Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright
Music by: Steven Price
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Flea

Big Talk Productions, Working Title Films, Media Rights Capital, TriStar Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

Edgar Wright has been one of my favorite directors of the last decade and a half. Granted, he hasn’t directed as much as I’ve liked and his last effort before this, The World’s End, was pretty lackluster and also came out four friggin’ years ago. He was involved in Marvel’s Ant-Man but left the project after putting in a lot of time, so that excuses the four year hiatus, I guess.

After the long wait, Baby Driver is not a disappointment. To be completely honest and frank, this is my favorite Edgar Wright film, which is pretty unbelievable with Hot FuzzShaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in his oeuvre.

Now this is a film that is getting a lot of hype between the critics and other reviewers and bloggers online. This is one of those rare cases where you can believe the hype.

With fast car movies being a dime a dozen these days, Baby Driver is completely its own entity. It is better than all the films you could compare it to. The Fast & Furious movies have become cartoons and have never been able to tell a story this great. Drive, while a mesmerizing marvel to look at, doesn’t come close to having the heart of Baby Driver nor does it match its personality and characters.

Additionally, the action in Baby Driver is pretty realistic and it all seems plausible. The Fast & Furious films are ridiculous and while Drive felt authentic, it didn’t have the amount of getaways and fast action that Baby Driver does. The film shifts from car chases, foot chases and machine gun shootouts quickly and seamlessly.

All of the action, and really all of the film, revolves around music. This is not a musical, by any means, but the narrative is driven by the tunes hand-selected by Edgar Wright for this picture. The soundtrack is magnificent and I’m picking up the vinyl when the record store is open (they were closed when I swung by after seeing this at its first showing).

Not only does the music enhance the experience but so does the cast. I didn’t know much about Ansel Elgort or Lily James before seeing this but they were superb as Baby and Debora. I’ll definitely check out their future films and maybe look back at some of their earlier work.

The rest of the cast was like an all-star team of great bad asses. You had Jon Hamm (in my favorite role after Don Draper), Jon Bernthal (the Punisher, himself), Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Flea. All of these men were criminals and each was unique and interesting. Well, Flea and Bernthal could’ve used some more meat to chew on but that may have had a negative effect on the film’s flow.

Baby Driver is the most adrenaline heavy movie I have seen since Mad Max: Fury Road and it may even be a better film than that. They are two very different action flicks but Baby Driver is a perfect marriage of all its elements. I can’t think of a single thing that could have been better.

The film exceeded the expectations I did have and this is one of the best movies I have seen over the last decade. It is the best summer film this year and nothing else really compares to it. And the thing is, this isn’t even trying to be a tent pole film but it blows them all away. Better action, better acting and just a better movie, hands down.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

Also known as: Gojira Tai Mekagojira (Japan), Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster (US alternate title), Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster (another US alternate title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamamura, Jun Fukuda, Shinichi Sekizawa, Masami Fukushima
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Akihiko Hirata, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 84 Minutes

Review:

In 1974, the Godzilla franchise had really run its course. Well, at least as far as audiences were concerned. Frankly, I’d take one of these movies every year and be happy about it. And yes, I mean the ones where the monsters are men in rubber suits because this is still the superior way to create kaiju action.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla came out just a year after Godzilla vs. Megalon but it is a huge step above that film and sort of got the ship back on course. While I don’t have an issue with the Megalon flick, many people did as it was very kiddie and lacked in the budget department. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla had a larger budget, however, and it feels like a more grandiose movie overall.

This was the second to last of the Shōwa era Godzilla films but it was also the first part in a great duology that also included the final picture, Terror of Mechagodzilla.

While this chapter in the film series introduces audiences to the friggin’ awesome Mechagodzilla, it also was the debut of one of the coolest Toho kaiju of all-time, King Caesar. Unfortunately, Caesar would not appear in a ton of films like Mechagodzilla (and his many incarnations). Regardless, Caesar has a great introduction in this movie and he brings a much quicker and more athletic style to the Toho kaiju universe. While most monsters are slow hulking brawlers, King Caesar is like a rabid jackal on crack. Bouncing around and jumping onto his opponents.

The film also features one of Godzilla’s best allies in Anguirus. Even though I’ve seen this picture more than a dozen times, the scene where Mechagodzilla (posing as Godzilla) rips Anguirus’ jaw apart with his bare hands until blood spews out, still gets me every time. Anguirus is a fan favorite and seeing him brutally squashed is still a sad sight to see but it sets up just how vicious and strong Mechagodzilla is. Without the help of King Caesar, Godzilla would have had a much tougher time besting his robotic doppelgänger.

Coming as late as this did in the original run of films, it’s surprising that it is as good as it is but this is definitely one of the best Godzilla films of all-time. The monsters are all great, the plot isn’t fantastic but it is engaging and the Okinawa setting and culture added a new dimension to the series. Did I mention how cool King Caesar is? Did I mention how cool Mechagodzilla is?

The story deals with an alien invasion, which was a typical threat in these films. The aliens this time were the Simians (also known as Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens) and as their name implies, they were apes and a very obvious ripoff of The Planet of the Apes franchise, which was hugely popular, at the time. Unlike most alien races in the Godzilla mythos, the Simians would return later in Terror of Mechagodzilla. The Simians controlled Mechagodzilla in an attempt to get Godzilla out of their way in an effort to conquer Earth.

This picture features some Toho regulars: Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara and Hiroshi Koizumi. All three of them have been in several Toho movies, especially in the Godzilla film series.

Jun Fukuda, the second best kaiju director after Ishirō Honda returned to direct this film and he is just on a different level, as far as framing shots and staging some great action and creating a rich atmosphere. One scene in particular that really stands out is when you see Godzilla marching up and over some hills. It is a fantastic shot and one of the best in the entire film series.

Additionally, the night battle where the true Godzilla confronts his disguised doppelgänger, as the ground is in flames around them, is spectacular. It is one of my favorite sequences that Fukuda has ever directed.

The music in this chapter was handled by Masaru Sato. It is pretty unique and adds an interesting tone to the film. Sato’s score carries the spirit of the early Godzilla themes composed by Akira Ifukube but it has its own identity and gives this film a nice boost.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, at this point in the franchise’s long history, shouldn’t have been as good as it was. It was a perfect storm comprised of several elements that just came together and worked incredibly well. Looking back, this should have reinvigorated the series but unfortunately, there would only be one more movie before Earth’s favorite kaiju would be shelved for almost a decade.

Film Review: The Incubus (1982)

Release Date: August 27th, 1982
Directed by: John Hough
Written by: George Franklin
Based on: The Incubus by Ray Russell
Music by: Stanley Myers
Cast: John Cassavetes, John Ireland

Multicom Entertainment Group Inc., Artists Releasing Corporation, 93 Minutes

Review:

The Incubus is a film I found out about while reading one of Joe Bob Brigg’s Drive-In books. Strangely, this film alluded me in my childhood, as I pillaged the aisles of every video store within the boundaries of the continental United States.

It stars John Cassavetes who has been in much better things than this sort of movie. However, he adds a real sense of legitimacy to this film, even if it doesn’t have much going for it.

The story sees a bunch of women getting raped and murdered and while this is happening a teenage boy has horrible nightmares tied to the crimes. There is a lot more to the boy’s relation to these crimes than just simply dreaming, however. Cassavetes takes it upon himself to solve the mystery but his teenage daughter is put in danger’s way. Ultimately, the monster here is a demonic incubus but how it all comes together is fairly interesting and well executed.

This is a decently frightening picture, due to its subject matter and its visuals. The film feels a bit surreal at times but that is partly due to some of the great shots from the director. There is a really cool tracking shot where the camera is under a wheelchair moving through a house in a first person point-of-view. When the wheelchair arrives at a door, the girl in the chair can’t see the horror on the other side but the audience, peering under the crack of the door, can see what the girl in the wheelchair can’t.

The Incubus is a good film for what it is. The special effects are sub par but the film creates real suspense and dread and it builds a strong and effective atmosphere. The tone of The Incubus is perfect.

The movie also benefits from the fact that it isn’t as predictable as films like this tend to be.

The Incubus is a film that is better than it was probably intended to be. And somehow, it stayed under the radar. But this was the early 80s when horror films were a dime a dozen.

Film Review: …And God Created Woman (1956)

Also known as: Et Dieu… créa la femme (France)
Release Date: November 28th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Vadim
Written by: Roger Vadim, Raoul Levy
Music by: Paul Misraki
Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Curd Jurgens, Jean-Louis Trintignant

Éditions René Chateau, Kingsley International Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

…And God Created Woman is a film that made a lot of people uncomfortable in 1956. Well, probably not the French, as they are a lot more comfortable with sex than people in North America. Regardless, it was incredibly racy for the late 1950s but it was ahead of its time. Also, it made Brigitte Bardot an international superstar.

The film was sort of a passion project for its director Roger Vadim. In fact, Bardot was his wife and this is essentially a movie created to pimp her out to the world as a sex kitten icon. While Vadim was quite older than Bardot, aspects of their relationship or at least, his understanding of it, came to the forefront within the picture through the character of the older gentleman Eric Carradine (Curd Jurgens).

The story follows Juliette (Brigitte Bardot), an eighteen year-old orphan that has a lot of sexual energy and isn’t the least bit ashamed by it. She continually flirts and has no issue lying about nude. The film is sort of a love square, as it has one more participant than a love triangle. The three suitors are the older and wealthy Carradine. Then there are the two brothers, the eldest is Antoine (Christian Marquand) and the youngest is Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Carradine tries to coerce Antoine into marrying Juliette, to keep her close by. While Juliette seems to love Antoine, it is the younger Michel, who is infatuated with her, that convinces her to get married. Juliette plays all sides against each other without caring much about how it effects them. She just wants sex and fun and doesn’t have much of a moral compass.

While everyone in the film and audiences all act surprised by Juliette’s behavior, she really doesn’t seem much different than many eighteen year-old girls. Granted, this film is over sixty years old, however.

I can’t imagine what it was like in 1956, experiencing this film when there was nothing really like it before. It is certainly a trendsetter and it changed movies forever. For that, it deserves its place in history and should be regarded as significant.

However, as a motion picture, it has a myriad of problems.

To start, the pacing of the film is pretty terrible. It feels very disjointed and more like a collection of random scenes from this girl’s life. Also, it is hard to decipher what the hell is going on with the characters and their true motivations. Everything is emotional and responses to emotion without much character exposition. It’s poorly written, poorly executed and just not that interesting. No one is even that likable and the film is more or less, just a showcase of Bardot’s physical assets.

The locations are beautiful and alluring but they are displayed through basic cinematography and shots that aren’t too interesting. Some of the landscapes are lush and appealing but the straightforward and mundane style of the camerawork and the framing of scenes seems like a big missed opportunity to create something with more artistic merit.

The only thing this film has going for it, is hope that the viewer will be just as mesmerized by Bardot as the male players in the movie and her director husband. While she is attractive, she is very one-dimensional and mostly uninteresting. She did get better in time but in …And God Created Woman, she can’t command a movie as its star.

Criticism aside, it was well worth a watch to experience this historically significant picture. It just didn’t garner enough interest, in my opinion, to ever really warrant a second viewing, let alone be considered a cinematic classic.

Film Review: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Release Date: August 1st, 1986
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Mark H. Baker, Michael Burton, Matt MacManus
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Cliff DeYoung, Veronica Cartwright, Matt Adler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Howard Hesseman

Walt Disney, Producers Sales Organization, Buena Vista Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

Everyone I knew as a kid saw Flight of the Navigator. While it wasn’t a smashing hit, it was loved by many and had its following. However, it doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as some of the other family-friendly sci-fi flicks of the 1980s.

To start, it is a Disney movie and even though it doesn’t feel like a massive epic, it has groundbreaking special effects and was well-produced in every regard.

Joey Cramer plays twelve year-old David Freeman, a kid who wakes up eight years into his future, where his world is totally different. The role needed a lot of emotion and was probably quite challenging for a twelve year-old but Cramer did a fantastic job. Looking back, I don’t know why this didn’t lead to a lot more work for the kid. He got a few roles after this but nothing too noteworthy.

The story also features an alien ship controlled by a computer named Max. Max is voiced by Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. The relationship between David and Max is really what makes this film work. While you root for David to be reunited with his family but ultimately want him to be able to go home to 1978, the real standout thing about this film is the camaraderie between the two main characters. David is depressed and feels lost and desperate while Max feels tremendous guilt for pulling David out of his life.

Apart from Cramer and Reubens, the film features a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, Veronica Cartwright – who I will always love for Alien, as well as WKRP‘s Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, who also lit up the screen in Head of the Class and Police Academy 2.

Flight of the Navigator used early CGI techniques to create the alien ship that took David on his journey. It was a metallic seed-shaped structure that could slightly alter its shape based off of what flight mode it was in. Also, the back of the ship would essentially melt open and provide free-floating steps for David to enter and exit the ship. The CGI animation is very similar to what James Cameron would use in 1989’s The Abyss and for the T-1000 in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

While Flight of the Navigator is not a flawless film, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives and it is a fun and emotional journey. Its story is timeless and still effective and kids that I have seen watch it in recent years, all seemed to love it regardless of it feeling somewhat dated.

Flight of the Navigator is a much shorter film than what Disney does nowadays. That being said, it is welcomed, as it doesn’t waste a lot of time and stays on its rails. It gets to the point, packs an emotional punch and delivers a heartfelt happy ending. It doesn’t try to overdo it with razzle dazzle and massive special effects sequences. Frankly, I miss films like this.

Book Review: ‘The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters’ by Jason Barr

Jason Barr’s The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters is really a mixed bag. It is a book I tried to like and get behind but ultimately, couldn’t.

It comes with several great reviews on Amazon but I guess I’m in the minority here.

The book is essentially a theoretical analysis of kaiju films throughout history. The author uses all kinds of examples to support his theories on the deeper meaning of all these films and how they change with the times. He covers politics, weapons of mass destruction, economics, foreign affairs, etc.

The problem is that the author just reads way too far into these films. Most people who are fans of the original Godzilla film understand the meaning behind it and the warnings it presents. However, most kaiju film after that were purely entertainment. Japanese culture certainly sprinkles in their philosophy and their view on life in many of these films but Barr digs so deep it feels like we are left to bear witness to him trying to make his theories stick.

It reminds me a lot of how conspiracy theorists over analyze things for so long that they can make anything into a conspiracy without much evidence and just a lot of theorizing and speculation. I feel like a lot of this book is cherry picking to fit the conclusions that Barr wants to make. It reminds me of Room 237, that conspiratorial documentary on The Shining, where the bulk of the rhetoric just seems like academic babbling.

Also, Barr takes sides on some of the issues and paints a picture that supports his stance. He also presents his theoretical analysis as if he is speaking factually and not simply theorizing.

In the end, most of these movies were made to capitalize on the kaiju craze of the 1960s. Many of the non-Toho films were just poor ripoffs of Gojira (the original Godzilla film). I just can’t buy into the idea that the writers, directors and producers sat down and tried to stuff so much political and social consciousness into these films, as Barr implies.

TV Review: The Ranch (2016- )

Original Run: April 1st, 2016 – ????
Created by: Don Reo, Jim Patterson
Directed by: David Trainer
Written by: various
Music by: Ryeland Allison
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson, Debra Winger, Sam Elliot, Elisha Cuthbert, Barry Corbin, Bret Harrison, Megyn Price, Kelli Goss, Kathy Baker, Ethan Suplee, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jon Cryer, Wilmer Valderrama, Martin Mull, John Amos, Thomas F. Wilson, Debra Jo Rupp, Jim Beaver

Ranch Hand Productions, Netflix, 30 Episodes (thus far), 28-34 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2016.

Netflix has gotten crazy with their original content. It seems like nearly every week there is some new show to watch now. I feel like one of their newest efforts, The Ranch, may have slipped through the cracks for most people.

It stars That ’70s Show alum Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson, which is pretty awesome as their comedic chemistry in that previous show was pretty uncanny. It also adds in the always awesome Sam Elliot, as their father, and the fantastic Debra Winger, as their mom. The cast is pretty solid but it just isn’t enough for this lackluster sitcom.

The show was created by the creators of Two and a Half Men but that was never a great series and it ran its course at least half a decade before the show actually ended. But this does re-team Kutcher with the people he worked with on that show, so it is like a happy marriage of a bunch of people Kutcher worked with on his two most famous projects. That doesn’t necessarily create a good recipe, however.

The show is mostly humorous, in a “lowest common denominator” sort of way. Granted, it does have charm and appeal. The charm isn’t immediately apparent but it grows as the show progresses. The appeal is due to the cast and the nostalgic feeling of seeing Kutcher and Masterson together. Plus, Sam Elliot, again, is always awesome and he looks to be having a lot of fun on this project.

As of now, Netflix has only released ten episodes – the first half of season one. It is enough to sink your teeth into but not enough to know if this is going to be a slow build to something better. By the end, I was mostly happy with the show but not completely sold that it wouldn’t end up being cookie cutter CBS-style sitcom bullshit. Ultimately, the characters and their relationship is what works and the comedy is just sort of there for flourish.

Update:

Having now seen 30 episodes, I feel like the show has found its footing. It isn’t fantastic but I do find myself anticipating it when I see that new episodes are about to drop.

Over the course of the three parts (as they aren’t full seasons), the show has featured more of Kutcher’s former cast mates from other shows and it also brings in a lot of other talent, whether from other classic sitcoms or from other shows and movies.

The Ranch is pretty enjoyable. It isn’t the funniest thing on television or even close to the best show. For some reason, however, it just works and it comes off as incredibly genuine and looks to be a fun show to be a part of for those involved. Their enthusiasm comes through and it makes you care about these characters.