Documentary Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks (2013)

Release Date: January 21st, 2013 (Sundance)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Music by: Will Bates
Cast: Julian Assange, Heather Brooke, various

Jigsaw Productions, Global Produce, Focus World, Universal Pictures, 130 Minutes

Review:

“You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war.” – Julian Assange

This has been in my queue for awhile but I finally got around to seeing it. Granted, I know the story of Julian Assange and Wikileaks rather well. I spent extensive time writing about it all a decade ago.

Overall, this is a fairly decent documentary but it also didn’t have nearly the amount of time it needed to dive as deeply as it probably needed to. I also can’t say that it’s completely accurate, as there are some biases thrown in whether that was the intent of the filmmaker or because of certain people in this trying to steer the ship in their own way.

However, this is still a good primer and starting point for those who might not know the story of Assange and his “infamous” website without the always present mainstream media slant.

Politics aside, this does present a good defense for Assange. He wasn’t the person that initially leaked all of this information, he just provided the platform for those who wanted to expose some dark secrets.

In the end, if this stuff interests you, this is probably worth a look. However, as with all things touched by political motives, it’s still best to not take all of this at face value. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Schindler’s List (1993)

Release Date: November 30th, 1993 (Washington DC premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Zaillian
Based on: Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 195 Minutes

Review:

“It’s Hebrew, it’s from the Talmud. It says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”” – Itzhak Stern

Schindler’s List is nearly thirty years-old but I hadn’t seen the movie until now. I knew the story of Schindler but I also had assumptions about this movie that I found out weren’t entirely true after having finally watched it.

I expected this to be immensely depressing and also very, very long. The combination of those two things is why I could never get myself to sit down and watch it.

Additionally, based off of the footage I had seen over the last few decades, I assumed this was going to focus on the actual horrors of the Holocaust primarily and that the story would be pretty minimal. I was glad to learn that this has a very layered and deep story, more so than I could have anticipated.

Sure, I assumed it would be superbly acted and it most definitely is. Liam Neeson is incredible, as are Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes and Embeth Davidtz. Yet I was still blown away and surprised by how good their performances were and I was much more moved by that than the specific horrors that happen in the movie. It’s those performances that kept the horrors and tragedy grounded and genuine.

I thought that this was going to be more docu-drama than a narrative driven, performance driven motion picture.

This may also be Steven Spielberg’s best work behind the camera, as some of the shots aren’t just incredible but they’re almost otherworldly. I love that he did this in black and white, which makes it kind of timeless, but also makes it tonally darker.

I really enjoyed John Williams’ beautiful score and it is certainly one of the greatest things he has done in his long career, as a composer who has probably made more memorable movie themes than any other.

The subject matter, here, is really hard to digest. However, this is a story that should be known by everyone. We can’t forget these atrocities because we’re doomed to repeat them in the future, as insane and implausible as that may sound.

After watching this and Grave of the Fireflies just a few days apart, I really need something uplifting because that was a lot of dark human shit that I had to experience in a short span.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: The Expendables Go to Hell

Published: October, 2021
Written by: Chuck Dixon, Richard C. Meyer
Art by: Graham Nolan, Jason Johnson, Kelsey Shannon, Butch Guice, Daniel Brown
Based on: The Expendables franchise by Sylvester Stallone

Splatto Comics, 50 Pages

Review:

Out of all the comics that I’ve backed through crowdfunding, this is one of the few that I anticipated the most. Not because I’m a massive Expendables fan but because it was really neat seeing Sylvester Stallone work with comic crowdfunding maestro Richard C. Meyer a.k.a. Ya Boi Zack and writer Chuck Dixon, who wrote some of my favorite G.I. Joe stories. Since G.I. Joe is very similar to The Expendables, it makes Dixon a pretty solid choice for this project. Plus, he had already worked with Stallone before.

Additionally, I really liked that this featured art by Graham Nolan and a sweet as fuck cover by Kelsey Shannon. There were other variant covers as well but the Shannon cover just nailed it for me and he’s also a hell of a nice comic creator in an industry full of psychotic, narcissistic shitheads.

So while I might not be a massive Expendables fan, I still enjoy the hell out of those movies because they feature so many badasses from the action films of my childhood. Also, they’re just fun, insane movies with a bunch of likable alpha males trying to out alpha each other while also being brothers on the field of battle.

The story is pretty self-explanatory, as it sees the Expendables actually go to Hell. Once there, they learn that Hell is constant war and they find themselves at odds with tyrants of the past while also having some historical heroes becoming their allies. Also, some of their deceased friends and foes appear.

The comic is pretty straightforward, doesn’t waste time and just gets to the action. It’s a pretty cool comic if this stuff is your cup of whiskey.

All in all, I was really happy with it and thought it was certainly worth the wait.

Now if we could only get an Expendables and Jawbreakers crossover or that long-awaited sequel to Stallone’s Cobra that I’ve been dying for since 1986.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Also known as: Hotaru no haka (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Based on: Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka
Music by: Michio Mamiya
Cast: Japanese Language: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi; English Language: Adam Gibbs, Emily Neves, Shelley Calene-Black, Marcy Bannor, Andrew Love

Shinchosha Company, Studio Ghibli, Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” – Seita

Man, this is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen but it is also one of the greatest anime pictures ever crafted. It’s a massive gut punch to the soul and it’s also one of the sweetest, beautiful films I’ve ever experienced.

This was made by Studio Ghibli and it was the first film they did that was directed by Isao Takahata, as opposed to Hayao Miyazaki. Upon its release, it was paired up with another Studio Ghibli film, Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.

The story is about a fourteen year-old boy and his four year-old sister, whose father went off to war and whose mother was burned alive by an American attack on their town during the height of World War II. The orphaned kids go to live with their horrible aunt but eventually, she rejects them and they have to try to survive on their own, living in a cave by a lake. They have no money, no food and eventually the little girl gets very sick. Once the boy finds out that his father is most likely dead, things really, really get dark and whatever hope these kids had is gone.

Yet, in spite of all that, the bond of these siblings is powerful and there’s nothing but love between them and that’s what makes the picture so precious and so heartbreaking once you reach the tragic, immensely depressing end of the film.

I respect that this movie shows the horrors of war and also that it shows it from the perspective of the other side, at least for those of us in America. I think it’s an important story to tell, as these are things that most people don’t want to think about. Especially, when our government is at war with another government because its not the regular civilians that are generally doing the fighting but it’s those people who are the victims of the fighting, more times than not.

The fact that this is a story about kids is supposed to make the message more powerful.

Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible, beautiful and emotional picture about what can happen to innocence when it’s confronted by the worst parts of humanity. The film is astonishingly effective and it not only accomplishes what Isao Takahata wanted to say but it greatly exceeds it.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: Transformers vs. G.I. Joe: Tyrants Rise, Heroes Are Born

Published: February 17th, 2016
Written by: John Ney Rieber
Art by: Jae Lee
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero & The Transformers by Hasbro

IDW Publishing, 136 Pages

Review:

It’s kind of strange that I didn’t know about this until recently but once I saw it pop up on Comixology Unlimited, I added it to my queue.

I’m a big Jae Lee fan so the fact that he was doing the art for something associated with G.I. Joe was enough to get me to check this out.

This is a crossover between the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises but since they both exist in the same universe, it’s not the first time this has happened.

However, this is unique, as it takes place during World War II and with that, it was kind of a fresh way to cross these two properties over again.

The story was decent and I enjoyed it, as all the characters came off as pretty close to how they should be.

The art was really what put it over the top, though. I loved seeing Jae Lee do WWII era stuff and being able to mix that aesthetic in with two properties I love was pretty damn cool. In fact, this is now one of my all-time favorite looking G.I. Joe and Transformers stories.

Rating: 7.5/10

Documentary Review: Kirby at War (2017)

Also known as: Kirby at War: La Guerre De Kirby (original French title)
Release Date: November 20th, 2017 (France)
Directed by: Marc Azema, Jean Depelley
Music by: Raphael Gesqua

Metaluna Productions, Passe Simple, 52 Minutes

Review:

This was a neat little television documentary made in France about Jack Kirby’s life in World War II and how that experience inspired some of his artistic work in comics.

I found it pretty interesting and the host of the documentary actually went to some of the locations where Kirby and his company fought the Nazis. It was cool seeing these locations and having some of the battles explained.

However, this was choppily edited at times and it also felt like a lot of it was rushed through. I felt like it needed more detail and more time to let certain things marinate. But it seems like this needed to fit within the running time of a one hour format.

This would’ve benefitted from not having television constraints. Something over an hour would’ve made this a more enriching experience.

Still, if you like Jack Kirby’s work and war stories, this is a good mashup of the two.

Rating: 6/10

TV Review: Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)

Original Run: July 27th, 1997 – March 13th, 2007
Created by: Brad Wright, Jonathan Glassner
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Stargate by Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Richard Dean Anderson, Michael Shanks, Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge, Don S. Davis, Corin Nemec, Ben Browder, Beau Bridges, Claudia Black, Ronny Cox, Lexa Doig, Robert Picardo, Morena Baccarin, John de Lancie, Louis Gossett Jr.

Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp., Kawoosh! Productions IX, MGM Television, Sony Pictures Television, Showtime (1997-2002), Sci-Fi Channel (2002-2007), 214 Episodes, 44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Nearly a quarter of a century later, I finally gave Stargate SG-1 a shot after a friend of mine was recently talking to me about it and over the years, others have tried to sell me on its greatness. However, 214 hour long episodes plus two movies and three spinoff series is a lot of stuff to watch if I happened to actually be into this.

Due to my schedule and the immensity of this franchise, I looked up an episode guide that pointed out which episodes were the key ones and those are what I watched with the intention of going back and watching the ones I missed, if I ended up liking this show. It’s a method I’ve used for other long-running shows and I like doing it that way.

I also liked the original 1994 Stargate movie, which this show is a direct sequel to. The two main male characters on this show are the same characters played by Kurt Russell and James Spader in that film. However, Kurt Russell is recast with Richard Dean Anderson, MacGyver himself, and James Spader is recast with Michael Shanks, who would go on to do a ton of sci-fi television work.

The cast is then rounded out by three new characters played by Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge and Don S. Davis. These five core characters are all pretty damn great and their chemistry is on the same level as the casts of the first three Star Trek shows, especially as they grow in these roles over ten seasons and beyond.

The two-part story that kicked off this show was a worthy successor to the 1994 film and from there, this show branched out in ways I couldn’t have expected. As it rolls on, we see new threats, new alien species, many of whom are allies, and the show itself evolves and changes every couple of seasons. However, it never gets too far away from what it started out as. Basically, it stays really grounded and it’s pretty consistent throughout in spite of major shifts to the formula. With that, it doesn’t become formulaic and redundant and reinvents itself just enough to stay interesting over its 214 episodes.

My only really issue, at first, was that some of the special effects look bad or cheesy. This is due to the limitations on television sci-fi in the ’90s but your mind does adjust to it within a few episodes and you don’t really notice it too much.

Besides, these characters and these stories are so good that the special effects are really secondary and not that important.

In the end, I’m glad that I gave this a shot. I haven’t seen every episode but I plan to work my way through them all, as I have time. Additionally, I’d like to watch the key episodes of the other series that were born out of this one.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Hannibal Rising (2007)

Also known as: Hannibal 4, Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask, The Lecter Variations (working titles)
Release Date: February 7th, 2007 (France)
Directed by: Peter Webber
Written by: Thomas Harris
Based on: Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
Music by: Ilan Eshkeri, Shigeru Umebayashi
Cast: Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans, Dominic West, Kevin McKidd, Richard Brake

Young Hannibal Productions, Carthago Films S.a.r.I., Dino De Laurentiis Company, The Weinstein Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Rudeness is an epidemic” – Hannibal Lecter

One of the Hannibal films has to be the worst and well, this is it.

I thought that it was incredibly boring and really, really underwhelming. So much so, I figured that there was no way that Hannibal Lecter’s creator, Thomas Harris, had anything to do with this. So I was a bit taken aback when I saw that Thomas Harris wrote this script, based off of his own novel.

In his defense, I don’t think that this is particularly bad but it just didn’t feel like it was the same Hannibal Lecter that I’ve now known for decades.

The acting in this was pretty middle of the road but Rhys Ifans was probably the best performer in this, as the story’s primary antagonist. Ifans is always damn good, though, so this should go without saying.

I guess after seeing this, I just realized that we didn’t need a Hannibal origin story. We know he’s fucked up and this actually takes some of the character’s mystery away. Okay, maybe it takes a lot of that mystery away. I liked his background just being casually hinted at and that we, the audience, had to fill in the blanks with our own mind.

I wasn’t a big fan of these characters, their motivations or any of this.

Ugh… there really just isn’t much else to say. This was boring with bland performances and it didn’t feel, at all, connected to the title character.

Rating: 4/10

Documentary Review: Walt & El Grupo (2008)

Release Date: April 26th, 2008 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Directed by: Theodore Thomas
Written by: Theodore Thomas
Music by: James Stemple
Cast: Walt Disney (archive footage), various

Theodore Thomas Productions, Walt Disney Studios,106 Minutes

Review:

Walt & El Grupo is the story of Walt Disney’s 1941 US government sponsored trip to Latin America with a group of other artists in an attempt to study the culture in an effort to create two of Disney’s World War II era animated features: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

Considering that I really like those two movies, quite a bit, it was cool finally seeing the story behind their creation.

For those that don’t know, those movies were made to get Americans interested in traveling to the beautiful, exotic nations south of us. The films also gave us one of my favorite Disney animated characters, José Carioca! Granted, I also like Panchito Pistoles but José takes the cake for me.

Walt Disney was always a fascinating figure to me, so learning the reasons behind why he did this was pretty neat. It was also nice learning about who went with him and what they all were looking for and how they created the iconic material that they did from this Latin American adventure.

It was really cool seeing what the culture was like in Latin America in the early 1940s and kind of comparing that to where those places are at now. I like that this documentary showed these places in the modern era, in an effort to illustrate their changes and growth. Granted, that wasn’t the bulk of the story here.

The most important thing about this documentary is that it simply helps you understand Walt’s creative process, his business mind and his passion.

Rating: 7/10