Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Release Date: June 26th, 2014 (Palace of Fine Arts premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Pierre Boulle
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clark, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Judy Greer, Kirk Acevedo, James Franco (cameo)

Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 130 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“I always think… ape better than human. I see now… how much like them we are.” – Caesar

I was a little late going to see this one in the theater but I’ve had a lot going on. Regardless, here I am a week late with my two cents on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

To start, I know that this is a pretty profound statement, but this may be the best Planet of the Apes film to date. There have been seven films before this one and a television series but this film really captures the essence and the whole point of the franchise better than anything else before it. Sure, Charlton Heston fighting apes is a bad ass scenario and the focal point of the original film, unarguably a classic, but this movie trumps it in character, in story, in action and in soul.

The first film in this reboot series was a breath of fresh air after the mediocre Tim Burton attempt at a reboot a decade earlier. Dawn takes that story even further and with the origin already established, is able to throw it all on the line and just get down to business. From the opening scene all the way to the epic end, this film is action filled and drama filled. Both are perfectly balanced and very well executed. The drama gives you more than enough to truly care and the action gives you more than enough to pump your fist to.

The acting is superb but the greatest performance comes from Andy Serkis who plays the lead ape, Caesar. Serkis deserves an Oscar for this and really most of his performances, most notably Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t yet recognize the performances of actors who play digital characters. However, they aren’t just digital characters, they are created by using motion capture technology – digitizing the actors’ movements and facial expressions. When you see Caesar’s body language and facial expressions, you know that you are looking at a great performance that brings a level of realism and humanity to what would otherwise be a flat digital creation. Hopefully films like this get the Academy to introduce an award for these performances.

Back to the topic of the film itself, director Matt Reeves made his best film to date. That makes me incredibly excited for the upcoming sequel, which he is also directing. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman did a phenomenal job as the three main humans in the film. Toby Kebbell, who played the ape Koba, performed on a level very close to Andy Serkis. Koba and Caesar’s interactions were very real and compelling.

As far as special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes relies heavily on CGI over more practical effects but it doesn’t overemphasize it more than it needs to. The effects are also fluid and fine tuned to the point that you get lost in the story and the action, as nothing feels out of place or so artificial that it is really noticeable.

As good as X-men: Days of Future Past was, this may be the best film of the summer and possibly the year.

TV Review: American Gods (2017- )

Original Run: April 30th, 2017 – current
Created by: Bryan Fuller, Michael Green
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Music by: Brian Reitzell
Cast: Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Crispin Glover, Bruce Langley, Yetide Badaki, Pablo Schreiber, Gillian Anderson, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Orlando Jones, Dane Cook, Kristin Chenoweth, Corbin Bernsen, Beth Grant

Living Dead Guy, J.A. Green Construction Corp., The Blank Corporation, FremantleMedia North America, Starz, 8 Episodes (so far), 52-63 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve been a subscriber of Starz for a bit now but I didn’t watch this as it was on. I’m a bigger fan of waiting for something to be over and then binging out on it for a few days.

But how could I not like this show? It has Ian McShane, a guy I have absolutely loved since Deadwood. It also features Crispin Glover, a man who has mesmerized me since I first discovered him in Back to the Future and then further enchanted me as I followed his career as it evolved well beyond the iconic George McFly. Plus, throw in Emily Browning and Gillian Anderson and you’ve certainly got my attention.

This show is also based on a novel by Neil Gaiman, who from a creative standpoint, never really disappoints.

It takes awhile to figure out what this show is and where it is going. I went into with no knowledge of the book, other than it being about gods. Essentially, Ian McShane plays an Old God and he is being challenged by the New Gods, who are trying to take over the world. McShane’s character hires Ricky Whittle’s character to be his driver and bodyguard. You don’t actually find out who McShane is until the end of the final episode of season one.

There are other characters and gods sprinkled into the show and they all have really interesting stories and plot threads. It is obvious that everything is connected but we don’t get to see how it all comes together by the end of the first season. Being only eight episodes, the first season is more of a setup than anything else. Luckily, there is a second season already in production.

It is hard to review the show, as it is very short and kind of just exists as a door into a much larger universe. So far, I really like what I see and this has a lot of potential to grow into something extraordinary.

The acting, directing, cinematography, music and tone are all great. The way the stories weave together is also well handled. If the quality maintains, as the universe broadens, those of us who watch this show are in for a real treat.

Plus, Crispin Glover and Gillian Anderson, as far as we know, are the villains.

I eagerly anticipate what’s to come when the show returns.

Documentary Review: Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)

Release Date: May 19th, 2006 (UK)
Directed by: Paul Crowder, John Dower
Music by: Ric Markmann
Narrated by: Matt Dillon

Passion Pictures, Cactus Three, ESPN Original Entertainment, 97 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

I’ve reviewed a lot of soccer documentaries over the last week, in preparation for the World Cup, and this is my favorite film out of the bunch.

If you have ever wondered why soccer is not successful in America, up until recently anyway, this film shows you how it actually once rose to monstrous levels and how it fizzled out quickly. A big reason for the boom in popularity in the seventies was the New York Cosmos and the fact that they brought Pelé to America.

Once In A Lifetime follows several stories, all of which give a pretty solid history lesson on everything surrounding the New York Cosmos as well as the North American Soccer League (NASL). It paints a picture of how unknown of a sport soccer was in the United States before the Cosmos burst on the scene and how they quickly opened the floodgates, leading to an eventual World Cup in the States, as well as the formation of another, more successful professional soccer league, the MLS or Major League Soccer.

This film was well directed and the interviewees let it all out and never held back, which was pretty invigorating with these colorful characters. I only wish that Pelé had participated in the film, it would’ve added a level of royalty to the project. Additionally, Matt Dillon did a solid job as the narrator.

To all the real football fans, watch this documentary and eat it up… seriously. There is a lot here for a 97 minute film but it is all quality and entertaining. You can actually catch this on Netflix, right now.

Film Review: Brigsby Bear (2017)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Dave McCary
Written by: Kyle Mooney, Kevin Costello
Music by: David Wingo
Cast: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Alexa Demie, Claire Danes, Andy Samberg, Chance Crimin, Jane Adams, Kate Lyn Sheil

Lord Miller Productions, Kablamo!, 3311 Productions, YL Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You really wanna do this with me?” – James Pope, “Yeah, man. I mean… there’s not a lot of stuff like this out there.” – Spencer

Back in late January, going into Sundance, a friend of mine, who works for an independent film distributor, expressed his excitement in anticipation for seeing this film. Afterwards, he couldn’t stop talking about it but luckily, he didn’t spoil anything.

Coming out of Sundance, this is the one movie I heard the most buzz about and I hoped it would get the wide release it seemed to deserve. It came out in big cities first, as these things tend to do, but it finally got to my town this past weekend.

At first I was excited to see this playing in the premier theater room with the largest screen in town. Sadly, I was the only person in the entire theater but I guess that is to be expected in Southwest Florida where our biggest contribution to entertainment culture is the annual Swamp Buggy Races. I once dated a Swamp Buggy Queen, by the way.

Anyway, after seeing this and being pretty much captivated by the film in the greatest way possible, I’ve done my part telling everyone I know about it. Granted, most of them just want to talk about the fact that football is starting. But the important thing is that this did captivate me and I loved the picture.

Reason being, is that it carries a huge positive message for people like me, who may now be adults but who refuse to give up on the things they love and who will always really be young at heart and in their mind. On the flip side of that, the film also shows adults who have grown away from the things they love and who fight against their passions because adult life doesn’t have room for passion and dreams.

There are a lot of layers to this film and I’m not sure if they were all intentional or if opening up Pandora’s box allowed all of these things to just flow into the narrative. Either way, the picture stands as a reminder that we should always make time for the things we love and that happiness is found in being true to oneself. It also shows how important it is to have good people around you.

Brigsby Bear is as good as it was hyped up to me through my friend and the praise I’ve read about it for months. It is one of my favorite films of the year and certainly the best comedic drama, thus far into 2017.

It is superbly acted, especially in regards to its star, as well as writer and creator, Kyle Mooney. I’m not as familiar with him as I should be as I don’t really watch Saturday Night Live anymore. However, if his work on this film is any indicator of what he is capable of, I’ll be watching his career like Supreme Chancellor Palpatine watched young Anakin’s.

Film Review: The Sinister Urge (1960)

Release Date: December 8th, 1960
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: Manuel Francisco
Cast: Kenne Duncan, James “Duke” Moore, Jean Fontaine, Carl Anthony, Dino Fantini, Jeanne Willardson, Harvey B. Dunn, Reed Howes, Fred Mason, Conrad Brooks

Headliner Productions, 71 Minutes

Review:

“Are gangster and horror films all you produce?” – Mary Smith

Ed Wood is considered one of the worst directors of all-time. However, with that title, came a certain kind of recognition and a strange appreciation for some of his work. His unique story also led to a great biopic, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and a slew of other great actors.

But for as much as Plan 9 From Outer Space is beloved for its faults and strangeness, The Sinister Urge should be shunned for its utter awfulness and complete lack of anything endearing or exciting.

I’ve seen several of Wood’s films and I am a fan of his work, when it is at its most creative and quirky. Unfortunately, The Sinister Urge lacks those things that make other Wood films palatable.

Wood’s script is one of his worst and that says a lot.

The plot is about a serial killer that is picking off actresses from smut films. The killer works for a porno ring that uses him to murder actresses that threaten the business. Jean Fontaine plays Gloria Henderson, the woman who runs the business and has ties to the mob. She takes advantage of young wannabe starlets and pushes them into smut pictures. While this could be a decent setup, the script is so dull and uneventful that the only way you can remotely sit through this thing is by watching the version featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

There are some people that think that Ed Wood was some sort of mastermind that knew what he was doing. They think that his movies were made to be bad, deliberately. As if he could foresee the legend he would become posthumously. The Sinister Urge is a pretty strong counterargument to that theory. It is the worst kind of schlock imaginable and doesn’t even come close to his more endearing work.

I like Ed Wood and I actually respect some of his films for what they are but this is not one of the films worth respecting. There is nothing enjoyable or entertaining about it. For those who have seen his more famous movies before this, this one is a damn disappointment and starts to make things clearer as to why he couldn’t really get good work in Hollywood.

So, yes, this does need to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read that this is a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

TV Review: The Defenders (2017- )

Original Run: August 18th, 2017 – current
Created by: Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Defenders by Roy Thomas, Daredevil by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Jessica Jones by Brian Michael Bendis, Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, John Romita Sr., Iron Fist by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane
Music by: John Paesano
Cast: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Eka Darville, Elden Henson, Jessica Henwick, Simone Missick, Ramón Rodríguez, Rachael Taylor, Deborah Ann Woll, Élodie Yung, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Sigourney Weaver

ABC Studios, Marvel, Goddard Textiles, Nine and a Half Fingers, Inc., Netflix, 8 Episodes (so far), 44-55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

The Defenders is finally here. After years of development and four shows with a total of five full seasons before it, we now have the big team up miniseries for all of Netflix’s flagship Marvel heroes. But no Punisher. Boo on that!

While all the other shows have seasons of thirteen episodes, this miniseries only has eight, which kind of sucks. Reason being, everything in the second half of the series feels incredibly rushed. You see, these people don’t all meet until the third episode and then they spend the fourth episode talking about what they should do and aren’t really a team until the fifth and then its just a race to the finish. The pacing is just off and only being eight episodes hurts the overall narrative and quality of the show. I’m also not sure if this is just a one off or if they will team up again and again like the Avengers. Really, I’d rather they just have their own shows and occasionally crossover. Or better yet, a Heroes For Hire show would be absolute tits.

All the important players are here and it is actually quite cool seeing them come together but it also felt anticlimactic. It kind of suffers the same fate as the Avengers movies, in that there are so many people vying for a presence that it just becomes a bit of a mess. However, the giant ensemble is handled much better here than the Avengers team up films.

Also, the four styles of each hero’s shows blends really well together here. Especially in the early episodes where they are still working solo and the show edits between all their stories as they eventually converge. I actually liked these episodes the best, even though it had everyone still in their own smaller universes.

This show has some “shocking” twists and turns in it but none of them are all that shocking and the major one I really had to roll my eyes at. The plot was often times nonsensical and a mess. And ultimately, I really only cared about Jessica Jones’ role in this, as she showed just how much cooler she is than these other heroes.

Sure, I like the other heroes but on the flip side, I’m sick of The Hand, at this point, and they are the big bad evil once again. They are just a poor rehash of the League of Assassins (or Shadows) that has been a mainstay in Batman and Green Arrow stories forever. I know that The Hand has major ties to Daredevil and Iron Fist comics but I was never a big fan of their stories in the comics either. They’re just boring generic ninjas that aren’t associated with someone as cool as Ra’s al Ghul.

Additionally, the ending was awful. It was derivative comic book shit. It was a cheap attempt at trying to add weight to a situation when everyone knows that they won’t have the balls to actually follow through on it. It was an awful superhero cliche regurgitated for the umpteenth time.

Still, I did like The Defenders, overall. It could have been much better, should have been longer and maybe should have actually shown the Kingpin at his most villainous. But the Kingpin wasn’t in this, which was a massive missed opportunity to finally bring Vincent D’Onofrio’s criminal mastermind to the heights he deserves.

Also, on a side note: in just about every episode of every Netflix Marvel show, someone explains what’s happening and then someone else then says something like, “That’s crazy, you sound like an insane person!” Really? Because at this point, these characters live in a world where the Avengers exist, aliens have invaded New York City through a giant wormhole in the sky, evil robots have lifted a small European country into the atmosphere and then dropped it, Asgardian gods and dark elves randomly show up to do worldwide mystical shit, Doctor Strange and all that bizarreness should be fresh in everyone’s minds and the whole world knows about Inhumans and lives in fear of them. But yeah, a simple gang of ninjas and a living dead ex-girlfriend is insane.

Film Review: Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (1983)

Release Date: November 23rd, 1983
Directed by: Peter Moffatt, John Nathan-Turner, Richard Martin, Pennant Roberts
Written by: Terrance Dicks, Terry Nation, Douglas Adams
Music by: Peter Howell
Cast: Peter Davison, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Richard Hurndall, Tom Baker (cameo), William Hartnell (archive footage), Anthony Ainley, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Carole Ann Ford, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, Lalla Ward (cameo)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 90 Minutes (television), 102 Minutes (extended edition)

Review:

“A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.” – The Master

While this was not a theatrical movie, it was a feature length special episode of Doctor Who and treated like a feature length production when it came out. It was created to celebrate the show’s twentieth anniversary and for only the second time in history, it teamed up multiple incarnations of the Doctor. This was also the biggest Doctor team up of all-time.

I want to treat all these feature length special episodes as films as opposed to just episodes mixed into the long running show. There are several of these and I want to review them separately, as their own bodies of work.

I was fortunate enough to see this one on the big screen, courtesy of RiffTrax. Now while it was a riffed version with hilarious commentary from some of the former cast members of the original Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was still an amazing experience seeing classic Doctor Who on a thirty foot screen. Especially a story that featured five Doctors.

While this isn’t particularly great as a film on its own, it fits beautifully within the Doctor Who mythos and is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories of all-time. Sure, it really only features three actual Doctors, as the First Doctor is not portrayed by William Hartnell, except in the intro as archive footage, and the Fourth Doctor really just has a brief one scene cameo and is really left out of the story. But all five of the Doctors are represented in some fashion.

The bulk of the acting duties falls on Davison (the Fifth), Pertwee (the Third), Troughton (the Second), Hurndall (as the new version of the First), Ainley (The Master), as well as some of the Doctor’s most famous companions: the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, Susan Foreman, Tegan and Turlough. Lalla Ward’s Romana II also cameos alongside Baker’s Fourth Doctor.

The story is a bit strange but that’s sort of the norm for old school Doctor Who, back in the days before the franchise had any female fans. But any excuse to bring multiple Doctors into an adventure, always works for me. Essentially, there is a big conspiracy and all the Doctors have to work together in order to save themselves. Each Doctor also has a companion from their runs as the character.

The special effects are on par with what was the standard for television show. It is low budget British television science fiction, so one has to sort of look passed the imperfections and hokiness and fill in the blanks with their imagination a bit. But this is always what I loved about classic Who. As a kid, it introduced cool concepts, with cheesy effects and it made my imagination run wild.

This story also features the Cybermen, a Dalek, the Time Lords and the super dangerous Raston Warrior Robot, who is a dude in a silver leotard and helmet that dances around, teleports and shoots spears.

The Five Doctors is far from perfect but it is a hell of a lot of fun for those who are fans of the original Doctor Who series, way before the 2005 revival. This is also my favorite of the multiple Doctor stories.