Film Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2010 (Sundance)
Directed by: Eli Craig
Written by: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Music by: Michael Shields, Andrew Kaiser
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons

Eden Rock Media, Looby Lou, Reliance BIG Pictures, Urban Island, Magnet Releasing, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Holy shit. We have go to hide all of the sharp objects!” – Tucker

I really liked this movie when I first saw it, which was way back when it came out in 2010. Weirdly, I hadn’t revisited since that initial viewing. Going back to it now was refreshing, as there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve liked in the horror genre, as of late. Especially in regards to comedy horror.

The premise of this film is great and it kind of makes you rethink horror films from the past. This is a movie that is about a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations based on preexisting biases and well, other horror movies.

Tucker and Dale are two hillbillies that are driving to their vacation home in the woods. On their way, they meet a group of college kids and Dale is smitten with a girl in the group named Allison. He tries to talk to her but is nervous and comes off to the kids as a crazy, creepy, backwoods redneck. The kids are on the immediate defense because they’ve obviously watched too many horror films about killer rednecks in the woods.

Following the setup, the rest of the film is full of other misunderstandings that convince the college kids that these two hillbillies are trying to murder them. In reality, they are two nice and chill guys. The college students try to save a friend that the hillbillies have in their house, as she is recovering from an injury. As the college kids swarm the house, some of them end up killing themselves accidentally in the chaos. Tucker and Dale are left thinking that these kids are trying to kill Allison and have some sort of suicide pact. The surviving kids continue to think that Tucker and Dale are savage killers.

While the premise is fantastic it wouldn’t survive without good and clever writing and without some surprises thrown in. Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson penned a stellar script and Craig also did a fine job behind the camera, directing the action.

Tucker and Dale are incredibly likable characters, as is Allison. Other than that, it’s great seeing all the other kids get maimed, disfigured and killed in a myriad of interesting ways. I also loved seeing how freaked out Tucker and Dale were, as they couldn’t make sense out of what was happening.

Alan Tudyk played Tucker and he’s fun to watch in any role. However, Tyler Labine really stole the show as Dale. He was a true everyman and was just good at it. He wanted to win the girl, he didn’t look the part but through his heroics, bravery and loyalty to those he cares about, was able to win in the end.

There have been rumors about a sequel for years. In fact, a script was written but it was terrible and they decided against making it. So kudos to the filmmakers and actors for not just trying to cash in and ride the wave of success from the first movie. Besides, this is a very satisfying film on its own and doesn’t need a sequel just to have one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other good recent horror parodies: Cabin in the WoodsShaun of the DeadZombieland and What We Do In the Shadows.

Film Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Release Date: August 11th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Music by: Joseph Trapanese, N.W.A.
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.

Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, Broken Chair Flickz, Universal Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“They want N.W.A, let’s give em N.W.A.” – Eazy-E

*Written in 2015.

I have been waiting for this film to come out since I first heard about its development a few years ago.

N.W.A. is a group that I listened to almost since their inception and they had a big influence over me as a kid. Sure, my parents didn’t like me listening to them when I was in middle school but I really didn’t care and record stores didn’t really police their sale of explicit products to minors in the early ’90s. Well, some stores did but I avoided those.

This film was pretty fantastic. In fact, I’m going to go on and say that this is my favorite film of the year thus far. It was, by far, F. Gary Gray’s finest work as a director. Being that he has been a long time collaborator with the men who were the subject of this film, made it feel real personal and he had legitimate insight into the relationships of these guys. Additionally, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube consulting heavily on this film, we got one of the most accurate music biopics ever made. Granted, I’m sure they filtered in their own bias.

This, above all else, was a film about friendship – even more so than the history of N.W.A., Ruthless Records and Death Row. It showed five close friends coming up together and challenging a corrupt and oppressive system. It showed how they fought for freedom of speech and how they became the voice of a generation that was fed up – transcending their neighborhood and their race: effecting millions of people all over the world. Even when friendship dissolved, in the end, the love was still there and through all the bullshit and really bad blood, they were still brothers.

The acting was on point. Ice Cube was played by his real life son and he looked and sounded exactly like his father. In fact, most of the time, you only see him as Ice Cube and get lost in the performance. Pretty damn impressive for a kid who has never acted. Jason Mitchell was perfect as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti was a great choice for Jerry Heller and Neil Brown Jr. truly felt like DJ Yella. Corey Hawkins was good as Dr. Dre but was the weakest of the main actors. Aldis Hodge was okay as MC Ren but I felt like Ren really got the shaft in this film, as he was just in it. He wasn’t shown as a character of significance and someone of Ren’s presence, which he has a hell of a presence, should have been featured more. This film makes MC Ren just seem like the odd man out of the group and maybe that is because he never found the individual success of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.

Arabian Prince was completely shafted. He wasn’t even mentioned in the film. But if you remember the cover of the “Straight Outta Compton” album from 1988, there were six men in the photo. He was the sixth man, lost to history and forgotten. And I guess his role was so minimal, they really didn’t need to include him in the movie.

I did like how they featured the D.O.C., Warren G, Snoop Dogg, 2pac and mentioned Bone Thugs. I like how they tied in the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots, showing how N.W.A.’s music was almost prophetic without the film beating you over the head with it. The scene featuring the unity between the Bloods and Crips against the police was beautifully shot and executed.

Moving on, there are a few things I have to nitpick about with the film. For one, in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a black White Sox cap. Well, the White Sox didn’t wear the black uniforms until 1991 or so. In another scene, which takes place in 1993, Eazy-E is using a cordless phone model that didn’t come out until around 2000. I know, because I owned that same phone. Also, 2pac was recording “All Eyez On Me” in the studio with Dr. Dre while Eazy-E was still alive in the film. Eazy died in early 1995 while “All Eyez On Me” was recorded late in 1995 and released in early 1996. There were a few other weird discrepancies but I’ll stop being an asshole.

Besides, the film’s narrative was strong. The movie told a great story and that is the most important thing.

While I do feel that the film shows both the good and bad of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, I feel like this is through the eyes of Dre and Cube, which it is. I wish Eazy would’ve lived and would’ve been able to consult and flesh out his side of the story in the same way that Dre and Cube were able to do with the director. But to be fair, despite Eazy’s faults, he is still shown as a loveable yet tragic character and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube honored him for who he was.

The only big plot point that I felt was missing, was showcasing how heated the beef got between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. For those that experienced it, it was a big deal at the time and from a fan’s perspective, the beef felt irreconcilable. Dre and Eazy both expressed regret about it in the film but it wasn’t shown or discussed in any sort of detail.

Also, the film jumps over the whole NWA & The Posse era.

I feel that it is also important to point out how funny this film is. It isn’t a comedy but there are so many great comedic moments throughout the picture. Yes, it is a serious film that has very dark moments for each character but their is a light-hardheartedness about this film that really showcases the soul of these men.

In closing, Straight Outta Compton is a spectacular film whether or not you even care about hip-hop. For those that do care about this group, it gives you an intimate look into their lives and shows how everything went down, as accurately as can be portrayed on film. And being that I am a person that lived through all of this and remember it from the perspective of a fan, it is impossible to not fall victim to nostalgia. But in that nostalgia, one walks away feeling more intimately connected to something that has been a part of your life for a long time. This was a film just as much about those of us who rode along with N.W.A. from 1988-1992, as it was about the band itself.

F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube truly have a piece of work to be proud of. Don’t take your family though, unless you want Little Jimmy yelling “Fuck the Police” as he walks out of the theater. Then again, I was once Little Jimmy and I turned out just fine.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any top tier music biopic, really. This is just as good as the best of them.

Film Review: Rampage (2018)

Release Date: April 4th, 2018 (Microsoft Theater premiere)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Based on: Rampage by Midway Games
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton

New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company, Rickard Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Like my grandpappy always said, ‘Us assholes gotta stick together.'” – Harvey Russell

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. I am a massive fan of kaiju movies and I was a big fan of the Rampage video game when I was dropping quarters into it on the reg back in the ’80s. However, the game didn’t have a plot, really. It was just about playing as one of three monsters: a gorilla, a werewolf or a lizard. The only real purpose was to cause as much destruction as you possibly could: punching buildings into rubble and eating people hanging out of windows.

The film’s story actually did a decent job of explaining the creation of these giant creatures and their physics defying abilities.

For the most part, I really liked this movie. It was ridiculous in the best way possible and a ton of friggin’ fun. This is what a blockbuster should be. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate or attempt to be overly serious, it can be a balls to the wall smash’em up festival. And while that formula has worn thin and I’ve been critical of it in the past (*cough, cough Man of Steel), when done right and with an organic purpose, it can still work. It works here.

From a storyline standpoint, this is more engaging than the first Pacific Rim movie. I liked the plot of the second Pacific Rim much better, by the way. Rampage just does a good job with its human characters and also really makes you feel for George, the Rock’s large albino gorilla friend who turns into a menace, only to be cured of his aggression and turn into a hero that teams up with the Rock in taking down the other two monsters: the giant wolf and the giant alligator.

I also love the cast. The Rock, who prefers to just be Dwayne Johnson now but is and will always be The Rock to me, leads the charge but is backed up by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Marley Shelton, the last two being in small roles, unfortunately.

But with The Rock, Morgan and Manganiello together in the same film, there is a testosterone overload that matches the beastly intensity of the three actual beasts in the film. I also loved Malin Akerman as a villainous corporate bitch in this. She was perfect, cold and still looking damn fine. In fact, having her and Morgan in this makes the film a mini Watchmen reunion.

I also really liked the Easter egg of having the old Rampage arcade game in Akerman’s office.

There are some goofy things about the movie. Okay, “some” is an understatement. However, it works for a movie with giant monsters tearing up Chicago and literally toppling the Sears Tower. I’m not going to get nitpicky and bitch too hard but sometimes the dialogue was forced and felt unnatural but this was usually in the moments where The Rock was yelling at green screen. There just seemed to be a disconnect at times, which isn’t the actor’s fault but for some reason certain bits felt off.

The creatures and their physical embellishments all worked for me and the special effects used to bring them to life was well done. I also like that they didn’t make the monsters too big like the Pacific Rim kaiju or the modern versions of Godzilla. The monsters don’t have to tower over the largest buildings, they just need to tower over the humans running away and the military might that confronts them.

Rampage isn’t a great motion picture in the terms of being cinematic art or something that the Academy would see as worthy of their consideration outside of special effects. However, it is a solid popcorn movie. Especially for those of us who can’t get enough modern kaiju films.

And if you are wondering if there is a scene where a monster eats a lady like in the video game, well… you won’t be disappointed. And frankly, it’s an awesome f’n moment.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 2014 Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island and the Pacific Rim movies.

Film Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Release Date: October 22nd, 2013 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Christopher Yost, Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus, Don Payne, Robert Rodat
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levi, Alice Krige, Chris O’Dowd, Benicio del Toro (cameo), Chris Evans (cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 112 Minutes

Review:

“I will tell Father you died with honor.” – Thor, “I didn’t do it for him.” – Loki

Unlike the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I have revisited lately, Thor: The Dark World wasn’t as good as my memories of it.

I do remember being pretty fond of it when it came out but it just doesn’t seem to fit well within the overall MCU when you take what came after it into context. Sure, it gives us the red Infinity Stone but not much else here is all that important. But I guess seeing Thor and Loki play off of one another is always, at the very least, amusing.

In the end, this is the worst of the three Thor movies. But it is not all that bad. It’s certainly better than The Incredible Hulk and Avengers: The Age of Ultron. It’s just a film that wasn’t all that necessary. The relationship between Thor and Jane doesn’t matter after this movie, the secondary characters are sort of forgotten except for Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), who at least makes one more appearance.

This was just a movie where no one really seemed to be all that into it except for the actors playing Asgardians. Hemsworth was great as Thor, Hiddleston is perfection as Loki and Odin is a commanding Odin. Natalie Portman obviously didn’t want to be in this and acted as such. Christopher Eccleston, who I was excited about seeing as the villain, just dialed in his performance and is one of the most forgettable MCU villains to date.

The film was dry, mostly boring and even the fantasy worlds that they traveled to weren’t very imaginative or fun. Other than Asgard, all the other realms in this just looked as bland, dry and awful as a sand sandwich.

The Earth stuff was all overcast and rainy. I know that this takes place in London but c’mon… the magical realms were dark desert; Earth was grey industrial wetness. This isn’t an exciting film to look at.

While I guess it was about time for Marvel to introduce the Infinity Stones (or at least more than one), there are better ways this could have been done. Sure, I wanted a second Thor movie and it would have been a good place to bring in a new Stone but the execution here was lackluster. This whole thing should have been rewritten.

For a film about traversing through magical realms, outer space and battling fantastical shit, Thor: The Dark World felt very small and confined.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: ThorThe Avengers and Thor: Ragnarok

Film Review: A Quiet Place (2018)

Release Date: March 9th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: John Krasinski
Written by: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

Platinum Dunes, Paramount Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Who are we if we can’t protect them? We have to protect them.” – Evelyn

I was a bit skeptical about going to see A Quiet Place in the theater. Not because I didn’t want to check it out but because my theatergoing experiences have been really bad, lately. So how was it going to play out, going to a theater that is typically full of talkie assholes during a film that is all about keeping quiet?

Well, the theater was dead f’n quiet. This film pulled the room in and had everyone’s attention from start to finish. There may have been a whisper or two but people actually followed the golden rule of theatergoing: STFU.

And man, this film builds suspense so well, I found it damn near impossible to get up and go pee, even after three beers before the film and a Diet Coke the size of Andre the Giant’s torso during the film. Granted, I hate having to leave the theater for anything and I’m glad that I didn’t.

John Krasinksi was once Jim on The Office. Like many sitcom stars, he could have easily been typecast for the rest of his career and he probably would have had he not fought hard for roles he thought he had something to offer. Since The Office, he has fared better than all of his other co-stars except for maybe Steve Carell, who has also proved he can do drama. But Krasinski’s unique path led him to the director’s chair. This is the second picture he has helmed (after The Hollars) and he already displays great skill.

The building of tension and suspense in this film is incredibly effective and it relies on that tactic to tell the story and to convey the feeling of dread. While you see the monsters throughout the film and even see one very early on, A Quiet Place could have easily done what lesser horror films do and just tease the monster leading to a disappointing reveal late in the film. Many pictures try to build tension this way and most of the time, it fails. Krasinski threw the monster on the screen in the opening sequence and just got that bullshit out of the way, so we could focus on the human characters, their dynamic, their pain and their struggle to survive in a new and deadly world.

I liked the casting of Krasinski as the lead with his real life wife, Emily Blunt, playing his wife in the film. It made Krasinski’s picture a lot more personal and their chemistry came through adding extra emotional weight. While I’m typically not a huge fan of directors starring in their own things and casting family, it works here.

The kid actors: Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe were both absolutely fantastic. They handled the material very well, weren’t annoying and didn’t need to be rescued all the time. Sure, in the end, dad had to step in but they were capable and heroic characters, which was nice to see for a change.

I liked the monsters. They weren’t particularly unique but they were effective, scary and they worked for the story. They’re sort of like these armored humanoid four legged, spidery things that have a mouth similar to Venom from Marvel Comics.

I didn’t know what to expect with A Quiet Place, as it is really hard to find satisfying horror films this decade. While I wouldn’t call it a classic or anything, I hope it is adding to a new trend where we see better, smarter horror coming back. Between this, Get Out and It Follows, there is still hope in a genre dominated by PG-13 CGI haunted house movies.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: It Comes at Night but this is a better film than that.

Documentary Review: Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman (2014)

Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Directed by: Kevin Dunn

WWE, 121 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

WWE has done a great job over the years in making their own documentaries. They have covered a myriad of subjects and talent, especially since they hit the DVD market a decade and a half ago. Regardless of that, I was surprised to see them do a documentary on Paul Heyman. Not because Heyman isn’t an interesting subject, he most certainly is, but because of his turbulent history with the WWE has been legendary.

WWE was more than fair and really gave all sides of the story. I can’t say that there wasn’t an agenda, as there always is when the WWE produces their own material, but the fact that the bulk of the stories were told by Heyman himself, adds a level of credibility and honesty to the production, that would have otherwise been questionable.

This documentary tells Heyman’s life story and how he worked his way up the ranks and into the wrestling business, eventually becoming an enigma that changed the direction of the wrestling business forever, whether by creating a refreshing and edgy product to challenge the industry’s norms or through developing some of the biggest talents that the business has ever seen. Love him or hate him, Paul Heyman has contributed more to the wrestling business than most men.

I really enjoyed the documentary and I never get sick of seeing behind-the-scenes intimate coverage of ECW, my all-time favorite wrestling promotion. They spent a good amount of time on ECW and told the story from Heyman’s perspective, which hasn’t yet been done to this level and makes this a must-watch film for wrestling historians.

This is my favorite WWE production since the CM Punk documentary, a few years ago. While it isn’t about a wrestler and his epic battles, it is about a man that helped many of those wrestlers perfect their craft. Heyman is probably deserving of more respect and admiration than half of the legends who fought in the ring because what he brought was real significant change and a bold, new face to the business: changing it permanently.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: WWE’s ECW documentaries.

Film Review: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

Release Date: January 21st, 2011 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jason Eisener
Written by: John Davies, Jason Eisener
Music by: Alexander Rosborough
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman

Rhombus Media, Whizbang Films, Yer Dead Productions, Alliance Films, Magnet Releasing, 86 Minutes

Review:

“There’s something else about bears not many people know. If a bear gets hooked on the taste of human blood, it becomes a man-killer. He’ll go on a rampage and has to be destroyed. And that’s why you should never hug a bear.” – Hobo

Back when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse came out, they held a contest for fans to make their own fake grindhouse style trailers, as an interactive marketing campaign to help promote the film. Jason Eisener won the contest with his trailer for Hobo With a Shotgun. In certain parts of Canada, Eisener’s trailer was featured with screenings of the film. This eventually lead to him making a real film from the fake trailer, similar to what Robert Rodriguez did with his fake trailer for Machete.

Before this, Eisener’s only directing experience was his short film about murderous Christmas trees called Treevenge.

This motion picture is just as unique as its backstory.

Hobo With a Shotgun is an ultraviolent spectacle that is reminiscent of the old school grindhouse films that inspired it but at the same time, it is truly its own thing.

Somehow, Eisener got Rutger Hauer to star in this thing and his presence gives it a sort of legitimacy and gravitas that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. Sure, this is low budget and has cheap practical effects but so did the movies it was an homage to. But this isn’t a straight homage, it is a film with its own style that successfully taps into different realms and different genres while still feeling like a cohesive body of work.

The story is very simple, a hobo comes to town on a train. He is immediately disgusted by the culture he encounters in this new place. It doesn’t take long before he decides to pick up a shotgun and go banana sandwich on the scumbags that shit on everything good and decent. He befriends a sweet and pretty cute hooker, who starts as a damsel in distress but winds up being a total badass herself.

The thing about this film, is that it isn’t just violent. It crosses a lot of lines but in a fantastic way. There is a scene where children on a school bus get cooked alive by a psycho with a flamethrower, there are guns held to babies faces, pedophiles dressed as Santa, rapey cops, ice skates used in creative and deadly ways, a giant octopus creature, a totally f’n awesome duo of armored biker mercenaries and about a dozen other things I’m not going to list out. As shocking as a lot of the things in the movie are, you are still surprised by them and their overabundance sort of makes light of it all, as this film’s setting turns into an over the top, insane world where nothing is actually shocking and the psychos are incredibly innovative and ingenious.

If you are easily offended or can’t take violence, steer absolutely clear of this picture. If you have a strong appreciation for the art and style of grindhouse pictures, this will not disappoint you and it will probably impress you. There is a certain level of artistic merit to violent filth and this movie is a prime example of the beauty of gore used intelligently and creatively, as opposed to gore just for the sake of gore.

Hobo With a Shotgun is an absurdist’s wet dream. Well, an absurdist who doesn’t mind blood, guts and shotgun blasts.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other modern grindhouse and retro films: Planet TerrorDeath ProofTurbo KidKung Fury, etc. Also, Jason Eisener’s short film Treevenge.