Documentary Review: Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe (2014)

Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Clark Gregg, James Gunn, Chris Hardwick, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Jeph Loeb, Anthony Mackie, George R.R. Martin, Tom Morello, Bobby Moynihan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Joe Quesada, Robert Redford, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Ming-Na Wen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright (uncredited)

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

After watching the beefy but solid Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams, I noticed that Disney+ also featured a similar made-for-TV documentary about the making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I figured I’d check it out, as it originally aired in 2014, on the cusp of the MCU reaching its peak.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as compelling as Empire of Dreams and it plays more like a Marvel produced production used mainly to pimp themselves out and market Captain America: Winter Solider and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. But I get it, this played on ABC, which like Marvel, is owned by Disney.

It’s still an informative piece with a lot of insight into the making of the first Iron Man movie, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the MCU.

It also expands beyond that and delves a little bit into each movie up to the then still in-production Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I think that this was the first real peek into the Guardians of the Galaxy production.

The best part about this short feature is the interviews with the stars and filmmakers who helped bring this universe to life. I especially liked hearing the enthusiasm that Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau had with the early Iron Man pictures.

Overall, this isn’t a must watch but it’s worth your time if you are a big MCU fan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other filmmaking documentaries about blockbusters. Empire of Dreams, immediately comes to mind.

Film Review: Brightburn (2019)

Release Date: May 9th, 2019 (Hungary, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Singapore)
Directed by: David Yarovesky
Written by: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Music by: Timothy Williams
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Michael Rooker (cameo), Rainn Wilson (cameo)

Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films, The H Collective, Troll Court Entertainment, Sony Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, baby, I… I know it’s been difficult for you lately, that you feel different from other kids. You are different. After your dad and I got married, we prayed for a baby for so long, to God, to the universe, to anyone that would listen. One night, one perfect night, someone listened.” – Tori Breyer

I wanted to see this in the theater a few months back but it came and went in my area pretty quickly. It’s finally available for rent, digitally, so I gave it a go.

Overall, this was an enjoyable experiment for 90 minutes. It’s not a great film, by any means, and it doesn’t really live up to the other work that James Gunn’s name has been attached to. But he didn’t direct this, he just produced it with a script written by his brother and cousin.

The plot is basically a “what if” story. It asks the question, what if Superman was evil instead of a good guy fighting for justice. While that’s not an original idea, just look at Homelander in Garth Ennis’ The Boys, this is the first time that I know of where it’s been applied to a kid. Also, this is the first time that I know of where it was used in a story that’s straight up horror.

Frankly, this plays more like a slasher film than a comic book movie. Except the killer doesn’t use sharp objects, he uses his superpowers.

And unlike slasher films, this has some pretty good acting, primarily from Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, who are reunited after both being in that recent Power Rangers movie.

I thought both parents were pretty damn good and they made the movie work from a dramatic standpoint.

There are also some good horror moments in the film.

For instance, I’m not a gore hound but I also don’t mind gore for the most part, as long as its not overly gratuitous and just there for the sake of being shocking. That being said, the scene where the waitress got a shard of glass in her eye and had to pull it out was hard to watch. But I kind of appreciated it, as it takes a lot to make me flinch. Eyeball gore usually does the trick though, even if it is CGI.

Anyway, this played out really well and the film pretty much ended like I thought it would. But still, it was a cool journey getting from point A to point B, even if I’ll probably never watch this again. But I would check out a sequel film, as the story after this would probably be more interesting.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: James Gunn’s Super and Slither.

Film Review: Slither (2006)

Release Date: March 31st, 2006
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Tania Saulnier, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer, Frank Welker (voice)

Gold Circle Films, Strike Entertainment, Brightlight Pictures, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to a mutated Grant] He looks likes something that fell off my dick during the war.” – Tourneur

Slither is a movie that came out in 2006 and felt like something from a bygone era. It’s better than the vast majority of terrible PG-13 horror pictures from the ’00s and beyond and gives you something that feels like it is straight out of the ’70s and ’80s in how it channels elements of Night of the CreepsThe ThingShivers and From Beyond.

This also really brought James Gunn into the mainstream, after starting his career at Troma Entertainment. Oddly enough, I revisited this movie on the same night that all this weird James Gunn stuff exploded on social media. But I’m not going to let that sway my opinion of his directorial abilities or this film.

Gunn did a solid job creating this unique and gruesome world that he gave us here for 95 minutes. This film is terrifying, horrifying and yet, pretty f’n funny and entertaining. I can see why this lead to him getting more gigs like his anti-superhero flick Super and his hiring by Disney and Marvel to helm the beloved Guardians of the Galaxy film series.

If you are into the old school horror films that I mentioned a few paragraphs back, as well as darker humor, than there is no reason why this movie wouldn’t be for you. Gunn does a great job balancing his brand of pure unadulterated dread and humor.

I also love that this cast Nathan Fillion and gave him a real platform to show his talents outside of Firefly and Serenity. Additionally, Elizabeth Banks was really sweet and lovable in this and Michael Rooker nailed his role, as well. We even get to see a small part for Jenna Fischer, as she was just becoming known as Pam Beesly on the American version of The Office.

The special effects on this film were pretty good for the scant budget and Gunn, using what he learned about being frugal at Troma, was able to craft something that looked much better than the sum of its financial parts.

This is twelve years old now but it has aged really well. It still feels like a throwback to a better era of horror and certainly doesn’t feel like a horror movie from 2006.

To be completely honest, this is a film that I was hoping Gunn would build off of for either a sequel or something else set in the same universe. Now that he has been fired by Disney, maybe he can go back to making films that are closer to this one and where he has more creative control.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet, The Thing (1982), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The FacultyThe StuffFrom Beyond and Shivers.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Release Date: April 10th, 2017 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn
Based on: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, David Hasselhoff, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, Michael Rosenbaum, Seth Green, Miley Cyrus (uncredited)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 136 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been greatly anticipating this since the first one came out three years ago. I’ve wanted to see this more than any other Marvel movie.

Unexpectedly, the first Guardians of the Galaxy gave me the experience I had hoped to get with The Phantom Menace in 1999 but found myself gravely disappointed. Guardians truly felt like the real spiritual successor to the original Star Wars trilogy.

With the sequel, a lot of critics and fans seem to be knocking it already. Some have said its “more of the same”. Well, when the first one came out it was really unique. Should the sequel not follow the same formula and style? Was the formula and style only good for one picture? Of course it is going to be similar in style and tone. All the other Marvel movies are a lot more similar to each other than the Guardians films are to the rest of them.

I’ve seen people say that this one isn’t as good as the first. Well, the first film took everyone off guard and surprised audiences. That leaves any film to follow at a disadvantage. One, you can’t surprise them in the same way twice. Two, because of lacking the ability to surprise twice, audiences won’t leave the theater feeling the same sort of awe they did the first time.

To be honest, I like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 more than its predecessor. No, it didn’t leave me in awe in the same way but I didn’t expect it to. It just enriched the mythos and built on the characters that I loved in the first movie. It gave me more meat to sink my teeth into. It also greatly expands Marvel’s cosmic universe, introducing new aliens, new threats, new worlds, new characters and new ideas.

Comic book movies are supposed to be fun, at the end of the day. Even the dark and brooding characters need to put a smile on your face. Got that DC?

Point being, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 puts a big smile on your face. I feel it does this better than the first. The first was the introduction to the universe of Guardians. This gives us something familiar and lived in but the camaraderie of the characters, their family dynamic, their comedic timing, it all just works and flows better in this movie. Plus, the group expands and everyone that comes into the fold is a pretty great and unique character, one of them new, two of them already being in the first picture.

James Gunn’s work on this feels a lot more refined. Marvel probably gave him a lot more freedom this time and he was obviously a lot more comfortable, already having one of these films under his belt.

As good as the art direction and cinematography were in the first film, in Vol. 2 they really up the ante. Visually, this thing is stunning and beautiful. While the first film is amazing to look at, everything in this one is more pristine.

The cast additions, mainly Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone, were brilliant.

Russell was perfect as Quill’s father Ego, the Celestial being that is literally a living planet. When I saw that Russell was cast as Ego, I wondered if he would be Ego, The Living Planet from the comics but I was not disappointed.

Stallone plays Stakar, who is Starhawk in the comics. His role is more of a slightly extended cameo but it is to set up something bigger in the future, as Marvel and James Gunn have big plans for the cosmic side of the Marvel universe.

Another cast addition was Pom Klementieff as Mantis. She was great in the role and is a welcomed new character. There seems to be a link (possibly romantic) between her and Dave Bautista’s Drax, which will probably develop into something more in the third film.

Speaking of which, Drax was just on point in this film from beginning to end. I’d love to see Bautista get more work, as he is the only professional wrestler, other than The Rock, to enter into the acting world and be successful at it.

The relationship between sisters Gamora and Nebula evolves in this chapter and we get to see some closure to their rivalry and a reminder of their hatred for their father Thanos.

Rocket and Groot are even more fantastic in this. Rocket gets more lines and gets to be a lot more bad ass. I thought the Baby Groot thing would become tiresome but Gunn doesn’t hit the audience over the head with it too much. This version of the character was well-balanced between cute and still being cool. Let Baby Groot forever be the template for characters studios think they need to appeal to kids without driving adults friggin’ bonkers.

Star-Lord’s story is focused on his relationship with Ego, his biological father, and Yondu, the man who actually raised him. There’s some serious emotional stuff here, especially in how Yondu has an interesting story arc and he feels the need to save his surrogate son from his real father. In fact, Yondu is the best thing about the movie and he actually gets an amazing sequence that sees him take on his entire mutinous gang of thugs.

The Sovereign, a major threat that is introduced in this film but meant to carry over into the next, were well designed and looked gorgeous on screen. Their world was cool, their style and personalities were quite unique and they end their story in this chapter, on the verge of unleashing a really famous and powerful Marvel cosmic character on the Guardians. We’ll have to wait till part three for that.

We also get a look at another famous cosmic race in the part where Stan Lee has his cameo. If you were a fan of the What If…? comics, you’ll probably be smiling from ear-to-ear.

In regards to characters, I did miss Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz of the Nova Corps. I also missed Lee Pace, even though Ronan died in the first. But that just adds to the ongoing Marvel villain problem, where they are just all one-shot throwaway baddies. I also would have liked to have seen Benecio del Toro’s The Collector. But hey, we do get a Howard the Duck cameo again. And Pac-Man is in the film… just wait and see.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes all the good stuff from the first and improves and builds upon it. I would have liked more space-faring than what we got but the story and the building of relationships and making characters richer, was probably a better use of time. Regardless, there isn’t a moment where the picture isn’t exciting and doesn’t have you on your toes.

It’ll be interesting to see how this strong branch of the Marvel tree meshes with the Avengers when the two groups come together in the third Avengers film next summer. There were several Earth scenes in this film to keep audiences grounded in that reality, reminding them that this isn’t in a galaxy far away and long ago.

Personally, I’d rather just watch Guardians movies all day over the Avengers stuff but that’s because James Gunn keeps pumping out cinematic comic book masterpieces and those Avengers people just aren’t James Gunn.

 

Film Review: ‘The Toxic Avenger’ Film Series (1984-2000)

Few films are as bizarre and gore-filled as those within The Toxic Avenger series. Other than other pictures made by Troma, I can’t really think of anything else that compares. And since I’m starting to rewatch the films in my Troma collection, I figured I’d start with those movies starring Toxie, their company’s mascot and first big star.

The Toxic Avenger (1984):

Release Date: May 1984 (New York City theatrical release)
Directed by: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman (as Samuel Weil)
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman, Joe Ritter
Music by: Mark Hoffman, Dean Summers, Christopher Burke
Cast: Mitch Cohen, Mark Torgl, Andree Maranda, Pat Ryan Jr.

Troma Entertainment, 79 Minutes

Review:

“And you can tell all your scum friends that things are gonna change in this town. I’m not just another pretty face.” – The Toxic Avenger

The first film is the best by far. Now I am in no way calling this a Kubrickian masterpiece but for what the filmmakers (Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz) were able to create with the extremely limited resources they had, this was pretty amazing.

The film was violent, silly, comedic, bad ass and charming: a weird combination that was sewn together like some fucked up Frankenstein tapestry.

Retrospectively, the formula worked beautifully and gives the film a respectable level of ingenuity, originality and even intelligence. Yes, intelligence. And what I mean by that, is that Troma was like South Park before South Park, in that it was offensive, over the top, ridiculous and out for shock value. But underneath all of that, Troma films, at their best, carried a brilliant political or social message. Troma paved the way for others like them in this regard and The Toxic Avenger is their magnum opus, still to this day.

The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989):

Release Date: February 24th, 1989
Directed by: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman, Gay Partington Terry
Music by: Barrie Guard
Cast: Ron Fazio, Phoebe Legere, John Altamura, Rick Collins, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tsutomu Sekine, Mayako Katsuragi

Troma Entertainment, Lorimar, 96 Minutes, 103 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“…worst of all… if Tromaville was destroyed, there’d be no Toxic Avenger 3!” – The Toxic Avenger

This film was the immediate start of the decline of The Toxic Avenger franchise. It was nowhere near as good as the original and overall, it was a huge step down.

I know it is hard to step down from the bottom of the barrel, but even though the filmmakers joke about their films being shit, the first one in this series was awesome, as I stated above.

This film, was not awesome. It had some awesome bits but all in all, it took the acceptable ridiculousness of the first movie and magnified it even further. It didn’t need to be magnified.

The new girl playing Toxie’s girlfriend was insanely annoying but luckily she had minimal screen time due to this film taking Toxie to Japan for the majority of the story. In fact, the Japanese trip is actually what made this film somewhat unique and fun. Some of the fights were greatly done but other than the action parts, this was hard to watch.

The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie (1989):

Release Date: November 24th, 1989
Directed by: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
Music by: Christopher De Marco
Cast: Ron Fazio, Phoebe Legere, John Altamura, Rick Collins, Lisa Gaye, Jessica Dublin, Michael Kaplan

Troma Entertainment, 102 Minutes

Review:

“It’s an old sumo trick. They use it whenever they’re on a runaway school bus that plunges into deadly, murky, muddy water.” – The Toxic Avenger

And then… it got even worse.

The Last Temptation of Toxie sees our hero basically fighting the Devil. It is horrible.

Where the first film is fantastic and the second film had some endearing moments, this film loses all of that and gives us a noisy and stomach-churning mess that was hard to sit through.

The awfulness of the film was enhanced by the constant screaming of Toxie’s girlfriend. Never have I hated a character more, which sucks because the actress that played her in the first film did a great job of making her lovable and cute. This actress made her the worst human being I have ever seen on or off the screen.

I’ve really tried to like this film but I just can’t. All the magic that worked in the original is gone. Maybe it’s because the second film and this film were shot back-to-back and the filmmakers ran out of juice. I don’t know.

You know how some films are so bad that they become great? Well, this isn’t one of those films. There’s nothing redeeming about it and it is kind of depressing considering the high note that was the start of this series.

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV: (2000):

Release Date: October 8th, 2000 (Sitges premiere)
Directed by: Lloyd Kaufman, Gabriel Friedman
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz, Patrick Cassidy, Trent Haaga, Gabriel Friedman
Music by: Wes Nagy
Cast: David Mattey, Clyde Lewis, Heidi Sjursen, Paul Kyrmse, Joe Fleishaker, Debbie Rochon, Ron Jeremy

Troma Entertainment, 109 Minutes

Review:

“I had a bad feeling about that crack dealer from day one! I guess you can’t trust school kids these days!” – Evil Kabukiman

Then there is the final film. After an 11 year break, the filmmakers had sufficient time to charge their creative batteries and return to the series with something great and compelling, ending the series on a high note: redeeming itself from the previous two outings. Did they succeed?

Yes and no.

This film was the best since the original but it still wasn’t on that level.

The inclusion of Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD was kind of awesome but that was really the biggest high point.

The plot was interesting, as it put Toxie in an alternate universe and an evil doppelgänger in his universe. Granted, it is a formula that has been used to death but it still gave this series something different.

There were cameos galore but nothing incredibly noteworthy. The fight scenes were decent, the gore was probably at its highest level in the series and at least Toxie’s girl was less annoying. Granted, she was still annoying. And while there is nothing respectable about these films from a high society standpoint, the constant retard jokes and use of people shitting themselves was way overdone and pretty senseless, even for a film that at its core is senseless.

I don’t dislike the movie, I just don’t have much urge to ever watch it again. As for the original film in The Toxic Avenger series, I could watch that again and again.

By the way, it is worth mentioning that Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn got his start with Troma and he worked on this film. As a thank you, he gave Lloyd Kaufman a cameo in the first Guardians movie.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Release Date: July 21st, 2014 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Based on: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Peter Serafinowicz, Seth Green

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 122 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I’ve been anticipating Guardians of the Galaxy since it was announced, as I knew it would be incredibly unique and very different from all the Marvel Avengers-related films. I was right.

Out of everything that Marvel has done, this right here, is the cream of the crop. Yes, that is a bold statement and yes, I raved about Captain America: The Winter Solider but this is the magnum opus out of all their films, which started with the first Iron Man in 2008.

Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) did an insanely amazing job with this film. I’d actually like to see him direct every Marvel picture going forward but that would probably drive anyone mad as we get two-to-three of these things per year now. Also, as great as this film is, that doesn’t mean that it can be replicated over and over again. And frankly, that’s probably why this is so good, because it stands above everything Marvel has done to this point and I don’t just mean Disney’s Marvel franchise, I am including Sony – who has Spider-Man, Fox – who has X-Men and the Fantastic Four, as well as Lion’s Gate – who had Daredevil and The Punisher.

The cast in this film is pretty great and they really feel like a solid unit. Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation, Zero Dark Thirty) is bad ass and charismatic as the group’s leader Peter Quill a.k.a. Star Lord. Then you have the girl who seems to be in every sci-fi franchise now, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar) as Gamora. The only other human actor on the team is Drax the Destroyer, who is played by the wrestler Batista (The Man With the Iron Fists, Riddick) and contrary to what people think about wrestlers acting, Batista owns this role, is tough as shit, menacing and more often than not, hilarious. I’d rather watch a string of Drax movies than another one of those horrible Riddick films.

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hangover) voices the coolest character, Rocket. Rocket is a talking, fighting raccoon that was created in a lab. His sidekick is a humanoid tree named Groot, who is voiced by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious, Riddick). Both of these characters came off extraordinarily well on screen. Truthfully, when first hearing about this film, I was most concerned with how they were going to pull of a talking raccoon and a humanoid tree. What they gave us was nothing short of exceptional. If you don’t fall in love with these two characters, you have no soul.

The cast also includes Lee Pace (Halt & Catch Fire, Pushing Daisies) as Ronan the Accuser, the film’s main antagonist. Pace had a very strong and powerful presence in this film. There is also Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Cliffhanger) who plays Yondu, a pirate and father figure to Peter Quill. Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Selfie) plays Nebula – Ronan’s right hand. Benecio Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects) plays the Collector, who we first saw in Thor: The Dark World. Josh Brolin (Goonies, No Country For Old Men) provided the voice and motion capture for the character of Thanos, who will become the biggest villain in Marvel’s film franchise; he was first glimpsed at in The Avengers. You also have Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou and an actor who doesn’t get as much recognition as he should, Peter Serafinowicz. There are also cameos from Lloyd Kaufman – the top dog at Troma, Stan Lee and Nathan Fillion. Rob Zombie even voices a computer.

Moving on, the visual style of this film was mesmerizing. It was colorful yet dark and each location our heroes visited felt entirely different and unique. The action was superb, the CGI effects were beautiful and well-developed and everything just flowed pretty seamlessly. The most powerful x-factor with this film however, was how it maintained a balance between lightheartedness and seriousness. Chris Pratt, with his experience on Parks & Recreation, was the perfect guy to pull this off and he exceeded my expectations. If he doesn’t become a huge star after this, something is wrong with the world. Luckily for us, we get to see him star in Jurassic World next summer, as well as the next Guardians of the Galaxy film in 2017 (one could also assume Avengers 3 in 2018).

I’ll be honest, I haven’t had this much fun at the movies in a long time. I’ve seen better films, sure. However, this picture is a big overflowing barrel of fun and awesomeness. It is the space adventure I have always wanted since being let down again and again since Return of the Jedi blew my 4 year-old little mind. In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy is what I wanted out of The Phantom Menace 15 years ago but never got.

Oh, and if you want to see the reboot of the title character of a little Marvel related movie that George Lucas produced in 1986, stay until the end of the credits.