Film Review: Zombieland (2009)

Release Date: September 25th, 2009 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray, Amber Heard

Relativity Media, Pariah, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes


“Are you fucking with me?” – Tallahassee, “Uh, no. You should actually limber up as well. Especially if we’re going down that hill. It is very important.” – Columbus, “I don’t believe in it. You ever see a lion limber up before it takes down a gazelle?” – Tallahassee

I know that a lot of people absolutely love this film. I like it too but I wouldn’t say that I love it. In fact, I haven’t seen it since it was in theaters. I just never really felt like watching it again until now.

To start, the cast is great and I like the chemistry between all of them. But let’s be honest, Woody Harrelson is the scene stealer and the real star of the picture, even though this boasts the talents of three young stars who would all have great careers beyond this movie: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. But even when the legendary Bill Murray shows up for a cameo, Harrelson steals that scene as well.

But it is the characters that make this movie work so well. They all just gel and you genuinely care about them, even though you just get to scratch the surface with this quartet at only an 88 minute running time.

I guess the only really big negative about this film is the finale. The girls decide to go to an amusement park for fun, albeit when it’s dark out in a world that is plagued by zombies and no security guards. Somehow, the park has power, the girls turn all the lights and rides on and are suddenly shocked when they are immediately overwhelmed by zombies.

Before this idiotic outing, the film spent an hour showing that these girls were smart and cunning con artists. So their complete stupidity to set up the big final battle is just baffling as all hell. And while I can suspend disbelief, I can’t ignore blatant and colossal idiocy.

And how the hell did they control the rides while riding them? Carnival rides aren’t automated, they have operators that hit buttons on a control panel to start and stop the ride. In the real world, one would have to ride while the other one had to hit the buttons on the control panel. I mean, despite the cool fact that we got to see zombie mayhem in a theme park, the set up and reasoning behind the sequence is asinine and ludicrous.

But the movie is supposed to be fun and I get that but I can never accept the rampant stupidity of the characters in the last twenty minutes.

All that being said, there isn’t a whole lot here that’s unique. There are zombies and you have to survive. There really isn’t anything about this movie to make it special and there isn’t an original twist that allows it to be its own thing in a genre that ran its course a long, long time ago. I mean, you could say that comedy is the twist but this is far from being the first zombie comedy.

I guess the only thing that works is that I like the characters and the actors. Well, I’m not a big Eisenberg fan but he was fine in this role, as it’s sort of the type of character I imagine him being. Woody Harrelson is, by far, the real highlight and the Bill Murray cameo is a lot of fun.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Shaun of the DeadCoootiesScouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Film Review: Big Man Japan (2007)

Also known as: Dai-Nihonjin (original Japanese title), The Demon, The Electric Man, The Man of Electricity (Alternate Japanese English titles)
Release Date: June 2nd, 2007 (Japan)
Directed by: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Written by: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Mitsuyoshi Takasu
Music by: Tōwa Tei
Cast: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Ryūnosuke Kamiki

Phantom Film, Shochiku, 113 Minutes


Some movies are so bizarre and unique that they sort of just exist on their own and there isn’t much you can compare them to. Big Man Japan is one of those movies.

The film is sort of a parody of the kaiju and tokusatsu genres in Japan. It is filmed in a documentary style and follows Masaru Daisatō, who is his generation’s version of Japan’s protector, Big Man Japan. BMJ, as I’ll call him for short, is a regular man that when electrocuted, grows to kaiju size and fights off evil kaiju that happen to show up and wreck havoc in Japan’s urban areas. The twist, is that Masuro doesn’t really care all that much about his duty and is sort of a lonely drunk that doesn’t have much to do when he isn’t called into action. When the action does happen, he’s pretty out of shape and not very good at his job. Masuro has a wife and child, who he barely sees, as well as a manager that takes advantage of him and sells his body to advertisers while she reaps the benefits and Masuro continues to live near poverty level.

The majority of the film is about Masuro’s life but there are plenty of kaiju battles between BMJ and a bunch of different monsters, each of which is incredibly strange and very original. We don’t have a rehash of GodzillaUltramanKamen Rider or Super Sentai styled giant beasts, Instead, we get humanoid looking giants with weird deformities and unusual powers. There’s a hugging monster, a stink monster, an infant monster, an eyeball tossing monster and a bunch of others. Each battle is different and entertaining but ultimately lead to BMJ fudging it up in some way. The final monster is a devil that BMJ can’t handle but he ends up having help from a family of giant space heroes that are an obvious parody of the heroes from Ultraman. In fact, that whole battle switches to an Ultraman styled fight once those heroes show up. It is a fitting and satisfying ending to the film, especially for fans of the Ultraman franchise.

The special effects aren’t great and are pretty silly looking. The battles aren’t a huge part of the movie, even though there are a lot of them, but the effects during those battles initially pulls you out of the film due to their lack of realism when compared to the documentary style of the rest of the film. However, after a battle or two, you adjust to the effects and they start to work just fine. Besides, they fit within the more modern tokusatsu style but may look cheap and unrefined to someone comparing this to an American blockbuster.

Hitoshi Matsumoto starred in, directed and wrote this film. He exceeded in each task and gave us something highly enjoyable, goofy and really, original. That’s hard to do but Matsumoto really hit it out of the park for his first feature length motion picture.

Big Man Japan might not resonate with everyone and it certainly only speaks to a particular audience, which is pretty minuscule in the United States, but it is so outside of the box that it is a worthy experience for those just wanting something different. I really like the film but I also love the kaiju and tokusatsu genres.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: General tokusatsu television programs from the era.

Film Review: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Release Date: June 8th, 2008 (Gibson Amphitheatre premiere)
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Written by: Zak Penn
Based on: Hulk by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt, Robert Downey Jr., Martin Starr, Lou Ferrigno

Marvel Studios, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Universal Pictures, 112 Minutes


“[Preparing to finish the Hulk off] Any last words?” – Abomination, “Hulk… SMASH!” – The Incredible Hulk

A few months after the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man, we got the second film in the now massive Avengers franchise. I feel like people actually forget about this movie now, as there has never been a sequel to it and the character of the Incredible Hulk was recast by the time 2012’s Avengers rolled around. Edward Norton, like Eric Bana, only got to play the Hulk once. Granted, Bana’s Hulk film is not a part of this continuity.

The Incredible Hulk is pretty decent as an introduction to this version of the Hulk character. It benefits from not being bogged down by an origin story, as that was covered in that earlier, unrelated Hulk film and the two movies are only separated by five years. However, the details or a rundown of the origin should have been mentioned, as opposed to just giving the audience a flashback scene cut into the opening credits.

A problem with this film and it being a part of the larger MCU canon, is that everything that happens in it doesn’t really matter to the bigger picture and really, this could be removed from continuity and no one would notice. In fact, I feel like it should be non-canonical.

One, the Hulk role was recast and given to Mark Ruffalo. Two, where the hell has General “Thunderbolt” Ross been since this movie? He had a meeting with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark but for what reason? Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross has also never resurfaced in favor of Marvel switching Hulk’s love interest to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Where are these two people who were so important to the Hulk’s story? Also, Tim Blake Nelson is exposed to magic Hulk juice and was turning into the Hulk villain, The Leader. Seriously, where the hell is The Leader? I want the f’n Leader! I love The Leader!

Granted, they’d probably ruin The Leader, as Marvel doesn’t do anywhere near as good of a job developing their villains as they do their heroes. Which is a big bone of contention for me in regards to the larger Avengers franchise.

Time also hasn’t been kind to this film and watching it now, when there’s like two dozen more MCU films, makes it feel even more out of place.

And while I’m speaking of time not being kind, the CGI is less than impressive and the film is pretty slow because it doesn’t have the flow that the later Marvel movies have. While I did like the slower pace in Iron Man, that film managed its time better and developed its plot and its characters very effectively. The Incredible Hulk doesn’t develop much of anything, it just relies on you knowing these characters based off of the unrelated Hulk film from 2003. But even then, the characters here still have a different personality. Norton’s Hulk is different than Bana’s and the same goes for Liv Tyler in the role Jennifer Connelly played and William Hurt taking over from Sam Elliot.

The Incredible Hulk is far from a bad movie and it’s decent as a standalone story but it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the MCU and relies on knowledge and history that the film doesn’t actually give you. The actors did a good job with the material but it was still a weak effort, overall.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Iron Man and Iron Man 2, as its wedged between the two. Also, Avengers, as that’s the next time that the Hulk is seen.

Film Review: Iron Man (2008)

Release Date: April 14th, 2008 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Based on: Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ramin Djawadi
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany (voice), Samuel L. Jackson (cameo), Clark Gregg, Leslie Bibb, Tom Morello (cameo), Ghostface Killah (scene cut), Peter Billingsley (cameo)

Fairview Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes


“[reading the newspaper] Iron Man. That’s kind of catchy. It’s got a nice ring to it. I mean it’s not technically accurate. The suit’s a gold titanium alloy, but it’s kind of provocative, the imagery anyway.” – Tony Stark

I decided that it’s time to go back and rewatch the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the beginning, as the world patiently waits for the release of Avengers: Infinity War in less than three months. It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched the Phase One films, so I figured I’d start with the first, a film that I can’t believe is a decade old already. Man, time flies.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched the Phase One stuff in so long, but I truly forgot how great the original Iron Man is. It’s definitely the best of the Iron Man films and much better than most of the Phase Two and Phase Three movies. It was smaller, simpler and actually told a story instead of being a dozen big action sequences strung together by a fragile plot thread.

This is the origin story of Iron Man and really Tony Stark, even though some of the sequels to this flesh out his backstory more. This doesn’t get too bogged down in the origin stuff though, as it does a great job of focusing on the main story and moving forward. Plus, that post credits scene sets up what’s to come with the formation of the Avengers and a hint at something much larger than just Stark’s world. In fact, Nick Fury even states that Stark isn’t the first superhero, alluding to Captain America and possibly even Captain Marvel, who ten years later, still hasn’t gotten her movie.

Iron Man is just so well acted, well constructed and Jon Favreau did a fine job directing it, even though he got to play a role in it and other Iron Man-related films after this one.

This is small in comparison to the Marvel films that would come later but I think that’s why I like it so much. It’s a bit more grounded in reality, emotion and something actually genuine.

Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect Tony Stark but we all know that by this point. It’s like he was born to play the role and everything else before this, as great as many of his films were, was just preparation for this role, the biggest thing he’s ever been a part of.

Jeff Bridges was fantastic as the first ever Marvel Cinematic Universe villain. He was a powerful and charismatic choice and still, better than most of the other villains that have come and gone. Granted, other than less than a handful of characters, Marvel has had an issue with managing their bad guys in these pictures.

This was a perfect start to the larger Avengers universe. I think we knew how good this was, at the time, but seeing it now, with so many other Marvel movies having come out after it, helps put into perspective how good this motion picture was.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Iron Man 2Iron Man 3, Captain America: Civil War.

Film Review: Rocky Balboa (2006)

Release Date: December 20th, 2006
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes, Tony Burton, James Francis Kelly III, Lou DiBella

Revolution Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures, 100 Minutes


“It doesn’t matter how this looks to other people. If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight.” – Little Marie

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Rocky Balboa. I really liked it when it came out but at the same time, I was going through some heavy personal shit that this film emotionally tapped into at the time. I lost someone really close to me the day before this film came out and in some way, seeing this film that same week sort of helped me with the grief and guilt of that experience. And frankly, I’ll always associate this film with that experience.

Seeing it, over a decade later, and after having just watched the five original Rocky films, I do still like this picture but it is my least favorite of the Rocky franchise. Yeah, I’m that one weirdo that actually liked Rocky V and was happy with it as the ending to the series.

The thing about this film, is that I think it actually would have worked better without the whole fight element thrown in. But it’s a Rocky film so Rocky has to fight, I guess that’s the rule. I would have been more interested in seeing Rocky deal with his grief in an elderly reality where he can’t fight and certainly shouldn’t be allowed to fight. Eventually, he has to hang those gloves up and I would have rather seen him try to figure out how to overcome his personal demons when his one way of dealing with them is no longer available to him. There are different fights in life than the physical ones and we’ve seen Rocky use boxing as a metaphor for his life from the ’70s into the ’90s. I think that Creed did a better job of finding a way to help Rocky find meaning in his life outside of taping up his own fists.

The thing with the fight and how it all goes down is unrealistic. I just can’t see a boxer as old as Balboa getting cleared to fight the undefeated world champion, whether it’s just some corny exhibition or not. The idea of it also sets a bad precedent of some sort of reality where aged fighters can somehow hang with guys in their prime that are at the top of their game. Sure, this is a feel good story for old men, past their prime, but Sugar Ray Leonard should absolutely never step into the ring with Floyd Mayweather.

Everything else about this film I mostly liked. Rocky owns a restaurant, he is having a hard time with his relationship with his son, he gets to spend quality time with Paulie and he gets to reconnect with a young girl he hasn’t seen since 1976. I also loved Spider Rico’s role in this movie, as he was there for comedic relief but it was cool seeing Rocky still care for his old rival and friend.

Rocky Balboa is a sad and borderline depressing movie. It does have its patented feel good ending but it was unsatisfying in the fact that it was tied into the fight within the film. I would have rather seen him reconnect with his son, find love with Marie and accept that life goes on and he has to go on with it. While it sort of happens, it does so with the fight as a metaphor for everything because surviving a beat down of epic proportions means that your problems are gone until you need to make a sequel.

But I get it, what’s a Rocky movie without a fight? And if Stallone didn’t have his most famous character throw down, people wouldn’t have gone to see the film. What is Rocky Balboa without boxing? But couldn’t that have been the whole point of the film?

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Anything within the Rocky franchise. Also, Ryan Coogler’s Creed.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – Back to Earth (2009)

Original Run: April 10th, 2009 – April 12th, 2009
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Sophie Winkleman

Grant Naylor, UK Gold Services Limited, BBC, Dave, 3 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)


It took a decade but after the weird eighth season that capped off the original run of the Red Dwarf televisions series, we finally got the promised followup. While a theatrical film was teased for years, it never materialized. Instead, we got this three-part special that aired over Easter weekend in 2009.

Back to Earth was a vast improvement over seasons seven and eight, which left many fans baffled and sad. It also brought Red Dwarf back into people’s minds and allowed for the show to actually return in its normal form which happened in 2012 and we have since had three seasons of the show following this special.

For the most part, this is a pretty good outing for Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten. I wasn’t a fan of the multi-episode experiments they did in season eight, as they really contributed to the slow and drab feeling of that series. Here, the concept works though. But thankfully, this was the last time that they did a multi-part story.

This three parter is called Back to Earth because the Dwarfers actually get back to Earth but it is the Earth of our time. Furthermore, it isn’t the Dwarfers Earth it is literally our Earth. You see, the Red Dwarf crew discover that they are fictional characters made up to entertain us in the real world. They then go on a quest to get their show to continue because they don’t want to die with its cancellation. Of course, there are some twists in the plot and luckily for us, the show did continue beyond this.

This series is also an awesome homage to the sci-fi/neo-noir classic Blade Runner. It has a lot of gags and moments that are recreations of key scenes from the film and they are done beautifully. It added a cool aesthetic to this story.

Also, the story is a throwback to a really popular older episode. I’m not going to say which, as it may spoil some of the twists.

The only really weird thing about this series, is that it didn’t have a live audience or even a laugh track. The lack of canned laughter is actually kind of distracting but you do get used to it, once the Dwarfers leave their normal surroundings and get to modern Earth at the start of the second episode.

The crossover between Craig Charles’ two biggest shows Red Dwarf and Coronation Street was really damn cool, as well.

Ultimately, this isn’t as good as the classic series, as a whole, but as a standalone story, it is one of my favorites. Had it been the final time we saw these guys, as many believed in 2009, it would have been a fine and honorable sendoff.

But I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten three more seasons after this with more presumably to come.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything Red Dwarf.

Film Review: Miracle (2004)

Release Date: February 6th, 2004
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Written by: Eric Guggenheim
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich

Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 135 Minutes


“Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.” – Herb Brooks

*written in 2014.

Miracle is considered by many, if not most, to be the best hockey film ever made.

I don’t agree with the popular opinion, although it is a good film. The problem though, is that there is a real under-abundance of hockey movies. I mean, compared to baseball, football and even basketball pictures, hockey is really underutilized as a subject for sports films. While I would put this in probably the top two or three hockey movies of all-time, it would be hard to put it in a top ten including other sports.

While the subject matter of this film, the 1980 Winter Olympics and the United States’ beating of the unstoppable Soviet team during the Cold War, is compelling, it falls flat when comparing it to the bigger picture.

There are scenes in the film that are great. In fact, the acting is stellar. The problem is that it is just missing the magic you find in films like The Natural, Field of Dreams, Rudy and Hoosiers. While it has a bit of a magical feel at times, it never really pulls you in as emotionally as those other classic sports motion pictures.

Additionally, the pacing of this film is strange, as at times it drags and other times it flies by. There are also so many characters to get to know, that you really can’t get to know any of them all that well. The film suffers from not investing more time in just a few people; instead it gives you bits and pieces of many people. It plays like a television pilot overstuffed with too many characters from the start.

Miracle is a good film, despite the criticisms I have. It just isn’t the great movie that people believe it to be. At least, that’s how I see it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Mystery, Alaska