Comic Review: Stranger Things: Six

Published: May 29th, 2019 – August 28th, 2019
Written by: Jody Houser
Art by: Edgar Salazar, Keith Champagne, Marissa Louise, Aleksi Briclot (covers)
Based on: Stranger Things by The Duffer Brothers

Dark Horse Books, 98 Pages

Review:

I was pretty happy with the first Stranger Things comic miniseries. With this second attempt at making a comic book tie-in, I still left pretty satisfied. However, this one lacks slightly in that I didn’t feel as connected to the characters or their personal peril.

In the first miniseries, we got to follow Will Byers, as he was trapped in the Upsidedown during the events in season one. It gave us Will’s perspective and the horror he lived through, which we weren’t able to really see on the television show.

This comic follows a new character named Six. She is like Eleven in that she has grown up in the same lab and mostly just has Dr. Martin Brenner as her only parental type of figure.

The story is a prequel, as it shows some of what happened in the lab before Eleven’s story really started for the television audience. Although, you do get to see glimpses of a very young Eleven even though her story isn’t central to the main plot of this arc.

My only real issue with this miniseries, is that it is less engaging overall because it doesn’t directly tie to the larger story. Sure, it happens within the show’s universe but it’s basically just Six’s story and she isn’t someone that we will meet on the show. And I’ve kind of mentally put the Brenner character to bed, unless there is going to be more of him in the future. Although, I’m not sure how that would work.

I prefer the approach of the first comic series. I think that these should be tied more directly to the show and give us other perspectives or events that happen parallel to what we already know. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have wholly original stories with new characters. It all just depends on how well the comic book part of the mythos develops.

So far, I’m pretty happy with what Dark Horse, specifically Jody Houser, have been doing with the IP.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the previous Stranger Things comic book miniseries, as well as the show and mobile RPG game.

Film Review: Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Hoshi Wo Kû Mono (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 3: The Planet Eater (full title)
Release Date: November 3rd, 2018 (TIFF)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji

Toho, 90 Minutes

Review:

Well, I wasn’t too keen on the first two chapters in the Godzilla anime trilogy but I watched those pictures, so I thought I should watch the finale in an effort to see if this brought all of the movies together in a meaningful way.

Sadly, this was pretty much as dull as the other two.

I still can’t get behind the animation and how it is a mish mash of traditional hand drawn animation and CGI. The mix of the two never works for me. I get why they do this but it just makes a project feel rushed and cheap. Sure, the CGI is of good quality but it is still cheaper than having skilled animators draw out every frame of the more ambitious action sequences.

Also, maybe they had to rush this because they thought people would lose interest if it took Toho ten years to put out a solid hand drawn trilogy. But with that being said, people can’t lose interest in something if the first release doesn’t generate any interest to begin with.

I’m not saying that these films don’t have their fans, they do. What I’m saying is that they could have had more and these films could have been something exceptional with the time and care put into them.

Now having seen the complete body of work, I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that this is just a superficial project used to capitalize off of an existing (and lucrative) IP that will just waste away on Netflix without much real fanfare. Other than having the distinction of being the first official Godzilla anime in history, this is pretty damn forgettable.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan. I love old school tokusatsu and kaiju franchises pretty immensely. But I don’t think that I’ll ever have the urge to revisit any of these ever again.

But I also can’t ignore the skill and craftsmanship that went into this, even if it wasn’t created in the way that I would have preferred.

Also, the villain monster was pretty cool and creative but that doesn’t carry the film.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

TV Review: The Umbrella Academy (2019- )

Original Run: February 15th, 2019 – current
Created by: Steve Blackman, Jeremy Slater
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba
Music by: Jeff Russo
Cast: Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castañeda, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Mary J. Blige, Cameron Britton, Colm Feore, Adam Godley, John Magaro

Borderline Entertainment, Dark Horse Entertainment, Universal Cable Productions, Netflix, 10 Episodes (so far), 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

When the first Umbrella Academy story came out in 2007, I was instantly captivated by it. It sucked me in, it was a lot of fun, it borrowed heavily from a few different things but ultimately, it was refreshing, unique and helped to reinvigorate my interest in comics at the time.

For years, I have heard that the comic was going to be adapted for live action. I just never really liked the thought of that, as it isn’t something that seems like it could be adapted in a good or effective way outside of its original medium.

Fast forward to late 2018 when I finally saw a trailer for its live action incarnation, this Netflix show. It didn’t get me enthused about it but I thought that there might be a chance that it can work, despite the obvious alterations that I picked up from that trailer.

Well, I don’t want to call this a bad show. It’s really just about what I expected it to be. It has good production value, good special effects for television and it fits well within the genre style. But it just feels like the same ol’ shit in a world where we now have superhero TV shows like we have soda options.

This may be your flavor, this may not be. While I love the comic’s flavor, this just seems like the dollar store generic version of that flavor.

The show has an identity crisis. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what it should be. It’s like Tim Burton and Wes Anderson had a baby in the worst way possible. The show also tries so hard to be cool that it isn’t. The humor doesn’t stick, the characters aren’t likable and it spends more time trying to wow you with its pop music selections than constructing a scene with any real craftsmanship.

A lot of the shots are done with a wide angle lens to the point that it’s as annoying as J. J. Abrams’ use of the lens flare effect in Star Trek. It’s like a high schooler that dreams of one day going to film school was given a camera and a budget and was told to go make his art, without any knowledge whatsoever of mise en scène.

The acting is also problematic for me. Everyone is just so emotionless and boring. Even when characters argue, it’s stale. The kid who plays Number 5 is pretty good though but he’s also not likable, so it’s hard to latch on to him and let him pull you through the muck.

I got about halfway through the first season and I gave up. Maybe it ends on a good note but time is precious and Netflix likes to drag its shows out to ungodly lengths. This is why I stopped caring about their Marvel shows outside of Daredevil.

This may appeal to some but I’m not sure who it is for. If you’re a fan of the comics, this probably won’t work for you. But that also doesn’t mean that the damage I see isn’t salvageable. Sometimes shows need a season to learn from their mistakes and move forward in a better way.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other modern comic book television adaptations.

Comic Review: Stranger Things

Published: September 26th, 2018 – January 2nd, 2019
Written by: Jody Houser
Art by: Stefano Martino, Keith Champagne, Lauren Affe
Based on: Stranger Things by The Duffer Brothers

Dark Horse Books, 93 Pages

Review:

When I heard that a Stranger Things comic was coming out, I wasn’t sure how it would work, as I didn’t want it to conflict with the canon of the show. But this was a clever idea and it was nicely executed, even if the tension didn’t work, as you knew how this would turn out based off of events in the show.

This isn’t a story that bridges seasons or tries to give the kids a new adventure, this is simply the tale of Will Byers while he was in The Upside Down during season 1.

The story was spread out over four issues and the comic was at least a nice way to get my Stranger Things fix, as there were no new episodes in 2018. It certainly wasn’t a replacement to a lack of live action episodes but at least 2018 wasn’t completely devoid of this cool franchise.

I loved the tone of the comic, it perfectly matched the show. The art was also damn good. I think what was coolest about this though, is that it felt like a real marriage between the styles of Stranger Things and Dark Horse Comics.

Dark Horse really does a superb job with the properties that they are commissioned to turn into comic book form and this is no different. In fact, it’s a solid reminder of just how good Dark Horse is when given the trust of a large and popular IP. While IDW has a lot of IPs under their banner, it is still Dark Horse that is at the top of the comic book publishing heap when it comes to adapting large franchises.

This is a really good companion piece to the first season of Stranger Things. And as far as I am concerned, this is canon, as it doesn’t contradict anything and it shows familiar events from a new perspective.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the first season of the Stranger Things show.

Film Review: Mascots (2016)

Release Date: September 10th, 2016 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Christopher Guest
Written by: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Music by: Jeffrey C.J. Vanston
Cast: Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Moynihan, Don Lake, Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, Maria Blasucci, Oscar Nunez, Harry Shearer

Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Well, my name is A.J. Blumquist, and I’m a former mascot, Danny the Donkey, and uh, I’m a judge this year for the Fluffies. For the two people that don’t know, uh, Danny the Donkey, my mascot alter ego, was the first one to have an anatomically correct costume.” – A.J. Blumquist

When you have something really good, you can ruin it by having too much. This can be said about cheesecake, high end whiskey, cocaine, sex with street walkers and well, sadly… Christopher Guest mockumentaries.

One could say that this isn’t Christopher Guest’s fault, he’s just making what he knows and he is a master of the genre. He can’t help that there has been a huge over-saturation of films like this and really, a lot of that could be due to how good his movies have been. But on the flip side of that, this falls flat in just about every way and there are recent mockumentaries that are much funnier than this: What We Do In the Shadows, for instance.

Guest rounds up his typical group of stars minus a few key people, most notably Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. He spends more time using newer actors in main roles and most of his great collaborators take more of a backseat here. John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Hitchcock were severely underutilized and even Jane Lynch, who got a good amount of screen time, deserved more.

Out of the newcomers, I didn’t really connect to any of them except for Zach Woods. I liked Woods in this. But even Chris O’Dowd, who I usually find funny, didn’t hit the mark here.

It’s not that this picture is unfunny, it has some funny bits, but it doesn’t keep you as amused as Best In ShowWaiting for Guffman or A Mighty Wind. It’s nowhere near as incredibly as This Is Spinal Tap and it falls short of living up to Guest’s previous weakest film, For Your Consideration.

I’m not sure what this means for Guest’s future, as other reviews I’ve seen aren’t too fond of this film and feel the same way that I do. But if he sticks with Netflix he’s probably fine, as they’ll pump out anything with a famous name on it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Guest’s other mockumentaries but this is the worst one so all the others are better.

Film Review: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 2: City on the Edge of Battle (full title)
Release Date: May 18th, 2018 (Japan)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe

Toho, 100 Minutes

Review:

My review of the previous film in this trilogy had this paragraph:

Well, I’m going to be blunt: this was terrible. It’s slow, it’s boring, everyone in it is extremely unlikable and it has a giant plot hole large enough to suck Godzilla in.

Well, not much has changed with the second movie.

But I will start this by saying that this film is a wee bit better. I at least found it to be less boring, even though it was more drawn out than it needed to be. But I liked the talky science bits in this chapter better than the first. Also, the main character was less annoying than he was in the previous movie.

This film series is taking its cues from the Shin Godzilla mythos, as Godzilla continues to evolve and adapt to whatever they throw at him. Also, there are different creatures and things in the wilderness that are biological products of Godzilla and his weird and random evolutions. To be honest, even though this opens up a lot of interesting exploration and ideas it also seems like a cheap and poorly crafted trick to throw curveballs and to lazily write through situations. “Oh, we’ve got Godzilla now!” “No! He is evolving to combat and withstand X, Y and Z!!! Damn him!!!”

The heroes seem to have an advantage here in that the remains of Mechagodzilla from millennia ago have grown and evolved in its own way to what they lamely refer to as “Mechagodzilla City”. Sorry but “Mecha City” would’ve been fine, guys. I was annoyed throughout the movie whenever a character had to refer to the city with that mouthful of unnecessary syllables. But being that there is still one more movie in this series, it should go without saying that the city isn’t as advantageous as the heroes had hoped.

Anyway, the animation style is the same. I am starting to dislike it less or I’ve just grown used to the combination of hand drawn animation mixed with CGI animation. It still looks odd to me in places and I will always prefer hand drawn animation but it does seem a bit more refined here.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan, as regular readers of this website should already now. This anime film series just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. But if the third one also improves a wee bit, that one may be somewhat palatable.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

TV Review: Maniac (2018- )

Original Run: September 21st, 2018 – current
Created by: Patrick Somerville
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by: Patrick Somerville, various
Based on: Maniac by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, Ole Marius Araldsen
Music by: Dan Romer
Cast: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, Julia Garner, Hank Azaria, Selenis Leyva

Parliament of Owls, Rubicon TV, Anonymous Content, Paramount Television, Netflix, 10 Episodes (so far), 26-47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I had no idea what this show was and I hadn’t heard anything about it before it dropped. That being said, I was glad that I went into this blindly. All I knew is that it was sci-fi, had Emma Stone, Jonah Hill and was directed by a guy who did True Detective, a show I still haven’t seen but have heard nothing but great things about.

Also, this is a miniseries. So I’m not sure if it’s a one-off or if it will return for new seasons with a whole new cast similar to Fukunaga’s True Detective or a lot of other recent television shows on various premium and cable networks.

The story is hard to summarize but in a nutshell this is about two people who undergo some controversial and dangerous drug trial. The pills and the almost otherworldly tech sends them into a strong dream state where they play out the lives of other people. The first story seems grounded in reality, even if it’s a bit nuts, and then each tale gets more and more fantastical. Ultimately, it all serves to help cure them of their personal and emotional demons. The two main characters, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, develop a strong connection as they become directly involved in each other’s road to emotional recovery.

The show started out really strong, it lost me a bit going into the second half but then it recovered nicely in the last two episodes where everything came together in a great way.

This was a really cool experiment and this was exceptionally well crafted but I don’t know if it’s something I would want to revisit in a second season. I guess that depends on the cast and what the premise would be.

I loved the hybrid of retro and futuristic styles. In a lot of ways, this resembles an ’80s cinematic representation of the future.

I guess the high point for me was Sally Field. I liked seeing her play two very contrasting roles and she nailed both exceptionally well but at the same time, it’s Sally f’n Field.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other recent Netflix shows: Black MirrorAltered Carbon and The OA.