Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Film Review: 48 Hrs. (1982)

Also known as: Forty Eight Hours, 48 Hours (alternative spellings)
Release Date: December 8th, 1982
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Roger Spottiswoode, Walter Hill, Larry Gross, Steven E. de Souza
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, Annette O’Toole, James Remar, Sonny Landham, David Patrick Kelly, Brion James, Frank McRae, Kerry Sherman, Jonathan Banks, Margot Rose, Denise Crosby, Peter Jason

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Paramount Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“What are you smiling at, watermelon? Your big move just turned out to be shit.” – Jack

Being a fan of Walter Hill’s work, especially The Warriors and Streets of Fire, I figured that I should revisit 48 Hrs. as I like it a lot but haven’t watched it as regularly as those other two films.

This is the movie that made Eddie Murphy’s career and led to him getting his best gig, the lead in the Beverly Hills Cop film series. This is also one of Nick Nolte’s most memorable performances and the two men had some great chemistry in this and its sequel.

The film is a pretty balls out action flick with a good amount of comedy, courtesy of Murphy, but it also has the hard, gritty edge that Hill’s movies were known for.

On top of that, this also brings back a few of the actors from Hill’s The Warriors: James Remar, David Patrick Kelly, as well as Sonny Landham, who had a minor role in that previous film. This also features a brief scene featuring Marcelino Sánchez as a parking lot attendant. He previously played Rembrandt, a member of the Warriors gang.

One thing I forgot about this movie, as I hadn’t seen it in over a decade, was the strong racial undertones. I kind of remember some of it being there, like the scene with Murphy in the redneck bar, but I guess I had forgotten that Nolte’s Jack was a bigoted asshole in the first two acts of the film. The way it’s done in this film works and it certainly reflects the time but man, it would not fly today. But neither would shows like All In the Family, The Jeffersons or Good Times: all of which examined these issues within a comedic framework.

The thing that truly stands out in this film is the action. Those sequences are all really good and they’re pretty harsh in a way that makes the proceedings of this film feel more realistic and dangerous than Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop pictures. These scenes are also made better by just how good James Remar is as a total piece of violent shit. Sonny Landham is enjoyable to watch here too, as he plays a character that is just as tough but at the other end of the moral spectrum from his most famous role as Billy in the original Predator.

All in all, it was a pleasure to revisit this movie. It’s a solid film from top to bottom with great leads, good pacing and a real charm that is brought to life by Murphy and Nolte.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as the Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon movies.

Film Review: Blade: Trinity (2004)

Also known as: Blade III (working title)
Release Date: December 7th, 2004 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: David S. Goyer
Written by: David S. Goyer
Based on: Blade by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan
Music by: Ramin Djawadi, Rza
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Parker Posey, Dominic Purcell, Triple H, Natasha Lyonne, John Michael Higgins, James Remar, Patton Oswalt, Christopher Heyerdahl

Marvel Enterprises, Shawn Danielle Productions Ltd., Amen Ra Films, Imaginary Forces, New Line Cinema, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[licking one of Hannibal’s wounds] You’re tasting a little bland, lover. Are you getting enough fatty acids in your diet? Have you tried lake trout? Mackerel?” – Danica Talos, “How about you take a sugar-frosted fuck off the end of my dick?” – Hannibal King, “And how about everyone here not saying the word “dick” anymore? It provokes my envy.” – Danica Talos

Well, revisiting Blade II wasn’t fun but at least this one was a bit better, in my opinion, even if the consensus doesn’t agree with me.

But let’s be honest, this is also pretty much a total turkey unworthy of being a sequel to the first film.

What’s kind of baffling is that this installment has the best cast out of all three films. I mean, there is a lot of talent on the roster but what we got was a movie that has given most of these actors something to scrub off of their resume.

For instance, Parker Posey is a dynamite actress. In fact, she may be mostly known as an indie darling but she’s one of the best actresses of the past twenty-five years. She has range, she delivers and it’s hard to think of anything else that sees her performance be anywhere near as cringe as it is here. But I don’t blame Posey, I blame the atrocious script and poor direction of David S. Goyer.

So speaking on that, I have to point out how bad the dialogue is in this picture. It’s heinously bad. So bad, in fact, that it almost makes the dialogue in the first Blade come off as Shakespearean. It’s worse than the dialogue in Blade II, which was also shit. But I guess it’s kind of surprising, considering that Goyer wrote all three films. But maybe it’s worse here because he took over the directing duties and thus, didn’t have a more talented director that was able to work around terribly written lines and find a way to salvage them. Maybe Goyer kept a tighter leash on his actors than Guillermo del Toro or Stephen Norrington.

I mean, even Ryan Reynolds who is one of the most charming and funny actors of his generation, stumbled through his clunky and unfunny lines, trying to make them work but failing at delivering anything other than unfunny edgy boi humor that sounds like it was written by a middle schooler trying so hard to impress his older brother’s high school friends.

Don’t even get me started on Triple H’s performance but regardless of how convincing he is as a wrestler, his heel game is weak as hell here and I actually had to subtract some cool points from him when I saw this in 2004.

This chapter also lacks a real story and it isn’t even sure which character it wants to make the big bad of the movie. Dominic Purcell plays Drake, who is really just Dracula, but he comes off as the lamest Dracula in the last twenty years of film history. But Purcell is another guy that’s cool and pretty capable of putting in a good performance if given the right direction.

Ultimately, this is a film entirely bogged down by poor performances, bad writing and sloppy direction.

However, the story is better and more clever than the previous film. This had elements that could have saved it and turned this into something great. The opening in the desert and then the first action sequence were all well done and set the stage for what could have been a really solid picture but everything becomes a mess after that.

I also liked the idea of Blade finding a team to work with but the film fucks all that up by having Limp Bizkit Dracula killing just about all of them off except for Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel.

Now I really liked Biel in this, even if fighting vampires while jiving to your iPod seems incredibly careless. She gives a better performance than this weak script should have allowed and maybe Goyer was more lenient on letting her alter her performance, as she’s pretty hot and this was only the second time he directed.

Other great performers were all pretty much wasted and were forgettable. In fact, I forgot that James Remar, John Michael Higgins, Christopher Heyerdahl, Patton Oswalt and Natasha Lyonne were even in this.

In the end, this had the ability to be something much better but it suffered for all the reasons I’ve already bitched about. I liked that this wasn’t over stylized like del Toro’s Blade II and that it had a more interesting story that put Blade up against Dracula but the film’s execution snuffed out the possibility of something solid.

And while it seems as if I’m bashing Goyer, he would improve. But his best work has always come when he’s worked under a much more talented director than himself. Christopher Nolan, for instance. But he’s still put out some shitty scripts and unfortunately, the shit outweighs the gold.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other Blade movies.

Film Review: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)

Also known as: Mortal Kombat 2 (Uruguay), Mortal Kombat: Destruction Finale (France)
Release Date: November 21st, 1997
Directed by: John R. Leonetti
Written by: Brent V. Friedman, Bryce Zabel, Lawrence Kasanoff, Joshua Wexler, John Tobias
Based on: Mortal Kombat by Midway Games
Music by: George S. Clinton, various
Cast: Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, Brian Thompson, Sandra Hess, Lynn Red Williams, Irina Pantaeva, James Remar, Ray Park, Tony Jaa (stunts)

Threshhold Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Mother! You’re alive!” – Kitana, “Too bad you… will die!” – Sindel

I think that the original Mortal Kombat movie is pretty terrible, despite having a lot of friends that have some sort of nostalgic love for it. I was a hardcore Mortal Kombat fan, as far as the games were concerned, but the movie just didn’t resonate with me. Sure, maybe it was better than the film adaptations of Double Dragon or Super Mario Bros. but that in no way makes it good, as both of those films were beyond awful.

Well, the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation makes its extremely flawed predecessor look like The Empire Strikes Back by comparison.

I avoided this movie for most of my adult life but once it was available to stream on Hulu, recently, I thought that I’d finally give it a watch because at least I’d get a review out of it.

If I’m being honest, this was damn hard to sit through. It’s a baffling movie, littered with special effects that are absolute junk, a script so bad that canaries would commit sepukku rather than shit on it and acting so atrocious that it’s kind of depressing seeing Brian Thompson and James Remar stumbling through their scenes.

It took me four sittings to get through this movie and usually I power through even the worst motion pictures in one. This just sucked away at my soul like a starved psychic vampire and I needed to take breaks from it and recharge.

This is certainly one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It isn’t the worst but that’s only because I sometimes spend a lot of time searching the bottom of the dumpster in that little rusted out back corner where even garbage doesn’t dare go.

But this may be the worst film I’ve seen that actually had some sort of budget. Somehow, this cost $30 million dollars. I’m not sure where that money went as I’ve seen better special effects in an elementary school play. If New Line Cinema was so quick to throw their money down the drain in 1997, I should have asked for a check. I could’ve at least made a better looking movie for a lot less and then pocketed the rest.

Never watch this film unless you hate yourself. I heard that Gitmo used this to torture terror suspects before it was considered too inhumane. That’s when they switched to waterboarding.

Rating: 0.5/10
Pairs well with: Other mediocre but mostly crappy movies based off of fighting games: Mortal KombatStreet FighterStreet Fighter: The Legend of Chun-LiTekken and Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge.

Film Review: Judge Dredd (1995)

Also known as: Dredd (Slovania)
Release Date: June 30th, 1995
Directed by: Danny Cannon
Written by: William Wisher Jr., Steven E. de Souza, Michael De Luca
Based on: Judge Dredd by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Joan Chen, Jürgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow, Balthazar Getty, Scott Wilson, Ewen Bremmer, James Remar (uncredited), James Earl Jones (narrator)

Hollywood Pictures, Cinergi Pictures, Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation, Buena Vista Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I am the law!” – Judge Dredd

I was itching to watch the 2012 Dredd movie, once again. However, I figured that I’d revisit this adaptation first, as I hadn’t seen it since 1995.

Back then I thought it was pretty terrible. 24 years later, it still isn’t great but I appreciate it a bit more.

This movie is stupid, mindless and a total mess. However, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and just wacky enough to have some value.

Stallone is certainly enjoyable in this, as he hams it up big time and really embraces the insanity of what this picture is. But he had to know that it wasn’t going to be good once he got on set.

It had a post-apocalyptic feel that is typical of ’90s action sci-fi but man, this thing looks cheap. There are some good sets and big areas but there’s also a lot of shoddy green screen work that looks terrible when compared to the modern standard or really, the standard just a few years after this movie came out. I get that the production was limited by its resources but they were employing some techniques that were already outdated by the time 1995 rolled around.

One problem with the film is that the story is kind of incoherent and it felt like they didn’t have much of a script and just a sort of outline of the scenes. It feels like they’re just winging it and trying to make it work. Yes, I know there was an actual script but it doesn’t seem like it was fine tuned, it’s more like an early draft with some ideas for scenes stapled together.

This surprisingly had a pretty interesting cast between Stallone, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Armand Assante, Joan Chen, Max von Sydow, Balthazar Getty, Ewen Bremmer, James Remar, Scott Wilson and narration by James Earl Jones. But seriously, did Lane read this script before singing on? She just feels out of place, not because she isn’t a capable actress, she’s damn good, but because she’s just an odd choice to play a female Judge and she felt like she was above the rest of the film. Granted, I still liked her in it, she just stuck out like a sore thumb because she’s Diane f’n Lane. It’d be like having ’90s Julia Roberts in Double Dragon.

The only thing going for this is that it is a ham festival and pretty fun. It’s really dated and a big ’90s cliche but that kind of makes it lovable all these years later.

Also, I really like the chemistry between Stallone and Schneider, which we also got to experience in Demolition Man.

Overall, not a good movie but it is still a rather entertaining one for fans of ’90s cheese and action sci-fi.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Demolition ManRobocopHardware and it’s much better reboot, Dredd.

TV Review: Black Lightning (2018- )

Original Run: January 16th, 2018 – present
Developed by: Salim Akil
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Kurt Farquhar
Cast: Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, Damon Gupton, James Remar

Akil Productions, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 13 Episodes (so far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I wasn’t sure what I thought about Black Lightning over the first couple of episodes but as the first season rolled on, I grew to like it.

It’s a CW show, so it is guaranteed to come with a certain level of cheesiness. However, this isn’t bogged down by the cheesy nonsense like The FlashSupergirlLegends of Tomorrow and sometimes Arrow is.

While the show does have some romance and it focuses on a family dynamic, it doesn’t beat you over the head with love dovey sentiment, it feels genuine and the love shared between characters is more organic than what we’ve seen from the other CW superhero shows. That doesn’t mean that it won’t get cheesy, as it continues into the future.

I really like Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce a.k.a. Black Lightning. It’s like he was born for the role and he plays both the man and the hero, exceptionally well. I’m also a massive fan of Krondon’s Tobias Whale, as the character is fleshed out better than his comic book counterpart, who I always just saw as a poor man’s Kingpin.

The one person I absolutely love on this though is James Remar. He plays Black Lightning’s mentor and partner, even if there is a lot of tension that develops between the two. Ultimately, he is a part of the family and he is there to fight the good fight when the chips are down. I loved Remar when I was a kid because I liked him in The Warriors and then I went on to have a different appreciation for him when he played Dexter’s ghost dad on Dexter. Remar is one of those guys that is a clutch hitter but doesn’t always find himself on a good team. I think he’s found a nice roster spot on the Black Lightning team.

One thing that makes this story work so well, is that it feels smaller in scale. While Freeland is a city that’s come under siege due to powerful gangs, the world this is set in doesn’t feel as grandiose as the other CW superhero shows. It feels more like it all takes place in a smaller area, sort of closed off from anything beyond its borders, as the problems in Freeland are just too serious and real. This could totally fit in with the Arrowverse without needing to acknowledge it, which probably will happen in the future, as both Cress Williams and Arrow‘s Stephen Amell want to crossover. My two cents: I’d sneak Deathstroke onto the show to introduce the larger world. We don’t need aliens and shit.

It’s hard to tell where Black Lightning plans to go beyond season one but I hope that the producers build off of what was established in just the first 13 episodes and don’t sort of fall into the same traps when the other CW shows ran on beyond their rookie years.

Also, this did a good job of not being too political. It dealt with social issues well and didn’t beat you over the head with it like the comic book medium tends to do. Well, the big bad white villain in the show had to say, “Make America great again!” twice in the season finale but hopefully that’s it for the sociopolitical cringe.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: All the current DC Comics shows on the CW.

Film Review: Band of the Hand (1986)

Release Date: April 11th, 1986
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Leo Garen, Jack Baran
Music by: Michel Rubini
Cast: Stephen Lang, Michael Carmine, Lauren Holly, Leon, John Cameron Mitchell, Danny Quinn, Al Shannon, James Remar, Laurence Fishburne

TriStar Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“One sharp knife can feed you, clothe you, keep you warm and dry.” – Joe

I have been a huge fan of Miami Vice my entire life. Somehow, Band of the Hand eluded me until recently. It is sort of married to that show, as they were both produced by Michael Mann, came out around the same time, have similar themes, similar style, similar music and take place in and around Miami.

Band of the Hand also stars a young Stephen Lang, who is a guy that has become one of my favorite actors in recent years. It also features a young Lauren Holly, Leon and another one of my favorites, James Remar.

The film really has two parts to it. The first half sees a bunch of teenage punks sent into the Everglades. They are given a last chance, if they can learn from Miccosukee bad ass, Joe (Stephen Lang). They have to survive and make it to the end of their swamp quest becoming bad asses themselves. The second half sees the teens return to Miami and become vigilantes alongside Joe, in an effort to rid the city of the drug dealers who hold it hostage.

The two halves of the movie really have different tones. The first half is mostly goofy and comedic, as our urban teens can’t get along and want nothing to do with life in the Everglades. The second half becomes much darker and serious and plays like an episode of Miami Vice but with more violence, as it isn’t catering to television executives.

Band of the Hand is pretty enjoyable. It is far from a classic and not as good as the better episodes of Miami Vice but it fills its 109 minutes well.

The action is great, especially the big street shootout between the gangsters and the teens at their home.

Stephen Lang was exceptionally bad ass in this and it was cool seeing him in his younger days, as he’s just now becoming more of a household name due to being in Avatar and Don’t Breathe.

If you are into 1980s crime movies, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you are also a big Miami Vice fan, this is a good companion piece to the show.

Rating: 6.5/10