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.

TV Review: Fuller House (2016- )

Also known as: Untitled Full House Revival (working title)
Original Run: February 26th, 2016-current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Jesse Frederick, Bennett Salvay, Carly Rae Jepsen (opening theme)
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campion, Elias Harger, Soni Nicole Bringas, Dashiell and Fox Messitt, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Scott Weinger, John Brotherton, Ashley Liao, Adam Hagenbuch, Bob Saget, John Stamos, Dave Coulier, Lori Loughlin, Mckenna Grace, Marla Sokoloff

Jeff Franklin Productions, Miller-Boyett Productions, Warner Horizon, Netflix, 44 Episodes (so far), 25-36 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2016.

It was a pretty eventful weekend full of binge watching for fans of the old ABC sitcom Full House, as it’s follow-up/sequel series finally hit Netflix.

This is definitely a show for those fans and really, those fans only. It really isn’t something to just pick up and watch without being familiar with the original series and honestly, that is perfectly fine. The producers and actors knew exactly what they were making and they succeeded in doing what they set out to do.

I consider myself a fan of the show, as I used to watch it during my childhood and then in syndication throughout my teen years. I still even catch an episode from time to time if I stumble upon it while flipping channels.

As its own show, standing alone from the original series, Fuller House doesn’t work. It is full of too many in-jokes and references to the original series and actors that it may be hard to follow for new viewers. And, at times, those references get to be overkill. The show is certainly holding on to nostalgia and to what came before but it is holding on to those things a little too hard. There are a few cringe-worthy and awkward moments here and there, which serve to hurt this show instead of help it.

Pop culture, as of late, has become obsessed with nostalgia and Fuller House is a product of that. Again, it works for fans of the old series but it doesn’t offer up anything new, worthwhile or engaging for a potential new fan who is just discovering the Full House universe.

It is too similar to the older show’s format and it just relies on it too much, instead of being daring and stepping outside of its 29 year-old box.

I like it for what it is but I don’t know if I am interested in a second season. I know that most people, other than the hardcore fans, will probably be over it once getting through the thirteen episodes.

But it was nice seeing the family together, meeting the new kids – who were fairly entertaining and experiencing the genuine feeling of love between these cast mates.

It is a show strictly for its fans and that’s about it. Although, I do like that the producers realize that the fans are older and they were able to sneak in some adult jokes.

If comparing this to the dozens upon dozens of previous reunion attempts from other famous shows done over decades, this is certainly in the upper echelon. My brain still hurts with how bad that Growing Pains reunion was years ago.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Full House and then other revival sitcoms Girl Meets WorldRoseanne (2018), etc.

Documentary Review: The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Music by: Brocker Wa

Netflix, 73 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a Netflix exclusive that just dropped this past weekend. It is the story of the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league baseball franchise that was started and ran by Bing Russell, actor and father of Kurt Russell.

The Mavericks were pretty big in the ’70s. In fact, they were getting more press coverage than a lot of the major league teams. They also set some minor league attendance records during their existence. They were scruffy, tough and not your typical clean cut all-American team. They brought a hardened edge to baseball and a level of competition that not only surprised the City of Portland but also surprised the team.

This was a thoroughly entertaining, informative and enjoyable documentary. As a baseball fan that was born in the late ’70s, I’ve heard the stories of the Portland Mavericks but I wasn’t alive to witness it. This gave a lot of the stories I’ve heard, more insight and depth. It also added in a bunch of stuff I would’ve never known otherwise.

It was great seeing Kurt Russell and his mother adding their two cents to the documentary, as well as the interviews with all the old Mavericks and key people. The movie was well edited, well put together and seemed to fly by with ease. The short 73 minute running time may have something to do with that.

This is one of the better baseball documentaries that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. If you’re a fan of the sport, check it out. If you’ve got Netflix streaming, it’s free.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: No No: A Dockumentary and Ken Burns’ Baseball.

TV Review: Knights of Sidonia (2014- )

Also known as: Sidonia no Kishi (Japanese title)
Release Date: April 11th, 2014 – current
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Sadayuki Murai
Based on: Sidonia no Kishi manga by Tsutomu Nihei
Music by: Noriyuki Asakura
Cast: Pete Sepenuk, Ryôta Ôsaka, Takahiro Sakurai

MBS, TBS, CBC, BS-TBS, AT-X, Aniplus Asia, Sentai Filmworks, Animatsu Entertainment, Netflix, 24 Episodes (so far), 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

After really enjoying Attack On Titan, I decided to watch other modern anime series. Interestingly, Netflix just debuted an anime series under its own banner. That show is Knights of Sidonia.

What turned me onto this show initially, is that it seemed to have a Robotech vibe to it. Although set in deep space and not primarily set on or around Earth like the original run of Robotech, this series presents the all too familiar anime staple of following the lives of badass pilots in badass mecha. That is a compliment, as this is a formula that I doubt I will ever grow tired of and in a way, shows like this and Robotech give me what I always wanted in a Rogue Squadron film or series, which the Star Wars people have never given the masses.

The premise of this show reminds me of Attack On Titan except this takes place in space, as opposed to walled in villages on Earth. Also, the gigantic threat to humanity isn’t hungry man-eating Titans, it is gigantic humanoid rock creatures called Gauna that can shapeshift and rip things apart with massive tendrils. Gaunas can also grow to immense size like some sort of outer space kaiju.

Overall, this is a beautiful show and it was enjoyable. It is short, only having twelve 25 minute episodes, so it is a quick watch. Although from what I hear, there is a second season in the works.

The art, the style and concepts explored on the show are the selling point here. There is nothing exceedingly exceptional about the overall package of Knights of Sidonia other than it is pretty solid and well-balanced and the Gauna are a sight to behold. The mecha are pretty cool too but ultimately they make me miss the Veritech fighters of Robotech. Sorry, it is hard not to keep comparing this series to the one just mentioned again.

The weak point of Knights of Sidonia is that they spend quite a lot of time developing characters. While this shouldn’t be a problem, it does seem to be a waste when character development is such a focal point but all the characters feel one dimensional and stereotypical.

In the end, this was an engaging show. It is awesome visually and some sequences within the series were impressive.

I just hope that the second season fleshes things out more and that they speed things up story-wise.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: RobotechMacross stuff from Japan, VoltronNeon Genesis Evangelion.