Film Review: Drive (2011)

Release Date: May 20th, 2011 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive by James Sallis
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Albert Brooks

FilmDistrict, Bold Films, MWM Studios, OddLot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Motel Movies, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[on phone] There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?” – Driver

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director I appreciate but have also had some issues with, as some of his films feel like style over substance and entirely miss their mark for me. That being said, this was really my introduction to Refn and upon initially seeing this, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been awhile since I revisited it, however, and I wondered if my assessment would still be the same after having bad experiences with his films that followed it. I wondered if I might have just been captivated by the visuals and music of the picture that I gave a free pass to a film that really didn’t cut the mustard.

Well, I’m glad to say that I still think this is pretty exceptional. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Refn didn’t write this, unlike Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. My other favorite film by Refn, Bronson, was co-written with another writer. So maybe Refn does his best work behind the camera, filming the stories and scripts of another writer (or co-writer that can massage out the overly pretentious crap).

Driver has one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in the way that it builds suspense and introduces you to the main character, who remains nameless throughout the film. He’s quiet but intense and lives by a sort of code that ultimately, causes a lot of problems for himself and the few people who come into his orbit.

The film’s greatness is magnified by the performance of Ryan Gosling, who didn’t fully win me over until this role. He moves through every scene like a spectre, saying little and sort of just reacting to what happens around him. It’s a truly understated performance but it works so well for the picture’s tone and style.

There is mystery around the character, mystery around the swerves within the plot and nothing is really clear until the end and even then, you still don’t feel like you know this guy who you just spent 100 minutes with. But it’s hard not to respect him, even if he did terrible things because there’s a selflessness in his actions despite living a morally vacant and criminal life.

It’s apparent that his time with Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her son has left an impact on him that has brought him a newfound sense of morality. But ultimately, he can only respond with the tools and experiences that are most familiar to him and to the underworld he inhabits.

Despite the violence and the heinous things that happen within the film, there is a bizarre sweetness to it. There are few films that can make you feel so much for its characters when the actors’ performances are so low key.

But there are also a few actors in this who seem larger than life. Mostly, the two mob bosses played by Ron Perlman, at his slimy best, and Albert Brooks, who steals the show and whose performance here makes me wonder why he hasn’t been in a lot more movies. The dude was cold, callous but exuded a genuineness that lesser actors couldn’t have pulled off in quite the same way.

This film is greatly enhanced by the tremendous musical score from Cliff Martinez, as well as the use of synthwave music throughout the film. The music just feels perfectly married to the visual style of the film, which has a vibrant neo-noir look to it. This mixture of visual style and music can’t simply carry a picture though, as tapping this well again in Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon didn’t deliver the same results.

Drive is comprised off a lot of different elements that just came together and worked. I don’t think that it is something that can replicated easily, as Refn’s two following films showed. Here, it was just magic. And frankly, I think that Refn is better off adapting other people’s scripts or finding himself a great co-writer that can come in and make something that’s more coherent and emotional.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: stylistically, other Nicolas Winding Refn films, other than that it is pretty unique.

Film Review: The Ice Pirates (1984)

Release Date: March 16th, 1984
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Written by: Stewart Raffill, Stanford Sherman
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Bruce Vilanch, John Carradine, John Matuszak, Carmen Filpi

JF Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid I have some bad news… well maybe its not that bad. The princess is pregnant.” – Wendon

I have weird memories of The Ice Pirates. I remember it being on TV a lot when I was a kid and I watched it all the time. But I didn’t have a nostalgic fondness for it like I do similar pictures. Watching it now, I did enjoy it but it just doesn’t connect for me in the right way.

It’s lighthearted, fun and amusing. You like just about all of the characters and it’s highly energetic. There’s not much of anything to dislike but even for all of its positives, it does fall kind of flat for me.

I guess my biggest gripe is that the pacing is really odd and sometimes you are just pulled along for the ride and it isn’t even all that clear as to what’s happening on screen. There is a disjointedness to the film that makes it hard to follow if you’re actually trying to take it somewhat seriously.

While the big conclusion that deals with rapid aging and time travel shenanigans is a neat sequence, it feels sloppily done and it feels like the gag is more important than the climax of the film itself.

Honestly, The Ice Pirates plays like a string of sketch comedy scenes, following a sci-fi theme with just a small plot thread holding them together in any sort of cohesive way.

I do like the performances though, everyone looked to be enjoying the production and because of that, it makes the movie more exciting. Plus, I’ll watch Bruce Vilanch in anything.

But, in the end, I have a hard time considering this to be a classic, as many would suggest.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Battle Beyond the Stars, The Black Hole, Spacehunter: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone, Space Raiders and Cherry 2000.

Film Review: Blade II (2002)

Also known as: Blade 2: Bloodlust (working title)
Release Date: March 21st, 2002 (premiere)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: David S. Goyer
Based on: Blade by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Norman Reedus, Luke Goss, Danny John-Jules, Donnie Yen, Matt Schulze

Marvel Enterprises, Amen Ra Films, Imaginary Forces, New Line Cinema, 117 Minutes

Review:

“They tortured me almost to death, and then let me heal in a vat of blood so they could go at it again. Sorry sons of bitches could’ve at least fixed my damn leg while they were at it.” – Whistler

I think I liked Blade II when I saw it in theaters, which was the last time I saw it. However, seeing it with 2019 eyes, this thing is a total failure when compared to the solidness of the first picture.

Guillermo del Toro directed this, which means something to a lot of people, but if I’m being honest, del Toro rarely wows me. I don’t know why. I like his style to a point but I think he’s a severely over hyped filmmaker and his faults are really apparent in this movie.

The first movie in this franchise had superb character development and world building. This just takes all of that and makes it darker for the sake of making it darker and it adds in so much of del Toro’s narrative and visual tropes that its a flat movie with flat, predictable characters that act more like caricatures than real people. Blade II is a perfect example of style over substance.

This also has a new vampire threat that is very del Toro-esque and while these new, more dangerous vampires should be scary, they’re just kind of weird and go so far outside of what a typical vampire is that they feel like a different type of monster altogether. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but I just don’t like these creatures and they seem pretty generic and lame. Plus, they all basically look the same, which is just shirtless, bald and pale things. If I’m being honest, it’s as if del Toro is trying to channel some of the visual cues from Dark City‘s baddies while adding in a bit more fright factor with their jaws splitting open and revealing vampire vagina faces like the aliens from the Predator franchise.

While there are several actors I like in this beyond Snipes and Kristofferson, all of them are poorly used. Ron Perlman is underwhelming, Norman Reedus is annoying, Donnie Yen is wasted and Danny John-Jules feels like a watered down and less fabulous version of his most famous character, the Cat from Red Dwarf.

I didn’t like the bad guys, I didn’t like the plot twists that one can see from ten miles away and there was nothing here that justifies the need for a sequel.

I’m trying to think of one scene or sequence that stands out in the movie and I’ve got nothing. This is just an almost two-hour music video full of late ’90s techno and industrial scene cliches. And the whole shebang is derivative as fuck.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Blade movies.

TV Review: Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014)

Also known as: Forever Sam Crow (working title)
Original Run: September 3rd, 2008-December 9th, 2014
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bob Thiele, Dave Kushner, Curtis Stigers
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Johnny Lewis, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Dayton Callie, Jimmy Smits, Drea De Matteo, David Labrava, Niko Nicotera, Glenn Plummer, Taryn Manning, Emilio Rivera, Ally Walker, Mitch Pileggi, Kenneth Choi, Kurt Sutter, Titus Welliver, Walton Goggins, Henry Rollins, Hal Holbrook, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Marilyn Manson, Kim Dickens, Chuck Zito, Ray McKinnon

Linson The Company, Sutter Ink, Fox 21, FX, 92 Episodes, 41-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This is one of those reviews that will probably turn a lot of my friends against me. I care not. I must tell it like it is from my point-of-view.

Sons of Anarchy is a show that I have developed a like/hate relationship with. I don’t say “love” because I’m not that enthralled with the positive aspects of it. It does however, have some positives amidst a sea of negatives. And I guess that makes me go against the popular opinion, as nearly everyone that I have talked to, has loved this show.

But I guess this isn’t a show for me. Where I expected something more like The Sopranos on motorcycles, this was more like a mindless action flick full of an overabundance of violence, bad CGI, bad acting, bad writing, bad music and really stupid and unlikable characters. Sons of Anarchy is geared more towards the male millennial crowd than it is for people who want good and groundbreaking television or at the very least, some sort of coherent plot.

This show is a mess. It is a moderately enjoyable mess at times but it is a show that constantly tries too hard and falls short. Yes, there are shocking and intense moments but they lose their meaning and significance almost immediately. For one, it is hard to care about any of these horrible characters. Also, with the show trying to constantly outdo itself and escalating further and further from episode to episode, things eventually get so over the top that it becomes unintentionally ludicrous.

The premise of the show also changes as it goes on and it loses sight of itself just a few seasons in. Maybe this is intentional but it really just feels like the weight of this ratings beast forced the showrunners to make quick, big decisions, which may have increased ratings further but sacrificed whatever integrity and soul the show may have had early on.

For instance, the show’s main drive in the beginning is the main character Jax’s obsession with his dead father’s writings. The writings talked about what the motorcycle club was supposed to be, how it got away from itself and how butt hurt Jax’s dad was about it. Jax then makes it his mission to right the wrongs and make the motorcycle club respectable. Maybe he would’ve been more inspired and followed through had he actually read more than two paragraphs of his father’s writings at a time. Maybe Jax has a bad attention span. Maybe that is why he couldn’t follow through because he got distracted by doing really stupid shit every episode.

In any event, the show evolves away from the club’s redemption through Jax’s leadership and instead shows the club fall on hard times and then even harder times. It just gets worse and worse, Jax stops reading his dad’s journals and pretty much turns into the asshole his stepfather Clay is. He actually turns out worse than Clay by the end of it all.

I could write a book about how much of an idiot Jax is but I’m not going to waste my time. I could also write a book about how much of an idiot his mother Gemma is.

All the characters really suck and all of them, for the most part, are stupid morons. They are the dumbest criminals I’ve ever seen. Darkwing Duck had smarter bad guys than the members of the Sons of Anarchy.

As far as likable characters, there are really only five. There is Wayne, who is on a tragic journey that ultimately ends up sucking really bad for him. Also, he had terminal cancer “eating away” at him in season one but somehow survived seven seasons. There is Jax’s ex-heroin addict wife who goes on to redeem herself and she’s about the only character you are happy for in the end. Then we have Nero, the pimp and tragic lover of Gemma. I really liked Nero but Jimmy Smits is awesome in every role. There’s Piney, who saw the bullshit for what it was and tried to hold everyone accountable. Since he was the voice of reason in a sea of shitty people, he was killed off. This brings me to my favorite character: Juice.

Juice is most likely the most tragic character in television history. Juice was a positive on this show even though his end was horrible. You couldn’t not like Juice and feel for him every step of the way. He truly cared about the club and doing the right thing but continually got fucked (literally) and lost his life and stature because the people he invested his love and loyalty in were pieces of garbage. Juice’s journey is one of the redeeming factors of this show. I don’t like how it ended but this show is one big tragedy.

In regards to the show’s music, it is terrible. The main theme is awful but somehow was nominated for an Emmy by some tone deaf Hollywood types. The songs throughout the show are even worse. More often than not, we are treated to some poor slowed down roots rock cover song of a known pop hit. It always feels bizarre, out of place and makes the show come off as generic and cheesy. At least once per season, we get some crappy song sung by Katey Sagal, who probably shouldn’t sing but is most likely encouraged by her husband, who is the show’s creator. That’s probably also why she was cast as Gemma. Lastly, the music selections are almost racist. When the biker gang fights another biker gang there is rock music. When they fight Mexicans: Spanish language gangsta rap. When they fight blacks: generic crappy English language gangsta rap. Asians: make sure to add in some Asian stringed instruments and gongs in over the soundtrack. Irish: Celtic shit. Persians: grab the sitar – hey wait, that’s Hindi you racist bastards! It’s sad and predictable and becomes a distraction.

This show was not The Sopranos on motorcycles, it was a Shakespearean tragedy on motorcycles. Which is perfectly fine. The problem is that the execution was shit and it tried to convince the viewer that it was clever while beating you over the head with its Shakespeareanism. After the tragic, pointless and retarded ending of the show, it even gives the viewer a Shakespeare quote before rolling its final credits. I’m sure dumb ass college students for years to come will write papers about how fantastic this modern Shakespearean saga is after just skimming over the Cliff Notes of Shakespeare’s work to make them feel the connection.

I don’t hate this show, even though it probably comes across like that. I had a hard time getting through segments of it but I enjoyed it enough to finish it. Granted, the ending was one of the worst in television history but really crappy endings to long-running shows is the trend lately. And maybe that ending just enhanced whatever bitterness I’m feeling.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The SopranosBreaking BadFear the Walking Dead and Justified but these are all better shows. Well, maybe not Justified, I’ll post my review for that soon.

Film Review: Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Also known as: Star Trek X (working title)
Release Date: December 9th, 2002 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Stuart Baird
Written by: John Logan, Rick Berman, Brent Spiner
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Kate Mulgrew (cameo), Wil Wheaton (cameo), Whoopi Goldberg (cameo), Bryan Singer (cameo), Majel Barrett (voice), Stuart Baird (voice)

Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“We supported you, Shinzon, when you assassinated the Senate. You told us the timing was perfect for an attack on the Federation. I don’t understand why now you delay.” – Commander Suran

A lot of people despised this movie. Well, good thing I don’t really care about what most people think because this is one of my favorite Star Trek films of all-time. I certainly have some issues with the plot but I’ll discuss that as the review rolls on.

To start, this was a really dark chapter in the Star Trek film franchise, which was definitely welcomed at the time, as the previous film, Insurrection, was a pointless romp and almost felt like a nice vacation for the Enterprise-E crew. This mirrors First Contact in its level of darkness and even eclipses it, as there aren’t a lot of funny scenes like all the Earth stuff from that movie. I guess some people didn’t like how “doom and gloom” this picture was but I dug it in the same way I really dug The Wrath of Khan, twenty years earlier than this.

The thing that really made me like this picture too was that it featured the Romulans heavily. It took ten Star Trek motion pictures to get a Romulan story and this one really setup what could have been a good trilogy of films surrounding the oncoming storm of Romulan civil war.

So many things happened in this film that changed the playing field for not just the Romulans and the Federation but also the crew of the Enterprise. I feel like this should have kicked off a trilogy within the film series, sort of like how The Wrath of Khan started its own trilogy of films surrounding the Genesis Project. I really, truly wanted to see the Enterprise with Picard fighting alongside the Titan with Riker with good Romulans on one side and bad Romulans and Remans on the other. This could have lead to massive, epic things but the film series ended with this picture. I heard that the novels that covered Riker’s time as captain on the Titan were pretty good though. I should check those out.

Anyway, I also really liked Tom Hardy as the villain Shinzon, even though I didn’t like his backstory. Shinzon was a clone of Jean-Luc Picard and was there to sort of challenge the core of who Picard is. Could he be this psychotic evil man under different circumstances? At the same time, could Shinzon be a noble and heroic character if he were raised under similar circumstances as Picard. I like how this plays out even though I felt that the clone part was incredibly cheesy and friggin’ strange.

But this also tapped into Data sort of having his own clone in the movie too, as the crew discovers an older model of Data on a remote planet. Data spends time trying to help the new android evolve and adapt beyond his simple programming and B4, this new android, is even given Data’s memories at one point and essentially carries Data inside of him.

It’s interesting that Brent Spiner, the man who plays Data, helped write the script, as this is very much a picture where Data is the focus and his journey here is his most important in the character’s history. I feel that Spiner’s inclusion in the writing process helped to enrich this part of the story in a more personal way.

I also thought that the special effects were a big step up from Insurrection, which was the first Star Trek movie to go full CGI instead of using models for the ships. This film didn’t feel as cheap as its predecessor, which came off like a “made for TV” movie for the SyFy channel.

I also loved the design of Shinzon’s battleship. That thing was sick and is one of my favorite Star Trek vessels of all-time.

I really like this film but unfortunately, it didn’t give fans the right sort of closure that they should have gotten with this exceptional cast. And for me, it left me hanging, wanting to see where the Romulan storyline could have gone.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.

Film Review: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Also known as: Alien 4 (working title)
Release Date: November 6th, 1997 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Joss Whedon
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Michael Wincott, Dan Hedaya, Brad Dourif, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Kim Flowers, Raymond Cruz, Dominique Pinon

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 109 Minutes, 116 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“[voiceover] My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.” – Ripley

Alien: Resurrection is a film that shouldn’t have been made. At least not in its existing form. Ripley died but they bring Weaver back as some sort of clone made from her DNA that conveniently has her memories and is basically Ripley. It’s a terrible f’n attempt at keeping the franchise’s star at the forefront instead of just moving in a new direction, which was needed but didn’t happen until 2012’s Prometheus.

For the most part, this is a terrible film that at least has some good actors and a few cool bits in it. The stuff featuring Brad Dourif and his xenomorph captives is pretty well done. I also liked the look of the standard xenomorphs in this chapter.

People everywhere love Joss Whedon like he’s some sort of golden boy. Well, he wrote this script and the story and this is one of the prime examples I give when battling it out with Whedon fanboys. Did he have a few good ideas, sure. However, even the good ideas were pretty unrefined and made this feel more like a fan fiction fantasy than anything that fits cohesively within the already established Alien mythos.

The Ripley stuff was just dumb, the human/xenomorph hybrid was strange and bizarre and not in a good way and the whole tale just seemed like a pointless side story in some pocket of the Alien universe where I just didn’t care about a single character or their mission, even if Earth itself was in imminent danger.

It’s hard to believe that I didn’t care about anyone. I like Weaver, Ryder, Perlman, Dourif and Wincott a lot. They have all done things that have spoke to me and had me invested in their characters. I don’t in any way blame them, I blame Whedon’s weak script and the director, who was the first in the franchise that I am not even remotely familiar with. Okay, upon checking he did Amélie but that was after this and I haven’t seen it in a long time, so I can’t judge it. I kind of liked it back in 2001 or so, though.

Alien: Resurrection is an example of a major studio turning a property into their whore that has to keep turning tricks to keep making the pimp money.

The underwater sequence was kind of cool, so I do give this film some props for that. Usually underwater stuff comes off as terrible. But then, maybe this film should’ve focused on its strength and taken place entirely underwater. I’m being facetious, that would’ve been shitty.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other films in the Alien franchise but this one is one of the weakest.

Film Review: Sleepwalkers (1992)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers
Release Date: April 10th, 1992
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick, Alice Krige, Ron Perlman, Glenn Shadix, Stephen King, John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, Mark Hamill

Columbia Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Stop looking at me! Stop looking at me you fucking cat!” – Charles Brady

I didn’t like this film when it came out way back in 1992. I was in middle school, at the time, and all the kids were obsessed with Stephen King. While I love many of the film adaptations of his work and did enjoy a couple of his stories, Sleepwalkers was not among King’s work that I found worthwhile. I did see it in the theater, after having my arm pulled by several friends and because I was crushing hard on Mädchen Amick back then, thanks to her character on Twin Peaks.

Seeing it all these years later was not a better experience. It didn’t age well, there wasn’t some sort of endearing or charming quality to the film and frankly, it was hard to sit through.

The special effects are pretty crappy. the transformation animations when the werecat characters’ faces shift is quick and fluid but just looks insanely hokey and bizarre. It is on par with something you would see in a music video from the same era. And while I’m aware that this movie had a modest budget, other similar horror films with modest budgets were doing better effects a dozen years earlier. Look at An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, for instance. Hell, look at the amazing effects in Fright Night, which came out in 1985, seven years before this.

The film also suffers from being completely bogged down by awful 1990s cliches. The fashion, the music, the overall style… it all just reeks of the worst things that decade had to offer. Sleepwalkers is teen horror at its worst and the 90s panache really just shovels a few extra pounds of shit into this gaping hole of a movie.

The creature effects, once the monsters appeared in their final form were okay. The werecat vampire monsters looked fairly cool but it wasn’t anything that could save the picture.

At least the film had cameos from several horror directors and also had small roles for Ron Perlman, Mark Hamill and Glenn Shadix.

So does Sleepwalkers deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? To quote the legendary professional wrestling manager Paul Bearer, “Ohhhhhhhh, yessssssss!” So the results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”