Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Release Date: January 30th, 2017 (Arclight Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan, David Patrick Kelly, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, 122 Minutes

Review:

“John Wick, you’re not very good at retiring.” – Bowery King, “I’m working on it.” – John Wick

Having finally watched the first John Wick, I figured that I would check out the sequel, as it is available on HBO but is soon expiring.

This film is longer than its predecessor and it is also packed with a lot more action and I thought that those sequences were orchestrated really well. Although, I didn’t like this film’s story as much and it seemed forced in parts and disjointed in others.

Still, this was enjoyable and a good followup to the first chapter.

Here, John Wick is pulled back into his life as an assassin. He is called upon by an old acquaintance that he owes a favor to. Wick refuses, has his home destroyed and finally decides to do the favor. However, like a typical film-noir, the plot has a lot of swerves, surprises and is hard to predict. While this approach worked well in the first film, I found this one a bit harder to follow. Plus, they introduce new characters left and right and the amount of people in the film is a bit overwhelming and bogs down the flow of the narrative. But I guess when a film needs to get by on murdering the crap out of everyone and everything, you’ve got to throw characters at John Wick in order to keep piling up the bodies.

Also, the dog isn’t murdered in this movie, which is a plus.

While the first film did well and got the sequel treatment, this film, I don’t know if I have much interest in watching more of these. I like Keanu, I like the action but there isn’t much else to sink my teeth into that satisfies my palate.

Yes, this is well made from a visual, action and stunt standpoint. But I need more than that from a film. I don’t know, I admire what I see in these pictures but I just don’t feel connected to them. What John Wick goes through to setup these films is horrible but it is just backstory without any sort of real emotional context. Maybe it’s because you never really get to spend time with Wick and his wife, other than a quick sort of montage in the first film. I’m not saying that this needs to be The Notebook but I feel like they needed to show a their deep connection to really give Wick’s loss some weight. And by the time you get to this second film, the loss of his wife and dog are mentioned but the gravity of the situation is lost.

I would still probably check out the eventual John Wick 3 but I’ll go into it without any expectations other than anticipating solid action sequences and nice cinematography. Which is fine. I just feel like these movies had the opportunity to be so much better.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: John Wick, as well as Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

TV Review: The Tick (2016- )

Original Run: August 18th, 2016 – current
Created by: Ben Edlund
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Chris Bacon
Cast: Peter Serafinowicz, Griffin Newman, Valorie Curry, Brendan Hines, Jackie Earle Haley, Yara Martinez, Scott Speiser, Michael Cerveris, Bryan Greenberg, Alan Tudyk

Sony Pictures, Amazon Studios, 6 Episodes (so far), 29 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Last year, Amazon debuted the pilot episode of The Tick. It was pretty well received, which caused them to produce a season’s worth of episodes, albeit a short season with just six. That full season just premiered on Amazon’s streaming service.

Having now seen the show, I do mostly like it. However, it has been a really long time since I saw the original live action series, as well as the animated show. This version is a bit more realistic and gritty, as much as it can be anyway, but it still stays lighthearted and the spirit of the franchise is very much there.

I have always liked Peter Serafinowicz ever since first seeing him on Spaced and Black Books. He has also been in Shaun of the DeadGuardians of the GalaxyParks and Recreation and provided the voice of Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It’s nice seeing him get this opportunity and he played the Tick quite well.

Griffin Newman’s Arthur annoyed the piss out of me mostly, though. But then again, I guess he’s supposed to. But they did play up the pansy reluctant hero bit way too much. Once he sort of accepted his destiny, he got more tolerable. I don’t blame Newman per se but the shtick wore thin very quickly.

The rest of the cast was good. I especially liked Arthur’s stepdad, played by François Chau and I hope he gets a more expanded role in the future.

My experience with the show is positive, thus far. With only six episodes, it is hard to make a fair assessment of its quality. Time will tell but I think the franchise is in good hands.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005)

*Written in 2015.

I haven’t watched these films in a few years. I catch glimpses of them from time to time as I am flipping through channels on cable but it has been at least five years since I’ve sat down and watched this trilogy in its entirety.

It is universally agreed upon that this trilogy was not on par with the original trilogy and many people have griped about these three films for well over a decade now. I knew they weren’t as good but I used to try and defend them, as I could look passed their faults because at least they were new Star Wars movies.

Having had a lot of time away from this series and being less enthusiastic than I probably should be about the upcoming Disney films, I can no longer defend the prequels in good conscience. They are what essentially killed the Star Wars magic inside of me, even if I didn’t want to see it at the time.

But let me address each one individually.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999):

Release Date: May 25th, 1999
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Ray Park, Terence Stamp, Keira Knightley, Peter Serafinowicz, Sofia Coppola, Warwick Davis

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Phantom Menace is a bad film, plain and simple.

There are only a few good things even worth mentioning as positives.

To start, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor were great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Also, Darth Maul is the most bad ass looking Sith of all-time. Unfortunately, Darth Maul has little screen time and meets his demise before this film is over and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have to share most of their scenes with any combination of the characters Jar Jar Binks, Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala. All three of those characters, in this film and really all of the films, were mostly unbearable.

This installment into the Star Wars mega franchise was too full of political nonsense and pointless babble about stuff no one cares about. Sure, we’d like to know how the Galactic Empire came to be and how the Sith rose to power and conquered the Jedi but we didn’t need endless diatribes about details no one even remotely wanted to follow.

Also, take into account what this franchise was before this movie. You have now replaced terrifying and cool Storm Troopers with anorexic and bumbling Battle Droids. You replaced Rebel soldiers with thousands of Jar Jars and armed them with bubbles. You replaced X-wing Starfighters and TIE Fighters with awfully designed Naboo Starfighters and Vulture Droids. You replaced desolate and wild worlds with the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Everything about this film was wrong: in tone, in characters, in design, in total execution.

It was corny, cheesy, way too child friendly and full of more annoyances than things that are actually cool.

Fuck pod racing. Fuck midichlorians.

There really is nothing I like about this film other than the few things mentioned around paragraph two. And even then, they certainly aren’t enough to save this movie.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002):

Release Date: May 12th, 2002 (Tribeca)
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Rose Byrne, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Liam Neeson

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 142 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” – Anakin Skywalker

Attack of the Clones may be even worse than The Phantom Menace.

This film offers up a lot of the same as the previous. Luckily though, Jar Jar Binks has pretty limited screen time, as the backlash of that character was tremendous. In fact, I’ll be shocked if future Star Wars films even remotely show a Gungan.

The cool thing about this film is the inclusion of Jango Fett and the origin of his son, the uber popular and awesome Boba Fett. Also, Christoper Lee, one of my three favorite actors of all-time, shows up as the Sith Lord, Count Dooku.

This film should have been awesome. Well, for the first time ever, we get to see what happens when an army of Jedi fights together. While it was visually cool to see a bunch of Jedi light up a few dozen lightsabers, it happened against Battle Droids. You know, those clumsy metal comedians that the idiotic Gungans beat in the previous film. Somehow, now, they present a challenge to the best Jedi in the galaxy. Am I missing something here?

Also, one thing that has always bothered me about the Star Wars films was the ambiguous travel times. Never is it as much of a continuity problem, as it is here.

Look at the timeline of people traveling to Geonosis. Yoda shows up five minutes after Mace Windu, even though they both left Coruscant at the same time and Yoda had to make a pit stop at Kamino to pick up the Clone Army. Anakin and Padmé got there not too long before Windu because they knew Windu would not make it in time to stop Kenobi’s execution. However, Windu walks up just as the attempt at execution is going down. And Windu was walking casually slow. Had he tried not to look so cool, he could’ve probably beat the clock for sure.

This movie is a mess. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s acting during the Anakin and Padmé romance scenes was beyond painful to watch.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005):

Release Date: May 15th, 2005 (Cannes)
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Peter Mayhew, Ahmed Best, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Bruce Spence, Keisha Castle-Hughes, James Earl Jones, Bai Ling (scenes cut)

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

The third and final movie in the prequel trilogy is the best of the three. However, it still isn’t very good by Star Wars standards.

In this one, we see Anakin’s destiny reach full climax as, by film’s end, he becomes the iconic Darth Vader. Of course, the path to full Vaderdom is just more of the same bullshit that we’ve had to endure over multiple films now. And Hayden Christensen continues to give a wooden performance accented by Natalie Portman, who doesn’t even want to be there and Ewan McGregor, who is trying to be passionate with the shitty lines George Lucas gave him to speak.

This film solidifies just how stupid the Jedi Council is or just how bad of a writer that George Lucas is. Why are only two Jedi sent to rescue the Supreme Chancellor who is held hostage over Coruscant, the capital of the galaxy? I mean, there is a Jedi Temple full of Jedi below, even if many are off fighting on other planets. And why did Yoda and Obi-Wan not tag team Palpatine and then Anakin? And somehow, Yoda and Obi-Wan fought their battles at the same time, even though they took off for them simultaneously but one was down the street and the other was on the other side of the galaxy. Again, ambiguous travel times.

Count Dooku dies too early. General Grievous is a dumb villain and it is clear that instead of having long lasting iconic bad guys like Darth Vader, Lucas would rather give us Maul then Dooku then Grievous in an effort to sell more toys. Sacrifice the story, sell more shit.

Fuck this movie too.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Release Date: July 21st, 2014 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Based on: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Peter Serafinowicz, Seth Green

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 122 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I’ve been anticipating Guardians of the Galaxy since it was announced, as I knew it would be incredibly unique and very different from all the Marvel Avengers-related films. I was right.

Out of everything that Marvel has done, this right here, is the cream of the crop. Yes, that is a bold statement and yes, I raved about Captain America: The Winter Solider but this is the magnum opus out of all their films, which started with the first Iron Man in 2008.

Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) did an insanely amazing job with this film. I’d actually like to see him direct every Marvel picture going forward but that would probably drive anyone mad as we get two-to-three of these things per year now. Also, as great as this film is, that doesn’t mean that it can be replicated over and over again. And frankly, that’s probably why this is so good, because it stands above everything Marvel has done to this point and I don’t just mean Disney’s Marvel franchise, I am including Sony – who has Spider-Man, Fox – who has X-Men and the Fantastic Four, as well as Lion’s Gate – who had Daredevil and The Punisher.

The cast in this film is pretty great and they really feel like a solid unit. Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation, Zero Dark Thirty) is bad ass and charismatic as the group’s leader Peter Quill a.k.a. Star Lord. Then you have the girl who seems to be in every sci-fi franchise now, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar) as Gamora. The only other human actor on the team is Drax the Destroyer, who is played by the wrestler Batista (The Man With the Iron Fists, Riddick) and contrary to what people think about wrestlers acting, Batista owns this role, is tough as shit, menacing and more often than not, hilarious. I’d rather watch a string of Drax movies than another one of those horrible Riddick films.

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hangover) voices the coolest character, Rocket. Rocket is a talking, fighting raccoon that was created in a lab. His sidekick is a humanoid tree named Groot, who is voiced by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious, Riddick). Both of these characters came off extraordinarily well on screen. Truthfully, when first hearing about this film, I was most concerned with how they were going to pull of a talking raccoon and a humanoid tree. What they gave us was nothing short of exceptional. If you don’t fall in love with these two characters, you have no soul.

The cast also includes Lee Pace (Halt & Catch Fire, Pushing Daisies) as Ronan the Accuser, the film’s main antagonist. Pace had a very strong and powerful presence in this film. There is also Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Cliffhanger) who plays Yondu, a pirate and father figure to Peter Quill. Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Selfie) plays Nebula – Ronan’s right hand. Benecio Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects) plays the Collector, who we first saw in Thor: The Dark World. Josh Brolin (Goonies, No Country For Old Men) provided the voice and motion capture for the character of Thanos, who will become the biggest villain in Marvel’s film franchise; he was first glimpsed at in The Avengers. You also have Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou and an actor who doesn’t get as much recognition as he should, Peter Serafinowicz. There are also cameos from Lloyd Kaufman – the top dog at Troma, Stan Lee and Nathan Fillion. Rob Zombie even voices a computer.

Moving on, the visual style of this film was mesmerizing. It was colorful yet dark and each location our heroes visited felt entirely different and unique. The action was superb, the CGI effects were beautiful and well-developed and everything just flowed pretty seamlessly. The most powerful x-factor with this film however, was how it maintained a balance between lightheartedness and seriousness. Chris Pratt, with his experience on Parks & Recreation, was the perfect guy to pull this off and he exceeded my expectations. If he doesn’t become a huge star after this, something is wrong with the world. Luckily for us, we get to see him star in Jurassic World next summer, as well as the next Guardians of the Galaxy film in 2017 (one could also assume Avengers 3 in 2018).

I’ll be honest, I haven’t had this much fun at the movies in a long time. I’ve seen better films, sure. However, this picture is a big overflowing barrel of fun and awesomeness. It is the space adventure I have always wanted since being let down again and again since Return of the Jedi blew my 4 year-old little mind. In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy is what I wanted out of The Phantom Menace 15 years ago but never got.

Oh, and if you want to see the reboot of the title character of a little Marvel related movie that George Lucas produced in 1986, stay until the end of the credits.