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.

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.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch (uncredited)
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, MJW Films, DefyNite Films, Summit Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep… a final gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope… an opportunity to grieve unalone. And your son… took that from me.” – John Wick, “Oh, God.” – Viggo Tarasov, “Stole that from me… killed that from me! People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!” – John Wick

Well, I finally got around to seeing John Wick after putting it off for four years. Why did I put it off? Well, people hyped it up so damn much that I knew that if I went in with said hype, I’d probably walk away disappointed. I needed some time for that to cool down and to separate myself from it. I actually intended to watch this before John Wick 2 hit theaters, last year, but I was incredibly busy around that time.

Having now seen it, it doesn’t live up to the hype but it is still a balls to the wall, unapologetic motion picture and I love seeing Keanu as a complete and total badass murdering the crap out of scumbags in such an amazing and calculated way that he makes the Punisher look like Richard Simmons.

It is quite obvious that John Wick takes some cues, in style and narrative, from the the Hong Kong gangster pictures of the ’80s and ’90s, especially those directed by John Woo. It also has very strong film-noir tones, whether it knows that or not. There’s crime, plot twists, deception, a femme fatale character and a visual style that borrows heavily from classic noir as well as neo-noirs from the ’60s through the ’80s. I see a lot of visual similarities to the neo-noir work of Wim Wenders, most notably The American Friend, as well as notes of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

As far as the story goes, John Wick is pretty much the greatest assassin in the world. Just after his wife dies, a crew of shitheads break into Wick’s home, kill his dog and steal his car. The shitheads have ties to the Russian mob boss that Wick used to work for. Wick goes on a one-man killing spree for revenge and doesn’t care who crosses his path: his old boss, his old rivals and his old allies. With Wick reentering the world that he left years earlier, he is once again in the thick of it and won’t be able to just walk away when the dust settles. Of course, this was established to setup all the future sequels, which I have a feeling, Keanu Reeves will do until his body won’t let him anymore.

And speaking of Keanu’s body, he trained like a madman for this role and continues to do so now that this has become a franchise. He does all the driving, all the fighting and has become a legit badass in the real world because he wanted to play John Wick as realistically as possible. Seriously, if you want to be impressed, go watch some of Keanu’s training videos for these movies.

This is in no way a perfect film but if you are a guy that wants his action raw and soaked in diesel fuel next to an open fire, then you will enjoy this. It reminds me of the spirit of those ’80s Cannon Films except with much better cinematography and more capable talent in front of and behind the camera.

I was surprised to see so many actors I love pop up in this. I guess I never paid close attention to the cast details other than knowing that this had Keanu Reeves and John Leguizamo in it. But anything with Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane in it, automatically gets a hefty helping of gargantuan gravitas piled on to whatever is already there. Plus, you’ve got small roles for David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters and “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. I also have to point out the good performance by Adrianne Palicki, who always seems to play the same character, but definitely came with a harder edge in this movie.

John Wick is solid. Damn solid. It doesn’t need to be a perfect film and it doesn’t want to be. It’s fun and manlier than an Everclear drinking lumberjack piledriving a bear through the hood of a Hummer.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: John Wick 2, I’d have to assume. As well as, Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

Film Review: Cooties (2014)

Release Date: January 18th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Written by: Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan
Music by: Kreng
Cast: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Jorge Garcia

SpectreVision, Glacier Films, Lionsgate Premiere, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nap time, motherfuckers.” – Wade

*Written in 2015.

If you ever wanted to see Dwight Schrute team up with Frodo Baggins and fight zombie children in an elementary school, then this movie is for you! For those who never thought about that scenario, it is still a pretty sweet film.

Cooties takes place over the course of a day. Elijah Wood plays a struggling writer who comes to the school for the first time as a substitute teacher. He immediately butts heads with Rainn Wilson, who is essentially Dwight Schrute as an elementary P.E. teacher with a great mustache.

Allison Pill, probably most known for her part in Goon, plays Wilson’s girlfriend and creates tension between Wood and Wilson’s characters.

The film kicks off pretty quickly, as a zombie-like affliction spreads throughout the school but only effects those who haven’t yet gone through puberty.

We get awesome scenes of these teachers murdering zombie children. It is pretty great for those of us who have ever had run-ins with smart ass kids.

While the story isn’t all that great and the film isn’t, by any means, a classic, it is still a good way to waste 90 minutes of your time. The movie is predictable, the humor is passable but all in all, this is a fun ride. And who doesn’t enjoy Rainn Wilson? Let alone, Rainn Wilson as a badass?

The film’s final sequence takes place in a Discovery Zone type of environment, where the adults and a few of the surviving kids traverse through the child-safe maze in an effort to get out alive.

I liked this movie. I don’t know if I will ever watch it again but it was certainly a good way to waste some time on a Saturday morning between breakfast and lunch.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Zombieland.

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: Earth to Echo (2014)

Also known as: Echo, Untitled Wolf Adventure (both working titles)
Release Date: June 14th, 2014 (Los Angeles Film Festival)
Directed by: Dave Green
Written by: Henry Gayden, Andrew Panay
Music by: Joseph Trapanese
Cast: Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese C. Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt

Panay Films, Walt Disney Pictures, Relativity Media, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t really know how to say goodbye, so I’m not gonna. And um… um, you’re my friend you know, and when I’m old, even when you think I’ve forgotten, I’m always gonna be there.” – Alex

*Written in 2014.

Earth to Echo currently has a 5.7 on IMDb. I think it is a better film than that, maybe around 6.5. I get the criticisms people have though but I think some of that criticism comes from a lack of deeper film knowledge. Let me explain.

Let us start with the premise. The film follows three teen boys and later a girl that joins them, as they go on a quest to follow the map that they discovered. This is also their last adventure, as they are being forced to move out of their town. Already, this seems like it borrows heavily from The Goonies. It also involves finding a friendly alien, which expands the quest for the friends. Now they are on the run from government dudes and are trying desperately to get the alien back to his ship, so that he can go home. Now the film is borrowing a lot from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The alien itself is small and robotic and is reminiscent of the aliens from the ’80s film *batteries not included. The movie is also shot in a found footage style, which gives it parallels to a lot of other films.

You see, the criticism of this film typically comes from those who are pointing out that it is ripping off one or all of these things. Some people even consider it a rip off of Super 8. Apparently those people aren’t aware that Super 8 is essentially, to use their words “a rip off” of E.T.

Who really gives a crap about all of this, though? When I was a kid in the 1980s, there were multiple “rip offs” of E.T., as well as several other films and successful properties. For every Transformers, there was a GoBots. For every Conan, there was a Beastmaster. For every Ghostbusters, there was, well.. Ghostbusters. For every Alien, there was every sci-fi/horror film for the next decade after it.

The real question is whether or not this was a good film? And did it employ the themes it borrowed in an effective way? I say “yes” to both.

This was obviously an homage to a lot of great films that had some sort of impact on the director and the writers. When I was a kid of the ’80s, enjoying the films that Earth to Echo is an homage to, I also wanted to be a filmmaker. At least the director Dave Green followed through on his dream and found a way to pay respect to his powerful influences.

Nothing about this film treats the inspirational source material poorly. It brings the elements and concepts together and becomes its own thing.

The child actors in this film were all pretty great and not annoying. Were they as lovable as the kids Spielberg rounded up for E.T. and The Goonies? Not necessarily but I could see them fitting in with those groups pretty easily. Reese Hartwig who played the character of Munch did an exceptional job for a young actor.

No, this is not a perfect or flawless movie. For a kids’ sci-fi picture about friendship and doing the right thing, it is pretty good. For a guy in his mid-30s, this also felt really nostalgic. And truthfully, I prefer it to the more popular Super 8.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: All of its influences mentioned above, as well as Super 8.

Documentary Review: Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch (2014)

Release Date: April 16th, 2014
Directed by: David Allen
Cast: Joe Hutto

Rubin Tarrant Productions, 52 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Touching the Wild was a pretty stellar installment of PBS’ Nature series. In fact, it is now one of my favorite episodes of all-time in this show’s 30-plus year run.

It follows Joe Hutto as he lives with the mule deer of the Deadman Gulch area of Colorado. It chronicles how he gained their trust over years and became a part of their lives, families and societal structure.

Man, this was a pretty emotional documentary. It is hard not to get swept up in the feelings Joe conveys throughout this 52 minute film. And what is great about this documentary is that it just features Joe, telling his story, telling the story of all the deer and how it has effected him every step of the way.

From a science standpoint, Touching the Wild is pretty profound in that it delves deep into mule deer behavior, their way of life and shows a more intimate and up-close view than what has ever been seen before.

Deer are pretty private creatures that want nothing to do with humans. This shows how close a man can get however and it blurs the line between species – showing the true nature of these animals, their heart, their ability to trust and their ability to treat something unlike them, as one of their own.

And this is currently streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other installments of PBS’ Nature series.