, I know who Robert Crumb is, I am familiar with his more famous work but this film should have had a lot more about why this guy is important, as I feel like the layperson might not pick up on it. They may just see this and go, “Oh, that guy is good at making art caricatures and stuff” and then not really appreciate the context of what’s happening on screen and why Crumb is a pretty important cultural figure.

This is enjoyable but for something lacking context and narrative depth, it’s too long. There just isn’t enough meat, even though director Terry Zwigoff is feeding you a pretty large meal.

I need more protein and less filler, thank you.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Comic Book ConfidentialIn Search of Steve Ditko and other older comic book documentaries.