Documentary Review: The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Music by: Brocker Wa

Netflix, 73 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a Netflix exclusive that just dropped this past weekend. It is the story of the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league baseball franchise that was started and ran by Bing Russell, actor and father of Kurt Russell.

The Mavericks were pretty big in the ’70s. In fact, they were getting more press coverage than a lot of the major league teams. They also set some minor league attendance records during their existence. They were scruffy, tough and not your typical clean cut all-American team. They brought a hardened edge to baseball and a level of competition that not only surprised the City of Portland but also surprised the team.

This was a thoroughly entertaining, informative and enjoyable documentary. As a baseball fan that was born in the late ’70s, I’ve heard the stories of the Portland Mavericks but I wasn’t alive to witness it. This gave a lot of the stories I’ve heard, more insight and depth. It also added in a bunch of stuff I would’ve never known otherwise.

It was great seeing Kurt Russell and his mother adding their two cents to the documentary, as well as the interviews with all the old Mavericks and key people. The movie was well edited, well put together and seemed to fly by with ease. The short 73 minute running time may have something to do with that.

This is one of the better baseball documentaries that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. If you’re a fan of the sport, check it out. If you’ve got Netflix streaming, it’s free.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: No No: A Dockumentary and Ken Burns’ Baseball.

Film Review: Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

Also known as: Ghostbusters (original title), Ghostbusters 3 (working title), Flapjack (fake working title)
Release Date: July 9th, 2016 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Based on: Ghostbusters by Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Charles Dance, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McDonald, Zach Woods, Toby Huss, Bill Murray (cameo), Dan Aykroyd (cameo), Ernie Hudson (cameo), Sigourney Weaver (cameo), Annie Potts (cameo), Ivan Reitman (cameo), Ozzy Osbourne (cameo), Al Roker (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, The Montecito Picture Company, Feigco Entertainment, Pascal Pictures, Ghost Corps, Sony Pictures Releasing, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I will not let the 12-year reputation of this fine institution be besmirched by you!” – The Dean

I was a massive fan of the original Ghostbusters movies. However, even with rumors of a Ghostbusters 3 for years, I never really wanted a follow up. It had been such a long time since the second film and franchise movies that go on multiple decade hiatuses never seem to recapture the magic. The sequel idea was eventually abandoned in favor of this reboot, however. But still, I didn’t want it.

The only way that I thought a modern Ghostbusters could work is if it was to introduce a new generation and for it to exist in the same universe with the original guys passing the torch so that they could finally retire. Instead, this was just a flat out reboot with no continuity shared with the original two films.

But then there was also the gender twist element to this film. It seemed to be the latest Hollywood franchise to do a full gender swap for the sake of just swapping gender. Do I care that these four characters are women? No. But Hollywood (and all of entertainment, really) is sort of forcing diversity on the masses just because they can and apparently we’re all sexist, racist, homophobes if we don’t just accept what they are making the new normal.

In any event, this film came out with a lot of backlash because people are sick of the forced diversity shtick. Was that fair to the actresses in the film? Probably not. I felt that it should stand on its own merits but I also wanted to separate myself from all the social and political commentary for a long while before giving it a fair shot.

Let me first say that this sequel was unnecessary. Had it been made to build off of the already existing mythos and served to enrich it, then that would have made this more worthwhile and given it a point beyond just appearing like Hollywood attempting to gender swap fan favorite characters.

The thing is, I like most of the people in this film and that’s the main reason why I wanted to finally check it out. That being said, I enjoyed these women, their characters and I also thought that most of the supporting cast were better than decent. I also enjoyed the cameos from the original Ghostbusters cast members.

In the end, this film worked for me. There are several reasons for this but the biggest positive was that the writers didn’t try to just rehash what the first film was. This movie had it’s own original story with some cool ideas that served the narrative well. I liked the story, I thought it was pretty creative and even if the villain was weak when compared to Gozer and Vigo, his plan was still interesting and worthy of a first outing for this team of Ghostbusters.

Additionally, this film had a lot of fan service moments. They weren’t necessary or even really expected but the studio did a good job of not using these elements to sell the film in trailers. These surprises weren’t spoiled ahead of time for me and I was glad to see them worked into the movie, especially that major homage to The REAL Ghostbusters cartoon series.

I also loved the special effects and the whole visual style of the movie. The ghosts looked cool and there was a great variety of ghost styles. While the “ghosts unleashed on Manhattan” segment from the original film is one of the best moments in film history, I felt that this film’s take on that beloved moment was executed spectacularly.

The only ghost I really wasn’t a fan of was the demon dragon thing and the whole segment trying to capture it at the rock concert was one of the film’s lower points. But surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of other low points.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t hate this like many people seem to. But I also didn’t expect to like it all that much either. I was lukewarm to this film and didn’t have the biggest urge to see it. I’m glad that I did though. It was entertaining enough, made me laugh a few times and I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel even though they probably won’t make one and will most likely just reboot the film series again, sometime down the road. That one will probably star four overweight paraplegic lesbian Fijians, one of which will be Muslim too.

But seriously, social political agenda aside, this made me laugh and had some good positives.

Also, Andy Garcia’s mayor character was damn good.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Just about any other Melissa McCarthy movie, as well as GhostbustersGhostbusters II and Bridesmaids.

Film Review: Boy (2010)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2010 (Sundance)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Music by: The Phoenix Foundation
Cast: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Moerangi Tihore, Cherilee Martin, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell, Haze Reweti, Maakariini Butler, Rajvinder Eria, Rachel House, Craig Hall

Whenua Films, Unison Films, New Zealand Film Production Fund, New Zealand Film Commission, New Zealand On Air, Te Mangai Paho, Transmission Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t call me dad, it sounds weird.” – Alamein

I’ve been a Taika Waititi fan since first seeing Eagle vs. Shark and Flight of the Conchords. I didn’t see Boy when it first came out though and I put it off for too long. I have heard great things but the subject matter was pretty close to home and I wanted to save this for a later date because I assumed it’d be a good movie to keep on the back burner when I needed something really good to watch.

Well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed and I ended up loving this more than I thought I would. It’s funny and emotional while also having a perfect balance between lightheartedness and seriousness. Really, it was crafted with perfection and with a real love of the story and the characters within.

The young James Rolleston had to carry this picture on his back and he did so with gusto and really made the film a magical experience. You saw the world through his eyes, felt his pain but also felt his youthful enthusiasm, even when he was faced with tremendous adversity and a broken heart. He had Waititi at his side in the toughest scenes but this kid shined and really represented the feelings that many boys and men have in regards to fathers that treat their sons like an afterthought. And even though Rolleston’s Boy eventually releases all his pent up anger and disappointment, he still takes the right step forward and leaves the door open to his shitty dad, showing a child much more mature than the man that made him.

This film deals with a lot of serious subject matter and emotion but it mixes in the comedy elements very well. Waititi is the master at blending tough subject matter and humor. Between this film and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he’s proven that he is a master of his craft in this regard.

Boy, the character, was such a fun kid to get to know. But the other kids were also great and had their own smaller stories sort of woven into this great tapestry. His younger brother Rocky had his own view about things and Dynasty had some serious problems she had to deal with that were directly tied to Boy and his nitwit father Alamein.

Certain moments in the film were emotionally difficult to witness but it was all presented so perfectly and beautifully. And regardless of the hardships all of these characters face, the film ends pretty optimistically with hope. It seems as if things will get better after all the bad stuff that happened. Ultimately, it shows me that Taika Waititi understands life and this film is really a celebration of it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. 

TV Review: Knights of Sidonia (2014- )

Also known as: Sidonia no Kishi (Japanese title)
Release Date: April 11th, 2014 – current
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Sadayuki Murai
Based on: Sidonia no Kishi manga by Tsutomu Nihei
Music by: Noriyuki Asakura
Cast: Pete Sepenuk, Ryôta Ôsaka, Takahiro Sakurai

MBS, TBS, CBC, BS-TBS, AT-X, Aniplus Asia, Sentai Filmworks, Animatsu Entertainment, Netflix, 24 Episodes (so far), 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

After really enjoying Attack On Titan, I decided to watch other modern anime series. Interestingly, Netflix just debuted an anime series under its own banner. That show is Knights of Sidonia.

What turned me onto this show initially, is that it seemed to have a Robotech vibe to it. Although set in deep space and not primarily set on or around Earth like the original run of Robotech, this series presents the all too familiar anime staple of following the lives of badass pilots in badass mecha. That is a compliment, as this is a formula that I doubt I will ever grow tired of and in a way, shows like this and Robotech give me what I always wanted in a Rogue Squadron film or series, which the Star Wars people have never given the masses.

The premise of this show reminds me of Attack On Titan except this takes place in space, as opposed to walled in villages on Earth. Also, the gigantic threat to humanity isn’t hungry man-eating Titans, it is gigantic humanoid rock creatures called Gauna that can shapeshift and rip things apart with massive tendrils. Gaunas can also grow to immense size like some sort of outer space kaiju.

Overall, this is a beautiful show and it was enjoyable. It is short, only having twelve 25 minute episodes, so it is a quick watch. Although from what I hear, there is a second season in the works.

The art, the style and concepts explored on the show are the selling point here. There is nothing exceedingly exceptional about the overall package of Knights of Sidonia other than it is pretty solid and well-balanced and the Gauna are a sight to behold. The mecha are pretty cool too but ultimately they make me miss the Veritech fighters of Robotech. Sorry, it is hard not to keep comparing this series to the one just mentioned again.

The weak point of Knights of Sidonia is that they spend quite a lot of time developing characters. While this shouldn’t be a problem, it does seem to be a waste when character development is such a focal point but all the characters feel one dimensional and stereotypical.

In the end, this was an engaging show. It is awesome visually and some sequences within the series were impressive.

I just hope that the second season fleshes things out more and that they speed things up story-wise.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: RobotechMacross stuff from Japan, VoltronNeon Genesis Evangelion.

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015- )

Also known as: Tooken (working title)
Original Run: March 6th, 2015 – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Jeff Richmond
Cast: Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane, Jane Krakowski

Little Stranger Inc., Bevel Gears, 3 Arts Entertainment, Universal Television, Netflix, NBCUniversal Television Distribution, 45 Episodes (so far), 22-36 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a television show that was created by the team that bought you NBC’s 30 Rock. Originally intended to be aired on NBC, once the network pretty much abandoned comedy (see how poorly they handled the final season of Parks & Recreation) it was sold to Netflix with a two season order. So far, only one season has aired on the streaming service.

The show stars Ellie Kemper from The Office and a slew of other actors who appeared on 30 Rock in some form or another. The main cast is comprised of Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski. There are also a ton of cameos: Tina Fey (one of the co-creators), Jon Hamm and Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men, as well as Tim Blake Nelson are some of the most notable.

If you are a fan of 30 Rock, which I mostly wasn’t, the show will delight you as it captures the same tone and humor. Personally, I found this to be a better show overall than 30 Rock but it was too similar in style and felt like more of a spin-off or extension of that show creatively, as opposed to being something fresh and unique. It was littered with a lot of Tina Feyisms and almost thought itself to be too clever, witty and quirky.

The show is very lighthearted and positive all around. Despite the fact that the premise is about a young woman who is freed from an underground cult bunker after fifteen years, it doesn’t focus on that dark subject matter too deeply. It shows a strong and powerful female character, robbed of a decade and a half of her life, taking on every challenge in an effort to live the life she was denied. In a nutshell, it sends a positive message to all that life is something to be cherished and enjoyed and that the relationships we have with people are precious.

However, the show also kind of pushes the envelope too hard with its positive message, as on multiple occasions we see Kimmy meddling in the lives of others. Yes, it is in an attempt to help them and to push them in a better direction but ultimately, she oversteps her bounds more often than not. While her intentions are always good and noble, she is like a helicopter mom to every character on the show. Maybe season two should deal with the potential negative consequences of her good intentions. Where this show gives a template for a great role model, it is counterintuitive for the fact that she is an overenthusiastic busybody.

To give an example, there is a point in the show where Kimmy takes it upon herself to get the angsty teenage daughter she is a nanny to, to go live with her other parents against the girl’s wishes. She uses some trickery in her plot. In the end, she isn’t the girl’s parent and if this isn’t overstepping some moralistic bounds, despite her good intent, I don’t know what is. Just because someone thinks they know what is right for someone else, doesn’t give them the right to force fate against that person’s wishes.

This also ties into the fact that Kimmy pretty much pushes her employer into divorcing her cheating husband. While the husband is a scumbag, it is the wife’s decision and although Kimmy can give her two cents, as a friend, she went beyond that.

I’m not attacking the show, I found it really entertaining and a good choice for some weekend binge watching. These are just the thoughts I had, as I watched each episode unfold. And it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as it is just a sitcom.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show worth your time for the most part. There isn’t a lot of good comedy airing on television these days. I just hope the extreme positive nature of the show doesn’t breed a new generation of busybody know-it-alls.

I will certainly watch season two when it starts streaming. Besides, it is kind of hard to deny myself the magic that is Tituss Burgess. And I love everything that Carol Kane does. I also hope that Jon Hamm reemerges, as well as Kiernan Shipka. Tina Fey can leave her Marcia Clark impersonation behind though.

Update:

Couldn’t get very far into the second season. I pretty much abandoned the show, as it just started to get really redundant and had already ran its course for me.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: NBC comedies of the ’00s: The Office30 RockParks & Recreation, etc.

Film Review: Tord and Tord (2010)

Also known as: Tord och Tord (original Swedish title)
Release Date: January 29th, 2010 (Göteborg Film Festival)
Directed by: Niki Lindroth von Bahr
Written by: Niki Lindroth von Bahr
Cast: Thomas Tidholm

11 Minutes

Review:

After watching Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s The Burden, I wanted to go back in time a bit and check out her short film from 2010, which is done in a similar style.

This follows a character named Tord who mistakenly walks into the apartment next door to discover someone moving in. This character is also named Tord.

Tord and Tord develop a friendship and as it evolves, they develop their own code and unique way of conversing. As time goes on and the new Tord makes the codes more complex, the original Tord feels more distant, as things have become far less personal and intimate in their conversations. He just wants to talk to the new Tord like a real person but old Tord just sends more complex coded messages. Maybe, in some ways, this reflects the dynamic of many social media friendships.

This film, like The Burden, is short and sweet and has a quality that is very genuine and endearing in a lot of ways.

I absolutely adore Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s style. Her films are both cute and dark… or they at least have some dark undertones that rise to the top.

Unlike The Burden, though, this one doesn’t leave you with much hope in the end. It’s pretty sad, actually.

I think this is an easy film to relate to, as the old Tord is a bit heartbroken by his friendship withering away and becoming awkward. I think most people, if not all, have experienced this at some point in their life.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Niki Lindroth von Bahr The Burden.

Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Release Date: May 9th, 2016 (London premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Hugh Jackman (cameo), Caleb Landry Jones (archive footage)

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Genre, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[sends the world’s nuclear weapons into space] Always the same, and now all this. No more stones. No more spears. No more slings. No more swords. No more weapons! No more systems! No more! No more superpowers… So much faith in their tools, in their machines. You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel, but you can never strike god!” – Apocalypse

At this point, the X-Men films don’t give a crap about continuity and I don’t care that Days of Future Past was used to try and fix that. Fox still dismisses a lot of what’s happened and just does what works well for each movie as a standalone picture. Because you can’t have Angel appear as a late teen in a 2006 movie and then have him in his twenties in 1983, regardless of whatever Doctor Who timey wimey shenanigans you try to pull. But truthfully, I don’t care at this point. I sort of just see each film as its own reality where each movie just shares some similarities. Sorry, I’ve got to make it make sense for my brain or I have to just dismiss the absurdity of it.

That being said, I don’t hate this chapter in the X-Men movie franchise. In fact, I liked it quite a bit in spite of its flaws, continuity hiccups and the underwhelming way that they presented Apocalypse.

What made this film work for me was the evolution of Magneto, who is the best character in these films and who seems to be handled with great care. I don’t care so much about all the teens and the constant influx of new characters every time I blink my eyes. It’s the core characters that matter in these movies. That being said, I think McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is damn good too.

When I first saw this film in theaters, my initial reaction was worse than it is now. Having time to digest and reflect on Apocalypse, it really isn’t as bad of a movie as I thought it was at first glance. It is the weakest of the newer generation of pictures but it is certainly better than 2000’s X-Men and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Don’t even get me started on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as I find it less enjoyable than a piranha enema.

The plot in this is a bit rushed and shaky. Apocalypse, one of the most powerful forces in the entirety of the Marvel Universe just shows up, learns all about human history by touching a TV and starts taking over the Earth and brainwashing other mutants to be his “Four Horsemen”. It was interesting that Oscar Issac played Apocalypse because it wouldn’t have really mattered who played him, as he was just a dry, one note tyrant. Frankly, he should have been the X-Men‘s version of Thanos, at least in their movie universe.

The sequence with Wolverine is, by far, the high point of the movie. Hugh Jackman only shows up for about ten minutes but it is some of the best Wolverine action ever put to celluloid. Granted, Hollywood is allergic to celluloid now.

This is an epic film but it doesn’t feel as grandiose as its predecessor. It isn’t as good as its predecessor either and I think that is why I was disappointed with it initially. But the main players in the cast add more to their stories in a good way and ultimately, this enriched the modern X-Men movie universe.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie but I’ll still see it because these films still have more positives than negatives. But really, it’s just time for the X-Men movies to get a much needed reboot and join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The current crop of X-Men movies since James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender took over the lead roles. Also, the last two Wolverine pictures.