TV Review: Good Omens (2019- )

Original Run: May 31st, 2019 – current
Created by: Neil Gaiman
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Based on: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Sam Taylor Buck, Adria Arjona, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Jack Whitehall, Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand (voice), Nick Offerman, Mireille Enos, Brian Cox (voice), David Morrissey, Johnny Vegas, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

Narrativia, The Blank Corporation, Amazon Studios, BBC Studios, 6 Episodes (so far), 51-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

When I first saw that Michael Sheen and David Tennant were in a show together, I knew I’d have to watch it. There was absolutely no doubt about that.

Then once I put it on and the episodes started rolling, I was really excited to see and hear Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman, Frances McDormand, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Brian Cox, David Morrissey and Benedict Cumberbatch. We also got Mireille Enos in maybe her coolest role of all-time.

Needless to say, this six episode television show, which I hope lives on beyond one very short season, is chock full of immense talent. And that includes the cast members that are lesser known. Everyone on this show carries their weight and no one drags ass.

This was created by Neil Gaiman, based off of a novel he wrote almost thirty years ago with Terry Pratchett. I’ve never read the book but I might have to check it out now, based off of how cool this show is.

Now Good Omens isn’t perfect but I also don’t care that it’s not. It’s engaging, very, very human and it challenges its own subject matter, giving its audience hope for something more than the simple doom and gloom of an eventual biblical Armageddon. However, I’m an atheist but I know that most people aren’t and that some of what’s featured on this show is very real to them.

Sure, this is comedic, dramatic and fantastical but it exposes some of the very things that I’ve always questioned about the Christian mythos. As I was brought up very religiously, I had questions and doubts that I never felt got satisfactory answers and I was never really allowed to even have doubts or question the authority that dictated these things to me. So I’m glad that this show puts it all out there.

The production is stellar, the show looks great, its well acted, well written, has great pacing and good direction.

My only real concern is that I hope it can maintain its quality if this goes on for longer. But I also feel that it needs too. The story of this season is concluded within the six episodes but it opens the doors to a lot of new things going forward.

But since this seems to be a big hit for Amazon and the BBC, I’m pretty sure we’ll get new episodes of Good Omens for at least a few more years.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: What We Do In the Shadows, American Gods and Lucifer.

Film Review: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Release Date: September 27th, 2018 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Written by: Drew Goddard
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman

Goddard Textiles, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 141 Minutes

Review:

“Shit happens, get the whisky.” – Father Daniel Flynn

I’m glad that I went into this not knowing much about it. I saw one trailer, awhile ago, but my memory sucks because I’m getting old and I probably rival Roger Ebert in his prime for the amount of films that I watch. But I did know that this was a neo-noir, written and directed by Drew Goddard and starring a bunch of people I like.

Well, this is one of the top films I’ve seen in 2018. That being said, I’ve been to the theater less this year than any other because we had a terrible summer and even most of the indie stuff isn’t motivating me to get out there. But man, my FireStick probably deserves a break, as I’ve ran it through the wringer.

If you haven’t seen this, I don’t want to give away too much. The less you know, the better. This is the sort of film that takes you on a real journey with twists and turns and big reveals, curveballs and surprises. The real highlight though, is seeing these great talents together, playing off of each other and playing each other.

The story takes place at the El Royale, a nearly defunct hotel literally split in half by the California-Nevada border. It’s a place that used to be frequented by big wig celebrities and politicians. Now a group of strangers are staying there and their lives all become intertwined, as each brings their own baggage into the situation.

Some of the film is told in flashback to show you what led each character to the hotel. This isn’t a movie bogged down by flashbacks though, as they all happen pretty quickly and are just there to fill in some context and add some seasoning to the larger narrative.

The first act of the film actually reminded me of Clue, not that this was a comedy but you witness a bunch of strangers meet in a lobby at a place they are spending the night. Each seems to have a secret and to not be who they seem. But once the plot gets rolling, this isn’t a whodunit murder mystery, it’s more complex than that.

The one thing that really stands out about this film apart from the great story and the great acting is the cinematography. The lighting is superb and the shots are great. Being that this hotel is equally split by the state border, a lot of shots take advantage of this and showcase this symmetry or dichotomy. The California side of the lobby has the bar, the Nevada side has slot machines and each half of the room has a different color scheme. I also loved the use of fire in the climax, as it made everything feel truly Hellish.

While this isn’t a massive Hollywood blockbuster, this is something that should be seen on the big screen. So you should probably get out and see it while it is still in theaters. As of right now, this is definitely a frontrunner for my personal favorite film of the year.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other notable neo-noirs: Blood Simple., The American FriendBlue Velvet, No Country for Old Men, Fargo and Lost Highway.

Film Review: Sin City (2005)

Also known as: Frank Miller’s Sin City
Release Date: March 28th, 2005 (Mann National Theater premiere)
Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Based on: Sin City by Frank Miller
Music by: John Debney, Graeme Revell, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Nick Offerman, Marley Shelton, Nick Stahl, Tommy Flanagan, Devon Aoki, Rick Gomez, Frank Miller (cameo), Robert Rodriguez (cameo)

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, Miramax, 124 Minutes, 147 Minutes (unrated recut)

Review:

“Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then.” – Dwight

When Sin City came out, it was a bit of a phenomenon. Well, at least with fans of comic books and especially those who love the work of Frank Miller.

I haven’t watched this in a really long time and I wanted to revisit it after spending a lot of time delving into classic film-noir, which this picture takes some major visual cues from. Well, the original comic this was based on used a lot of noir visual flair, so it was only natural that this film adaptation followed suit.

As an overall cohesive story, the film doesn’t work that well. I get that it is a linked anthology with overlapping characters but it feels like it is just running all over the place. Frankly, this would work better as a television show where all of these characters could be better developed and jumping around with the narrative would just seem more organic.

This is still a cool movie with cool characters but sometimes they feel more like caricatures of pulp comic and noir archetypes. There isn’t really any time to get to know anyone beyond what’s on the immediate surface. Nancy and Hartigan are the only characters with any sort of meaningful backstory and even then, it is pretty skeletal and doesn’t have the meat it needs to really connect in an emotional way.

The film is highly stylized and while it looks cool, it almost works against it, as the grit and violence almost becomes too comic book-y. But this is supposed to be the comic stories coming to life and it represents that with its visual style. And I like the visual style but this is still a live action motion picture and it sort of forgets that.

I’m not saying it can’t have immense and incredible style but it needs to have a better balance between what would exist on a black and white comic book page and what works best for the medium of film. Being that this is the first film to sort of use this visual technique, I think people looked past its faults. I also think that once it was done here, the initial surprise and awe was gone, which is why no one cared much when the sequel came out and why the visual flare didn’t work to hide the faults of Frank Miller’s very similar film, The Spirit.

Additionally, sometimes the comic book elements seem very heavy handed and forced. The scene where Marv escapes the SWAT team may work in the comics but it felt bizarre and goofy in the movie. It would have been more effective if it was toned down and reworked, as opposed to Miller and Rodriguez trying to copy the comic panel by panel. This never works well, which was also why 2009’s The Watchmen had a lot of problems. Personally, I’d rather just stick to the comics if the filmmakers want to just recreate everything panel to shot.

Another problem with directly adapting comics is that the dialogue that works in one medium sometimes sounds terrible in another. Some lines when delivered on screen were cringe worthy moments. Still, I mostly liked everyone’s performance in this despite the sometimes questionable direction and script.

Sin City didn’t blow my mind like it did when I first saw it thirteen years ago. That’s fine. It is still pretty damn good and enjoyable but at first glance, way back in the day, I probably would have given this a nine out of ten rating. But at its core, it just isn’t that good of a film, even if it caused me to fanboy out in 2005.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Spirit.

Book Review: ‘Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living’ by Nick Offerman

You will most likely recognize Nick Offerman as the anti-government government worker, Ron Swanson from the fantastic show Parks & Recreation. The real man isn’t too far from living up to the awesomeness that is his fictional counterpart. Now while his political philosophy may not be as hardcore in real life, he is just as much a man’s man and a complete badass. He’s also a die hard Cubs fan, so there is that too.

This book is primarily autobiographical. Nick tells tales of his childhood, his life, his struggles and everything in-between. He spends a good deal of time talking about the men who helped shape him into who he is.

He also discusses his love of the Cubs, his love of woodworking and his sweet breakdancing skills. He covers his thoughts on diet and health, which is important coming from the man who on television only ever seems to eat turf & turf while pillaging through cigars and Scotch. He also goes into facial hair, which is just one of many things that he has earned expert status on.

The highpoint and best parts of the book, which are sprinkled throughout, are the times where he talks about his love for his wife, Megan Mullally. The book is almost a love letter to his wife and although it is somewhat mushy and sweet, it still comes off manly as fuck and is a good lesson to other men on how to treat and see their wives or girlfriends.

Finishing this book, I wasn’t left unsatisfied. I expected it to be a good primer on who Nick Offerman is and I was left with a lot more than that. There isn’t a chapter in this book that one can’t learn something from. Paddle Your Own Canoe is not just a well-written, educational and entertaining book, it is a valuable book.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Nick Offerman’s other books: Gumption and Good Clean Fun.

Film Review: We’re The Millers (2013)

Release Date: August 3rd, 2013 (Traverse City Film Festival)
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Written by: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris
Music by: Ludwig Goransson, Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Luis Guzman, Thomas Lennon, Ken Marino

New Line Cinema, Newman/Tooley Films, Slap Happy Productions, Heyday Films, Benderspink, Warner Bros., 110 Minutes

Review:

“We are all now officially international drug smugglers. Add it to the resume.” – David Clark

I didn’t have much urge to see this film even though I like a few of the people in it: mostly Sudeikis and Offerman. However, Aniston can be fun and Emma Roberts has been growing on me, even if I can’t stand her show Scream Queens. Ed Helms is awful in every way though but he is only in this sparingly. Plus, I’ve liked Kathryn Hahn since her time on Parks and Recreation.

I’m glad I ended up giving this film a chance though, even though most modern mainstream comedies are lowest common denominator schlock. We’re The Millers was pleasantly surprising. That’s not to say it was great but it had my attention throughout the picture and I laughed at some of the gags. Plus, the cast worked really well together.

In this film, we see Sudeikis’ David rope in stripper Rose (Aniston), runaway criminal Casey (Roberts) and his virginal neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter) into a scheme where they pose as a family on a RV trip to Mexico. On the trip, they are to acquire some drugs and bring them back to the States for Ed Helms’ character. Along the way, they run into trouble at every turn and while they bicker and fight, they find a real family unit with each other.

The picture is pretty straight forward from a stylistic approach. It’s an American comedy made for the general public, so there isn’t much in the way of cinematic artistry. The cinematography is fine but average, the directing isn’t notable for being either good or bad and the acting is exactly what one would expect. But then again, these films aren’t made to even compete for Oscars.

I’ve grown to like Jason Sudeikis a lot in the last few years. This just solidifies my appreciation for him. Offerman was also awesome, as a sexually freaky bad ass DEA agent. This is probably the best comedic role Offerman has had outside of Parks and Recreation.

We’re The Millers is not a movie that anyone will probably fall in love with but it is a better than average comedy film when compared to what’s come out of Hollywood in the last decade. It is not a classic by any means and will probably be forgotten in a few years but then they are supposedly working on a sequel to keep this thing living. It’s probably not a good idea though, as sequels to these sort of pictures tend to fall flat and cheapen the original.

Film Review: The Hero (2017)

Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Brett Haley
Written by: Marc Basch, Brett Haley
Music by: Keegan DeWitt
Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross, Ali Wong, Cameron Esposito

Northern Lights, Park Pictures, Houston King Productions, The Orchard, 93 Minutes

Review:

The Hero finally came out in a theater near me. I had anticipated seeing this since first hearing about it when it played at Sundance in January. Anything with Sam Elliott in the lead is worth checking out and the rest of the small cast is made up of people I love, so I has hoping for something exceptional.

Well, the film is not exceptional but it was still somewhat enjoyable.

The Hero is an American independent drama in its most common form. The story is lighthearted but serious, there is personal tension and everything feels genuine but is sort of cookie cutter and predictable. Unfortunately, from a narrative standpoint, there just isn’t much to sink your teeth into.

The thing that prevents the film from being a total waste is the cast. It’s as if the main character was tailor made for Elliott and it is one of his best performances of all-time, which says a great deal, but the script around his performance just isn’t there to support him.

Laura Prepon, who plays Elliott’s love interest, is also fantastic in this but her character needed a bit more and sadly, the conversations between her and Elliott weren’t as well written as they should have been. This is also the case with Elliott’s scenes with his daughter, played by Krysten Ritter, and his ex-wife, played by the great Katharine Ross. None of the dialogue really had the weight and meaning that it needed.

The high point of the film, at least for me, was seeing Elliott reunited with Nick Offerman, who played his best friend and weed dealer. Elliott and Offerman had a good and hilarious chemistry in the episodes where they appeared together on Parks and Recreation. Their friendship feels real and it is always good seeing either of these guys get a beefy role in the movies. While Offerman only appears in three or four parts, its those scenes that seem to be the best in this picture, maybe because their chemistry and real life friendship cuts through the mediocre script.

The Hero is worth a watch if you like the people in it. It just kind of sucks that they didn’t have something more intimate and well-written to play off of each other. It is a film full of great talent in front of the camera but not a project worthy of their efforts.

Film Review: A Walk In The Woods (2015)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ken Kwapis
Written by: Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman
Based on: A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson
Music by: Nathan Larson
Cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, Emma Thompson

Route One Films, Wildwood Enterprises, Broad Green Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

“Intimidate the bears? They’re fucking bears!” – Stephen Katz

A Walk In The Woods interested me for two reasons. The first, is that I’ve wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail for quite some time. The second, I’ve always been a fan of Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

This film is based off of the memoir of the same name by travel writer Bill Bryson. Redford plays Bryson and Nolte plays his old friend Katz, who accompanies him on his long journey walking from Georgia to Maine.

I’ve never read the book, so I am not sure how close the film depicts the source material. Although, I expected something deeper and more serious. With a couple of old chums who haven’t seen each other in decades, I was looking forward to not just a grand adventure but also seeing them have to deal with the challenges of their once close relationship and how their lives have gone in different directions since they last spoke. While this is touched on, there is no big heartfelt moment or a real catharsis for the characters – at least nothing is really explained; they just act enlightened. In fact, the motivation as to why Bryson wants to go on this journey is never really explained. He is questioned about it several times but it is never clear what it is he is expecting to find on this journey.

What saves this film is the chemistry between Redford and Nolte. Also, the comedy elements are really good and at least I enjoyed the film for that.

Kristen Schaal shows up and is pretty hilarious. One of her Last Man On Earth co-stars, Mary Steenburgen, shows up too. I enjoyed their small parts, as well as Emma Thompson’s.

Oh yeah, and Ron Swanson, er.. Nick Offerman shows up for a bit as a salesman at REI.

When comparing this to the recent Pacific Crest Trail film Wild, this is missing the heart and the purpose that that film had. While I love the book Wild more than the film, the movie still connects much deeper than A Walk In The Woods does. Maybe I will read the book at some point and I can compare them from a literary standpoint.

This film is worth a watch but it certainly isn’t a vital must-see.