Film Review: Ramona (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Creţulescu
Written by: Andrei Creţulescu
Cast: Rodica Lazar, Dorian Boguta, Andi Vasluianu, Serban Pavlu, Ana Ularu

Kinosseur, Wearebasca, deFilm, 25 Minutes

Review:

In a nutshell, this is a 25 minute short film about a woman going on a revenge killing spree. However, there is no dialogue and no real explanation for her actions, other than a small bit where she flips through some pictures of girls that look physically tortured.

I guess it is similar to I Spit On Your Grave and other films like that but it is a super stylized modern neo-noir looking picture. It also lacks a setup and therefore, you have no real emotional attachment to this woman’s violent revenge quest.

The film is unfortunately one of those that falls victim to style over substance. It plays out in what feels like real time, as it is comprised of a few long take shots but those moments between the killings weigh down the picture and dilute the little bit of violent action that does take place. 80 percent of this short film is walking and driving from place to place and then waiting.

Does it feel real? Yes. But again, it isn’t something you can connect with emotionally and it plays more like a really long music video without music until Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties” plays at the very end, twenty-plus minutes into this.

The cinematography is nice and the shots are very well choreographed but there isn’t much else here.

I guess this is the third part of a trilogy of short films. I’m not sure how related those films are, if at all, other than having the same cast, but maybe seeing those first would have given this a bit more clarity. I’ll still check those out, if I can find them, and maybe that will make me understand this film a bit more. But as a standalone effort, this just isn’t something I was into.

TV Review: Mr. Robot (2015- )

Original Run: June 24th, 2015 – current
Created by: Sam Esmail
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Mac Quayle
Cast: Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater, Michael Cristofer, Stephanie Corneliussen, Grace Gummer, BD Wong, Sunita Mani, Azhar Khan, Michael Drayer, Michel Gill, Ron Cephas Jones, Gloria Reuben, Joey Bada$$, Craig Robinson

Universal Cable Productions, Anonymous Content, Esmail Corp., NBC Universal, 22 Episodes (so far), 41-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It is really hard talking about Mr. Robot without spoiling something. But that is what makes this show so exceptional. It has so many twists, turns and surprises that you’re never really sure where the show is going but two seasons in, I have yet to find myself disappointed. In fact, I’ve been nothing but captivated.

The story is about hackers, primarily the main character Elliot and those around him but Elliot is the true focus of the show. If I were to say anything more than that, it might be too much. I went into this blindly and I am glad that I did. It is best to go in without spoilers. It is also best to binge watch the hell out of it. It’s actually hard not to binge it, as you can’t stop watching it once you start. The wait between season two and season three, which is still two months away, has been a long and painful lapse of time.

There really isn’t anything I can say about this show that isn’t positive.

The writing is absolutely superb. The style, the visuals and the sounds of the show draw you in and don’t loosen their grip, holding you there and keeping you there – completely immersed in this world that Elliot lives in. And really, a lot of this also has to do with the stellar acting, mostly from Rami Malek and Christian Slater but also from the other players. There isn’t a weak link in this steel chain of talent.

Sam Esmail, the creator, as well as writer and director of the most pivotal episodes, has created something otherworldly. This is the best show I have seen since Breaking Bad, which is the show that I consider to be the greatest of all-time and the standard bearer for everything else. In fact, Mr. Robot is almost as good and as perfect as Breaking Bad but only time will tell if it continues to hit the high bar it has already set.

While this show does borrow concepts and ideas from various things, which I won’t mention in an effort not to spoil this, it is still fresh and original and actually improves on a lot of those ideas.

Season one works well as a single story. Season two, which many people have been more critical about, expands the mythos of this universe and really builds a great foundation for this show going forward. While season two doesn’t have a concrete conclusion to it, it doesn’t really need one, as it gives season three a great starting point.

Mr. Robot is the best television show that the USA Network has created in their long history. It is the best show to start its run in this decade. If it maintains its quality throughout its existence, I’ll have to raise the rating from a nine to a ten.

TV Review: WWE Breaking Ground (2015- )

Original Run: October 25th, 2015 – current
Created by: WWE
Directed by: Christopher Bavelles, Ronn Head
Narrated by: William Shatner
Cast: Matt Bloom, William Regal, Sara Amato, Triple H, Bayley, Mojo Rawley, Carmella, Robbie Brookside, Dana Brooke, Tyler Breeze, Nia Jax, Baron Corbin, Tino Sabbatelli, Apollo Crews, Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Big Cass, Sami Zayn

3 Ball Entertainment, WWE, 30-43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Breaking Ground is a documentary reality show produced by WWE for their exclusive streaming service, the WWE Network. It showcases a lot of their talent in NXT, which is the WWE’s training ground and minor leagues, where wrestlers hone their skills in an effort to eventually make it up to the main roster.

The feel of this show is much more real and serious than their other attempts at reality television. It is also more fine tuned and comes off as completely authentic other than the manufactured drama of shows like Total DivasTotal BellasLegends’ House and even Tough Enough.

Narrated by William Shatner, the show has a sense of legitimacy and plays out much more professionally. He adds a certain level of gravitas and credence to the production that is missing in WWE’s other shows.

The story follows several NXT Superstars, as they work out daily in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, FL. It also follows them as they perform for WWE’s NXT brand on television and on the road. It shows the trials and tribulations of each person featured and really covers all areas and aspects of the WWE training process, by incorporating talent at varying levels of development.

While this isn’t an amazing show and is pretty dry, most of the time, it should be interesting to those who are fans of the sports entertainment business at a deeper level than just watching Monday Night Raw or Smackdown on a weekly basis.

Documentary Review: I Hate Christian Laettner (2015)

Release Date: March 15th, 2015
Directed by: Rory Karpf
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, John Loeffler, Chris Maxwell, David Wolfert
Narrated by: Rob Lowe

First Row Films, ESPN Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

ESPN’s 30 For 30 series of films is one of the greatest sports documentary series ever produced. It could be the absolute best but I’ll leave that open for debate.

The latest installment, I Hate Christian Laettner was one of the best films in the series.

For those who don’t know, Laettner played basketball for Duke University during their dynasty run in the early 90s. Duke, perceived as a school of privilege for mostly cocky white guys, was hated by pretty much any college basketball fan that didn’t actually go to school at Duke. Hell, they still receive a lot of disdain and hate from fans, even though they just won their 5th national title last night.

Anyway, Christian Laettner, the star of those early 90s Duke teams, was the focal point of the nation’s hatred. Whether just or unjust, he had to traverse through the sea of venom and perform at an elite level – a level that brought him two national championships, a spot on the original Dream Team and a high lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

This greatly edited film, narrated by Rob Lowe, shows who Christian Laettner truly is. He isn’t the caricature that people and the media manufactured in their minds and in print. It shows this whole story from the perspective of Laettner, his family, friends and his teammates. It paints a story of a kid (and later a man) who had to deal with a tremendous amount of unwarranted and unnecessary adversity. It showed how this affected the people around him. However, it also showed how he took all of it as fuel to burn: leading to tremendous success.

I think this film is more an examination of just how horrible people can be to one another. In a similar way to how Cubs fans treated Steve Bartman in 2003, college basketball fans of that era never really looked at the fact that this was another human being. Maybe that has to do with our celebrity obsessed culture and the way that regular people seem to have a disconnect with people sold to us as stars. Laettner, as the biggest star on the college basketball stage, was an easy target.

At the end of the day, Christian Laettner is a human being and people should just be more decent to one another. All he wanted to do was play ball and win. And truthfully, despite the hate, he had the last laugh and achieved many of his goals.

And he’s richer than most of us.

Film Review: Look Who’s Back (2015)

Also known as: Er ist wieder da, lit. He’s Back Again (Germany)
Release Date: October 8th, 2015 (Germany)
Directed by: David Wnendt
Written by: Johannes Boss, Minna Fischgartl, Timur Vermes, David Wnendt
Based on: Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes
Music by: Enis Rotthoff
Cast: Oliver Masucci, Fabian Busch, Katja Riemann, Christoph Maria Herbst, Franziska Wulf, Michael Kessler

Constantin Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“[about current TV shows] I’m glad that Goebbels doesn’t see this anymore.” – Adolf Hitler

I didn’t know about this film’s existence until I just sort of stumbled onto it looking for something else. I’m damn glad I found it though, as it was pleasantly surprising and really taps into society’s problem with cult of personality and how a vocal and scarily honest charismatic speaker can give a voice to those overcome with fear and insecurity. It actually parallels a lot of what is happening in current events and the political climate of today. It shows that the modern era isn’t that dissimilar from Hitler’s era, in certain regards.

Oliver Masucci was absolutely fascinating as Adolf Hitler. Fabian Busch was also very good as Sawatzki, a guy just looking for a breaking documentary story to help make his career.

The plot of the film is interesting and doesn’t really need explanation, as the how this happened is unimportant and would take away from the real weight of the picture, which is what would happen if Hitler existed in the world today. The setup is quite simple, Hitler wakes up in the spot where he supposedly met his demise. Except he appears in the modern world, 70 years later. Hitler is, at first, baffled and doesn’t understand what is happening. The public around him thinks that he is a comedian that is committed to the character, as a sort of social experiment. Regardless, he becomes huge on social media, ends up on every television show and then becomes the face of Germany, once again.

Now the picture is lighthearted for the most part but it does have some very serious tones, at the right moments, and the ending is unsettling but comes off as completely plausible and realistic.

Look Who’s Back is really an exploration of the media’s power and influence and how people are guided and effected by propaganda.

The film does a great job of making its point but it keeps things balanced in its comedic approach to the material. And all things considered, in a lot of ways, this is one of the most important films to come out in the last few years.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and the actors nailed the material. It is a film that probably needs a bit more recognition than it has in the States. It is also currently streaming on Netflix.

TV Review: Daredevil (2015- )

Original Run: April 10th, 2015 – current
Created by: Drew Goddard
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Daredevil by Stan Lee, Bill Everett
Music by: John Paesano, Braden Kimball
Cast: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Toby Leonard Moore, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Bob Gunton, Ayelet Zurer, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Scott Glenn, Élodie Yung, Stephen Rider

ABC Studios, Marvel, DeKnight Productions, Goddard Textiles, Netflix, 26 Episodes (so far), 48-61 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

If you haven’t watched Daredevil at some point over the last week, you have been severely missing out.

Marvel, now teaming up with Netflix, has given hardcore old school comic book fans a television show that they deserve. Being that it is on Netflix and not ABC or some other network, Daredevil has a lot of creative freedom. It also isn’t catered to the younger viewer, which can often times be a pretty tedious and annoying factor in regards to Marvel’s other live-action outings. What we’ve got is something very close to the source material and as dark as the stellar Frank Miller stories were in the early 80s. What we don’t have is a two-plus hour toy commercial accented by Tony Stark witticisms. For the record, I like Tony Stark witticisms but this isn’t the place for them.

Now I am not going to completely fan boy out like most of the people praising this show. It isn’t perfect and could improve in various areas but it is one of the best Marvel adaptations of all-time.

The positives are pretty abundant though.

To start, the tone of the show is perfect. The lighting is amazing, as it conveys the same color palette as the comic book from its most iconic runs. The cast, for the most part, is perfect. And the evolution of Daredevil throughout the first season of this series is very well done. We don’t have a hero that immediately kicks ass and looks invincible. We have a normal guy who is generally a bad ass but still gets his head kicked in a lot. The show just feels more real and more organic than any other live-action comic book property ever has and that in and of itself is a great feat.

The show also benefits by the fact that it isn’t stuffed full of characters and villains. The only real major Daredevil villains that even appear are Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. the Kingpin) and Leland Owlsley (a.k.a. the Owl). Kudos on the producers for holding off on Bullseye, Typhoid Mary, Elektra, Mr. Fear and the rest.

Although, the amount of time focusing on the inevitable confrontation between Daredevil and Fisk is pretty drawn out. The pace of the show is a bit slow and lacking energy in areas. I feel like the bulk of everything important could have been covered in six-to-eight episodes. What we’ve got instead is thirteen episodes with too much filler material.

The one performance that I question is Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk. It isn’t bad but there are times where his voice is odd and out of place. I get that the character is written as a sort of fucked up kid turned “kingpin” but at this stage of his life, he should be more sure of himself and confident in his abilities. And I am not saying that he isn’t confident but his bizarre tone just seems out of whack for what the character needs to be. The Kingpin is not some emo child in a fat suit, he is an exacting, ruthless and very motivated evil genius that isn’t intimidated by anything. Maybe that makes him one dimensional but I’d rather have a caricature of pure evil than what we have with this character on the show. Besides, the comic book version of Kingpin has been fleshed out so well over the years that there is a lot to work with without some new and unnecessary spin on the character.

Daredevil is fantastic though. It is worth your time and as an avid reader of Daredevil in the comics, I think that this show truly hits the mark. It can be improved upon but it is a step above everything else Marvel has done thus far.

TV Review: Jessica Jones (2015- )

Original Run: November 20th, 2015 – current
Created by: Melissa Rosenberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Jessica Jones by Brian Michael Bendis
Music by: Sean Callery
Cast: Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Wil Traval, Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant, Leah Gibson, J.R. Ramirez, Rosario Dawson

ABC Studios, Marvel, Tall Girls Productions, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 46-55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

Jessica Jones is the second series in Netflix and Marvel’s television shows about the Defenders. It is directly connected to Daredevil and sets up what will become Luke Cage’s show, which will then be followed up by a show for Iron Fist. All of these heroes will then combine into the Defenders and get their own team up miniseries. And maybe they’ll eventually end up in the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the others. But probably not.

Let me start by pointing out that I loved Daredevil. He is one of my top five superheroes of all-time and it was fantastic seeing him get a series that was on the mark, after that Ben Affleck-led dud from a dozen years ago. That being said, I like Jessica Jones, as a show, much more.

I feel like the show benefited from the character of Jessica Jones not having as rich of a history as Daredevil. She is a lesser known character, by far, but that is one of the many reasons as to why she is compelling. There is a lot more creative freedom with the character and it is ballsy on Marvel and Netflix’s part, as she is such an unknown outside of hardcore modern comic book readers.

Additionally, the villain, Kilgrave, known more prominently in the comics as the Purple Man, is barely known as well. He certainly isn’t familiar to mainstream audiences and David Tennant was able to bring him to life in his own way, which is terrifying and exhilarating, especially if you are a fan of his fun and carefree version of the Doctor from Doctor Who. Tennant deserves an Emmy nomination for this, as he proved how great he can be, which was also made apparent by his role in the spectacular Broadchurch.

Speaking of acting, Krysten Ritter was perfect as Jessica Jones. While she had darker hair and the purists will probably complain about that, her performance was solid and very organic. She was believable as the bad ass Jessica and when looking at the other actresses who were finalists for this role, I don’t think any of them could have pulled off the character in the way that Ritter does. I’ve always been a fan of hers, since Breaking Bad, and this is the best she has ever been.

When it comes to our other heroes, Mike Colter was the quintessential Luke Cage. Hell, he didn’t have to act and if he was acting, I couldn’t tell. He is Luke Cage like no other actor has owned a role as a comic book character. While he is used sparingly, as he is getting his own show in a few months, the scenes he shares with Jessica are pretty awesome. For those who don’t know, they do get married and have a child in the comic books and I can’t imagine that Netflix will alter that but it is also probably a few seasons away from going into that territory. Also, Luke Cage becomes a key member of the Avengers in the comics. I’d certainly like to see him make the roster in the films.

Rachael Taylor is really good as Trish “Patsy” Walker, Jessica’s best friend and part-time sidekick. In the comics, she becomes the hero known as Hellcat.

The show never has a boring moment and each episode gets pretty intense. There isn’t a lot of filler and every episode serves a purpose. That’s seemingly hard to accomplish in modern television but that’s probably also why shows that run for twelve or thirteen episodes a season are better than shows that do twenty-plus.

The only real negative, for me, was that the final showdown between Jones and Kilgrave, after everything that happens, felt a bit underwhelming. The outcome was satisfying but I hoped for more of a mental battle. I also would have loved to see him be able to come back, as Marvel has the habit of doing “one and done” villains. A trend I had hoped they broke with the Kingpin in Daredevil.

I am really enjoying Netflix’s attempt at making Marvel properties for more adult audiences. Not every comic book property has to be made kid friendly. Jessica Jones, like Daredevil, certainly isn’t a vehicle for toy and lunchbox sales. I hope that this paves the way for more adult comic book adaptations in the future.

Also, I would probably buy the lunchbox.