Film Review: Justice League Dark (2017)

Release Date: January 24th, 2017
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Ernie Altbacker
Based on: Justice League Dark by Peter Milligan, Mikel Janin
Music by: Robert J. Kral
Cast: Matt Ryan, Jason O’Mara, Camilla Luddington, Nicholas Turturro, Ray Chase, Jerry O’Connell, Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, 75 Minutes

Review:

“I expect the worst, so I prepare for the worst, and when the worst happens, I’m ready. But my outlook doesn’t alter the reality of the world.”- John Constantine

I started reading the current run on Justice League Dark and I really love it, at least one issue into it. I figured that I’d give this a watch because of how much I was into the comic and because I’ve liked a lot of the modern DC Comics animated features.

This was a pretty cool film.

I loved the tone, I liked the choice of characters for the JLD team and is it possible that someone was cooler than Batman? Why, yes! His name is John Constantine.

It was neat seeing Constantine take center stage, where he outshines Batman and shows how cool of a character he actually is.

It mostly made me upset that the live action Constantine TV show was cancelled after a measly thirteen episodes because it could have kept growing and got as epic and awesome as this animated feature. Hell, had it gone on into multiple seasons, it could have expanded like the other DC Comics TV shows on the CW and Constantine probably would have had a whole squad, thus making that show a live action version of this film sans Batman.

Anyway, this had solid animation, a great voice cast and I liked how the regular Justice League characters were used in this.

This is one of the better DC animated features that I have seen.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other recent DC Comics animated features.

Film Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Also known as: Black Klansman (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2018 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Nicholas Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte

Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, QC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Focus Features, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Darn tootin'” – David Duke

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. I have to get that out of the way because it’s probably going to sound like I’m overly critical of it, as I continue on in this review.

First and foremost, it was a solid, interesting story with actors that I thought handled the material well. In regards to Adam Driver, this was the first thing that I have seen him in where he wasn’t Kylo Ren or that stupid Logan Lucky movie that made me want to burn the theater down. I really got to see his legit acting chops on full display and I was impressed. He lived up to what other people have told me about him. Well, mostly girls that wanted me to watch Girls. No thanks.

One major thing about this film is that it is based on a true story, the biographical account of these events by the real Ron Stallworth, the main character in the film. The problem, which happens with many Spike Lee movies, is that the director takes some tremendous liberties and sort of uses the real story as a basis to weave his films the way he sees fit, whether honest, accurate or not.

One major moment in this film is the big jab at the end where Stallworth calls David Duke to reveal that he was a black man the entire time. This never happened and Duke wasn’t ever privy to Stallworth being black until it was revealed to him in an interview in 2006.

Another issue I have with the film is that it works perfectly as its own tale but once you get to the end, it immediately switches to real world footage of the 2017 Charlottesville incident. I understand the parallels, everyone does, this film does a great job of painting the picture that Spike Lee needs to get his message across but the switch to modern real world footage is jarring. I know that it is supposed to be jarring but it isn’t jarring because of the incident itself, which is still very fresh in the public’s mind, but because it cheapens the film from an artistic standpoint. It’s heavy handed and forcibly shoehorned into the film in a way that cheapens the effect of Spike’s own picture, basically saying, “Hey, if you don’t get the message after this 135 minute beautiful film I did, than here’s a hammer to the face just to make sure you got it.” Spike Lee is talented enough to make films that speak for themselves and can lead his audience where he needs to without the hammer to the face. And this also looks like he has a lack of confidence in his own storytelling abilities; he shouldn’t. This worked without the exclamation point.

Additionally, this movie was released almost on the one year anniversary of the incident, which means it was already being made and Lee decided to tie it into Charlottesville after the fact or that it was made as a response to it and rushed out, which gets into some of the technical problems the film had.

Most of the film flowed well but there are some key points where I noticed clunky editing and transitions as well as bad audio management. Sometimes it felt as if something got cut from the film, it jumped to the scene after and the transitions were already done so they didn’t really bother to smooth out and polish the later cuts from the film.

Another thing that bothered me was Lee’s apparent lack of environmental awareness. I’ll give two examples.

One, when Stallworth is following the Klansman on a dark country road at night, the Klansman is able to see that a black man is behind him. I’ve driven on dark country roads. You can’t see the face of the person behind you, all you can see is their headlights. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t made into a somewhat important plot point that had an effect on three different scenes.

Two, when Stallworth is watching the Klan meeting towards the end of the movie, he’s watching from a second story window overlooking the meeting room. He is in direct view of David Duke, who is on the stage giving a speech. Every time they show the back wall with the windows you can see the silhouette of Stallworth’s head with it’s large afro. There’s no way that Duke wouldn’t see this while pontificating out to the crowd and while probably paying attention to his surroundings, as he has had threats and is under police protection.

I’m not sure if Spike Lee just doesn’t care about these details, as just telling the story is most important, or if he just didn’t think these scenes through. Again, maybe the film was rushed to try and get it out on the anniversary of Charlottesville.

Another thing that I disliked and it isn’t just in this film, it’s in a lot of films, is that it portrays the vast majority of KKK members (and general bigots) as buffoons. I’m certainly not defending those scumbags but I think in doing that, it dumbs them down in a situation where you need to show how much of a threat they actually are to all people and society as a whole. Are many of them dumb rednecks? Most likely, but playing some of them up for comedic value just makes them bumbling idiots and doesn’t really display them as beacons of pure evil. Granted, I thought Topher Grace did a good job in the role of David Duke and the local president of the KKK also played the role straight but they were the only two.

However, why the hell did Spike Lee cast Nicholas Turturro as a KKK member? Turturro is Italian as fuck and I am also part Italian and I’m pretty sure the Klan didn’t like us either. I guess Spike always needs a Turturro in a movie but this wasn’t the right spot for him and he stuck out like a sore thumb talking and jiving like a Little Italy gelato shop owner.

But enough griping.

I really enjoyed John David Washington as the star of this film. He hasn’t done much but he proved that he is an actor more deserving of bigger roles. Also, Laura Harrier was fantastic and the only other thing I’ve seen her in is Spider-Man: Homecoming. This role was a big jump for her but she knocked it out of the park and hopefully, gets more prominent roles after this film. I also might be crushing hard on her after this.

Back to Adam Driver, he was the focal point of the most challenging scenes in the film and he really steals the picture when he’s present. A lot of the material had to have been difficult but he nails it and carries the bulk of the film on his back.

Spike Lee crafted a pretty good movie, the running time was a bit long but he tends to do that. Initially, it wasn’t as preachy as I thought it would be. Well, at least until the blunt instrument to the face in the last few minutes, but the film made its point very well without him needing to spell it out in all caps like an angry twelve year-old girl tweeting about a breakup.

But, in the end, this was refreshing in a summer full of blockbuster duds.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Spike Lee movies: Do the Right ThingMalcolm X and Bamboozled.

Film Review: The ‘Hellraiser’ Film Series, Part II (2000-2011)

Hellraiser: Inferno (2000):

Release Date: October 3rd, 2000
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Walter Werzowa
Cast: Doug Bradley, Craig Sheffer, Nicholas Turturro, James Remar

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Ah, the eternal refrain of humanity. Pleading ignorance, begging for mercy. “Please, help me. I don’t understand.”” – Pinhead

This film starts the direct-to-video trend in the Hellraiser series. Not putting this in the theater was probably a good call.

This film was boring as hell. There were some cool creepy moments but nothing was as shocking and visually intense as the previous films in this series. The Cenobites were generic and Pinhead was barely in the film. Actually, Pinhead was in the film but for some stupid reason he was parading around wearing the face of Dexter Morgan’s dad. Then the big lame reveal, haha! you’re therapist was Pinhead in disguise the whole time like a ghoul from a Scooby-Doo episode!

The psychology of this film makes no sense and it is uncharacteristic of everything that came before it. It’s a pretty fucking awful movie.

Oh yeah, and Nick Turturro is in it. He’s the chubby little brother of the really talented John Turturro.

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002):

Release Date: October 15th, 2002
Directed by: Rick Bota
Written by: Carl V. Dupre, Tim Day
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Stephen Edwards
Cast: Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Dean Winters, William S. Taylor

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Wherever there is hate, violence, depravity… a door will always be found.” – Pinhead

Somehow, the awful fifth film didn’t kill the idea of making a sixth installment. I’m cool with that though because this film was far superior than the previous one.

Also, Hellseeker brings back Kirsty for the first time since Hellbound: Hellraiser II (not counting her small cameo in part III) and gives closure to her character. I guess, in a way, this is the final chapter and what can be referred to as the “Kirsty Trilogy”.

This movie had a much better story than its predecessor and even though it felt somewhat predictable and straightforward, the end leaves you surprised.

Hellseeker also feels a lot more like a Hellraiser film than Inferno did and it brings the franchise full circle. Truthfully, it could’ve ended here and been a fine series, even though Inferno was complete crap.

They decided to crank out two more though.

Hellraiser: Deader (2005):

Release Date: June 7th, 2005
Directed by: Rick Bota
Written by: Neal Marshall Stevens, Tim Day
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Henning Lohner
Cast: Doug Bradley, Kari Wuhrer, Paul Rhys, Simon Kunz

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“When you attempted to live beyond death, you entered into my domain.” – Pinhead

I like Kari Wuhrer, so I was glad to see her in this film. I don’t know why, but I’ve crushed hard on her for years. Okay, I admit, I know why.

She isn’t what I would call a stellar actress but she is better than average and really nice to look at. She has a good on-screen presence and is able to carry a film, especially when surrounded by less talented people.

Deader was another sequel with a very interesting story. As a film, all its own, I enjoy this one. As a Hellraiser film, it feels like it has gotten away from the essence of the series. In fact, each film after the second one, gets further and further away.

This was about on par with Hellseeker in quality and a big step above that crapfest Inferno. Still, these direct-to-video sequels feel like low-budget cash cows, missing the imagination and heart of the earlier theatrically released features.

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005):

Release Date: September 6th, 2005
Directed by: Rick Bota
Written by: Carl V. Dupre
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Lars Anderson
Cast: Doug Bradley, Lance Henriksen, Katheryn Winnick, Christopher Jacot, Khary Payton, Henry Cavill

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You still don’t understand, do you? There is no way out for you, Chelsea. Oh, what wonders we have to show you.” – Pinhead

At last, we have reached the final film in the original series. We have also reached the one film that feels the least like a Hellraiser movie.

This film follows some gamers who get invited to a mansion for a party, which turns into a crazy billionaire scheming to get revenge for the death of his son for some reason.

I’m not even sure if Pinhead actually showed up. I mean, he was in the movie but then it was revealed that all that stuff was hallucinations or whatever stupid asshole plot faux pas they threw up on the wall.

This just wasn’t a Hellraiser film. It didn’t matter that Doug Bradley appeared in full Pinhead makeup, it was just a pointless film that made little-to-no sense.

However, it was still mildly entertaining, which puts this film above Inferno as well.

Also, the newish Superman, Henry Cavill plays a douchebag in this movie. He also screams like a complete pansy.

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011):

Release Date: March 18th, 2011
Directed by: Victor Garcia
Written by: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Frederik Wiedman
Cast: Steven Brand, Nick Eversman, Tracey Fairaway, Sebastien Roberts, Devon Sorvari, Sanny Van Heteren, Daniel Buran, Jay Gillespie, Stephen Smith Collins

Dimension Extreme, 75 Minutes

Review:

“You have a darkness that rivals my own, Nico. It will be a very special pleasure to rip you apart.” – Pinhead

Due to the fact that Dimension Films was on the cusp of losing the rights to Hellraiser, they had to produce a film and quick. The result, was this piece of complete fucking shit.

This is a remake or a reboot or a reimagining or whatever they want to call it. I call it a giant genital wart that has permanently afflicted the legacy of this franchise.

I don’t blame Doug Bradley for deciding not to return to the series as Pinhead. Instead, we’ve got some new actor in the Pinhead role. The new Pinhead, looks nothing like the real Pinhead. Could they have at least gotten an actor that somewhat resembles Doug Bradley? Also, the actor can’t talk like Doug Bradley, so he was dubbed over with another actor’s voice who also doesn’t sound like Doug Bradley.

The script was deplorable and I can’t believe that some of the dialogue actually made it on the page, let alone in the final cut of the film. The acting was painful and not pleasurable Hellraiser pain but more like stomach cancer with an ulcer while eating a gallon of ice cream pain. The film was 75 minutes, which is nothing but it still seemed like it was an hour and fifteen minutes too long.

The plot made no sense within the realm of the Hellraiser mythos. It’s like some horribly bad fan fiction was mixed up with an actual script and they filmed it on accident. Some of the film was also “found footage” style, which is a gimmick that not only has run its course, but it really never took off to begin with. Hollywood just likes the shit because it’s cheap. It isn’t edgy, original or effective.

This film is a 75 minute demo reel of how not to make a film. It is so bad, it makes Inferno look as critically acclaimed as Das Boot. I hope that when they make a new Hellraiser film, which they eventually will, that this is ignored and they at the very least do something similar to Hellseeker or Deader because at least those served a purpose and were enjoyable for a Hellraiser fan.

I’d also like to add that all of the sequels after Bloodline were written as scripts for other horror movies that were picked up by Dimension Films and retrofitted to make them Hellraiser movies. This film however, was the first original script written for Hellraiser since Bloodline. So how bad is this movie, when it is worse than the four previous that didn’t even start as Hellraiser films?

Film Review: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 19th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Music by: Bill Lee, Public Enemy
Cast: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, John Savage, Roger Guenveur Smith, Rosie Perez, Joie Lee, Steve White, Martin Lawrence, Robin Harris, Paul Benjamin, Frankie Faison, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Park, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Turturro, Miguel Sandoval

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

In the summer of 1989 I was in Brooklyn visiting family for a few weeks. Being a big film buff, even at ten years-old, I had already seen every big summer movie that year. My cousin was driving us around and he asked if I wanted to see a movie. I did. He asked what I wanted to see. Thinking he would say “no”, I still replied “Do The Right Thing.” Being the cool nineteen year-old kid that he was, he smirked and said, “Well, alright.”

Leading up to my seeing Do The Right Thing in a movie theater in Brooklyn, not far from where the movie took place, I was mesmerized by the trailers and footage I saw on television. Living in Southwest Florida, I didn’t have a lot to do during summer days, except hang with friends, play video games or watch TV. I often times spent hours watching a cable channel called Movietime, which was actually E! Entertainment Television before it re-branded itself. On that channel, they always showed trailers, over and over again, and also went behind the scenes on films in development or coming out. It was a cool channel that taught a young film fan a lot about the industry and art he loved. But it is there, where I saw trailers and other footage for Do The Right Thing. Something about it just drew me in.

I always cherished the experience of seeing this film, so close to where it was made, at a time when I hadn’t quite experienced a real adult film in the theater. It was exciting but at the same time, it was a lot more than that. Do The Right Thing had a profound effect on me and how I saw other people. When I watch it now, much later in life, it is a reminder of that experience and the lessons I learned from it. It also is one of the first films that I saw to really cultivate my love for the art of motion pictures and filmmaking itself. This, alongside Cinema Paradiso, made me see movies differently.

Having just revisited Do The Right Thing for the first time in several years, it is kind of sad. Not because of the film itself but because it took away some of my optimism in regards to people. When I saw it was a kid, I truly believed that society was headed in the right direction. I thought that as time rolled on, the struggle of black people and the prejudices in America would improve. Yet, this film is almost thirty years old and its message is maybe even more relevant today than it was in 1989. Will it be even more relevant in another 30 years?

Spike Lee did a fantastic job with Do The Right Thing and it is, still to this day, my favorite Lee film (Malcolm X is a very close second). Maybe it is due to the experience it gave me when I should have been too young to have to see the world for what it is. But out of all his films, this one has the strongest message not just for African-Americans but for all Americans. And again, it is still a message that needs to be heard today.

The cinematography is stellar. The film really captures the people, the scenery and Brooklyn life in that era. The technique of using first-person perspective, which gets more prevalent as the film progresses and racial tensions increase, is masterfully shot and presented. The breaking of the fourth wall, as characters’ inner monologues come to life, directed at the audience, is effective in understanding their deepest inner prejudices and in helping escalate the tension from a narrative standpoint.

The use of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” throughout the film is perfect and really gives an anthem to the attitudes of many of the characters. It represents, what this film, at its core, is all about. The character of Radio Raheem was the perfect vessel within the film to deliver the song to the masses, as he walked up and down the street, all day, blasting the song from his radio. He wasn’t just a vessel for the message though, he was also a symbol, a physical embodiment of it. Bill Nunn did a fine job as Raheem and made him into an iconic figure for many.

There are several really standout performances in the film. I think a lot of props need to go to Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin’ Out. Most people know Esposito as the villainous Gus from Breaking Bad. It was his role in this film, that put him on the map for me. Then years later, when I did see him on Breaking Bad, playing one of the greatest villains in television history, I was ecstatic because this was a guy who I had followed since seeing him on the big screen as a ten year-old in a Brooklyn movie theater. I’ve always thought Esposito was an underutilized actor but those who regularly work with him know his talent. In Do The Right Thing, Esposito is so committed to the role that he really stands out above everyone else. And we’re talking about a movie that has Samuel Jackson, Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Robin Harris, Frankie Faison, Ossie Davis, Danny Aiello, Martin Lawrence, Frank Vincent and so many other faces that own the screen when they are on it.

Roger Guenveur Smith’s performance as Smiley is also superb. You couldn’t not feel for the guy and when he lost his shit, you were right there with him. It’s also heartbreaking to see how others in the film treat him, even his friends, due to his handicap. Smith  has played a lot of great characters over the years but Smiley is the one I most fondly remember.

There are few films that illustrate a sense of human brotherhood as much as Do The Right Thing. While it shows cultural clashes and tensions boiling over into violence, it also provides hope and displays a lot of wisdom. Most of the characters try to maintain order but the few who keep pushing each other bring the whole neighborhood to its breaking point. And then the cops show up to screw it up even more.

Do The Right Thing isn’t just a great film, it is an important film, maybe even more so today than in 1989.